Friday, May 30, 2014

Amazon and Hachette- Godzilla vs. Mothra

With so much stupid in the world and on the Internet- even more so lately- it's tough to pick out just one thing to comment on. But here goes.
It's a long one, because The Stupid, like The Force, is strong in this one.

Many folks are up in arms because a Big Publisher (Hachette) is engaged in a business struggle with Amazon. Two multibillion-dollar corporate giants duking it out to see who gets a bigger piece of future pie. So what? You might say.

Well, their struggle is affecting others, most notably the writers who signed contracts with Hachette. These voluntary indentured servants are now screaming that Amazon is evil and mean, and the poor writers won't be able to pay their mortgage anymore, and the world will perish in flames.
Well, maybe not all of that last part. But pretty close to it.

And the media hops on the Amazon-bashing bandwagon, with more stories echoing the lies and distortions. And people who get paid big bucks by the huge publishing conglomerates speak out against Amazon with ever-greater hyperbole and mouth-frothing, which also gets echoed, since the big publishing corporations have big media mouthpieces. They shriek that Amazon is killing literature, culture, and democracy, Jeff Bezos is running the Death Star, and we're all going to die, because Amazon kills books (and possibly writers)!

The stupid... it burns!!!
Not exaggerating much here. Go ahead and Google Amazon- Hachette and start reading. Site links at bottom, just as a starting point, where you can find further links and commentary.
But bring plenty of popcorn, because it's a dumbfight of epic proportions.

Much of this stems from a malady called Amazon Derangement Syndrome (ADS), in which the sufferer feels their livelihood is threatened by a popular e-commerce site open to all. So they go a wee bit crazy denouncing the evil Zon and everything they do (like giving convenience, lower prices and a chance for publication to many).

So let's explore the current situation. Hachette and the other Big Publishers failed in a previous attempt to force Amazon to raise their prices-- the Department of Justice took a dim view of that little failed collaborative coup. Search on DOJ- Agency model.

Hachette is now trying a new tactic, kind of like a 98-pounder trying to out-muscle a Sumo wrestler. We don't know all the details, but Amazon responded by removing the pre-order buttons from some listed Hachette books. And set the online price of some Hachette books to the actual price on that book! Heavens!

Cry Havoc, and let slip the dogs of war...

Some Hachette authors went publicly bananas. Because with the Big Publishing model, an author only has a few weeks to make a splash with a new book. A pre-order (popularized by Amazon, how about that) is thought by some to be an important tool to garner sales velocity for a new release. So they thought their book was impacted. And since the model of Big Publishing is to pay for a book based on sales on the last book by that author, these authors rightly figured they'd get paid less for future work.
Paid less by their publisher, for something that was the publisher's fault... but they're blaming Amazon. Huh?

It gets worse. A couple of them even went so far as to say their living was imperiled, and one implied he wouldn't be able to produce any more books. Sniff...
Yet between two of the most vocal Hachette advocates, they've got over 70 published books.
Over 30 books each, and they won't be able to pay the mortgage? WTF?

Welcome to the world of Big Publishing, who give nothing but peanuts to most of their signed authors. If either of these two authors went Indie and had even half of that published list under their control, they'd be laughing from atop their yacht.
Instead, they would rather work as fearful indentured servants who can be cut loose at any time if their latest book doesn't sell enough, for whatever reasons.
And one missing button can sink their career!

Normally, I'm on the side of authors, but not when they scream and do stupid stuff...

So is Amazon hurting authors? Their response was to make a huge, generous offer. Figure out the author losses, and Amazon would pay half, if Hachette would pony up the other half. Few million bucks worth of goodwill. Since Hachette doesn't really give a crap if their authors make money, they issued a weasel-worded release that pretty much indicated they weren't interested.
Are their authors publicly mad at them for refusing author money?
Nope, somehow Amazon is still the bad guy.

Someone likened this type of behavior to Stockholm Syndrome, where a kidnapped victim overly empathizes with their captors to the point of madness, refusing rescue and saying the captors are in the right.

So a lot of Big Publishing shills and spokespeople have gone public with blood-and-thunder speeches that remind one of Old Testament prophets. Trouble is, they're talking out of their ass. And even when corrected, they ignore the reality and spout their nonsense in the hopes that The People will rise up and fight for Big Publishing profits. The mighty mouth James Patterson, who puts his name on books written by other people, has taken to the pulpit once again to protest for Real Important Literature.
Q: When did ghost-written formula become Real Important Literature?

We get it- if Big Pub puts food on your table (no matter how rich or meager the fare), you hate and fear Amazon, which is the current market reality.
But to the rest of the world, your ranting is silly.
And if you really feel they are truly EVIL, put your money where your big mouth is and pull your damn books from Amazon- you don't have to do business with them, you know.
I don't support companies I feel are evil- why do you? Does sound a bit hypocritical of you...

