by Amanda S. Green
All right, guys, I’ve just about lost patience with the whiners, the clueless and the traditionalists who simply can’t be bothered to explore the new opportunities offered by changes in the publishing industry. There are times when I don’t know whether to beat my head against the wall or theirs and, frankly, I’m tending toward theirs. It might be the only way to get them to at least consider they might be wrong about what’s happening in the industry. It would, at the very least, cause them to complain about something else, at least for a bit.
A little background. Over the weekend, Sarah wrote a wonderful blog about the attitude of some of those in the industry about the Department of Justice’s suit against Apple and the five publishers. That attitude is basically that books are fungible and we, the writers, are mere tinker toys to be manipulated the way they, the publishers, want. Then yesterday, Sarah posted her “response” to a non-fiction writer’s blog about what will happen if the publishing industry fails. I’m not going to rehash what Sarah said mainly because she said it much better than I ever could.
But what has my blood boiling. especially with regard to the first post, can be found in the comments section. It seems that whenever anyone posts something negative about the publishing industry, especially if it has to do with the agency pricing model, the trolls come out. We’ve seen it happen here. It’s happened a number of times on Sarah’s blog and several times on my blog as well. I’ve come to expect it. What I can’t wrap my mind around is when authors who should know better come to stir the waters but never offer anything to support their position or to really add to the conversation.
I could name the author whose responses to that first post left me wondering if we lived on the same planet, much less worked within the same publishing industry, but I won’t. You can go look it up if you want. Frankly, I have no desire to do anything more than necessary to direct traffic to this person’s website or blog. However, I’ll quote enough of their comments that you can find out who I’m talking about by simply going to the blog and searching.
In one comment, this author asked why publishers should be “legally obligated” to keep Amazon’s promise to offer best sellers for $9.99. This is a clear indicator that the author is in the camp that believes agency pricing is a good thing. That publishers, who are in financial distress, made a good decision to adopt a pricing model that brings in less money per title. This also means authors are getting less money per sale.
But there is more to the comment. It shows that the author is clearly ignoring, purposely or not, the fact that the DoJ’s suit isn’t against agency pricing. In fact, the DoJ notes in the filing that there is nothing inherently wrong with agency pricing. What is wrong is the collusion that is alleged to have taken place immediately prior to the big five publishers and Apple entering into the agency model agreement, an agreement that then had to be made with other retailers or those same publishers would be in violation of their contract with Apple.
But let’s go on.
This author later asked if it’s been proven the collusion took place. It is obvious that she is either a fan of The Paper Chase and thinks the only way to get your point across is to employ the Socratic method. For a moment, I was back in my Torts class in and my professor was asking questions so we’d think. The only problem is, her questions show that she hasn’t really read, or thought about, the law suit. First of all, the collusion is alleged and it will be up to the DoJ to prove it should the case ever see the inside of a courtroom. Second, her follow up questions about who decided what e-books could be lent is easily answered: the publishers. At least for those e-books not part of the KDP or PubIt programs. Those same publishers she is trying to defend. Then she wants to know who decided that e-books could be returned. That is probably the retail outlet. But who cares. E-books are still a commodity that can be bought — and should be able to be sold, but that’s another post all its own — and returned if there is a problem with the formatting, etc. I know she is trying to show that there are a lot of things in life that could “smack” of collusion but aren’t really. However, she doesn’t serve herself well with that argument, nor does she offer anything other than the picture of a kid stamping her foot and saying “I’m right, you’re wrong and that’s that!”
I think the best example of a disconnect comes when she asks what would happen if Best Buy decided to sell iPads for $20 without Apple’s okay and then the DoJ sued Apple for not giving Best Buy the iPads for that price.
Talk about apples and oranges. To begin, if Best Buy decided to do that, it would be in violation of its contract with Apple. Apple would react quickly and swiftly, in my opinion. Best Buy would have to stop selling the iPads at that price. It would probably have to then recompense Apple for any lost profits. In fact, it would be remarkable if Apple didn’t pull Best Buy’s status as a certified reseller.
Now, tell me this, why in the world would the DoJ get involved? This argument is nothing more than the typical smoke and mirrors I’ve seen all too often whenever this topic comes up. Substitute Amazon for Best Buy and one of the Big Six publishers for Apple and you have the fall back argument these folks always come up with. Amazon bad. They were selling too low. Publishers didn’t like it. If there was collusion, it wasn’t that bad. After all, Amazon bad.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’m more than happy to discuss the matter with those who don’t agree with me. But the key word here is discuss. But please, don’t think those of us who don’t jump onboard the Amazon is Evil wagon train lack the ability to google. We do google and it is all too easy to discover that there are a handful of authors who seem to be trolling the blogs saying the same thing over and over again, as if by doing so they can either score points with their editors or convince the rest of us that we really should bend over and take it in the rear from legacy publishers, giving up the larger royalties we can get by self-publishing or going with small presses that realize there would be no book, hard copy or digital, without the author.
Then there were some of the responses to Sarah’s post yesterday. Mind you, I understand the author’s fear about what will happen to non-fiction books if legacy publishing goes belly up. This is a scary time for anyone in the business. But it is up to each of us to decide how we are going to face the changes that have happened and that will happen. Are we going to sit there, wringing our hands and doing nothing? Are we going to think about what we should do and yet never do it? Or are we going to figure out how we can make these changes work best for us?
Frankly, as a non-fiction author, I’d embrace the changes. Digital books offer so many possibilities never offered by print books. You can have interactive sections within the e-book that lets the reader see what would happen if a certain army unit moved here instead of there. You can link to external sources. You can embed video or audio. Just think of all the possibilities.
But what this author did and didn’t realize — and I’m not sure she has realized it yet — is insult fiction authors. In her mind, those of us who self-publish simply sit at our computers and write. We don’t research. We just crank out books every few months and rake in our royalties. We aren’t, in other words, real writers. Sorry, but I know how much research I do. I know how much authors like Sarah do when writing a period piece. Working with Kate as one of her editors for Impaler and Born in Blood, I know how much research she does for her alternate history.
Writers, at least those who care to be accurate, research. It doesn’t matter if they are writing fiction or non-fiction. If a writer wants to be successful, he’d better research. Believe me, if you don’t, you will be called on each and every mistake you make. But to simply paint with broad strokes that fiction writers don’t research drives me batty.
So here it is, guys. There has been no finding of collusion yet. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. And, if it did exist — and I believe it did — you can’t overlook it just because you think the bigger evil is the entity that the collusion was aimed against. The fact that Amazon — or any other reseller — MIGHT do something in the future isn’t reason enough to penalize them now. Dig your heads out of your publishers’ backsides and actually study not only the DoJ’s filings, but what has been going on in the industry for years. Maybe then you’d realize why others are upset about the creative bookkeeping that is called royalty statements. Maybe then you’d understand that books aren’t fungible and authors aren’t interchangeable. Maybe then you’d realize that harm has been done by raising prices of e-books. If fewer books are being sold, that means less money in your pocket.
BTW, the number of states joining the suit against Apple, et al, has just been increased to 31.
I guess the easiest way to say it is this: Think and quit parroting the party line given you by your legacy publisher.