“Real” books, contracts and “evil” Amazon – a blast from the past

(Kilted Dave is hip deep in life between a toddler, a baby due any time and more. So, to give him a chance to get his head above water, I’ll drop this blast from the past here. It was first posted Oct. 21, 2014. It’s funny, and not necessarily in a ha-ha way, how much still applies to what we see today.)

I’m neck deep in final edits for Duty from Ashes, the second book in the Honor & Duty series written under the pen name Sam Schall. Because of that, my brain has been steeped in space marines, bad guys and things that go boom and not necessarily at night. As a result, I forgot that it is Tuesday and my day to blog. Fortunately — I think — the demon kitten oh-so-helpfully got me up. After extricating my hand from his claws and staggering into the kitchen in search of coffee, I started scanning my usual sources for topics for today’s post. Oh my, did I find some.

Let’s start with this article from USA Today. I knew from reading the headline that it was probably something that would have my blood pressure rising. After all, how else would I react to “Real books can defeat Amazon and e-books”?

Wait! What? Real books?

Then I started reading and I realize the headline was only the beginning.

The book business believes that Amazon is unfair in the way it sells books. It believes, in fact, that Amazon in its sales practices — pressuring the book publishers to lower their prices and profits — is the enemy. Amazon’s ultimate design, publishers believe, is to ruin them or to wholly shift the center of gravity in the business from the creators of books to Amazon, the dominant seller.

Oookay, yet another journalist — and I use that term loosely — who believes that the publisher is the creator of books. It always amazes me when someone who writes for a living is so willing to hand over the title of creator to the entity that simply distributes the created work. Folks, think about it. Publishers publish. They arrange for distribution and sales channels. They do NOT create the book unless you are looking solely at the printing or conversion into digital format.

But let’s continue.

The book business response has been to protest hotly and try to wage a moral war against what it sees as an immoral competitor — having, for instance, its writers sign petitions and ads.

Moral? Huh? I’m not even sure where to start here. It is moral to keep royalties low and to manipulate royalty reports through the use of BookScan, which does not report every sale or even every sales outlet? It is moral to have their authors sign petitions and ads and then deny that they, the publisher, had anything to do with it? Funny, that isn’t exactly my definition of moral.

I am not surprised that Amazon’s attempt to maximize its profit is seen as immoral. Clearly the article’s author is of the ilk that believes capitalism is evil and succesful businesses should give up their profits in an attempt to prop up the business practices of other commercial enterprises that are killing themselves through poor decision making.

Need you more proof that the author is anything but unbiased in his belief that Amazon is evil and publishers pure?

The curious thing is that while Amazon is undercutting publishers (suggesting, in the case of Hachette, its most forceful antagonist, that both Hachette and Amazon forgo e-book profits, handing them directly to writers), publishers actually have much greater leeway to undercut Amazon.

Funny how he fails to note that this suggestion was made by Amazon in an attempt to help the authors Hachette has been accusing it of hurting. Note also that the author of the article fails to say how Amazon then, when Hachette refused this proposal, offered to pay the authors directly, without any funds coming from Hachette. That, too, was refused by the publisher. But it is Amazon that is evil and trying to “undercut” the publishers.

I will admit, the article does make one or two good points. But my real complaint is its basic premise that only publisher can save books and that e-books aren’t real books and anything coming from anyone but a traditional publisher is not a real book. It is time the article’s author, like so many publishers, come out of the cave and look around. The world has changed and product demand has changed. If publishers are to survive, they have to adapt. All the protestations against Amazon and e-books aren’t going to help.

On a related note, Hachette may have dug its heels in too deeply where Amazon is concerned. While no official announcement has been made — that I have found — sources in the know say that Amazon and Simon & Schuster have inked a new deal with puts in place a modified version of the agency pricing model.According to Publishers Weekly, the new deal will take effect the beginning of next year. The deal will allow S&S to set the price for both hard copy and e-books but will, apparently, also give Amazon some leeway to discount prices. That is the big difference between the agency pricing model that was struck down by the courts. If the story is true, then Hachette has lost some of its advantage by being the first to negotiate a new contract with Amazon. How long it will now take them to reach an agreement probably depends on how much crow Hachette and, to a lesser extent, Amazon are willing to eat.

