The news you read may not be the news you need.
The big story over the last few weeks also happened to be an almost non-story, but this is what makes the internet such a remarkable thing. On the one hand, sudden global exposure can give an important but off-beat issue the publicity it truly deserves, while on the other hand, less important news gains more notice than it can justify. This is caused by journalists having to meet a constant demand for new content, and these stories tend to follow a similar viral pattern.
Thus it was last month with the great Amazon vs. Hatchette bake-off.
It began with tweets from disgruntled Amazon Prime members, who’d suddenly noticed three-week delivery times on new Hatchette titles. Three weeks’ waiting for a Prime member? Scandalous! Almost immediately, The New York Times was on the case with: “Amazon’s secret campaign to discourage customers from buying books by Hachette, one of the big New York publishers, burst into the open on Friday.” The NYT followed up with a blog post laced with dark words like “extortion” and “mafia”, while quoting Jeff Bezos saying of the mighty Amazon: “We talk when we have something to say.” Damn, if only they’d had a picture of Bezos stroking a furry white cat and ending his statement with “Meester Bond”, our nightmare of Amazon’s world domination would be complete.
But it would be unfair to blame the NYT. The digital news market is as highly competitive, and almost as completely saturated, as the digital fiction market, and the NYT needs to get eyeballs on its stories. Fortunately, after the outrage comes the circumspection, as sober and better-informed voices join the fray. By far the most impressive of these was author David Gaughran, who takes the whole issue apart, piece by piece. This should make every reader see the matter for what it truly is: A tough negotiation between two businesses who are each trying to wrangle the best deal from the other – and not much else.
Nevertheless, well-known industry commentators couldn’t resist the opportunity to capitalise. Mark Coker at Smashwords insisted that the only way for authors to show Amazon their mettle was for them to publish their books with, er, Smashwords. Hugh Howey took Coker to task for that, and made the neat semantic point that Amazon, in fact, doesn’t actually pay self-publishing authors “royalties” because self-publishing authors are actually publishers, and only actual publishers pay actual royalties… Or something (and thanks to my fellow minions Al and Yvonne for drawing my attention to those posts).
Of course, like so much on the internet, once the average reader realises it’s not such a big deal after all, and words like “extortion” and “mafia” were just a touch hyperbolic, they’ll forget it and move on to whatever the journalists have found which they can next get everybody fired up about.
However, while that hullabaloo is choking up cyberspace, it’s possible for much more thought-provoking stories, which certainly have greater relevance to Independent Authors, to slip below the radar. Author Alan Skinner, writing in The Guardian, eloquently explains where he believes the self-publishing revolution is heading. Rather than the popular perception that the industry has been properly democratised, Skinner is concerned that Amazon has in fact become the oft-claimed public slush pile, with thousands of unknown authors self-publishing to Amazon in the hope of selling enough copies to get picked up by a traditional publisher.
Skinner’s conclusion? That Independent Authors need to group together into collectives to help each other. I’ve heard there is quite a good collective of talented scribes somewhere around here. Now, where did I see it?
16 thoughts on “Indie News Beat with Chris James”
So we go quietly about our business and slyly ignore this tempest in a teapot? Sounds about right.
Hi Yvonne, I don’t think it has so much relevance to Independent Authors – it’s just a lot of hot air about negotiations between two businesses.
Writers’ co-ops are definitely the way to go. Group power and group insistance on editing standards.
Thanks for commenting, p.d.r. I agree with you, although it brings up the whole “gatekeeper” issue all over again. As long as you can belong to a group of reasonably intelligent authors, it should work.
Aren’t collectives a bunch of commies? 🙂
(And no, I’m not serious.)
I do think groups like that have the potential of being a positive for the reasons p.d.r mentions. However, more of a way of an indie author insuring they have the appropriate quality and a way of crowdsourcing (if a mini-crowd) by way of exchanging services for editing, proofing, etc among the group. I’d think as a marketing tool (proof of quality) it would suffer from the same problem as the seal of approval schemes in that it wouldn’t mean anything to most readers. Just like the name of the publisher doesn’t mean anything to most readers.
