The ongoing spat between Amazon and Hachett has become really, really fucking weird. It really has. What started as a negotiation between two business behemoths has now seen lines drawn in the sand between traditionally published authors and indie-authors. A line that makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever!!!
On the one hand we have an open letter to Amazon[pdf] penned by Douglas Preston and signed by many, many notables in the field of publishing -authors, editors and more- and then we have the bizarre petition from Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, and others that is basically shilling for Amazon. The letter from Preston et. al. is flawed in that it doesn’t seem to grasp some of what is actually happening with regards Amazon/Hachette. For example, Amazon are not blocking nor delaying sales, they are merely not expediting them as they would otherwise. It’s a negotiation tactic. The petition is weird as it spends an awful amount of time basically blowing Amazon a bunch of big kisses before sinking to its knees before the altar of Amazonian goodness.
The major weirdness, to me anyway, is the way that these lines are being drawn. Authors shouldn’t be lining up with either Hacette or Amazon. They should be lining up together against Hachette and Amazon. Hachette exist to exploit the labour of authors(and everyone else they employ/work with) and Amazon exist to do exactly the same thing! Both companies have to extract the maximum profit from as little outlay as possible. This means that Hachette have to pay as little in advances/royalties/wages as they can whilst charging as much as they can and Amazon have to do the same thing. The only people to lose out here are those who are exploited by either side in this spat. Hachette/Big5 authors lose out when Hachette inflates ebook prices and engages in the kind of shenanigans that are par for the course with the Big5(price fixing and so on) and as Amazon’s market dominance grows so authors using the Amazon platform for self publishing will lose out(we can say goodbye to 70% royalties when Amazon’s dominance is secure).
The one thing that this reminds me of is the rivalry between the English cities of Liverpool and Manchester. The rivalry between the two cities, basically, stems from the building of the Manchester ship canal in the 19th Century. This allowed ships to sail right in to land locked Manchester thus taking employment away from the docks in Liverpool. Rather than turning the workers of Liverpool against the bosses who were laying them off and cutting their wages it turned them against the workers of Manchester. The interests of the workers here being confused and conflated with the interests of their employers, their exploiters. A similar thing appears to be happening here with authors.
I need to be extremely clear here. There are no good corporations.* All corporations exist to exploit their workers and to extract profit from the labour of others. The interests of the corporations, either Amazon or the Big5, are not in line with the interests of their authors or other workers. The interests of the individual author may align on some matters but not all, and most certainly not the important matters. All authors want enough money to keep a roof over their head and to provide for them and theirs. All corporations seek to minimise the amount of money they can give to authors. Authors want their books read and corporations seek to make money from the fact that people want to read books.
Now, I want to publish books. I want people to read those books and, ideally, I want to make enough money from doing so to be able to kick this piece of shit job that I have to the kerb whilst pointing and laughing at it before then possibly urinating on its beaten, bruised and weeping wreck of a body. In order to realise this goal I plan on indie publishing short stories and novels. I also plan on submitting short fiction to magazines. I also plan on, eventually, submitting some longer form fiction to traditional publishers. This means dealing with Amazon. It will also mean dealing with other venues for publishing like Smashwords and Payhip or any of the other multitude of options an indie writer has. It may, hopefully, also involve dealing with a publishing house. None of these companies will be my friends. I will not be on their side and they will not be on mine. I may meet lovely people who work for all these companies who may fight my corner from within but that doesn’t mean that the corporate entity is interested in me as anything other than a revenue stream. (All this is wildly hypothetical and painfully hopeful!) My interests will be aligned with other authors, with artists, editors, readers. In other words with the rest of the working class on account of them/us being the people who fulfil all these roles. Not with those who seek to exploit the labour of others for their own gain.
This is why I find the latest developments in the Hachette/Amazon spat deeply weird. It’s like seeing a bunch of weaklings lining up behind whichever bully has taken them under their wing.*
*To the, inevitable, “Ah, but what about…” I simply have this to say: exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis. 😛
**And yes both companies are bullies. That’s just the way business works.
“If the workers took a notion they could stop all speeding trains;
Every ship upon the ocean they can tie with mighty chains.
Every wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill;
Fleets and armies of the nation, will at their command stand still.”