Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fisking James Patterson

Let me start by saying James Patterson is a great author, as evidenced by the success he has had.  He is far and away one of the most prolific writers in the world, and I'd be happy to have a tenth the level of monetary success he has experienced.  That said, his writing talent doesn't translate to business sense, or understanding of writers not named Patterson, King, or Baldacci.

He wrote an op-ed on recently where he weighed in on the Hachette/Amazon dispute.  He gets space on CNN because he's...well...he's James Patterson.  His cache is greater than most writers, and those who have higher stock would be able to do the same thing.  However, if you put yourself out there, you also open yourself up to being disputed, and Patterson has done that here in spades.

The piece starts off with this:
I spend way too much time daydreaming about being Jeff Bezos. It's not that he's thinner than me. Or younger. It's not the superhuman confidence of his laugh. It's not the legacy of stunning innovations or his off-the-charts business intuition. It's not even his mind-boggling revenue stream. (I'm frankly boggled at my own revenue stream -- though it is just a stream next to his mighty rain forest river.)

It's that I keep thinking about what a hero I could be, were I he.

For as much as I admire Patterson's writing talent, I don't daydream about being him, Harry Turtledove, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or anyone else besides RD Meyer.  Time is far too valuable to worry about being someone else, no matter what that person does or how much success that person comes by.  I've never understood athletes who say they want to be the next Michael Jordan, politicians who say they want to be the next Abraham Lincoln, and I don't understand it with writers.  I don't want to imitate anyone - I want to carve my own niche out in history, and wondering what it'd be like if I was somebody else distracts from that goal.  Be your own man, James Patterson, and let others be theirs.

Sure, I have ushered in the age of Internet commerce, but, no, I am not now hanging around just to collect my financial reward, or even to bask in the public recognition.

You see, I, Jeff Bezos, am actually trying to make this a better world.
First, it must be nice to be so well off that you don't worry about your financial reward, even though it's not really a reward(it's called profit, something Bezos worked his ass off to earn, not something that was handed to him, as Patterson implies).  Second, disregarding this, Bezos has indeed made this a better world.  Amazon has not only revolutionized basic commerce, especially in regards to books, it has also provided a platform for writers to earn a living outside of the traditional publishing model.  Some make it, and some suck, but it's the market that decides rather than a group of elites at the right cocktail party.
Here is where I will make clear that Amazon has already been responsible -- directly responsible -- for getting millions of books into the hands and minds of millions and millions of people, and that this is nothing short of holy work.
Actually, Amazon has already made that clear - they don't need James Patterson to point it out.  The readers who get books from Amazon know this as well.  It's also not "holy work," but rather a business.  One earns a living from business, and great innovators change the way business is done(as Bezos has).  The high flying philosophical bullshit sounds great when talking to a crowd, but it's near meaningless in a world governed by the rules of the market.
Obviously these publishers -- however inefficient and old-fashioned (did you know many of them quaintly still let their employees do half-day Fridays in the summer?) -- remain the best way to find, nurture, and invest in up-and-coming authors.
So many things wrong with this paragraph that it's hard to know where to begin.  Let's start with the notion that publishers are doing us all a favor by patting their employees on the head, and, gosh darn it, giving people a half a day off in the summer, as if that has any bearing on their dealings with Amazon...or whether people who buy books even care.
Next, he freely acknowledges that traditional publishing is "inefficient and old fashioned" while simultaneously acting as if that's a good thing.  Sorry, but taking over a year to go from submitted work to a novel on the shelves, or giving out royalties to authors only twice a year(and often hiding so many debits that it's hard to know the accounting) is not quaint; it's insane.  These are practices that have failed to adapt to the modern world, and most other enterprises would have gone belly up long ago were they not the near-monopolies with gatekeepers that traditional publishing is.
And let's talk about those gatekeepers - for Patterson to claim, with a straight face, that traditional publishing nurtures or invests in up and coming authors is asinine.  Not only are the terms ridiculously one-sided(unless your name is Patterson), they've begun to shift from out-of-the-blue phenoms to scouring indie pages for the next big thing(as if indie is some kind of farm league for them).  From Hugh Howie to Amanda Hocking, the newest "big things" are in the indie realm.  Even Fifty Shades of Grey started out as indie fan fiction.  So please spare us the whimsical notion that publishers are finding talent and nurturing it along.  They are nurturing established talent and not giving newbies a chance to rise - newbies either prove themselves fast or they're gone.
Today I am going to stop leaning on book publishers. I am going to stop brandishing Amazon's market share as a corrective cudgel. They needed a little remonstrative pressure, but now it's gone too far and they are doing what all embattled higher organisms do: They are joining forces against a common (though, as they will soon see, inaccurately perceived) enemy. Random House buys Penguin. Hachette absorbs Perseus.
Basically, Amazon is acting mean and needs to stop.  No logic in the paragraph beyond "those poor publishers really just want to survive and help out the masses."  Even after admitting that these entities are absorbing others and becoming near-monopolies(check out this link about how they're also price-colluding, turning them from near monopolies into one gigantic entity), he doesn't seem to grasp the once-monolithic stranglehold they have, yet they want more.
But I, Jeff Bezos, also clearly see that we are going to have fewer great books and writers discovered in the coming years if there are fewer curators with the financial wherewithal to nurture them. And, no way around it, fewer publishing houses equals fewer curators. It's not a money thing, it's a diversity-of-perspective thing. One company -- no matter how high-minded and cleverly structured it is -- will offer fewer perspectives than many companies will.
This guy has somehow missed the boom in new writers coming through the indie forums the last few years and thinks that only traditional can create new voices.  How arrogant...and wrong.
I am going to deal with publishers fairly and openly. No more punishing them with delayed shipments of books we could have ordered. No more taking down of buy and pre-order buttons, knowing that Amazon can withstand the revenue dip far better than they can.
Several inaccuracies of note here, beginning with the absurd notion that Amazon is just doing this for shits and giggles, or maybe because they're eeeeeevvvvvvviiiiiiiilllllllll.  Sorry, but this is a business tactic, and one used to negotiate a new deal with a company, Hachette, whose contract has run out(and whose contract Amazon unilaterally extended once already).  If the tactic wasn't promising, Amazon wouldn't use it, and you wouldn't be crying like a school girl because the mean guys down the block won't let you sell your stuff through them.
I also note that Patterson never once mentions the intermediate remedy Amazon proposed - to give 100% of book revenues sold during this time to the authors who wrote the novels in question while a deal continues to be worked.  My guess is that many Hachette authors whose name isn't Patterson, and who might have some difficulty putting food on the table in lean times, would jump at this, but Hachette hasn't exactly publicized it.  Maybe because they know their writers would revolt at knowing how Hachette treated the proposal.
Patterson also fails to note the underlying issue, which is the discounting of e-books.  I have no idea why he thinks readers will pay the same for a download as they would for a physical product.  I can only assume he is so out of touch that he thinks most people have money to burn, or that most people are so stupid that they think it costs the same to produce an e-book as it does to create a paper one.
Believe it or not, I've held back on many of the things I wanted to say about Patterson's views, which are, to say the least, lacking.  No matter how much talent in writing novels the man has, his business sense needs work.  Either that, or he is so out of touch that he is incapable of understanding the market he sells in - it works great for him, but not so much for the rest of the peons.
James Patterson, you said you imagined Jeff Bezos could be a hero.  Imagine the hero you could be were you to use your clout to get Hachette to treat its other writers better.  However, that might require you to think of others besides yourself, and from this article, I don't know if that's possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment