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Amazon, Hachette and Giant Stompy Corporations

3 June 2014

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.

Amazon, Big Publishing, PG's Thoughts (such as they are)

55 Comments to “Amazon, Hachette and Giant Stompy Corporations”

  1. Mmm this is why I don’t read Wendig’s works. A lot of my friends just adore him, but I think he’s always over the top. In a bad way.

  2. I don’t necessarily disagree with Chuck Wendig’s points. Amazon is really big and really powerful, and that’s always going to pose some kaiju-stomping risk to the little guys.

    But the differences between the two companies that PG pointed out do make a very big difference in how they operate right now. Who can say what might happen one day when Bezos is no longer in charge? Hopefully by then this (still very, VERY new — that is so often overlooked) world of ebooks and this new kind of literary culture will have diversified into more effective retailers. I think it will. But for now, live in the moment.

  3. He’s a tool. He doesn’t like bullies … except for Chuck Wendig. He so desperately wants to be seen as some sort of writing BAD BOY it’s pretty sad.

    The other day, he started Tweeting about how he thinks it’s hilarious whenever an indie publisher states that there’s no way that Amazon would ever mistreat them. Another person asked him for an example. He replied by saying that all of the big name indie figureheads have posted about it. Then I told him that he didn’t actually include an example, and I asked for a link. *crickets*

    • Why can’t I edit this?

      Anyway, he has a lot of good things to share (for example, I thought his poster about how to write a novel in a year was genius), but personally, I just don’t like him.

      The fact that the books I loved as a kid were published by Big Pub means less than nothing to my opinion of them now. It’s an empty argument.

      Hachette is treating its authors horribly right now. If you believe the doomsayers, Amazon may one day slash their “royalties” in half … and they’ll still be considerably higher than Hachette’s. When it comes to authors, there’s ONE bad guy in this, and people seem to be rooting for them.

  4. I keep hearing about how much power and control Amazon has. But does it really? Doesn’t its so called “power” come from the fact that customers choose, in large numbers, to shop with them? Doesn’t that also mean that as soon as customers stop shopping with them they will lose all of their “power”? Do they actually have control over anything except the products they sell that they actually make? Doesn’t their power and control of the market then depend entirely on making customers happy enough to continue shopping there? Is it just me or does that sound like exactly the way the free market is supposed to operate?

    • YES. This is the thing that people always disregard. Amazon *must* remain doggedly customer-satisfaction oriented; that’s where all their power and all their wealth comes from. They can certainly start disregarding customers, but as soon as they do, all those customers will go elsewhere.

      Contrast that with the big publishers, whose power came from being the only game in town (for a very long time.) That was the only way to have a writing career, even a part-time one: to play nice with the publishers, who called all the shots because you had nowhere else to go.

      • Aw, come on, they published the books you loved as a child. That necessitates a lifetime pass for crapping on authors.

        • I heard a similar statement from a man, who argued that men are superior to women and that it obvious since the history shows that the number of men inventors is much higher than the number of women inventors. I asked him, if he was aware that education, especially in science, was for a long time unavailable for majority of women? He did, but he apparently forgot that little fact
          Of course the trade publishers published all books of your childhood, since self-published works weren’t publicly available. Just imagine how many good books you missed because of that.

      • Even if Amazon remains doggedly customer-satisfaction oriented that does not mean they will cater to the needs of vendors.

        Hachette is a vendor. Indies are vendors.

        That means it’s possible for them to give customers very low prices, force vendors to accept very low margins, and still make a profit because YOU need their customers.

        And in regards to how much power Amazon has–they do have control over products they don’t make. What happens when Amazon sends you a warning that you’re in violation of one of their obscure rules?

        For example how some erotica writers have to figure out exactly what it is they are being called out on in order to stay out of the “dungeon”.

        • Hachette is a vendor. Indies are vendors.

          People need to stop thinking that the way Amazon chooses to deal with publishing houses in any way dictates the way they choose to deal with indies.

          Here’s an example: Amazon will come out guns blazing to keep publishing houses from using agency pricing.

          However, they embrace it with indies.

          It’s almost as if the two are completely different animals.

          • I respectfully beg to differ.

            Amazon does not allow indies to set a minimum sales price for their books – they don’t let indies use agency pricing either. They reserve the right to discount your book whenever they want, and in whatever way they want. Unless it’s price-matching, they’ll still pay you your wholesale price, but they can and will sell cheaper or at a loss.

            • I have the right to price my book anywhere from $0.99 on up. Amazon takes a 30% cut of every sale. How is that not agency?

              It’s certainly not wholesale.