“…collectives to help each other.” Now, why didn’t we think of that? 😉 But what really stood out to me was Skinner’s slush pile belief. I wonder how many authors are really just trying to get numbers high enough to catch the eye of a traditional publisher. I can honestly say that isn’t my objective.
Hey Melinda, thanks for commenting. I think three or four years ago, it might have been the case. But now things have changed, and not only is a trad contract no guarantee of gaining a wider readership (not that it ever was), there is also more risk as trads cut back on their editorial staff and themselves put out substandard products.
I’m not after a publishing contract, either. Not after seeing agents and publishers chase after indies who have built a great platform on their own and whose books are selling like hotcakes. It’s too obvious that all they want is a cut of that cash.
Hey Lynne, on one hand I agree with you, but the question is, can the agent increase the author’s income to such a degree that it’s worth paying that cut? I think this is what we’re seeing, and what is driving the model Alan described in his article. An Independent Author racks up some sales through their own hard work, yes, but then the agent comes along and encourages them to take it to the next level. That could be the difference between royalties which buy a cup of coffee, and being able to make a living from one’s writing.
I’m sorry that you have evidently taken personally comments I directed towards the sources you are quoting here, not you.
Let me point something out to other writers. It’s nice that Guardian lists SP books and all that. But that is just reporting numbers, not anything to do with acumen regarding the contemporary industry. Which, as I’ve pointed out in past posts here, is not to be understood by those outside it. And print publications are deeply entrenched in “outside it”… their livings depend on it.
I don’t think I have EVER seen an article in a print publication that evinces any understanding of what indie publishing is all about. Mostly they are reacting as if to some freak show or a threat to status quo.
But I’ve seldom seem a comment as nuts as the idea the idea that amazon is primarily an attempted springboard into print. Anybody who is actually there knows that thousands and thousands or the “tsunami” of books are 99 cent pamphets, joke collections, promo come-ons, etc. The idea that it’s all about wowing agents is just peculiar. Hell, there are still “experts” trying to tell writers that self-publishing “stigma” will keep them from ever getting a contract.
There is plenty of intelligent, informed comment on indie publishing online. But print publications just don’t get non-print publishing.
It is just totally pointless to pay any attention to articles about electronic (or even contemporary) publishing printed in print publications. They’re always at least 5 years behind the times and just plain don’t get what’s going on. The Guardian is one of the worst. You can’t take that stuff seriously. If you even have a single book on Kindle you are way ahead of anything they have to say.
Their idea that people publish on amazon just to get contracts with trad publishers kind of breaks their old record for total stupidity, though.
And the “form collectives” breaks their previous “how far behind the curve can you possibly be” record.
I’m curious, Mr Robinson. In what way is Guardian Books “at least five years behind the times”? Is it their Self-Publishing Showcase, which ran last year and which brought some great niche Indie books to the attention of a much wider audience? Is it their current monthly best self-published book competition? Or is it the fact that Guardian Books constantly report on the self-publishing industry in an even-handed manner? When was the last time you looked at the Guardian Books website, if you have at all, Mr Robinson?
Excellent post, Chris. Appreciated the way you’ve brought the varied points of view together. It seems to me to be essential for Indie authors, writers in general really, to keep apprised of news/opinions on the Amazon/Hatchette situation. Shouldn’t we all understand how our writing is (or isn’t) getting into the hands of our readers?
Thank you, Jo. I’m not so sure – it’s just two big businesses slugging it out to get the best deal, but it’s those authors signed to Hatchett who are suffering. And their royalties are already pretty low.
It is two big businesses, I agree, but given the media coverage, it is two publishing/book related businesses that the general public will have heard about. We should at the very least know what they are being told even if it doesn’t end up making so much of a $ difference to us.
I’m all for more information, the better! Again, I really appreciated your post :)))
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