Quack, quack, quack

by Amanda S. Green

No, that’s not me fondly imagining going to the duck pond and a warm Spring afternoon. That’s fun and brings back wonderful memories of when my son was little and we’d head out to the park to feed the ducks. No, the quack, quack, quack is the sound I hear in my mind whenever I read the latest diatribe against Amazon or when I read the rantings against Paypal, and by association Smashwords, right now.

Let’s start with Amazon. Once more, the slings and arrows are being aimed at Amazon. Why? Because it’s acting like a business. A week or so again, IPG (Independent Publishers Group) announced that Amazon had failed to accept its side of contract negotiations and had stopped selling IPG e-books. A round of outraged howls ran through the industry. How dare Amazon stop selling e-books it no longer had a contract in place for! How dare it not accept terms it, Amazon, didn’t think were favorable to the company! I even saw one newspaper headline out of Chicago that denounced Amazon for this.

Now, I’ll admit here and now that I don’t know what the terms for the new contract were. But I recognize the attempt to blackmail a company via the media when I see it. And don’t fool yourself. That is exactly what this happens to be.

I’ll admit that I find myself wondering why any publisher, large or small, uses a third party distributor for its e-books. The only exceptions are for those outlets that don’t accept direct submissions from small presses (Diesel e-books is one example) or iTunes/iBooks that require specific hardware to be able to upload your titles to their store. For retail outlets like Amazon and Barnes & Noble,  it is too easy to upload your books yourself and cut out the cost of a middleman. And that is exactly what IPG is–a middleman. From their website: Independent Publishers Group was founded in 1971, the first organization specifically created for the purpose of representing titles from independent presses to the book trade. So, middleman.

If you go to IPG’s website, the first thing you’ll see is their editorial, sorry explanation, for how much an e-book should cost. What strikes me as I read it is how closely it dovetails to the explanation we’ve seen from the legacy publishers. After already detailing the costs of publishing the hard copy version of a book, they go on to repeat the costs — in other words, double dip — for the digital version:

An e-book still needs all of the expensive editorial services noted above; and if it is going to sell, it has to be marketed, distributed, and publicized, just as a print edition must be. And the author royalty on an e-book sale is usually about the same as it is for a print book, even though the list price of the e edition is lower.

Needless to say, I have several issues with the above statement.  Assuming the e-book is question also has a print version, those editorial services IPG mentions — editing, cover design, layout, etc — have already been done. It’s the same book from the same manuscript and will have the same cover. So, FAIL on this argument.  As for the author royalty being the same on an e-book sale as it is for the hard copy version, well, not only NO but HELL NO. If an author continues to agree to terms such as these, he should have his head examined.

Here is a sure indicator of how so many still think in the industry: E-books, as they become more important in the book trade, will have to carry their full share of the editorial and marketing costs of producing them.

I agree — sort of — with the above comment. But only when there is editing going on and not the hand-wavium I’ve seen all too often from books coming out of legacy publishers. And shall we talk about marketing and promotion? What’s that? Is that the sound of Dave and Sarah having hysterics in the background? Yep, it is because, boys and girls, unless you are the newest best thing or one of a very few best sellers, there is no marketing and promotion. So why should readers pay for non-existent services and why should authors have their fair cut of monies made lessened?

This editorial by IPG goes on to say there are only two ways publishers can work with Amazon: the Agency Model and a wholesale model. The Agency Model, as you know, means the publisher sets the price and they get 70% in return. The wholesale model, in general, means the publisher — or, in this case, the distributor — gets 50%. IPG goes on to say, “Now Amazon is insisting on terms for both print books and e-books that are even less favorable for independent presses.” Then the question is asked about how publishers are to survive with this lesser revenue.

Now, let’s look at what IPG is saying. First, there is another way for small presses to work with Amazon. The KDP program was established to make it easier for small presses and authors who want to self-publish to put their titles up for sale on Amazon. You don’t have to go through a distributor or repackager. That means you don’t have to pay someone else to do something you can very easily do for yourself. There is no reason for a small press to cut into their profits by paying a third party to put its e-books up on Amazon or BN.com.