              • Agency Pricing, in the context of the current unpleasantness, gives the publishers some degree of control over the ultimate price of the book to the consumer – almost always, a price floor. That is what the publishers want, a price floor. You cannot set a price floor on your KDP book.

                Just like with you, Amazon will pay the traditional publishers their wholesale price/retail price less negotiated discounts/whatever when they buy books from them. However, they reserve the right to sell the books for whatever they want. That is what the publishers do not want.

                KDP pricing can very easily be interpreted as a wholesale pricing structure – wholesale price is 70% of cover for books $2.99 to 9.99, 35% of cover for all other books. (Or, if you prefer, fixed discount from cover is the unitary complement of those numbers.)

                • No, they don’t, and no, it can’t. Amazon doesn’t buy books from me. I’ve never gotten a check from Amazon for x copies, which they then sell for whatever price they choose. They take a cut of every sale, on a price that I set. It’s agency.

                  You’re changing the definition of agency and wholesale to fit your argument.

                  Anyway, my point stands. How Amazon deals with traditional publishing houses has no bearing whatsoever on how they choose to deal with KDP authors.

                • It’s sort of a demand account (zero-term) method of wholesaling, but it’s wholesaling none-the-less. You are basically giving Amazon an open account with YouPublishing, SP, to buy books from you at a fixed price, which they can do whatever-the-Hell-they-want with. The way they have their operation set up, they only buy a book from you if they have a ready buyer in turn. Perhaps it might be more accurate to call it a wholesale consignment transaction, but in any event you sell to them at a discount from suggested retail (which is, presumably, what you’d sell the books for if you sold them direct) and they then resell at their independently determined actual retail price. That’s wholesaling.

                • It’s still not even close to the wholesale model. At no point does Amazon ever buy a book from me. They don’t line up a buyer, buy my book, and then sell it. Someone pays Amazon for the book (money changes hands), and Amazon sends me my cut. They still take a cut of the sale, I still set the price.

                  Their ability to alter prices (which I’ve never seen done on an ebook, other than price-matching), would make it modified agency, but it’s still a far cry from the wholesale model.

                  What you’re stating is that the agency model doesn’t actually exist, based off of the fact that they may change the price. That possibility doesn’t negate the fact that, at no time, does Amazon purchase anything from me, or resell anything.

                  You mentioned “consignment.” The wholesale model, by definition, excludes the notion of consignment.

                  Are you as bored of this as I am? 😀

                • No, but let’s take a different tack. I may be missing something entirely. What is your definition of agency pricing?

                  I think the problem may be that our definition of “setting” a price may be different. If I can’t set the price to the consumer, in my world, that is not agency pricing. I do not have agency over the final price, and the reseller is not acting as my agent.

                  I always have agency over my price. I can ask whatever I want, accept whatever discounts (or not) I am asked for, or choose not to sell the product at all. The fact that I can dictate what Amazon has to pay me, within certain contractual limits, does not make the transaction an agency transaction.

                  So. What am I messing up? 🙂

                • From the WSJ:

                  “Under the traditional “wholesale” pricing model, publishers had long charged booksellers around half the cover price of a book, leaving booksellers to discount the books if they wanted.

                  To sell more of its Kindle e-readers, Amazon offered many titles below cost, including best sellers at $9.99. Publishers disliked the strategy, fearing it would make it harder for them to sell hardcovers at higher prices. They also worried that Amazon, which at the time had an estimated 90% share of the e-book market, would gain too much bargaining power.

                  When Apple entered the fray, it offered publishers the ability to set their own prices. Under the Apple arrangement, known as “agency pricing,” publishers received 70% of the retail price and Apple took a 30% commission. But Apple also insisted that publishers couldn’t sell more cheaply to any of its rivals. The publishers then were able to impose the same model on Amazon.”

                  This sounds almost exactly like the deal Amazon offers to self-publishers, with a couple of provisos. We authors (self-publishers) set our book price and receive a 70% cut for books between $2.99 and $9.99, with 35% of the price for books $9.99. Amazon will match any sale price at any other retailer so if you sell your book for less at Barnes and Noble, Amazon will match the sale price. That sounds very much like a modified agency model for self-pubs to me.

                  Maybe someone can explain to me how that is not a modified agency model?

              • Authors have a right to set the list price. But the contract says Amazon has the right to set retail price anywhere they choose.

                If they choose, they can use the authors list price as a guide. If they choose they can completely ignore the authors list price.

          • Same animal–different breeds.

  5. I’ve got a question. Two years ago, I wrote a new book in one of my mystery series. Thomas and Mercer published it and it did, by my standards anyway, quite well. Barnes and Noble, however, did not carry the book, because it was a T&M book and T&M were the enemy. How does that differ from what’s presently going on between Amazon and Hachette?

