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The motivation of the publisher-bashing commentariat is what I cannot figure out

30 September 2014

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Once again this morning we wake up to a piece by David Streitfeld in The New York Times about Authors United and their ongoing effort to discredit Amazon. The message coming loud and clear from the legacy publishing establishment is that Amazon doesn’t appreciate, and perhaps doesn’t understand, the value that agents, publishers, and chain and independent bookstores bring to authors and readers and, by extension, to society as a whole.

. . . .

Indeed, many authors at legacy houses are not enamored of their publishing experience, but the ones who are defending the publishers are also defending something of their own.

What is equally loud and clear from Amazon’s own statements and those of their supporters (including many authors who would be less well known and less well off today if Amazon hadn’t built the tools and market share they have over the past several years), is that the legacy industry doesn’t appreciate, and perhaps doesn’t understand, that commercial publishing was built on an ecosystem which is rapidly being dismantled and will ultimately be irrelevant. And they point out that what is replacing what came before delivers much lower-priced ebooks (print is another matter) to consumers and a substantially larger portion of the revenue to the authors than published contract splits would give them. (The fact is that those splits are irrelevant more than 80 percent of the time for the most commercial books because big agents get big authors advances larger than what they “earn”, but that’s another story.) The authors that work in the new paradigm also gain unprecedented control of their professional lives: publishing when they want to, pricing and changing prices as they want to, and playing with marketing opportunities (bundling print-and-digital, entering subscription services) or not, as they and they alone decide.

. . . .

While there is a symmetry to the two sides’ dismay about what is appreciated or understood, there is a massive asymmetry here that is hardly, if ever, mentioned. And that asymmetry makes the motivation of the legacy defenders very clear — they’re fighting for their lives — but actually suggests that the “side” fighting them (to the extent that it consists of indie authors) is at least sometimes simultaneously fighting against their own interests.

. . . .

Assuming that the publisher-bashing commentariat, who could also be characterized as the “pro-Amazon” advocates, has a healthy number of authors whose revenue is as largely dependent on Amazon as James Patterson’s is on Hachette, one can see the emotional motivations to fight for the home team could be similar. But the practical side of it is precisely opposite. It is obvious that Amazon getting stronger weakens Hachette’s (or HarperCollins’s or Bloomsbury’s or Cambridge University Press’s) ability to pay advances and publish more books, which directly affects various stakeholders and particularly steadily-working authors. But if Hachette “wins” — or if Amazon’s margins on transactions with publishers are not improved — how does this injure the self-publishing authors who are working successfully that way now? Simple logic says that Amazon will treat them best when the possibilities offered by publishers are the best.

. . . .

In other words, publisher-published authors definitely lose if Amazon gains strength in relation to them. But Amazon-published or KDP authors (and the publisher-bashing seems to come from both flavors) lose nothing if legacy publishing remains strong. They are, allegedly, fighting for the “good” of those authors who are signing “exploitive” publishing contracts, but their own interests are not served.

. . . .

The motivation of the authors who spend a great deal of time and energy bashing big publishers has puzzled me before. Because “price-shoppers” are a core audience for indie ebooks, indies actually got a shot in the arm when the publishers and Apple put in agency pricing, which in its original form prohibited even the retailer from taking a loss to bring branded ebook prices down.

There’s no way for an outsider to compile the data to prove this, but the chances are very good that indie author breakthroughs were easier to achieve during the years when the price gap between the majors and the indies was greatest.

. . . .

Howey is a true believer and a crusader who is sincerely convinced that the standard publisher terms for authors are unfair and need to change. He has occasionally expressed skepticism and concern about some of Amazon’s decisions and behavior, particularly around the complex compensation schemes for Kindle authors with their KOLL (lending library) and Kindle Unlimited (subscription) initiatives which buys him a certain amount of credibility. But I still can’t understand why he’s in KU but not Oyster and Scribd and 24Symbols, a set of decisions that strike me as being in Amazon’s commercial interest but not his own.

. . . .

Trying really hard to understand this and think imaginatively about it, I can only really come up with two “selfish motivations” that make sense. One — and I think this is the one that is claimed — is that the publisher-bashing is designed to improve life for the victimized authors who choose those deals. Indeed, the content of the anti-publisher rants often includes specific suggestions, or demands: raise the digital royalty, make shorter contracts, pay royalties more often, etc. that are, no doubt, author-friendly. But it does seem a bit weird for people committed to demonizing, weakening, and ridiculing the big publishers to be the ones to tell them what they could do to stay competitive. If publishers accepted the suggestions, of course, perhaps Amazon would be pushed to improve author terms too, but that seems a pretty indirect and distant reward to explain all the time and energy some people expend on this. (Or are they promising to sign with the big publishers if they follow these suggestions? I don’t think so!)

Another conceivable legitimate motivation, of course, is ego. These publisher-bashers have managed to “do it” without them, and continuing a high-profile running criticism of the establishment they outdid and outmaneuvered, particularly when you can get a lot of applause, might be alluring. But even that feels weak to me. If self-aggrandizement were what motivated these people, it would be even more impressive if their frame were “this is hard, but I managed to do it” whereas the message feels much more like “anybody can do this and you’re a bit of a dolt if you don’t.”

