A Brief List of Standard Answers For the Amazon/Hachette Thing

Because it will be useful to do this, to refer people to later: Various complaints/comments/questions about the Amazon/Hachette negotiations and my commentary on it, that I’ve seen online, or have been sent to me via e-mail/social media are below, paraphrased, with my responses. Ready? Here we go.

Why do you hate Amazon?

I don’t hate Amazon. I’m in business with Amazon. They publish many of my audiobooks via their Audible subsidiary, and they sell a lot of my electronic and printed books. I’ve also been an Amazon Prime user since the program started and buy tons of stuff from them.

Then you’re a hypocrite for saying terrible things about Amazon!

If by “a hypocrite” you mean “someone publicly noting the company’s increasingly odd public tactics in its negotiations with Hachette,” then yes. Otherwise, no. I’ve been very clear what my position on Amazon is, to wit: It’s a self-interested corporation, doing what self-interested corporations do. This is in itself neither good nor evil. Its particular public actions are open for comment and criticism.

Why do you love Hachette? 

I don’t love Hachette. I’m in business with Hachette through its UK imprint Gollancz; it’s published two of my books in the UK. Gollancz has done well enough for me. I don’t feel anything that could be construed as “loyalty” to Hachette therein, any more than I feel “loyalty” to Amazon for publishing my audiobooks.

But you’re not criticizing Hachette like you’re criticizing Amazon.

Hachette appears (wisely) not to be offering up as many public opportunities for criticism, as regards this particular negotiation with Amazon. If that changes I might comment on their actions, too.

I still think you’re a hypocrite.

That’s fine.

I also think you’re just a tool of big publishing!

As someone who self-published his first two novels online in an era where if people wanted to send you money they had to physically mail it to you, and then later was the president of a writers organization that frequently went toe-to-toe with publishers to defend the rights of writers and to make sure they were fairly compensated for their work, and who has worked with several small and indie publishers over the years, I find your assertion amusing.

Prove me wrong! Say something negative about big publishing!

I’ll say two things: One, its general continued reliance on digital rights management is stupid and insulting to people who buy electronic books; I’m happy Tor and Subterranean Press, who publish the bulk of my North American fiction, don’t use it, and note its lack has done nothing negative regarding my sales. Two, the standard 25% net eBook royalties are too low, everyone knows it, and I suspect in the very near future if large publishers don’t move off of that as a hard line, they’re going to start losing authors — as they should.

I still think you’re a tool of big publishing.

That’s fine.

Why can’t you see that big publishing is doomed?

Probably because I work directly with big publishing on a daily basis and the part of it I work with is full of smart people who are actively figuring out how to make all this stuff work for them. The fact that one my books — The Human Division, which we initially serialized electronically — was formally a research project, from which data was obtained, crunched and studied intensively, suggests to me that the outside-looking-in image of these publishers as cartoon dinosaurs, flailing chaotically, is, in my corner of this world at least, somewhat uninformed.

But [insert Author name here] worked with a big publisher and says they are doomed!

Okay, and? His or her experience may have been different than mine. Bear in mind that authors are not usually perfect reporters — they carry over grudges, loyalties, slights, personal experiences both positive and negative, etc — and that in general, in my experience, and intentionally or otherwise, they tend to universalize their own individual situation.

Are you calling [insert Author name here] a liar?

Only as much as I’m calling myself a liar, since it works that way with me, too. The point to take away here is that maybe you might want to consider the idea that not any one author should be considered the last word on these sorts of things. This is especially true if the author is nursing a grudge, or has an explicit economic interest in a particular publishing model.

But [insert Author name here] sells lots of books!

So do I. Is there a point you have here? (Also, somewhat related, does anyone else see the irony of criticizing certain traditionally published authors — me among them, I will note — as being part of “the 1%” and thus being somewhat clueless to the real world of working authors, while lauding certain self-published authors whose earnings would also put them into the 1%, in terms of author earnings? Seems sketchy logic to me.)

You feel threatened by this new wave of self publishing and that’s why you hate it!

One, it’s not new — please see my notation of having self-published my own novels, the first one 15 years ago now — and two, I don’t particularly feel threatened by it or hate it, no. Why should I?

Because it will doom the way you get published!

You know, at this point I gotta say I’m not exactly concerned that I won’t be able to sell work, regardless of the publishing environment.

New writers are nipping at your heels!

Excellent — I always need new things to read.

Look, here’s the thing: You can construct in your mind a world where there are the tough and scrappy self-published authors on one side of a battle and the posh and pampered traditionally published authors on the other, and pretend to set them against one another, like flabby, middle-aged Pokemon. But I think that’s kind of stupid and I’m not obliged to live in that particular fantasy world. Nor do I believe that the successes of other writers take away from my own. It’s not actually a zero-sum game where only one publishing model (and the authors who use it) will survive and the rest are eaten by weasels, or whatever. The world is large enough to have authors publishing one way, or another, or by some combination of various methods.

And none of that, mind you, has anything to do with Amazon and Hachette negotiating with each other. Trying to conflate the two suggests you’re not actually paying attention.

You’re smug and obnoxious and condescending.

I’m fine with you thinking that.

I will never buy your work!

Oh, well.

This whole conversation is just you using strawmen to make your own points for yourself!




Seriously, though, what do you want out of this?

Me? I want Amazon and Hachette to figure out something that allows both of them to be happy with the outcome — or at least happy enough that they can continue to do business with each other — and for Hachette’s authors to have the same access to Amazon as other authors currently have. I would like for both Amazon and Hachette to have economic models that work nicely for authors, so that everyone makes money and everyone is happy. And as I’ve repeatedly said, I would like authors and everyone else to stop thinking this negotiation is about an epic clash of cultures, and see it for what it is: Two companies trying to maneuver for their own economic advantage.

But it is an epic clash of cultures!

Maybe you need to get out more.

I have a complaint not addressed in this entry!

That’s what the comment thread is for.

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