    • That’s a great question. The answer is that there’s no way to paint Amazon as the bad guy, so it’s a non-story.

      The best part is that it wasn’t even the result of a negotiation. B&N just said, “Nope. Not carrying you.”

  6. I could go on, but two things.

    Two of my favorite authors when I was a kid were Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain. Both “self-published.” My other favorite books were the Hardy Boys series–most of which were ghostwritten by authors who’d given up all rights, because the characters/series were the brainchild of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, founded by just one guy to fuel the children’s book market.

    The first book I ever loved that was published by a corporation was Needful Things, from Viking in 1991, almost two decades after Viking had been purchased by Penguin, now part of Penguin Random House. Stephen King left there, though, to sign up with Charles Scribner’s Sons, which is now Scribner and part of Simon & Schuster. Word is he gave up high advances to retain more control and earn higher royalties. He’s also known for being forward-thinking about digital. Also, wasn’t his novel UR exclusive to Kindle for a while? I know it was actually shipped on new Kindles at one point…

    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.

    Sometimes they even collude with the other big, corporate publishers to artificially inflate the prices on ebooks while simultaneously keeping authors’ royalties low, which means that they’re revenue can stay the same or even, in some cases, decline, but their profits can go up because they’re not giving authors as much.

    I agree about diversification. I’m all about exploring promising strategies. I’ve been slowly getting all of Exciting Press’ titles up on the iBookstore, and we’re exploring Kobo, too.

    Except, of course, I don’t think that’s what Wendig means. I think he means that authors should publish with corporate publishers and independently, too! And hey, I guess that’s sometimes best case, but it’s not as though most authors didn’t try that once, and it’s even harder nowadays.

    But claiming authors have a choice and should decide wisely is some of the most condescending BS ever to be propagated. It’s up there with the “self-publishing stigma,” which Wendig seems only happy to contribute to.

    • Will, you nailed it right on the head. It’s the complete glossing over of any (real, not perceived) Hachette misbehavior. “Yeah, I guess that sometimes Hachette isn’t perfect, but who is, really? Also, their books made my childhood awesome!”

    • Two of my favorite authors when I was a kid were Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain. Both “self-published.”

      Oh, dear, will this myth beloved by self-published writers never die? Poe never made a cent from Tamerlane, his pamphlet of poems. Twain was initially published by commercial publishers. He published two of his novels through the publishing company he set up to also publish other authors as well. The company went bankrupt.


      • It’s not exactly a myth. Both men pursued publishing professionally. Poe with publications like The Stylus (which was kind of like the first Kickstarter, and for which he was trying to raise funds until his death), and Twain with American Publishing Company.

        My point is that both men pursued every opportunity presented to them, as all authors should. My point was also to further Dan’s–it’s all way more complicated than Wendig ever really acknowledges. But then, privilege has that effect.

        More agents and corporations should present more authors with more opportunities. I would truly love for a world where the difference between corporate publishing and independent publishing was legitimately one of choice, and not aspiration.

        Finally, I prefer independent, thanks (though I don’t mind the indie shorthand). Not “self-published.”

      • He published two of his novels through the publishing company he set up to also publish other authors as well. The company went bankrupt.

        Twain set up that firm, Charles L. Webster and Company, with the fixed intention of publishing only his own books through it. However, after he saw what a screwing General Grant’s publishers were offering him on his memoirs, he gave Grant an alternative offer: he, Twain, would publish Grant’s memoirs through his own company, sell them on a subscription basis, and give Grant 75 percent of the proceeds above the cost of printing. The deal wound up earning half a million dollars for the Grant family, and a considerable amount for Twain’s firm.

        Unfortunately, having succeeded with one ‘outside’ author, the manager of the firm, Twain’s nephew, decided to go all-in and behave like a regular publisher; and his employment contract allowed him to get away with it – that is, Mark Twain, the owner, had no legal authority to stop him. It was Webster, by publishing other writers who did not sell, who got the firm into trouble; and after his death, the financial panic of 1893 finished it off – along with a lot of other businesses – through no fault of the new management.

        So while it’s not as simple as ‘Mark Twain was self-published’, neither is it as simple as you make out. If Twain had stuck to his original plan and published only his own books through Charles L. Webster & Co., he might not have needed to borrow capital and would therefore have survived the 1893 panic unscathed.

        • At least until his investment in the Paige typesetting system crashed. Closing Charles L. Webster & Son hurt, but the failure of the Paige system is what bankrupted him.

