Salon, the voice of publishing cartel apologists

Here’s what monopoly power means: If you’re Amazon, you can ignore the public relations hits that come with blistering front-page stories in the New York Times and stinging opinion pieces, and continue blithely about your business.

Amazon’s scorched-earth campaign: Why the Internet giant started a war, Andrew Leonard, Salon

Yes. If you’re confident that you’re doing the right thing, you don’t care what the establishment newspaper of the United States says — especially when that paper is part of a cartel that supports the people you’re negotiating with — the big five publishers.

The famous New York Times Bestseller List has been a joke in the industry since I worked at Penguin Books and Simon & Schuster 25 years ago. The only difference today is, more people are in on the joke. For those who don’t know, anyone can get on the list by paying an agency like ResultSource to buy thousands of copies of your own book. The cost is typically the $250,000 range for a new hardcover book. REAL MARRIAGE, a book written by pastor Mark Driscoll, made the New York Times best-seller list this way [Mark Driscoll admits ‘manipulating’ book best-seller system, Christian Retailing].

Who’s the one publisher who won’t work with ResultSource? Amazon. The other big five — that is, the ones who’ve had monopoly power for a century — look the other way.

Anyone who has followed the coverage of the ongoing Amazon-Hachette dispute knows that some of the most impassioned voices on the pro-Amazon side of the argument come from self-published writers. It’s easy to understand their impulse to defend Amazon’s e-book publishing programs, given that many had tried in vain to publish their books with traditional houses before opting for, say, Kindle Direct Publishing.

Amazon is not your best friend: Why self-published authors should side with Hachette, Laura Miller, Salon

Yes, yes, she’s so right… except I didn’t try in vain to publish my book with a traditional house. Neither did any of the dozen self-published writers I know. We thought about it, and went with Kindle Direct Publishing on purpose, as the first choice.

We didn’t want to go through the hazing ritual that traditional authors have been spanked into believing is good for them — the one where they spend two years getting an agent, another two years getting it published, and then get the honor of earning 12.5% royalty (please sir, may I have another?) against a small advance that may never pay out, in exchange for losing the rights to their work for our natural lives +70 years.

And that rosy scenario assumes success. Only a tiny minority of submitted manuscripts are successful, i.e. taken by agents and published by a traditional house. The truth is, the opportunity offered by the agency model is meager, and the contracts offered by traditional houses are terrible. This situation was accepted for decades because authors had no choice — those agents and publishing houses controlled the distribution of paper, and thereby controlled the publishing world.

Now we’ve got a choice — digital publishing and Amazon — and lo and behold, many of us are taking it. Why? Are we losers who can’t hack it in the real world, or do we like making more money (35% or 70% royalty depending on how we price our own work) and being treated better (instant publishing, automatic monthly royalty payments, instant access to sales data, control over content, covers, and promotions)? I prefer the latter interpretation.

When establishment suckups like Salon and the New York Times are so fierce in their defense of traditional publishing, and so venomous toward Amazon, you have to ask, why? Why do they care how one distributor negotiates with publishers? Why do they care if Amazon wants to drive down ebook prices (yay customers!) and offer writers higher royalties (yay authors!)? It’s because they can’t see themselves as part of the problem. It’s much easier, and lazier, to attack Amazon, which only did what the big five should have done a decade ago — developed a popular ebook distribution network, and gave authors the opportunity to publish their work and let the readers decide if they’re successful or not, rather than let a handful of self-appointed gatekeepers in New York control the entire creative writing landscape. (By the way, those same literary gatekeepers published Snooki: A Shore Thing, so don’t assume they’re people of good taste.)

I am with Amazon because they’re good to me. The opportunity offered by the agency model of the big five pales in comparison. If that changes, I’ll change my approach. Till then, all the whining about Amazon deciding they don’t want to accept Hachette’s terms [see this overview at Forbes] will only serve as echo-chamber cheerleading for people who’ve been conditioned to support tradition above reason, the big five cartel above authors, and the financial desires of big publishers, who want to charge $14.99 for an ebook, above the needs of readers who don’t want to pay more than $4.99 for an ebook — and shouldn’t have to.

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3 thoughts on “Salon, the voice of publishing cartel apologists”

  1. Wow- I didn’t realize just how big a bite those publishers take. And recently, I heard about the companies that publish my scientific research…

    I saw this table:
    http://alexholcombe.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/scholarly-publishers-and-their-high-profits/

    Which led me to the graph* on this page:
    http://old.arl.org/r2research/learn/problem/index.shtml

    Yeesh! Are these numbers for real? I think the publishing industry is ripe for a “correction.” Sorry to burst your bubble. 😉

    [*] The second graph (price-per-page) is exaggerated for scare effect. In addition to the data bars in black and gray, he adds ratios in red (on a different scale) on the same chart. Intellectually dishonest.

  2. Very interesting. It looks like academic publishing is the godfather of godfathers. Because, of course, what would self-published research be worth? NOTHING! Mu-hu-ha-ha-ha!

    I’m half-joking. I mean, I can see how having your work vetted by peers is valuable, but I wonder… if you’re a PhD at a top research university and your work is publicly funded… why hand it over to a private press? Because… you’re supposed to? Are there strings attached to the money that say “you have to publish the work in respected journal X Y or Z or you won’t get funded again?”

    Hmm. I suspect I have a lot to learn about your world.

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