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to A.K. for the tip.

Evidently, Mike has never met an author who was not happy with his/her publisher. He leads a sheltered life.

Amazon, Big Publishing, Mike Shatzkin

149 Comments to “The motivation of the publisher-bashing commentariat is what I cannot figure out”

  1. In other words, another: ‘Self-publishers should be on Hachette’s side’ meme. *sigh*

    • Got to give him credit this time, it almost sounded like a logical argument. It looks like he put real effort into this one.

      Of course it’s bonkers. At least he tried. Give the kid a gold star and a participation trophy.

  2. He seems to find it impossible to believe that people would work for what they consider the best thing for the industry as a whole.

    • He thinks a “competitive environment” is best for the industry as a whole. He also thinks ONLY big publishing can challenge Amazon. Therefore, everyone needs to get behind big publishing.

      • Exactly. Even the way he framed authors was always “big” authors, on both sides. I’m not a big author, nor one of any significant note, but I routinely rip publishers for a few reasons. One, my background is in publishing so I know how the cakes are baked and when I see someone doing something boneheaded, I feel the need to point that out.

        Two, perhaps more importantly, if publishers reform themselves into entities with much better terms and conditions, I can’t imagine that would be a bad thing. They might actually once again, in my mind, become an option for certain kinds of work rather than contracts so bad (for someone like me) it’s a non-starter to even consider. If they “win” as he puts it, there’s no motivation to change and that removes one potential option from my plate. I believe in cultivating multiple options. Far from wanting publishers to die, I’d rather they reform into something I could actually consider.

        And three, there are a lot of good people employed by these publishers, a lot of good people employed by bookstores that depend on them, a lot of good people under contract as writers to them. I believe the people in charge are misguided and it’s threatening the livelihood and careers of an entire chain of people that depend on them. I watched the newspaper industry decimate tens of thousands of good people with its sheer wrong-headedness. Excuse me of I’m not very keen on watching history repeat itself.

      • That’s what a lot of the pro-Hachette side seem to think and it still doesn’t actually make sense. Hachette can’t whine about Amazon whooping its arse and then have its supporters parrot how Hachette/trad pub is the only force able to fight Amazon. Those two ideas contradict each other.

    • Um… Because we care about other people? The way he twists himself into pretzels trying to imagine the motives for thinking about fellow writers is laughable. He’s a guy, right? Probably just needs to get laid. <—– intentional ironic reverse sexism!

  3. If I leave a good review for a restaurant, it increases the chances that the restaurant will be busy – which means it will be more crowded, and may raise prices. Those things both affect me negatively. But I still leave good reviews for restaurants.

    If I leave a bad review for a restaurant, since I will never go there again (it takes a lot for me to leave a bad review) any improvement it spurs will not benefit me, and the people who stay away from it will go to some other restaurant, and see above. But I still leave bad reviews for restaurants.

    Why?

    Because, Mr. Mike “I-Suddenly-Discovered-Behavioral-Economics-And-I-STILL-Understand-Nothing” Shatzkin, sometimes people act from conviction, and not from pure homo-economus logic. If publishers were to clean up their act, they’d get a lot less static from people who have (and publish) negative views on them. Some people, believe it or not, just feel that commenting on injustice and iniquity is a good thing to do, whether they are being harmed or not, whether they are being helped or not.

    (I used the restaurant example because the civil rights example is a) overused and b) a little overloaded, but if you want an example of people acting directly against their own interests to help others, look no further than that.)

    And, has been pointed out, indie publishers are also, with few exceptions, readers. As readers, they want the market for books to offer large selection and reasonable prices. Not only does that benefit them directly as readers, it encourages people to read more, and the more people read, the more books sell.

    *whew*

    I feel better now. It won’t help, he’ll never read it. But I feel better.

    • People who don’t believe such actions are impossible reveal a lot about themselves while discovering nothing about others.

    • Exactly! He sounds mystified that people might do something that is not motivated strictly by self-interest.

    • I am very glad writes talk openly about the problems in publishing now. Whenever the opposition tells you not to talk about it, that’s when you need to get your megaphone.

    • It’s as if he’s never heard the phrase win-win.

    • I was waiting for PG to post this since I saw the original yesterday. It’s almost impossible to convey what I think of a man who can’t credit that other people are motivated by a desire to improve a situation for everyone, even if it creates a little more competition for themselves.

      Aside from simple altruism, there’s also the types (like myself) who take an interest in improving businesses and processes. I hate watching an industry decline this way so seemingly unnecessarily. Can’t help wanting to pick them up and shake them.

      • It would be nice if publishers to stopped screwing authors so authors can have more choices as well. I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon, but I think that would be reason enough to keep calling them out on their b.s., in the hopes that *one* day they’d get sick of it and improve their business practices. I suspect that that’s why a lot of authors comment on these events.

  4. “I can only really come up with two “selfish motivations” that make sense. One — and I think this is the one that is claimed — is that the publisher-bashing is designed to improve life for the victimized authors…”

    “Another conceivable legitimate motivation, of course, is ego. These publisher-bashers have managed to “do it” without them…”

    Condescending — much?

