About a week ago, many authors around the world (I’m guessing those of whom have chosen to publish their titles through one of Amazon’s many services which allow it) received this e-mail from Amazon itself regarding its current dispute with Hachette.
You don’t really have to do much hunting to find authors, publishers, readers, as well as a number of casual observers, speaking at length about this e-mail, what it means, how it relates to them, how it makes them feel inside about their own ebook pricing, how it makes them feel about being published through Amazon, and a whole host of other topics, which, to be honest, tends to often stem from a misunderstanding of what Amazon is trying to say here, and even more so, what Amazon is trying to do.
Of course…what Amazon is probably really trying to do is to muddle the issue through gathering the mass emotions of millions of authors, publishers, and readers, to make this dispute a much larger issue than it really is and ultimately allow them to win their fight simply because everything gets lost in the translation.
However, I don’t really care to join the pile of folks disseminating that e-mail. Well, actually, I’ll do it, but I’ll do it real fast, right here, before I actually get into something I consider much more worth talking about. That e-mail says, quite simply, “We’re a very very large company and we are having a fight with another very very large company. They’re really pissing us off by getting their authors to send us hate mail. Since you’re kind of our authors, please do the same to them. We love our authors, they hate their’s…blah,blah,blah.”
Whatever, we all know that both those companies are just worried about their own bottom lines, bottom lines that will not affect a single author on bit (outside of the current issue where Hachette authors are having trouble with their books getting sold on Amazon). This isn’t a dispute over royalties, this is purely a fight over who will make more money when a book is sold, Hachette or Amazon. It’s corporate bullying from both ends, and they’re trying to use artists (a known overly emotional bunch) to fight for them.
But guess what, folks! I’m here to tell you that this fight is completely pointless. You see, although Amazon may have done great amazing things to help authors get their books out to new audiences, although they have effectively created the digital revolution for books by developing the Kindle and their Kindle Store…they really just want to be an old school publisher, like Hachette. Of course, they would prefer to do so without actually paying advances, making them a publisher that really just wants to make money off of you after you do all the work.
Of course, their royalties are better and you have more freedom in how you present yourself and sell your wares…and if you’ve listened to published authors as of late, you’ll find that traditional publishers have been found lacking in the marketing department anyways.
So, why is this fight pointless? I mean, looking at it from the standpoint that Amazon and Hachette are both publishers, it’s actually a rather big deal to note that Amazon, a publisher, is currently keeping other publishers works off their sales platforms, right? One might think that being a publisher who is also one of the best sales platforms for books could have some sort of conflict of interest going on. I mean, what if Walmart started making their own pickles and suddenly stopped selling those five-gallon buckets of Vlasic?
No, like I said, that battle is all corporate greed and has nothing to do with authors in any real tangible way. And the real reason that it has nothing to do with authors (outside of the fact that advances and royalties aren’t actually being effected by any of this and some publishers are actually talking about upping their royalties paid on ebooks just so they have an excuse to keep the prices up) is because we’re still in the midst of the digital revolution for books. The Kindle (and now the iPad, maybe the Nook, and all the non-name brand options out there) were a fantastic start. They gave people a way to read ebooks without sitting in front of a computer staring at a screen over their desk, or dealing with their laptop overheating on their lap, or hoping that their phone didn’t die before they got to the next chapter. And the Kindle Store, with its fantastic whispernet process where you can have a book delivered to you within seconds, well, it definitely made things easier for readers to get to the books they wanted.
But these disputes, they change the game. Both Hachette AND Amazon are playing a very dangerous game, because disputes like this, which cause readers to have to change their habits in order to get what they want, they run the risk of permanently changing reader habits. Let’s say readers go over to some other platform, Smashwords, Oyster, Kobo (is that still alive), or whatever, and find that they actually like the set up there better? This dispute gives them the chance to find that out, gives readers the opportunity to try new things and go away.
Disputes like this should never occur in such a way that they effect the consumer. Amazon may be the biggest dog in the market, they may be the dudes who run the show when it comes to getting your books off the internet, but readers are a faithful crew. If you want James Patterson’s newest novel, a message from Amazon suggesting that you might like something from some other author isn’t going to sway you. You’re a Patterson fan, you’re going to see where you can get it for the price you were expecting and all that jazz.
This isn’t pickles we’re talking about (although I suppose pickle purists might care about the difference between Walmart pickles and Vlasic). This is art. When you’re looking for a Picasso, you’re not going to say, well, they don’t have a Picasso, but there’s a Rembrandt for about the same price.
What this battle does is shows that both Amazon and Hachette don’t care about their readers over their own bottom lines. And sooner or later, the readers will realize that and go on to other methods to get their goods. When this happened within the music industry, it caused music listeners to come to the conclusion that all music is now free because of how easy it is to share digital files across the internet. Books, amazingly, haven’t quite yet gotten that status.
Things like this could definitely help it move into that direction.
And I can’t wait to see Hachette, Amazon, Penguin/Random/whatever the hell they are now, start trying to sue readers because they used Pagester (my napster ripoff I’m developing 😉 ) to get the books they wanted but weren’t able to find in the normal methods.
As always, if you want my books, just let me know. I’ll make sure you get one in your hands as quickly as possible. No need to resort to Pagester yet. Of course, I have a hard time believing that Oster vs. Amazon is a battle we’ll be seeing in the near future.
Have fun out there!