Rant Week continued: Twenty-seven not-my-friends

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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.

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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.

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 FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Astoria Bookshop, Queens, NY

Bookmark It, Orlando, FL

Page 1 Books, Albuquerque, NM

 

 

Read 9 comments

  1. A sidebar on the side bar. For those who don’t know them, Melville House is a wonderful publisher and re-issuer of important books. Their physical books are also among the most beautiful and are fabulous in the hand. Marnie

  2. The fact remains: one pays its authors royalties of about 70% while the other pays them about 12.5%. There are many self-published authors (via Amazon and others, vanity presses, etc) who are, like it or not, are earning six figures every month from their writing. Doesn’t every writer dream of earning a living from their writing? Not every published work has to be to everyone’s taste and they don’t all have to be literary masterpieces. YOU may not be their target market and you may not be lining their pockets. Nor am I, with rare exception. But someone is. Many people are! And for a writer that wants to make a living with their writing, it’s a dream come true. Why begrudge them that?

    • I think you’re misunderstanding my point, which is that a boycott is useful only to the writers who are NOT published by Amazon. It will (or would) have no effect on the writers who ARE published by Amazon. Fine–let those writers refrain from a boycott. But boycotting Amazon, to get some leverage for the other publishers, is a reasonable tactic for the rest of us. If Amazon clobbers the Big 5, every non-Amazon writer is worse off in the end. You’re asserting that I want to get rid of Amazon writers–which isn’t what I want (or wrote) at all. On the contrary, I’m in favor of more publishing of all kinds–which won’t happen if Amazon squeezes the major publishers out of the e-book market.

  3. Lorrie – I don’t personally believe a boycott is useful to anyone. I think the petition is rather useless too. Maybe I’m just jaded all around, but I don’t believe any outside source, not even my pal Colbert, is going to make a damn bit of difference to the outcome of this battle. I think this would all end a lot quicker if the big-name authors would stand up for everyone else and call-out the Big 5 for their own horrible policies that are unfriendly to any author that isn’t already a hit machine. The authors making the big money need to stand up for the ones who are barely scraping by. They should be demanding better royalties for everyone else. And they should be making the case for why lower eBook pricing is a win-win for everyone.

    I also take issue with this statement: “These writers aren’t going to be published by major houses no matter what the price of an e-book is. ” It smacks of elitism in a bad way. Here are some famous self-published works: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, LEAVES OF GRASS, THE JOY OF COOKING, E.E. Cummings Self-published a volume of poetry in 1935, reportedly financed by his mother. A Naked Singularity, a 700-page debut novel that Sergio De La Pava self-published in 2008 before Univ of Chicago Press discovered it.

    A few self-published regularly on the eBook best sellers list. Sometimes they even hit #1: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/self-published-title-hits-no-1-on-ebook-best-seller-list-for-first-time/

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