So we are, again, at situation normal. Traditional publishing — with a few exceptions — and their proponents want to lay all of publishing’s ills at the feet of Amazon. It wants to continue the myth that there would be no books without publishers and anything but a “real” printed book is not a book. I don’t know about you, but I can read an e-book just as easily — sometimes more easily — than I can a “real” book. I can certainly enjoy them the same as I can a “real” book. More to the point, unlike those cave dwelling publishers, I know that there would be no books without the authors. THEY are the creators. Publishers are, at best, distributors these days.

And now, it’s time for me to get back to my not-book. Go write and, better yet, read a book. The author will thank you.

8 thoughts on ““Real” books, contracts and “evil” Amazon – a blast from the past

  1. What makes me stare at the Big 5 companies in awe and wonder is that a year and a bit later, they show no signs of learning. “Make e-books more expensive!” followed by “E-book sales are down, and we were right! Print forever Baaaay-be.”

    And of course scarcely a week goes by without cries of warning about the evils of Amazon “monopoly” and “censorship” and “promoting a tsunami of swill” and “ruining literature/reading/the genre.” I may start listening more closely if they announce that Jeff Bezos is funding the Sweet Meteor of Death, or the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, because at least it would be something new.

    1. Sort of reminds me of all the Ford vs. Chevy truck commercials, as if those were the only choices. Meanwhile Toyota…

      Yeah, not the same thing, but…

  2. O…M…F…G.
    The publisher is the creator of books?
    As someone who writes (alas not paid sufficiently as of yet for said writing to live in the !% style to which I should very much like to become accustomed), I am just hornswaggled, to use an old-fashioned country expression. I am also a publisher, and of other writers; books, so — yes, I can tell the difference.
    Yes, publishers of note provide a necessary service … but expecting to treat writers like so many laying hens who can be fed on chicken feed and keep on producing those golden, golden eggs for the reward and mere prestige of being published by one of the Big Five? It’s a sham, and I believe that more and more talented writers have come to see it.

    Look, about all the Established Publishers have is connections and some tarnished prestige, Everything else they provide – editing, formatting, cover design, printing if required – and distribution, marketing and publicity – can be provided without giving up the largest portion of reward for a writer’s labor. So what does the Literary Industrial Complex bring to the game? Well … prestige. And ease of the burden for about two or three hundred of the favored author elite. The rest of us are likely better off on our own.

  3. Amazon is eating their lunch. Of course they have to protest – and are still doing it today and every day.

    They can’t compete in the marketplace – so they outcompete Amazon in whining, and Amazon rarely takes up the challenge (thought I hope the Washington Post editors are making their minions go out there and actually do good journalism and see where all the holes in the story are. I have been surprised at Amazon’s restraint all during the negotiations, but I think it is proof they are the bigger guy, and not just in selling.

    If there were any monopolies involved, it was the big publishers colluding (as has been proved in court). I don’t think there’s any doubt of where this story is going; I just keep trying to figure out how I can do more to get on Amazon’s gravy train.

    1. Oh, they could compete, but not using their old model. ebooks sanely priced, and with a ‘works on any device’ portability touted as a feature.. oh there is a publisher that does that, but it’s evidently been baened to suggest others adopt methods that actually work.

  4. I think the article has it half right: publishers should sell directly to customers, it will give publishers power to push a book that they currently lack (without having to buy such push from their retail partners) and, more importantly, given them access to valuable customer and sales data.

    However, I think the article gets it wrong in the medium. If publishers become successful selling direct to consumer, it will almost certainly be with ebooks rather than physical books. However, the first step has to be to get rid of the DRM. If I buy a book from Baen, O’Reilly, or Smashwords, I can email it to my Kindle address and have it on my device instantly. With DRM, it is impossible on Kindle and a major pain on literally every other platform. The music industry showed that DRM mostly empowers the device manufacturer, and the way to bust a near-monopoly (Apple in that case) was to allow any store to sell the one format that was supported by every music player.

    In the last year, exactly zero movement has occurred on DRM. Do publishers not believe that MP3s killed Apple’s stranglehold on the music industry or do they still believe that pirates are a bigger threat than Amazon? Heck, Tor has been DRM-free for a while now. If its a bad idea, why wouldn’t they shut it down? If it is a good idea, why hasn’t it spread to other Macmillan imprints? Presumably they now have the data needed to make the decision.

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