Unless you’ve been living deep in the Amazon (the rainforest, not the retail giant), you have probably heard… and heard… and heard… about Amazon vs. Hachette.
At this point, I agree with Evil Wylie:
Let us all pray for an end to the Hachette/Amazon dispute before someone writes another blog post.
— Evil Wylie (@EvilWylie) July 10, 2014
(But apparently, I do not agree enough to refrain from writing my own blog post about it.)
In case you need a primer, Amazon and Hachette are squaring off over e-book prices. In order to increase their negotiating leverage, Amazon is trying to squeeze Hachette by removing pre-orders for their books and otherwise making them more difficult to procure. This has dragged on for nearly two months, and in order to help quell complaints that it is harming authors, Amazon recently announced a plan to pay authors in full during the dispute, an offer the Authors Guild called “highly disingenuous.” (Here’s more background from David Streitfeld).
What I find most amazing about this dispute is the extent to which it is a Rorschach Test for your views on the publishing industry writ large. The predictable traditional publishing industry defenders have come out in force against Amazon, and the predictable anti-traditional publishing industry forces (especially certain vocal segments of the self-publishing community) have come out in full-throated Amazonian defense.
Call me crazy, (and yes, I’m not directly affected by this dispute), but I’m not endlessly titillated by the sharp-elbowed negotiations of two massive multinational corporations who are both fighting for their respective financial interests.
Nor do I see it as a referendum on the future of literary culture, which has been on the verge of the apocalypse for the past five hundred years without said apocalypse ever coming to pass.
Instead, I see this as a wakeup call for authors to think about what it is they’re actually arguing about.
Here’s the thing, authors. Amazon is not your best friend. Amazon is looking out for Amazon.
Hachette is not your best friend, either. Hachette is looking out for Hachette.
Inasmuch as your interests coincide with Amazon and Hachette, they are more than happy to be your friend. And there are great people who work at both companies. But when your interests diverge with theirs and they want to maximize revenue and are able to extract more from you because they’ve increased their leverage, whose side do you think they’re going to choose? Yours or theirs?
Do you endlessly trust Amazon to protect author’s interests after they’ve thoroughly cemented their position as the primary game in town? Are you really happy with the digital royalty traditional publishers are paying?
So where is the for-authors-by-authors publishing option? How about a partnership with the indie bookselling community to create the literary culture we really want instead of hoping that huge corporations are going to come to our rescue? How about instead of picking which intermediary we like better we disintermediate and build a J.K. Rowling-esque option that truly goes directly from author to readers?
Yes yes, easier said than done and someone has to pick up the mantle and do it. I’m, uh, busy with writing and stuff.
But at the very least, count me out of the letters and counter-letters and the flame wars and the bile. Rather than authors fighting it out we should be working together to create something better.
Art: Symposium by Akseli Gallen-Kallela