Amazon vs. Everyone: Does It Even Matter?

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Amazon and publishing house Hachette are still making news for… pretty much not doing anything. Both are still deadlocked on a new deal, and it’s starting to get nasty.

Here’s the skinny, for those who haven’t been following along (or didn’t catch our new feature last Friday, the Weekly Writer Wrap-up). Hachette and Amazon are supposedly duking it out over ebook price and revenue splits. It’s the same battle fought a couple of years ago with the price-fixing debacle.

I’ve been reading a number of opinions on both sides, both of which have arguments of merit. On the Hachette side, Amazon is behaving like the monopoly they wish to be, strong-arming the struggling supplier with prices that are unsustainable to their business model. On the Amazon side, supporters say the retailer is leveling the playing field, making books both more affordable to the reader and more profitable to the author.

So who’s in the right? To me, that’s not the correct question to be asking. Instead I’m asking what is better for the reader and the author, of which I am both. Let me break down my perspective to you, and maybe together we can figure what we can do about the issue.

As a reader, I’m interested in value. I don’t mean cheap. I mean value. If one of my favorite authors is releasing a new book, I’m going to place a higher value on that book and be more willing to pay a higher price for it. If I’m taking a chance on an unknown author whose book has caught my eye for whatever factor, I’m more likely to purchase that book if the price is lower. It’s not a judgement on the writing — I haven’t read it yet. It is more about the risk to me. If I enjoy it, I’ll be more likely to buy more books from that author, even if those books are higher in price.

I don’t believe the hokum that record companies and movie studios used to (and still do) doll out about piracy hurting their bottom line. The people who acquire entertainment for free and like it are more likely in the future to purchase that same movie or song or book, or another from the same artist. Releasing a novel for cheap (or free) does not destroy value, it builds a readership.

Years ago, I stumbled on Cory Doctorow’s wonderful Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom on his website and downloaded it FOR FREE. Since then, I’ve purchased three more of his books and gotten a few more from the library. The same thing happened last year, when I checked out Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth on audiobook and listened to it on one of my many trans-Colorado drives. I plan on purchasing the third in the series when it is released later this month. I could wait for it at the library, but I am choosing to purchase it because I value the series.

As an author, I am looking for the same thing: value. I need a few things to bring my story to readers. I need editing, design, distribution, and marketing. The options out there for publishing boil down to two overall categories. One, I attempt to take my work to a publisher, or two, I self-publish. It’s a bit more complicated than that, of course. For instances, if I’m looking for a publisher, am I going for indie/small or Big 5? Do I need an agent first, or after? If I get accepted by a publisher, what do they do and what is my responsibility?

For the SP option, I know that all the work and cost of producing the book will be mine. The upside is, royalty rates are far more favorable to the indie author. The downside is, it’s a crap load of work. I have to decide what is the more worthy route. How much value do I place the pros and cons of either side?

Andrew and I started Bearded Bards because we wanted to create an indie publishing venture for our own work. We know it’s a tough job, going it alone. We’ll make mistakes along the way. But we placed a higher value on building a brand together than we did on trying to go it alone the traditional route or in self-publishing. As Hugh Howey put it in his write-up of this whole situation, BB as a publishing venture is what a publishing company should be, a “story development” company.

We decided to do away with other publishing companies in our strategy. In a perfect world, I would do away with Amazon, too. Being an author is fundamentally about transferring ideas from me to the reader. Amazon is interested in profit, to such an extent where, as Malcolm Gladwell says, it has become “counterintuitive”. All this crap about publishing companies, ebook royalties, brick-and-mortars, and distribution? It’s a sideshow to what really matters, and that is a one-to-one communication of ideas and stories.

So where does that leave us? What do we, the Bearded Bards, think? So long as Amazon allows me, the author, the most valuable delivery method for my stories, I’m fine with that, monopoly or no. If that ever changes? I’ll take my stories to the best alternative I can find. That, in the end, is what Amazon became, a better alternative. Someday there may be an even better alternative, and Amazon will have the opportunity to make the same choice that’s been before the major publishers for a while now: adapt, fight, or die. We’ll see, perhaps very soon, how their decision to fight will affect them.

In the meantime, I’m not too worried about it. I don’t think the demise of publishers will destroy literature. I don’t think the monopolization of distribution will destroy literature. I don’t even think that authors being deprived of a living wage will destroy literature, because, for the most part, that has already happened, and people are writing more now than ever. We’ll keep reading and writing, because that’s what we love, and one way or another, the stories will get out there. They always do.

If that means one day I’m going to have to invent a new method to do it, then I guess I’ll have to do that. Really, though, that sounds like a lot of hard work. And my way won’t be pretty. We’re talking armies of trained chimpanzees throwing books at people, and that’s going to lead to a lot of chimp poop on the streets. No one wants that. Amazon, Hachette? Get your acts together, to spare us the chimp poop.

What’s your take on the whole thing? Pro or anti-Amazon? Do you think the authors and readers are getting forgotten in the dispute? Are you okay with chimp poop? We want to know.

Image via Wikimedia

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