    Jeez, I feel Shatzkinicized. Will someone please pass the Sani-wipes?

    • I need more than a Sani-wipe. More like a jail de-lousing bath.

      Personally, I’m getting tired of the “you’re indie, then you’re pro-Amazon” meme. Um, no. We’re not sheep. Most of us aren’t anyway. Though it is part of the reason I named my publishing company Angry Sheep.

      Each e-book retailer has its pros and cons. Each indie writer/publisher has to make the best decisions for himself/herself. Generally speaking, the only thing most of us agree on is that we don’t like how trad publishing treats the majority of writers–either through experience or watching the s**t that our trad published friends have gone through.

      Until the Shatz is on the receiving end of a non-compete, taking rights forever for pennies contract, he’s not going to understand.

      • *sends you virtual Lush’s Rose Queen Bath Bomb for your bath*

        Actually I see it more like “if you are against traditional publishers’ practices and pointing out AU stupidity, then you are pro-Amazon” meme, even though “if you’re indie, then you’re pro-Amazon” is repeated quite often too.

      • The greatest irony to me is that actually a lot of indies have issues with Amazon and they talk about them among themselves quite openly. Indies just don’t have the issues that Hachette is whining about (mostly because, I suspect the Hachette supporters are just making crap up to appear sympathetic to the public). Of course, the biggest problem is these publishers and their posse don’t want people to talk about *any* of their own flaws. They want to focus on Amazon so that they can take the heat off themselves. That’s not acceptable and we’re way past that now.

        • I know I’ve b**ched about Amazon from the supplier’s POV more than once, both on my blog and here at TPV, but if I complain about anyone else then I’m an Amazon stoodge.

          Can’t win for losing.

          • Most of the people trying to protect Hachette (the really prominent ones) are so obviously in their pocket that I don’t think it really matters what they call you. At this point, I’m highly skeptical of anyone who claims trad pub is a better deal for *most* authors than Amazon (or some similar retail outlet). I think most likely they’re either getting paid directly to say that or they’re hoping for a book deal one day and don’t want to burn any bridges.

  5. 1)

    “(including many authors who would be less well known and less well off today if Amazon hadn’t built the tools and market share they have over the past several years)

    2)

    “(The fact is that those splits are irrelevant more than 80 percent of the time for the most commercial books because big agents get big authors advances larger than what they “earn”, but that’s another story.)”

    Just these things jumped out at me and then I had to stop reading.

    1) Could he be any more condescending?

    2) And this is what makes so many authors mad. That the big names are subsidized by the masses of mid-list authors. Stop the huge advances to big names, raise the royalty splits for the rest.

    3) But what do I care, I’m Indie. Somehow the injustice still irks me.

    • On Joe’s recent blog post, Lee answered me directly to say that #2 isn’t true (at least for him). So I wonder, because Mike is also in a position to know this kind of thing.

  6. I haven’t read the full article. Does he actually talk to some of “these people” that he is referring to, or just project thoughts and motivations onto them?

    • Shatzkin basically takes things Hugh Howey has said about his motivations for doing what he does and declares those can’t be the real reasons because no one acts out of altruism. Therefore Hugh must have a nefarious or deluded secret purpose behind his actions.

      It’s another one of those “these people have been upfront about their reasons but I can’t believe them because I can’t conceive of anyone not being utterly selfish and self-serving.” It’s kind of sad, really.

      • Considering that he and Hugh are friendly, I would think he would actually talk about it with Hugh in the article – if only to make for a better article.

        • I don’t think that would help. He’s mentioned in the past that he’s talked with Hugh about his motivations, and then he turns around and says those stated reasons aren’t possible. This isn’t the first time he has implied that Hugh must be either self-deluding or disingenuous for claiming act for the good of others.

          I really find this article to be incredibly sad. What kind of life must he live to not be able to even conceive that someone might have selfless motivations for what they do? What kind of joyless existence would that be? I feel sorry for him if that’s the only life he knows.

      • “Shatzkin […] declares those can’t be the real reasons because no one acts out of altruism.”

        So, what’re Shatzkin’s reasons?

        Take care

        • “So, what’re Shatzkin’s reasons?”

          Cash. Cash is an excellent motivator for thinking the way the establishment wants you to, even when you know better.

    • Does he actually talk to some of “these people” that he is referring to, or just project thoughts and motivations onto them?

      Maybe we should pack him off to DARPA? He can spend his days trying to make goats fall over.

  7. So much to address in this, but doing so would distract from his central question.

    I’ll “publisher bash” because I’ve watched writers be screwed over by various aspect of the industry for twenty years, and some of those writers still see themselves as helpless. I’ll bash because it’s an industry that has long benefitted from the silence of those who’ve been screwed. And I’ll bash because there are new writers out there who don’t deserve to be screwed.

    I’ll bash because many publishers are in the wrong and have the power to harm my fellow writers. And I’ll bash because I know there are writers who don’t speak out because they fear retaliation.

    It’s called advocacy.

    • Well yeah. If you see someone being mugged, you can say “yeah, well at least it’s not me,” — or you can help. Publishers are mugging writers. Who doesn’t want to help?