Notice also that IPG is quick to say what the two main models are and to decry that Amazon wants to cut into their profit margin with new contract terms. What it isn’t quick to say is just what those terms are. I might be a bit more sympathetic if they were a bit more forthcoming with the pertinent details.

And then there’s the quack, quack, quack of all those who were quick to jump on the bandwagon to condemn Amazon for, gasp, removing titles it no longer had a contract to sell. Now, before the little duckies say it could have kept them up and the contract negotiations could have continued, they could have. But why? Amazon is a business with shareholders who expect it to make money. Look, I doubt most of us would expect our local grocery store to continue stocking items from a manufacturer it no longer had a contract with. Nor would we expect that concrete company to keep pouring concrete on a project it no longer had a contract for.

Do I feel for the authors who have been impacted by this? Sure. But I also think they need to be talking to their publishers, those same publishers who contract with IPG for distribution services, about not using a third party to distribute their e-books to venues as easy to get into as Amazon and BN.com. Common sense should tell them that they’d all make more money without the middle man.

For more on this, check out Dear Author has to say.

The issue with Paypal comes because of notice it has sent to Smashwords and other sites that sell erotica. The basic gist of the notice from Paypal was that it would no longer do business with sites that sold books (erotica) that dealt with the themes of rape, bestiality, incest. This included pseudo-rape and pseudo-incest. Oh the howls that went up, few of those doing it ever asking “Why?”

The result of this notice from Paypal was that sites like Smashwords and AllRomance sent emails to their authors/publishers asking them to take down any titles that fall into these categories. Now, before everyone gets upset, Paypal isn’t saying you can’t have a rape scene in your book. What it is saying is it can’t be there for titillation’s sake. What I’m reminded of is Justice Potter Stewart’s comment about pornography: I know it when I see it.

Now, I can think of any number of reasons why Paypal sent this notice. Their Terms of Service do prohibit products that violate the law, encourage others to violate the law, etc.  I’m not saying any of the titles involved are illegal. Nor am I saying they encourage others to violate the law. However, we’ve all seen the rash of lawsuits against gun manufacturers, for example, after someone goes on a shooting spree. Just the existence of the gun was enough for someone to bring suit. Also, it is important to remember that sites like Smashwords sell outside of the U.S. where these titles might actually be in violation of some law and Paypal may have received a cease and desist order that we don’t know about.

I’ve also seen speculation that Paypal is merely bending to pressure from credit card issuers that they either pay a higher percentage of the sales price per title to the credit card company because of the high number of charge backs for these sorts of title or not be able to accept payments using those credit cards. Whatever the reason, it was handled badly.

No, it was handled very badly.  I was handled so badly that people have leveled charges of censorship against Paypal. That may be the underlying reason but I doubt it. Not when it is easy to guess that porn makes a lot of money online and Paypal is a company after a profit. So why would it cut off a lucrative income path?

The problem is that Paypal gave very short notice, without real explanation, to those sites using it and presented only an ultimatum. Either take down the possibly offending titles or lose the ability to use our services. That meant these sites reacted quickly, sending out notices to their authors and publishers and, yes, there were knee-jerk reactions. Heck, I had an initial knee-jerk reaction even though I neither write those sorts of books nor does Naked Reader Press publish them. But then I quit listening to the quack, quack, quack and started looking and asking questions.

The general reaction to both the Amazon/IPG controversy as well as the Paypal issue has been exactly that — knee-jerk. Then comes the pile on by the lemmings who don’t stop to read and think for themselves. Instead, they just repeat what they’ve seen or heard. Quack, quack, quack.

Am I saying Amazon and Paypal are in the right in these two situations? No. Nor am I saying they are in the wrong. What I am saying is that we don’t have enough information. I’m saying that when we don’t have enough information it is our responsibility to do our research before jumping onto the bandwagon. Quack, quack, quack.

Maybe I’m beating my head against the wall here. I don’t know. Maybe it would be better to let the lemmings all jump off the legacy publishing cliff. In the meantime, the only quacking I want to hear is from the real ducks at the pond, not from those on two legs who ought to know better but who are either incapable of independent thought and research or are afraid of it.


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