Independence Day for Authors and Readers
A petition was created last night/this morning on Change.org to help clear some of the air surrounding the Amazon vs. Hachette dispute and Amazon vs. the Big Publishers in general. Here’s the link so you can read it in full and sign if you feel it’s appropriate for you. I signed it to show support for my readers and also in support of letting all sides of this story see some light of day, not just the Hachette side.
I watched an hour and a half video last night from the New York Public Library regarding this increasingly nasty dispute. One of the participants (the man next to the moderator on the left side) writes The Passive Voice blog and expressed some of his opinions in finer detail in a post here (since the moderator kept feeling the need to cut him off). Because I’m sure most of you don’t have that much free time lying around, I’ll hit some of the high/low lights here:
James Patterson referred to himself at first as a wounded gazelle, then amended it to simply gazelle. (That gazelle pulls in approximately $90 million per year through his publishing enterprises)
A lawyer repeatedly called the Department of Justice “silly” and “stupid” for its ruling against the Big 5 publishers when they tried to fix ebook pricing.
The same lawyer also said that, “Lower prices are not always better for consumers [readers].”
The agent/moderator claimed that many important works (largely non-fiction) would never get published without traditional publishing bankrolling those projects.
A medium sized publisher claimed his company had published works they knew wouldn’t see a return for “twenty or thirty years” simply because they felt the work was important to present to the world.
Another lawyer/author claimed Amazon’s search engine was pay based and was unclear where he uncovered that information.
A university professor insinuated that self-published works aren’t edited.
Patterson finished by equating Amazon’s actions to book burning.
Fear was the watchword for the discussion. Fear of Amazon. Fear of monopolies. Fear of loss of revenue and livelihood. I understand these fears, especially the last one as I encounter it nearly every day. But these are mostly fears of a possible future, one which may never come to pass. Where is the fear or anger at what already exists? Big Publishing has operated as a monopoly (an oligopoly technically) for decades. If they were competitors, don’t you think one or more of them would try offering better terms to their writers in order to attract the better ones to their company? Yet this is not the case. Author contracts are nearly identical between all of the major publishers. Rights are signed away for life plus 70 years. Authors receive advances of $5000 or less for work that has often taken months or years to complete. And they are paid twice a year from an antiquated and inscrutable accounting system that allows bookstores to return unsold books in the thousands.
Now, Amazon — and indeed Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and others — has created a way for authors to publish their work and receive fair payment for that work. Readers now get to decide whether a book is worthy of their attention or not, rather than a handful of suits in a Manhattan high rise. This new technology has big publishing running scared, just like the photography and music industries before them, and they are doing everything they can to hold on to the business model that has brought them comfort and joy for many, many years.
I feel bad for the Hachette authors who are now caught in the crossfire of this dispute — which is likely only the first of several by the way. They have no control over how their publisher handles its business, so they lash out at Amazon instead. In most cases, I’m sure, those authors were simply thrilled to have a publisher take on their books. Terms of the contract weren’t negotiable, by and large, so they simply signed and celebrated. I might have been one of them if I’d been offered that choice several years ago.
It’s time, however, for authors to stop being treated like indentured slaves. Embrace freedom and independence. Yes, the unknown can be frightening, but it’s only unknown if you make the choice to remain ignorant.
To the thousands of readers who have enjoyed my work, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You too, have won independence through this revolution in publishing. Works that would have never seen the light of day years ago because the publishers didn’t know how to market them are available in the thousands. There are more worlds to discover out there than ever before. So, go forth and read to your heart’s content and relish your independence.