  8. So he acknowledges that amazon will behave best toward authors when it has competition for them from big pub, but thinks it is against self-pubber’s interests to tell big pub how to stay competitive? Did i read that right? (legit asking, i was skimming and may have confused one of his conclusions with a premise)

    • Yeah, I noticed that too. He contradicted himself.

      • His line on this from the article: If publishers accepted the suggestions, of course, perhaps Amazon would be pushed to improve author terms too, but that seems a pretty indirect and distant reward to explain all the time and energy some people expend on this.

        ie- He wouldn’t do it for that reason, so it’s reasonable to assume that nobody would. If you actually added up all of the many and varied other small explanations that he posits and discards individually, I wonder if he would consider them weighty enough to “explain all the time and energy some people expend on this”?

        • He’s dodging a critical point. Right now, Hachette titles ARE more expensive because Amazon stopped discounting them. So if the argument is that self-publishers should want Hachette books to be expensive, that’s exactly what is happening right now.

          Of course, we haven’t been arguing that high prices on trad books are good for self-publishers. (Hugh has argued against that kind of thinking from the beginning.) But assuming if you accept his argument that high prices are good, it’s in the interests of the self-publishing community that Amazon/Hachette never settle. Ever.

  9. …but the chances are very good that indie author breakthroughs were easier to achieve during the years when the price gap between the majors and the indies was greatest.

    Maybe, but that’s not how I look at it. I figure the more books a reader can buy – legacy and indie – the better for everybody, including me. A Robin McKinley fan spending $15 to buy her latest will buy only the McKinley book. If the McKinley fan can buy her latest release for $8, maybe she’ll spend another $5 to buy my latest release. 😀

    And like many commenting upthread, the injustice and duplicity perpetrated in the trad pub world simply bother me and make me mad.

  10. Another simple economic motivation he does not seem to have considered is that the anti-amazon crowd is trying to get people to stop shopping on Amazon by painting it as evil. This could directly harm my income.

    • Honestly, some of them are so vehemently against Amazon that this seems to be their main motivation. They genuinely think Amazon is evil.

  11. I read up to here, and then I stopped:

    It is obvious that Amazon getting stronger weakens Hachette’s (or HarperCollins’s or Bloomsbury’s or Cambridge University Press’s) ability to pay advances and publish more books, which directly affects various stakeholders and particularly steadily-working authors.

    No. It’s not obvious. And something doesn’t become obvious just because a pundit like Mike Shatzkin asserts that it is obvious.

    • The sentence is full of qualifications. Assuming the first part (Hachette is weakened; and I wish), sure it “affects” “various” stakeholders and yaddayuck.

      My point is: So?

      The assumption behind all this (AU and such) is that I should somehow _care_ about those “various stakeholders”, and only as they relate to Hachette. It doesn’t matter that some of them might have published independently (I recently discovered Pressfield had, for example), and may have exit options. It doesn’t matter that some of those are paid on midlister’s earnings. It doesn’t matter that there are writers outside of that. It doesn’t matter… All they see it that they’re Hachette.

      I. Am. A. Reader. There are about 1000 authors in AU letter. There are several time more “outside” that letter. ebooks have been going for a while, the increasing pressure on traditional has been going for a while, its problems have been known for A While. And I’m supposed to worry because “various stakeholders and particularly steadily-working authors” are getting less money *in advances*?

      No. Clean the payment system, pay monthly, and those steady workers (and I hope steady means more than a book every 5 years… steady… as she goes) won’t have as much trouble. But, then, that’s not something you can pin on amazon.

      As I understand the US system (not much), monthly payments would be a boon for credit ratings, insurances and such. Even for the writer himself, allowing him to make decisions on, gasp, data. But, of course, big hefty illogical and susidized fat checks are more important than a steady income for steady workers.

      Shatzkin is a slaughterhouse bellwether. And he has the gall to try to pull me in.

      No.

      Take care.

    • Yes, “obviously” amazon selling more of their books reduces their ability to pay advances and publish more books.

      “The fact is that those splits are irrelevant more than 80 percent of the time for the most commercial books because big agents get big authors advances larger than what they “earn”, but that’s another story”

      Unfairly low royalties are irrelevant for 80% of the top 1% of books, but those are the only ones the publishers actually care about, so they have no motivation to change.

      • If the publishers could just survive on the books of those top 1 percent of authors, my guess is everyone else would be out the door in a heartbeat and this whole issue wouldn’t have blown up in their faces. But alas, they need all those other books that earn far less money for them to make them seem like they’re trying to protect culture and literature, even when one of their primary motives seems to be their pocketbooks. They can’t fill a bookstore with Patterson and Preston, et al, alone, and these major authors are getting to retirement age anyway. They can’t hand pick new stars fast enough to keep themselves afloat.

    • Yeah, I scowled at that one too. Amazon getting stronger means more reach to more people in more places. That sounds awful good for all of their business partners.

      He assumes that “getting stronger” equates to “dominating and abusing”. It doesn’t.

  12. Just for fun, I’ll analyze him by the same criteria. I believe he has a self-published book for sale on Amazon – but he works as a consultant to support the publishing companies. Does that mean that he only does so to assure that their prices will stay high and drive sales to his own book? If that’s the only logical conclusion he can reach about others, then it must be so. I wonder how his clients feel about his giving them advice only to feather his bed with his own indie income at their expense.

