Sunday, July 6, 2014

Bestselling Sycophants

People like Hugh Howey, JA Konrath, and I have been writing a lot about the situation between Amazon and Hachette.  Most indie writers seem to be on Amazon's side.  Another group of writers appears to be on Hachette's side.  Although I may be disappointed with this group - a group that includes people like James Patterson and Stephen King - I can't say I'm surprised.  After all, you usually backs the side that butters your bread.
Writers like Patterson, King, Clive Cussler, and John Grisham are supporting the inequity that exists in the publishing world.  They're got their deals, so why do they care what happens to newbies?  These guys get royal treatment from Hachette and other traditional publishers.  Traditional publishers bend over backwards any time these guys so much as write their name on a cocktail napkin, so it'd go against human nature for them to turn aside such a quick cash machine.  However, the more evil part of the support, whether intentional or not, is that they're hoping to prevent others from horning in on their market share.

Hachette and others hold writers under their thumb by demanding outrageous contract stipulations and relying on their superior bargaining positions to get what they want.  This means little to authors like King or Patterson since they can demand higher royalty fees and larger advances, but over 80% of writers chained to traditional publishers can't make a living from their work.  They're attached to contracts that have non-compete clauses, provide (at best) a 15% royalty rate they're lucky to get twice a year, and the rights to their backlist is totally at the mercy of the publisher.  They can't shop around and demand more because they're not yet successful enough to have that influence, and traditional publishers are happy to keep it that way.

Hachette has shown typical Big 5 arrogance by demanding certain things from Amazon, and they've acted shocked that the biggest distributor in the market has told them to get bent.  I still don't think the Big 5 yet understand the shifts going on in the industry; they think this is 1985, and they hold all the cards.  Thanks to current technology, and the rise of indie publishing that has accompanied it, that's no longer the case.  But that hasn't stopped the bestselling authors from rushing to the aid of the folks who lick their boots.  After all, why would they want to see writers beneath them get better terms?

Now it's true that Amazon isn't doing what they're doing out of concern for the authors - they're doing it to increase market share and make money.  However, isn't that also why folks like Phillip Pullman support Hachette over Amazon?  They don't like the discounting of prices, nor do they care for the hardball tactics of holding back on distribution, but they're not about to totally abandon the largest distributor on the planet.  I take Amazon's side for two main reasons - first, because I instinctively side against an industry that treats all but the very best like dirt; and second, because Amazon's practices usually result in lower prices for consumers, meaning more people can afford books.  Since indie writers usually offer at lower prices - we can't demand the exorbitant prices of folks like Scott Turrow - more people are flocking to our work.  We earn greater royalties than Hachette's minions, and we have greater control over our lives.  What's not to like?

It's a shame that King, Patterson, Grisham, and many others who are already established have no concern for up and comers, opting instead to take their own money, the rest of the populace be damned.  To me, such taking of sides shows one of two things:  either they're sucking up to the publishers who've nearly run the industry into the ground because they feel more secure with the boss they know, or they're so into their own money that they don't give a shit about either the consumer or the new writers struggling to make it.  This isn't 1985 anymore, where there were tons of presses and a little hard work got you into that crowd.  There are only five major publishers left, publishers who won't accept non-solicited work and who force new writers into such bad terms that they're essentially a class of indentured servants.  I don't know if the bestsellers have really thought this through or not, but they sure seem to be purveyors of the very inequality they always deride in real life.

No comments:

Post a Comment