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An Article Worth Reading

I guess I'm in A Mood today...

There is an article by Clay Shikry you must read.  You must read.  I’ll admit I nearly skipped it after the first paragraph (which contains the most weary of tired accusations).  I’m glad I didn’t.

Here are a few excerpts:

The traditional industry belief — if you don’t live in a big city and have a lot of money, you deserve second-class access to books — is being challenged by a company trying to say “If you have ten bucks, there’s not a book in the world you can’t read.” If the current industry can’t keep their prices high while competing with instant distribution of a vastly expanded literature — and that seems to be their only assertion worth taking at face value — then it’s time for them to figure out how to make a business out of improved access.

As a rural resident, I’ve spoken this argument in trad-writer-dense and industry-dense environments.  The level of interest is usually expressed with a nod and a moving-on to topics of greater import.

At worst, I’ve received a head-patting reminder that most small towns do indeed have libraries for their citizens.  It never seems to occur to them that small towns have small libraries, and small libraries have small budgets.  Sure, the newest bestseller will be there—which is what the industry is most hoping for—but the diversity of books will be narrow—which does not at all concern the industry.

The essence of the argument—the only people in the world competent to oversee the publication of good writing are executives at five large corporations—won’t bear much direct scrutiny.

This needs no direct commentary, either.  Neither does the following quote.

Packer mocks self-published authors, noting that half of them earn less than $500 a year, without noting that the average payout for anyone sending a manuscript to a traditional publishing house is $0. The legacy system is mainly characterized by a refusal to deal in small-batch authorship, a model that made sense when the unit price of a book was any number above zero, but makes no sense today. If ten million people think something is dreck, and fifty people like it, those fifty should get what they want.

But this one, I’ll add to:

He wants to increase access to ebooks in order to make money, of course, just as the publishers want to restrict access in order to make money. Bezos doesn’t love books (something his critics never fail to note, as if selling things designed to be sold is an atrocity) but his motivations are producing better outcomes than those of the dominant cartel. If we have to pick between two corporate strategies for making money, the one offering more access is better.

The fact that anyone who loftily lays claim to enriching the lives and minds of readers will be froth-mouthed with repugnance over easy access to diverse material boggles my mind.  Dress it up in whatever artsy, anti-corporate, culture-warrior rhetoric is currently popular, it’s still, at its core, an argument to maintain an exclusive status quo for the benefit of a relative few.

Should writers be paid for their work?  Yes, and paid well, thank you very much.  But the publishing industry mightily, heartily, and firmly disagrees.  The industry prioritizes many other things above payments to writers.  After all, the writer is the only participant in the process who is paid but twice a year, and repeatedly and gleefully told to never expect to make a living at their trade.  They’re also among the first creditors publishing companies don’t pay when financial trouble hits.

That means that what writers create is the least important component of the publishing industry, or written works are indeed widgets that can be created by anyone at all, and/or writers have been well-trained to believe one or both of those notions.

Should there be a monopoly on book publishing and distribution?  Of course not.  But I raise my eyebrows when I hear that fear from folks who want to control the market and access to it themselves, who have indeed controlled large portions of it for many years.  Such folks don’t think access on both the supply and demand side shouldn’t be controlled.  They think it should be controlled by the right people.

But don’t tell me to “resist” the monopoly by patronizing competitors that cost me more and give me less because of the “principle” of the matter.  I don’t pay my secretary to make accounting errors and be rude to my clients.  I don’t pay a mechanic who takes three days to do an oil change.  I don’t return to businesses whose greatest word-of-mouth advertising boils down to, “Buy from us because we’re not them!”

And in conclusion, my favorite quote from the article:

In a democracy, the only test any book should ever have to pass is whether the reader likes it.

(And I will come down mightily on the first person wants to tell me Amazon is not my friend. You see, I don't think of my business dealings as emotional commitments. Don't assume I do. :-))

Article discovered via The Passive Voice


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 12th, 2014 09:46 pm (UTC)
I have been experimenting with Kindle Unlimited this month as a reader, rather than as a writer, and it has been... just amazing. I feel like I can finally read as much and as fast as I have always wanted without bankrupting myself. (And anyone who tells me to go to my library to fulfill this has not been me, asking for and getting 'we don't have that book' or 'you can have that book in two months when 25 other people are done with it first'.)

The writers are getting paid for every book I read. I'm getting to read as much as I want, affordably. It feels less like an economic arrangement and more like a blessing.

If I could get away with putting my books in this program without the exclusivity, like the bigger name authors, I would do it in a heartbeat to give my readers this freedom.
Sep. 13th, 2014 02:37 am (UTC)
I'd be interested without the exclusivity, too. It'll be interesting to see how the rules adjust when their data comes in.

I agree muchly on the library thoughts. My local library is quite small (it's still in its original Carnegie building!), and its system of inter-library loans is s-l-o-w. It has a great section for kids, and will sometimes get some interesting non-fiction, but its fiction selection... Nope.
Sep. 13th, 2014 06:06 pm (UTC)
I am very spoiled because of the way Maryland does interlibrary loans (we have an in-state system, and a separate ordinary sort of ILL for things that none of the local library systems have) but there's still a huge time delay where my county's system can't get new books processed until a month or more after they come out, and if your system has it you have to wait for a local copy. Libraries are awesome, but they definitely have their limitations.
Sep. 15th, 2014 01:34 pm (UTC)
My local libraries have decent SF sections, but aren't actively buying for them. Once I ran through the backlists they carry, I was out of luck.
Sep. 12th, 2014 10:51 pm (UTC)
I am so tired of having to make the refrain, "Yes I know that Amazon will screw me in a heartbeat, if they think they can. But right now? They are the only big store that carries all my books, so that readers can find them."
Sep. 13th, 2014 02:31 am (UTC)
I hear you!

I can either be so fearful of what Amazon might do that I never move ahead, or I can just practice good business skills and keep my options open. I just don't have time for hand-wringing these days. :)
Sep. 13th, 2014 02:34 am (UTC)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


Blair MacGregor

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