Monday, March 21, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life- in Publishing

Saw an online discussion recently that made me think of a comparison, of how publishing is a bit like the movie It's A Wonderful Life.

Say what? Well, let's take a look. The Big Five traditional publishing companies often act like a group of Mr. Potters, the richest, greediest, and meanest men in town. Note that this whole comparison thing is a generalization, and not all of the people and groups are exactly representative, but as a whole, group efforts certainly do invite the comparison.

The Big Five sit on an excess of wealth, while many authors are scrabbling for enough money to pay a few bills. The Big Five engage in "sharp practice," refuse to pay all but a few authors a fair wage, and have an arrogance and a sneering contempt for the riff-raff and "garlic eaters" (authors and readers). For a prime example, look at Don Maass' public remarks about publishers "culling the prize cattle from the herd" ( There are many other utterances from people in the publishing industry expressing similar derision and scorn for writers, who are the very people that supply them with a comfortable living.

For a long time, crawling to the Potters was the only practical way to get published and read. Then along comes George Bailey, in the form of Jeff Bezos. He creates Amazon, which serves as the Bailey Building and Loan. It allowed authors to get published, distributed, and read, at such low cost all can afford it. And the world changed. Like owning your own home in Bailey Park, you can now publish your own book and forego being subservient to the Potters and whatever scraps they decide to toss your way. The Potters of the industry want the suckers to continue paying them rent forever, but many of the riff-raff authors have wised up, and are flocking to the Bailey Building and Loan, to strike out on their own. Maybe they won't have the biggest mansion in town, but they'll have something good- which most didn't have a chance at before.

And it drives the Potters absolutely insane. The Big Five and their cohorts publish hundreds of screechy, non-factual articles trashing Amazon for one thing or another, to the point where people amusedly call it "Amazon Derangement Syndrome," or ADS for short. There's one particular lapdog of the Potters at the New York Times who suffers from ADS in the extreme, and who writes a non-stop series of shrill screeds against Amazon, enough so that his name on a piece is enough to induce chuckles in those who follow industry news, because they know all the false arguments that will follow. No fact-checking or true journalism required- apparently, hating the most successful retailer and writing hit pieces on them is enough to get one a nice gig at the NYT.

If you ask the Potters why authors cannot get paid a little more equitably, say like 50% on ebook revenue instead of the measly 25% they now receive, you get a song-and-dance about how they're suffering. Oh, the poor Potters with their plush Manhattan offices, expense accounts, bonuses, and six-figure salaries are enduring such misery because they're dedicated to Art. Meanwhile, the Bailey Building and Loan gives authors 70%, and still makes money. You'd think there's a lesson there, but it's one the Potters don't want to learn, even though they're losing customers in droves.

I had an online discussion with one of the Potters, and he insisted they couldn't pay authors more, because everyone else in the publishing industry had to get paid, and did I want all those other people to go without? I told him that authors were not responsible for the salary of everyone else but themselves, and he might not want to keep saying that the only people that shouldn't get fairly paid are the content providers, without who, no one else in that field would be getting paid anything. It's a weird, inverted-pyramid style of thinking.

The Potters got rich because they had no competition for many years but each other. With the rise of ebooks and Amazon and other media, they now have a rapidly-shrinking market share, and it scares the daylights out of them. Then successful independent author (Bailey customer) Hugh Howey comes along, and with the help of a data guru, puts out quarterly reports that show most people would be better off with the Bailey Building and Loan route than with the Potters. And the Potters go bananas, calling the reports a pack of filthy lies, even though the reports painstakingly show how the data is gathered. To date, no one has offered better data- the Potters simply insist it cannot be true, because they don't want it to be.

The Potters say that authors shouldn't support the Bailey Building and Loan, because someday the BB&L will turn on its loyal customers, and give them less money. Well, that may be (or more likely not), but for now, all those authors are getting their books published and getting paid something for them. Some are even doing rather well.

The Potters are greedy, and so they charge too much for their ebooks in many cases, driving people to the Baileys in greater numbers. The Potter authors themselves know they'd sell more if the prices were lower, but the Potters don't care about stuff like that.

And with the Bailey Building and Loan, an author doesn't need a Potter contract, a devilish device designed to put most authors at a major disadvantage in publishing. And an author can get the cover they want, because many Potter authors get stuck with crappy stock art, or a cover that has nothing to do with the contents of the book.

Some people want to deal with the Potters, thinking it makes them better. Less than five years ago, I got an account with the Bailey Building and Loan, and have been doing great since. I'm happy about not having to deal with any Potters. I just don't care for their business methods, and their snotty attitude toward writers. I'm publishing and selling quality books in all formats and platforms, and gaining new fans all the time.

So just like the movie, It's a Wonderful Life- in Publishing. Thanks, George. Maybe, like Clarence, you'll get your wings.

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