    • It’s ALWAYS in a consultant’s best interests to tell a client what they want to hear, even if it’s sweet, honeyed, perfumed bovine fertilizer.

      Shatzkin may be vapid (to TPVers, at least), but he’s no fool when it comes to knowing which side his slice of bread is buttered.

  13. I am completely confused by what Mr. S’s point is supposed to be. He seems to be arguing both sides from the middle in order to rouse the rabble and get indie authors to support Trad Publishing.

    But he uses statements like this:

    And Amazon started paying authors 70% when publishers switched to agency and extracted 70% for themselves, a connection that seems not to have been made by much of the publisher-bashing commentariat.

    I think that I am part of the publisher-bashing commentariat, which is, to be frank, that’s an awfully surly and sour grape way of referring to the growing population that is indie authorship.

    The proloteriat, after which commentariat is fashioned, is (according to Wiki) “a term used to describe the class of wage-earners (especially industrial workers) in a capitalist society whose only possession of significant material value is their labour-power (their ability to work).”

    So now Mr. S. wants to put us in our place by giving us a name intended to stratify society, with us indie authors firmly being squashed and kept down by The Man because our only value is to be part of their cultish club and write our good stories for peanuts. Well, I’m sticking that feather in my hat and calling in macaroni.

    And second, he’s saying that we’ve missed the connection between Amazon paying out 70% and Trad Pub keeping 70% of the payout.

    In spite of the Whale Math being flung around here, I see precisely the connection. Amazon pays 70% and Trad Pub keeps 70%, and all for the same work.

    Like I said, the entire article by Mr. S. is confusing, wanders through a grove of high-sounding phrases, but never seems to land anywhere, or prove any point.

    Or am I missing something?

    • I assumed as you did, “commentariat” must be a derisive term. Yep. From “The Economist” in 2010:

      “If workers can show solidarity in a proletariat, and secretaries can feel grand at a secretariat, then someone thought it made sense to dub the self-important purveyors of commentary, as a class, “the commentariat”.”

      Nice bit of condescension…fit in well with the whole piece.

    • I’m not sure how that statement is part of his argument or whatever he’s trying to do either. Indie authors get 70% from Amazon for publishing, yes. Publishers were getting 70% due to agency, yes. The thing it feels like he’s missing is the Indie AUTHORS were getting 70%. Where as the PUBLISHERS were getting 70% but there’s no mention of what part of the 70% the publishers were giving to the author. Are we supposed to bash indie authors who get 70% of their sales just because the trad publishers were getting 70% too? It’s like he’s trying to make that an argument to prove his point, but I don’t see how it does.

      • Besides which, from what I remember, Amazon went to 70% author royalties when Apple did, and it was nothing to do with publishers (unless they caused Apple to go to 70%).

        • (unless they caused Apple to go to 70%)

          They didn’t. Apple set 70% as the standard cut for content providers when the iTunes Store began selling music, and continued that percentage with iPhone and iPad apps.

    • “I am completely confused by what Mr. S’s point is supposed to be.”

      Well, you’re not alone in that. So is Mr. S. 🙂

    • Thank you, everyone. I was beginning to feel like a doltish commentariat fora minute there.

    • Christina, you mentioned Whale Math. Yep. That was my impression of the entire article. I read it and thought it was just a very long, wordy, rambling whale math equation. Nothing more.

    • What others have said before about him, and what seems apparent both from his website and his writing, is that he writes what the traditional publishing world wants to hear (while trying to be insightful and visionary). He seems to make his main money providing consulting services to publishing executives (I would assume not very bright ones). His website says he specializes in “Industry Education,” “Research and strategic analysis,” and “Introduction of new technologies and commercial propositions to publishing industry leaders.”

      From that, I surmise his goal is not to try to convince self-publishers anything (obviously his tone prevents that) but to reassure publishing executives (and special snowflakes literary elite) that their opponents are irrational. I think he’s also providing talking points for AU types to make their own arguments (to whoever listens) that this isn’t a war against self-publishing. (Which, in fact, it is). I don’t think anyone but the dimmest special snowflake believes what he is saying, but he provides some lies for the liars to practice.

      A secondary goal might be to just try to discourage debate. It gets tiring repeatedly trying to point out these guys are wrong, and he might hope that if he keeps arguing there’s no need to argue, self-publishers will eventually quiet down, if not because they are convinced, but just because they become weary of the whole mess. (That’s why he keeps talking about all the work that self-publishers are putting into arguing. For what?) That is actually a pretty effective technique that is used in a lot of corrupt organizations (and politics). You just wear the good people fighting for change out. People like Hugh Howey and JK want to get things done. And if the debate can’t be won, because the other side won’t concede an inch, eventually they simply move on with their lives. (Or that is the hope.)

      Of course, there is a simple solution. Mock them. Just keep mocking them. It’s fun and takes less effort than arguing. I think it was JK that first came up with Special Snowflake. That’s gold!