How can you keep saying that when Amazon sells a book at lower prices, they're evil, but when they raise the price on that book, they're still evil? Seriously?

So-- let's blow up a few of these Big Pub talking points, shall we?

Big Pub dumb point #1- Fight the Amazon monopoly, they say.
In the words of Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
For the millionth time, dumbasses, Amazon is NOT a monopoly. Look it up, if you have to.
Just stop using that word, and that argument.

Big Pub dumb point #2- Sure, Big Pub abuses the hell out of authors and readers now, but that's okay, and you should instead be afraid that at some point in the future, Amazon may get worse!
Wow- the Stupid meter goes off the scale on this one. Fear what might happen, rather than what IS happening right now...

Say you walk a route to school, but a bully beats you up every day and takes your lunch money.
One day, someone offers you a different route for a small price, and lets you keep enough for lunch, without the beatings.
But the bully insists that you should stick with the beatings route, because you never know what the other guy might do...
And it's not fair if you take the bully's source of income away...

Big Pub dumb point #3- Higher-priced books are better for Big Pub, and therefore the way to go.
Yeah, we all know you charge too much for an ebook file, because you hate the competition for print books. You overcharge libraries especially, and you love your profits.
But we readers like lower prices, and you know who makes that possible?
Yeah, the one you keep calling the bad guy.

Big Pub dumb point #4- Big Pub are the Guardians of Culture and Literature, and only they should be allowed to judge what is worth reading. Because they're all about quality, and anything that doesn't go through them is nothing but swill.
In recent years, we've seen ever-worse examples of embarrassing, popular best-sellers put out by Big Pub that made them a ton of money. The books were horribly-written crap, that could have been made better with even a minimum of editing. Whereas there are countless examples of good books NOT getting published because they weren't thought commercial enough.
With limited exceptions, Big Pub relies on junk formula and imitative knockoffs.
And some self-published and Indie-published work is quite good, despite the snobbish sniffs from the self-appointed tastemakers. Can't find it if you don't look, however.
And there are thousands of books now making decent to great money that were refused publication by the Guardians. So I guess readers want what they want, huh? Go figure...

Big Pub dumb point #5- Amazon is killing bookstores! No it's not.
Bookstores are making a comeback. But back in the 90's Barnes and Noble helped to kill many independent bookstores with megastores and deep-discount pricing. Oh, look, now B&N is the darling of Big Publication! Because when B&N goes under, Big Pub won't be far behind.

And anybody remember when B&N was having their little tiff with Simon and Schuster, hurting author sales, very much like what is happening now with Hachette and Amazon?
So now B&N are the good guys? How very Orwellian...

Big Pub dumb point #6- Amazon just doesn't play fair! And that costs us money!
Your crappy, stupid business practices lose you money. You've had years to adjust, and you've done nothing but react badly and blame others for your lost market share.
Amazon is constantly adapting. They're smarter, more flexible, and treat readers and writers like customers they want to keep. You treat writers like a red-headed stepchild who should be grateful for the whippings you give them, because it shows you care.
And you act like you're entitled to forever massive profits for doing nothing.
You are a failing business model, so stop complaining that business isn't fair.

Darwin and Spencer made it pretty plain. Adapt or die off.
And please, stop whining.

Great sites talking about this- and read the comments!: (a number of posts on this and related)


  1. Stupid is as stupid does. Great summary, Dale!

    1. Thanks, Suzan- after a few days of this, I had to weigh in. So many sources slamming Amazon, and so few speaking out for the writers who are helped by being able to sell via Amazon. Big Pub says we should care more about Big Pub- not about the writers.

  2. My only nitpick is referring to Hachette as "trying a new tactic, kind of like a 98-pounder trying to out-muscle a Sumo wrestler," because if you look at it closely it sort of contradicts your theme. Which is more accurately reflected in your title.

    What you do overlook, though, and what needs to be held in mind by all small presses and self-published, is that what emerges from this fight (or the one after or the one after that as the Big Five all go through the required contract negotiations) is that whatever the ebook split ends up being will most likely be applied across the board.

    Most of y'all newbies won't know it, but when the Kindle first came out, Amazon was giving the standard split for ebooks: 50/50. It was the agency model that kicked it up to 70/30. My guess is Amazon wants to go back to the former and Hachette is holding out for the latter. If they reach an agreement, it's a given it will reflect a lower split, and like the agency model it will trickle down.

    Otherwise, well stated.

  3. Elizabeth, nice commentary, and food for thought- so much I continued the deiscussion with another post! Someday we may pine for the good old days of 70%, and view this brief window as the golden age. It's nice while we have it, that's for sure.