OK, I have to weigh in on Hatchette versus Amazon. Come on people, this is NOT David versus Goliath; this is ‘Clash of the Titans.’ The debate is every bit as ridiculous and overblown as that movie. This is one huge corporation versus another huge corporation. Hatchette loves to talk about how Amazon is hurting authors, and they are. But so is Hatchette- and they are hurting their OWN authors. They are not blameless in this.
So why is Amazon being reviled and accused of everything from being a monopoly to eating babies? Fear. Amazon is successful. They are the largest retailer of books in the world, and now they are leveraging that power to dictate terms to traditional publishers. That’s called business, folks. Welcome to the marketplace.
But amazon’s transgressions are far worse than that…
They have cast down the Gate Keepers, and that, not dictating terms, is the crux of the problem. Publishing was for decades run by ‘The Big Five’ publishing houses. If you weren’t published by them you were an ‘also-ran’ at best. They were the gatekeepers; the arbiters of what was and was not worthy in the field of literature. They maintained the exclusivity of the ‘Author’s Club’ by producing a limited number of books each year. Large, yes, but limited.
Mind you, the quality of literature was seldom the standard that they aspired to. Decisions about who was and was not worthy were based for the most part on what they thought would sell, not what they thought was ‘good for literature.’ They guessed wrong more often then they guessed right, of course, which build massive inefficiencies into the system. Waste in that system is enormous; don’t believe me? Next time you walk into a discount book outlet remember that’s what you are looking at- waste and wrong guesses about what was commercially viable and how many they should print. Because waste is endemic to the system profits must be huge to accommodate that waste and still make money.
Of course one could always self-publish. This was expensive, risky and seldom profitable. People looked down on these books, often justifiably so. Most of them were awful. Self-publishing was where slush-pile queens went to die. But then things changed. Ebooks were introduced. Ebooks were great; if you printed a book an eBook version was almost pure profit. Forward-looking publishers like Baen jumped on the bandwagon, and shortly authors realized that they, too could publish an eBook for next to nothing. Self publishing had just made the jump from expensive to virtually free, and best of all your book could be found by anyone on the internet. And since overhead was so low they could be offered for a pittance.
The unthinkable happened… people began to sell books. Sometimes a LOT of books. Without the intervention and approval of the traditional publishers. The Gatekeepers had fallen, and their iron-fisted control was broken forever. And that scares the shit out of them.
So when the opportunity arose to slam Amazon of course they did so. They’re scared and looking for a scapegoat. A scapegoat OTHER than their own inability to capitalize on new technologies and move with the times.
Which is what this whole tempest in a teapot is really all about. Fear.