  14. I see this Shatzkin piece as a great victory for all of us. It shows that the establishment can’t ignore us anymore! 😀

  15. It doesn’t take my having a dog in the hunt to know exploitative behavior when it’s pointed out to me. Granted, when I’m too close to a situation that does affect me, I may not see it timely enough. But it’s an insult to tell me, personally, that I must have a personal stake in an issue to call it as I see it: wrong.

  16. ‘Shatzkin’ -> me going ‘la la la,’ fingers in ears -> read the nice comments on TPV -> learn more than I really want to know.

    He makes the theory of alternate universes plausible, because there isn’t much overlap between his and ours.

    I know you are supposed to look at ‘facts’ from all sides, but I just can’t give all sides equal credibility.

  17. Really?

  18. I give Mr. Shatzkin credit for finally admitting that he can now see, in the brighter light provided by all those falling meteors, something that *might* possibly be the reputed scampering mammals in the undergrowth. (That is perhaps a bit churlish of me, but I feel I am allowed one return smack for being called a member of the “publisher-bashing commentariat”.)

    Part of Mr. Shatzkin’s confusion stems, I suspect, from persisting in viewing books as a commodity when money comes into play (in other situations, of course, books are Art that must be Nurtured). I am happy and cavort with mad abandon when my fellow authors do well, because happy readers BUY MORE BOOKS and my books are distinct and unique, not a book-shaped-object. Hugh Howey sells a book, and my wallet is not harmed. That reader may finish Wool in a happy glow and Want Moar Book!

    Further, those who have suffered injustice are even more likely to object seeing it visited on others. It may not directly benefit me to call the cops if I see someone attacked, but I want to live in a society where that behavior exists! I am an author, and I will not be silent when I see other authors abused and taken advantage of by publishers.

    No doubt Hugh Howey has explained to Mr. Shatzkin, with pictures and diagrams and photos-with-a-paragraph-on-the-back-of-each-one, exactly how the money thing works with Amazon and how lower book prices actually earns publishers more money. Probably more than once, since Hugh has the patience of a saint. However, Mr. Shatzkin appears to have an overwhelmingly emotional attachment to how things have always worked in the past and it makes it difficult for him to understand new concepts. Much in the way a tribal hunter-gatherer will have difficulty grasping compound interest. (OK, that was two mean things. I acknowledge my weak moral nature and will try to pet a kitten to make up for it later.)

  19. This quote is so apropos of the whole situation that even though it’s a little tangential to this *particular* thing, I can’t help but post it:

    “There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.”

    — Robert A. Heinlein, Life-Line (1939)”

    • Excellent.

    • I love this. The quote should be posted as a comment on every article reporting about AU’s antics.

    • Perfect.

    • Perfect!

    • Bam! Robert A. Heinlein for the win!

    • Excellent quote.

      It’s sad that a 1939 sentiment is still just as viable in 2014. 🙁

    • I adore this quote. Thanks so much for bringing it into my life!

    • I love that story, and that quote.

      The character who said that went on to say that if the court did rule that the party in question had the right to be protected from new technology, he would open a kerosene lamp factory and seek an injunction to forbid the manufacture of light bulbs. That is essentially what Authors United is calling for when it demands that the government step in to protect publishers from the Big Bad Zon.

      • While it’s a pretty good story, my favorite thing about it is when Lazarus Long makes a reference to the man Mary Sperling calls “Pinero the Charlatan” a hundred years later in Methuselah’s Children.

        “Anyhow, Pinero took my reading and it seemed to bother him. So he took it again. Then he returned my money.”
        “What did he say?”
        “Couldn’t get a word out of him. He looked at me and he looked at his machine and he just frowned and clammed up.”

        I read The Number of the Beast before I read Methuselah’s Children. It was definitely one of those “I know something you don’t know, literary character, ha ha ha!” moments. 🙂

    • I’ve been thinking that quote needed posting round these parts for a while, thanks for being the one to do it.

  20. Not that he will ever read it, but I will say it in simplicity. If he wonders why so many self published writers dislike how the publishing houses are acting I will offer it in this form:

    “If you see someone kick your brother, you’ll get angry. Because they are mistreating your brother, and your brother doesn’t deserve that. If your brother is not in a situation to defend themselves, you’ll get Very angry. You don’t even have to especially Like that brother, but you can still empathize. So when you raise your voice to demand that they stop abusing your brother and act with decency, you get an odd response. They give you a funny look and say ‘Mind your own business, this is between us‘ But it’s hard not to think it’s your business, because even if you’re not very fond of that brother…family is family. If someone treats them wrong, you get pissed”

    A lot of independent writers see what is done to their fellows and they know they wouldn’t stand to be treated that way. So they stand up to say something. They say it loud. They say it often. They say it angry. And the big publishers continue to grumble about the noise from the unwashed masses.

    • Excellent, that quote sums it up. To look at your brother being kicked and not want to intervene suggests one of 2 things:

      1) Either your brother is so horribly monstrous that the kicks are well-earned justice,

      OR

      2) Something is fundamentally wrong with you.

      If tradpub writers are the “brother” in this scenario, then 1 can be eliminated by default. Obviously, 2 does not apply to us. But it clearly does apply to Shatzkin et al, who keep wondering why we’re averse to seeing people get treated like soccer balls.