          I haven’t checked my sources, but I was under the impression that Twain approved of publishing the pope’s memoirs in the belief that he made a killing on it. It wasn’t all Webster’s doing. Twain wasn’t the kind of man to let anyone run roughshod over him, or spend his money without his consent. He bore some responsibility, even if he vilified the poor guy in his memoirs.

    • I challenge any BPH to show me a contract that isn’t scary. From what I’ve heard in my genre-community (romance), the terms are almost mirror images one of another with the big five plus Harlequin.

  7. I read Wendig occasionally and often admire his wit, but this post is all sentiment. No real argument, no facts. Just, there are some big, bad guys out there!

    Is Amazon cheating? Is Hachette refusing to split more ebook profits? You’d never know from this post. I suspect this is just a blustery way to have it both ways while appearing to be a tell it like it is kind of guy.

    • Exactly. He’s always been that kind of guy. It’s not that authors have to pick a side, but I’m getting really tired of the ones who are trying to have it both ways, especially when they’re calling Amazon a “bully” but they’re not pointing out enough of the problems with their own traditional publishers. It just comes off as spineless to me, honestly. That’s why I don’t get Wendig’s appeal. He’s not a tell it as it is kind of guy. That just seems like a persona, to me. Joe Konrath seems more of a tell it like it is kind of guy, which is why I read his stuff and not Wendig’s. Wendig is just trying to please everyone at the expense of being sincere. We have enough people like that writing articles. Most of them work in the media and are still crossing their fingers that they will get book deals, so they have little incentive to be rational or sincere.

  8. Coincidentally, the next tab I’m going to is David Gaughan’s dissection of Author Solutions, a new, innovative way Randy Penguin is “nurturing” authors.

    Someone should send Wendig a link so he can see what the companies who published his favorite books are doing to help authors right the @#$%@#$$ now.


    • Wow that’s disturbing. They’ve taken the for-profit school approach of spamming the shite out of people. I still maintain that companies that have to advertise that far and that wide are very often scams. I’m always suspicious of companies that are highly visible yet have few people who can recommend their services. It’s good to know that many people *don’t* fall for the scam though.

  9. “People keep wanting me to have thoughts on Amazon versus Hachette.”

    I’ll bet they are wondering what they ever asked … after that response.

  10. Wendig doesn’t really hide the fact that he often treats self-published authors as naive children, and our issues with the Big 5 as quaint at best. His wit and humorously salty language don’t change the fact that the guy is often a tool when it comes to hand waving and apologetics for the big guys.

    • Wendig has also published some of his own books.

      • So?

        “The self-publishing s*** volcano! There’s a sudden glut of self-published work (not enough of it good). I have nothing against self-publishing. Some of my own books are self-published.”

        Then again, it’s not far off from the usual corporate position toward independent publishing, which tends to be: deride it until you figure out how to make money off it. Once the latter occurs, continue to do the former if you can figure out how to have it both ways.

        Kind of like PRH/Author Solutions. “Self-publishing is bad, unless you pay us to help you do it,” or, often, “Self-publishing is viable, but you should have expert help along the way.” You see the latter from myriad literary agents offering “self-publishing services” lately.

        Then again, it goes back to my earlier comments re: Poe and Twain. I used to maintain that calling them “self-published” is disingenuous because things were so different back then, and the landscape in which they wrote and published was markedly different from the publishing landscape of the 1980s and 1990s. But then, the publishing industry of 2014 is markedly different from that of the 1990s, and in many ways it’s taken several steps back–to a stage wherein it’s more accessible, as it was in the time of Poe and Twain. When you could bring Tamerlane to a printer, give him a hundred bucks to print a couple hundred copies, and then try to sell them. The more complex the process that came into that model, the more it required more layers, which reduced accessibility until it reached a point wherein if you wanted to find a large readership, your only option was to submit to agents and hope.

        There’s really no such thing as “self-publishing.” It’s just open access to wide-scale distribution.

  11. Shorter version: look, just because your pimp hits you doesn’t mean you should call him an abusive jerk. And how do you know that guy who told him to stop throwing rocks at him isn’t going to start hitting you?

  12. What are examples of Amazon bullying? What did they do? Who was involved? Why is it classified as bullying?

    Have they bullied independent authors? How?

    • Jeff Bezos gave me a swirlie. After he was done using it!

      Seriously, though, I’ve seen people call Amazon a bully because they’re playing hardball against a defenseless company that’s worth like $10B.

      • And owned by a HUGE MEDIA CONGLOMERATE. A tiny insignificant detail that Wendig misses. Whereas Amazon does not have a (french speaking, mustache twirling) multi-billion dollar parent company to back them up, yo. So, it’s more like Kaiju versus King Kong 🙂

    • The only thing I can think of is cutting the royalty rate for audio books produced through the ACX.

