From author Chuck Wendig:
People keep wanting me to have thoughts on Amazon versus Hachette.
And I do! I do have thoughts. They careen drunkenly about like bumper cars.
. . . .
I like a lot about Amazon. Amazon is one of my publishers. They’ve treated me well and treated my books well and — whaddya want me to say? They’re cool, I’m happy. (And expect me to be promoting my newest with them soon enough.) I also like that Amazon was one of the only companies that saw the Internet as an opportunity rather than a storm that would one day pass.
. . . .
They put books in hands, man. They get books to people who don’t have bookstores nearby.
But, Amazon also scares me. They have a lot of power. They’re erratic. Some of the company’s behavior could easily be called “bullying,” and who likes bullies? Uh, yeah, nobody likes bullies. And right now they’re going nose-to-nose in the prison-yard with Hachette which means authors — some of whom I’m friends with — are getting shanked in the kidneys and left bleeding on the shower floor with delayed shipping times or lost pre-orders or whatever.
. . . .
We can bag on Big Publishing all we want, but at the end of the day you still have to look back and say, okay, all those books that I loved growing up — the ones that made me want to be a writer — they were published by, in most cases, big publishers. I know a lot of people inside publishing. They are frequently awesome people. They are frequently book-loving humans.
I also know that Hachette, along with other Big Publishers, sometimes do scary things. Sometimes they write scary contracts with creepy provisions. Sometimes they’re not forward-thinking. Some of them still treat the Internet like it’s a rash that needs medication.
. . . .
Let’s try this.
Think of big companies as:
a) giant monsters
b) bacterial colonies.
Two creatures of wildly different size, but each with notable behaviors.
The giant monster — a kaiju, let’s say — does what a giant monster does. It stomps around. It doesn’t stomp people because it hates people. It stomps people on the way to find its breeding ground or on the way to mate with a particularly saucy skyscraper. People end up stomped like grapes because the giant monster couldn’t see them. The bigger it gets, the more it loses sight of people. The more it loses sight of all the little things underneath it. (Like, say, book culture.)
The bacterial colony wants to grow. It wants to replicate. It is programmed to fill space, to colonize — in a way, like humanity has itself done. Given no competition, bacterial colonies bloat exponentially. Seeing competition, some bacteria cheat to become resistant to that competition. Being resistant to antibiotics, for instance, allows bacteria to enter a period of unfettered growth. An epidemic.
Link to the rest at Terrible Minds and thanks to SFR for the tip.
Passive Guy says there is a substantial difference between Amazon and a big publisher.
Amazon is a new company, founded twenty years ago. The original founder, Jeff Bezos, still runs the company and he doesn’t report to anybody. Unlike most large corporations, Amazon has a unique corporate culture and one of Bezos’ most important jobs is to be the evangelist for that culture.
There are still a lot of people at Amazon who came into the company during the early years when Amazon’s survival was on the line again and again. These people saw how Amazon’s unique culture saved the company and allowed it go grow. They’re the people who helped save the company during those hard times.
A great many of these early employees own stock and some have become rich as a result. They feel like owners of the company. Most of the early people are managing other Amazon employees and can help transmit the culture to the newly-arrived.
Amazon is, at heart, an innovative tech company that does retailing. It’s developed and is still developing the technology that makes it successful. Amazon tends to look for tech solutions to the business problems it faces. It wanted to sell ebooks so it created a cheap ereader as well as a system to automatically deliver ebook purchases to the ereader within seconds.
On the other hand, the big New York publishers are not managed by their founders. They tend to have professional managers at the highest level who are in the business of . . . management. Somewhere, the publisher probably has a homogenized vision statement that was created by a committee, but its managers are not guided by that vision and probably couldn’t tell you what the statement says.
The fact that all the big New York publishers are subsidiaries of big media conglomerates also explains a lot about how the publishers and their managers operate.
The head of a publisher is really a glorified middle manager and his/her attention is focused at least as much on what’s happening higher on the organization chart in the conglomerate as it is on what’s happening in the publisher. After all, nobody at the publisher can fire the president of Hachette, but more than one person at Lagardère can.
The vice-presidents at the publisher are also busy nurturing connections with the managers of the conglomerate as a matter of self-preservation if the president gets whacked. Plus, there may be opportunities for promotions into some other parts of the conglomerate that have little to do with trade publishing.
Remember, they’re professional managers and what they manage doesn’t matter all that much. PG suspects a lot of them are reading the writing on the wall and looking for ways out of trade publishing into a business with a better future.
The way the publisher and its managers communicate value to the conglomerate is with financial statements. One dollar is as good as another and it doesn’t matter if it comes from a book by a Nobel prize winner or Snooki or if it comes from selling more or increasing prices.
One bad quarter can ruin a manager’s career. Regardless of how good the books are, if the dollars aren’t there, another professional manager will be hired or transferred to take over management of the publisher.