      • What you’re missing is, Shatzkin thinks the trad publishers ARE treating authors well –“BIG AUTHORS, that is with “advances larger than what they ‘earn’.”

        If you notice, Shatzkin rarely speaks of midlist authors when talking about traditional publishers.

        • True enough. I just don’t think it’s an accident that he rarely mentions the midlisters. I’m reminded of a scene from “In the Time of the Butterflies,” where one of the Mirabal sisters, I think it was Minerva, discovers her father has a mistress and “outside kids” with the mistress. Her father comes up with a pat story to explain away the family, and Minerva thinks to herself “this is the story I have to go along with if I want to keep on living in this house.”

          Shatzkin has less excuse for the story he’s propping up. Certainly he could have a shred of honor and not act so befuddled about indies and our motivations.

      • If I can bring a little sanity or clarity to a situation. Or a little madness to a dull day. Either way, I’ve done something to improve the day.

  21. Some people may pull the emperor aside and tell him that his new clothes aren’t real out of a genuine urge to help him, and some might tell him so in hopes of a reward. But some of us are just, you know, laughing at his naked butt.*

    Speaking for myself, I do the occasional bashing toward a part of the traditional publishing establishment, in response to something I see or read. I have no issue with traditional publishing per se. I trust that each writer can figure out what’s best for their career and do that, and even if they can’t, I’m sure as samheck not qualified to tell anyone else what they should do. I don’t bash out of either self interest or dedication to any particular cause. I’m merely reacting to ridiculous bad behavior in a pretty normal way: by laughing at it.

    *This is not really mean, because the emperor brought it on himself by behaving so foolishly in public.

  22. Most Americans have never been affected by ISIS. Most will never be directly affected. Still that doesn’t mean a lot don’t have firm opinions.

    You don’t have to have been hurt by big publishing to read the author horror stories and the stories about how the system is broken to dislike it. And be vocal about it.

  23. Another issue, too, I think is whether or not traditional writers, especially ones not in the upper tier, even have a voice to speak up without fear of reprisal. Look at preorders. The entire underlying presumption that the lack of preorder data will damage authors come from what appears to be a totally unquestioned belief that Hachette will use this lack of data resulting from a standoff they themselves, in concert with Amazon, are responsible for, against authors. As such, they are practically begging Amazon to return them to prevent what they see as certain punitive actions of Hachette. They obviously don’t even feel free to criticize Hachette directly about what’s largely unethical and downright sleazy conduct.

    • That’s a very good point. I imagine something like this is going on behind the scenes:

      Hachette Exec: “Your writer client is going to to end up getting his next advance cut because there are no pre-order buttons.”

      Agent: “But why? You know this is only because you won’t make a deal with Amazon.”

      Hachette Exec: “Doesn’t matter. Business is business.”

      Agent: “Isn’t there anything you can do?”

      Hachette Exec: “Nope. But if I was you, I’d get everyone you know to start putting pressure on Amazon. That’s the only thing that might work. If Amazon completely caves.”

      Agents already know these publishing execs don’t give a damn about mid-list writers, so they are flailing around trying to convince the public to rescue them.

  24. I think it all boils down to his believing that self-pubs are not published – and have no basis for opinions on publishing. He defines publishing as an industry and denies that anyone that writes, edits, formats, packages, and presents books to the public is in any way Publishing with a capital P.

  25. Russell Blake said something similar a while back, and without being a giant jackass about it like good ol’ Shatz.

    http://russellblake.com/why-i-dont-care-about-amazon-vs-hachette/

  26. I publisher bash from the point of view of a reader. For years I have been poorly served by the publishing industry with dwindling numbers of books that appeal to me and increasingly high prices driving me to only be able to get books from the library. I never knew what the cause was and as a voracious reader it bothered me. Then I started reading blogs like Kris Rusch’s and this one. It all became so clear. The industry has no love of the voracious genre reader. They only care about the 4 book a year bestseller readers. They drive authors to write only what they think they can sell and leave readers like me in the dust.

    Well, as a poorly served customer I feel no obligation to sit back and take it. Amazon has allowed me to find as many books as I want at affordable prices and has always provided me with a great shopping and service experience. To me, that’s worth celebrating. I can think of nothing better for readers than that the big traditional publishers should go down in flames.

    • “I publisher bash from the point of view of a reader. For years I have been poorly served by the publishing industry with dwindling numbers of books that appeal to me and increasingly high prices driving me to only be able to get books from the library. […] They drive authors to write only what they think they can sell and leave readers like me in the dust.”

      Yes. This.

      The publishing industry doesn’t care about readers. It doesn’t care about writers. So then, uh… What exactly is its purpose again?

  27. However this turns out, the publishers lose if they insist on agency pricing with no discounts. As Mike acknowledged, when agency pricing went into effect, readers turned to self published books as an alternative to the high prices offered by the big five publishers and they discovered new favorites. So those who enjoy reading will keep up this alternative or use their local library or used bookstore depriving authors of royalties. Midlisters will not make enough to justify contracts and will pursue other alternatives and best-selling authors will continue to age and publishing revenue will shrink. How many new best-selling authors have emerged from the major publishers lately anyway?

