First a little bit of Amazon BAAAAAD, B&N GOOOOOOD to fascinate you.
I’m always amazed at this whole good and evul thing with book-sellers and publishers. It’s really not that black and white. These are people you’re doing business with. Not lovers or fairy-tale creatures. There may once upon a time have been good book publishers who found talent and nurtured it, so the world could be a better place, and good booksellers who hand-sold great literature for the sake of readers and writers, purely… In some widely diverging universe maybe there still are. But in this one they’d have a mouse’s survival in a cattery. I’d trust Amazon or B&N for that matter, about as far as I could throw up, and projectile vomit isn’t one of my talents. But the truth is all of these companies have good and bad points. Amazon has not done anything that B&N didn’t as far as I can see. And from the author’s perspective, they’ve given us several very valuable gifts. They gave the number Publishers kept secret from us… free. They gave access to retail space, free, which meant that publishers no longer closed off all the access to that, except through them. They paid rates we could only dream of from anyone else. They gave us prompt payment. They did more for authors than anyone else.
This is something that no other bookseller, or publisher did. They could have. There is still an awful lot of help most authors need. The best thing that B&N and Apple and Google and the publishing houses could do, is match or batter these conditions and add some extra help. Instead, the authors guild wants us back on the plantation? I don’t trust Amazon, but if it’s that or a return to the old order I know what I am choosing.
I’d agree that publishing adds value – the issue is: how much is that worth? Historically publishing actually added value in three main ways: 1) Editorial expertise – intellectual labor (which is what writing is – intellectual labor, even mine.) 2)Seeing to the production and distribution of the paper product. 3)And this trumped them all, and meant the true value of one and two were irrelevant to the cost of their services. They provided access to retail space which was basically not available in any other way.
Unfortunately Macmillan’s scrap with Amazon ended up in the authors winning the battle for Macmillan (for which they got no thanks or reward, but more grasping), and Amazon replying by doing away with points two and three. So now publishers are once again relying the value added by intellectual labor. And having lost their trump card, exclusive access to retail space, they actually have no idea what that is worth. They’re trying to continue as if it was worth points 1,2&3. The value add = how much (plus a little) authors see publishers as worth. The trouble for publishers is intellectual labor is directly comparable with what the author does. Let’s assume you’re a really fast writer, working 8 hour days 5 days a week (for most of us this is a dream) and you finish a book in more or less 3 months – call it 500 hours of intellectual labor. Now, the book goes to your publisher – where it is very hard to conclude it sees more than 100 hours actual labor, not all of it very skilled. So at best your publisher is putting in 1/5 of the time you do (and this is probably the most generous estimate.) But you would expect a highly skilled editor to be worth more per hour than you are. Maybe… even 5 times. 400% more than you are valued at. Except… that’s a _total_ including the time of intern, and the badly paid copy-editor. So the skill level being paid for by the consumer and author is not particularly high. — and of course that’s NOT what these people get paid. This is a measure of value added. But it actually gets worse. The publisher expects to take 55% of the total income as to your 15% (1:3.66) for 1/5 of intellectual labor. Which leaves the intellectual labor of your publisher valued – by their share of the income – at at least 18.3 times yours, and quite probably a lot more. Yes, actually the money goes into paying rent in Park Avenue, and the interest on the huge advance they paid Joe, and the Legal department. But none of these things add value to the final product for the author or the reader, just to the publisher.
So: how much is your work worth relative to your editor’s work? Do you accept their contribution being worth 18 times yours? Or like me do you put a different relative value on their work.
Do you see a different way for them to approach this issue of relative value added?