      Oh, and for ebooks published in the Kindle Worlds (fanfiction) section, they won’t report sales until the end of the month instead of near instantaneously, and pays the royalties on those books no greater than 60 days instead of 30.

      Bastards! (/sarcasm)

      • Do I remember reading somewhere that the cut in royalty rates ultimately meant that narrators got more money? I could swear I saw that somewhere.

        I think Kindle Worlds is so cool. I’m not generally interested in the worlds currently contained therein, but I keep up the hope they’ll get more great new worlds to play in as time goes on.

  13. Of course big publishers published most of our favorite books. There were no alternatives except for small presses, which are obviously not going to do major volume. (Hence, the reason they are small presses.)

    I mean, really.

  14. Amazon wouldn’t have so much power if the other companies that sell books (in any format) would get up off their butts and do things that, I don’t know, increased their sales?

    Nearly ALL of the money I make from book sales comes from Amazon, because Amazon continually works on things to make buying books from it more attractive and convenient. Not to mention, the onsite promotion there is far better than it is anywhere else.

    And no, I don’t have all my eggs in the Amazon basket, but it doesn’t matter much, because Amazon has the basket made of sales instead of wicker.

  15. Terrence OBrien

    There is a cheaper way to produce and distribute fiction that people want to buy. This new way allows entrepreneurs to put more money in their pockets. All this stuff is just the market in transition from one model to another.

    Entrepreneurs are not going to stop because someone once published the Hardy Boys.

  16. I’ve always thought the “hybrid” author thing was a bit of a false meme as you can easily choose to self publish but you can’t choose to traditionally publish. You can choose to try, but you still depend on a publisher to acquiescence. I suspect there’s a not – insignificant number of authors who have onerous non competes in their traditional contracts that make being a hybrid problematic if not impossible, something that never seems to be mentioned when the hybrid discussion comes up. With what Hugh Howey said the other day about print only deals having been killed (what I tend to see as a far more effective hybrid approach), I have to wonder how long it will be before publishers try to kill off the hybrids altogether, if you want that contract. I’m kind of surprised they haven’t gone harder at that by now anyway.

  17. “Passive Guy says there is a substantial difference between Amazon and a big publisher.”

    The difference is simple. Hachette et al. have managers. Amazon has leaders.

    Nobody was ever managed to greatness.

  18. I’ve got news for you, Mr. Wendig.

    The companies that published the books that made me want to be a writer were NOT brought out by giant conglomerates.

    The publishers were small. The editors didn’t answer to the marketing departments, but knew what readers wanted, because they were fans first.

    Ace, Lancer, Ballantine, Gold Medal, Doubleday

    The names still exist as “imprints” inside the corporate giants, but they have lost their value.

  19. Having worked for a number of major corporations over many years, both as an employee and as a consultant, I must say PG’s assessment of corporate behavior is extremely accurate. I never encountered a member of senior management (or a rising middle manager) who wasn’t more concerned with his or her rise up the corporate ladder than they were with the immediate project at hand or the company’s stated mission. When performance was judged by the success of an individual’s particular business unit (instead of the company as a whole), my observation are that middle managers will screw another division or unit in a heartbeat to enhance their own unit’s perceived profitability, even if the company as a whole suffers in the long run.

    Career advancement often depends on who you know and how good a golfing companion you are (and if you have the good sense to let the boss win). Somewhere down the organization chart, there will be competent folks who struggle to get the job done, but mostly they’ll never rise about certain levels. Someone has to keep the lights on, after all.

    That behavior is a lot easier to take if you’re observing it from the outside looking in as a consultant, and you only have to nod and smile for short periods of time before you cash your check and move on to another project.

    Color me cynical, but I left the world of the corporate employment behind +20 years ago and was never tempted to rejoin it.

    • “When performance was judged by the success of an individual’s particular business unit (instead of the company as a whole), my observation are that middle managers will screw another division or unit in a heartbeat to enhance their own unit’s perceived profitability, even if the company as a whole suffers in the long run.”

      Isn’t that basically what happened to Microsoft? Excessive competition that actually ended up being a game of who can knife their coworker this week to get ahead? Competition is not always good. It often is–between corporations, for example–but it’s not always good. Really ambitious people can take it too far and corporations that don’t understand human behavior and how to use competitive effectively actually make company culture far worse. I can honestly say that the companies I’ve worked for have never used competition well and it’s lost them good employees. People think they understand how to motivate employees using competition, but they end up driving the good ones away instead.

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