An article in Publishers Weekly, called “Indie Authors, Readers Show Support for Amazon,” came my way on Friday, July 4. Anything that has the words “authors,” “Amazon,” and “support” in the same sentence (or headline) has my attention, because these days that’s an unlikely combination.
Except in the case of authors who publish only on Amazon, and readers who buy their books.
That seems logical: authors who are not or cannot get published anywhere but on Amazon have a vested interest in supporting it; their readers have a vested interest in supporting those authors. So twenty-seven Amazon authors have released a long, rather creepy petition that you can read here on a site called change.org.
The sloppily-copy-edited petition is addressed to “Dear Readers” and signed by “your authors.” Since I’m not one of their readers and none of them is my author and I’d never even heard of a single one of them, I looked up half a dozen of the names. Judging from the websites I tried to read, they write badly but prolifically, and they major in the categories of horror, paranormal, thriller, and romance. They’re not trying to write anything you’d call literature, as far as I can ascertain, and they claim to have millions of readers.
This tells us that there might be millions of readers out there who gobble junk e-books and are very happy that Amazon sells those e-books for very little money.
The petition asks readers to refrain from boycotting Amazon because a boycott would hurt the writers of e-books. But the readers of the kind of books written by these particular authors and others like them will never boycott Amazon since they can’t get those books anyplace else. Repeat: No one who reads these Amazon-published e-books is going to boycott Amazon. And a boycott of Amazon will have no effect on these particular authors and readers.
The authors’ petition argues that the Big Five publishers overprice their own e-books and that Amazon is trying to stop this practice on behalf of readers. True or not, why would that matter to this kind of author? These writers aren’t going to be published by major houses no matter what the price of an e-book is. Anyway, they already have a publisher–Amazon–so what’s their problem? They don’t actually have a problem, but they do seem to want to show support for Amazon.
Discouraging any boycott of Amazon may make sense to the Big Twenty-seven Authors, but for published writers who are seriously affected by the way Amazon strong-arms the industry, a boycott is a reasonable tactic. It hasn’t yet gained enough strength among buyers to have an effect, but we can hope. And it’s hard for authors who aren’t Stephen Colbert or Scott Turow or Nora Roberts to stand up and be counted–who isn’t afraid of the biggest bully in town? Does Midlist Author X want to be blackballed by Amazon? No.
The problem with this dispute is that there are no good guys. It’s perfectly true that many of the publishers and imprints that comprise the Big Five have not been good to a lot of writers and authors. Big-gun authors make scads of money; the midlisters don’t. The system is flawed, unfair, unbusinesslike, and often downright stupid. But it’s equally true that Amazon uses its almost unimaginable wealth and clout to manipulate the publishing industry–and that’s even worse for the majority of writers.
SIDEBAR: Here’s another article on the subject, which probably won’t cheer you up very much (it cheered me up a little) but will enlighten you.
And here’s a perfect Rant Week piece from Dennis Johnson of Melville House: The Silence of the Publishers. Don’t miss.
FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast
Astoria Bookshop, Queens, NY
Bookmark It, Orlando, FL
Page 1 Books, Albuquerque, NM