  28. I agree that Mike Shatzkin has written a non-biased, balanced blog. And the question of why Authors of all types don’t unite with the Big-Pubs is a good question. It doesn’t matter that we are Legacy or Indie Authors we all sell through Amazon. If Amazon becomes a de facto monopoly, it could do whatever it wants with the percentage of fees it charges to sell our books. Anything is possible.
    Aside from being snubbed by the Big-Pubs, and other subjective, emotional issues why do I take Amazon’s, Kindle’s side? These are my pragmatic reasons:
    1-Amazon displays and sells my self-published paper books and ebooks. Big-Pubs do not.
    2-My ebooks sell better than paper books, which are POD and cost more. My success depends on the Kindle. Kindle’s success depends on inexpensive ebooks. Big-Pubs hates Kindle because it ruins their paper books cartel. Yes, lower prices for ebooks will make Kindle become the popular way of reading novels, and I can sell more of my ebooks when everyone has a Kindle.
    3-What I can do today through Amazon is much better than what Amazon may do to me in the future if it becomes a de facto monopoly.
    These are three reasons, Mike. Indie Authors are business people as well and can make rational decisions a lot better than the Legacy Authors who are not.

    • If Amazon becomes a de facto monopoly, it could do whatever it wants with the percentage of fees it charges to sell our books. Anything is possible.

      The definition of a monopoly is the exclusive possession or control of the supply or trade in a commodity or service.

      I think it’s highly unlikely that Amazon will become the elusive source to buy e-books or print books.

      I think Amazon will continue to improve, and if no other entity actually tries, can become the most desirable place to buy e-books and print books.

      But there is a big difference between most people WANTING to shop at a place and it being the ONLY place to shop.

      • Yes. THIS. All this so-called “fear” of Amazon is just total BS. Amazon is convenient. It’s certainly not a monopoly. It sells stuff. All sorts of stuff, and to Amazon, books are just “stuff.”

        Books are just highly-marked up stuff to publishers too. However, they want to glamorize publishing, so that they can justify selling a 350 page ebook for $20. They need to keep their margins. Otherwise they can’t pay themselves big salaries.

        What annoys me, is that publishers are happy to gouge readers — $20 for an ebook?!

        I’m with PG: “Evidently, Mike has never met an author who was not happy with his/her publisher. He leads a sheltered life.” I took Shatzkin out of my feed reader long ago.

        Back to Amazon as a monopoly. Amazon is well aware that it’s not the only ecommerce store on the planet. That’s why they invest so heavily. Amazon knows that if it doesn’t please its customers, another company will come along which does.

  29. ” (The fact is that those splits are irrelevant more than 80 percent of the time for the most commercial books because big agents get big authors advances larger than what they “earn”, but that’s another story.)”

    Is he somehow trying to say that 80% of all authors are big authors getting larger advances than what they earn?

    • No. He’s saying 80% of the most commercial books get advances so large they are not intended to earn out.

      That is a meaningless percentage because he never explains how he is he defining “most commercial books.”

      This could be 2% of all books, given the information he has provided.

      He has backed away from his earlier assertion that MOST books get bigger advances than are intended to earn out.

      This is an important point. His argument for why Data Guy’s information is wrong was that “most” authors get advances so large they are not intended to earn out, which means they effectively get a much higher royalty.

      In fact, it’s a very very small percentage of writers. You know, the 1% he and his pals care about.

      Giving huge advances not intended to earn out is a clever way of paying the top 1% authors a much higher royalty rate than the other 99%.

  30. I bash publishers because I’ve been treated badly by them. I’ll also bash Amazon when it deserves a bashing.

  31. I think it’s quite illustrative of Mike Shatzkin’s mindset that we couldn’t possibly be (a) right, (b) want a better industry, and (c) must be motivated by nefarious reasons.

  32. Honestly, I really didn’t care too much about this until Hachette authors started considering getting the government involved. Before that point, I figured they would just go down fighting for what are really just misguided ideals, and most people wouldn’t notice or care very much and we could all move on and see what the future holds without them having such control over the industry. But when they started the concerted media campaign to lie and manipulate the American public, it really started to annoy me. When they started trying to get the government involved in their situation, it started to annoy me. I think trad pub has had far too much power for far too long and it’s exploited writers (and readers) for just as long. It makes total sense that writers, who have been the most poorly treated by the publishers, are cheering on their demise. Trad pub is actively trying to tarnish Amazon’s reputation because they have far less to offer and would rather not have to compete. It makes total sense that indies are against trad pub and are willing to keep speaking out about the problems.

  33. Compassion just didn’t get a look in in that article, did it? Okay, I do tend to see the fluffy side of things. But when I see indie authors rising up and fighting something, at the heart of the argument every, single time is compassion for other authors who are suffering or naive or about the fall into a flaming pit of some kind.

    Why do the bestselling indies do it? Because it’s the right thing to do. Because if you’ve made millions as an indie, and you can see a way for other authors to benefit from your experience, why wouldn’t you share it?

    If you see someone walking towards a giant flaming pit, why wouldn’t you tell them it was there and save them from getting burned?

    The article looks at monetary gain and professional success, but it completely missed the obvious reason: basic human compassion.

    The whole focus on money and success in the article disagreed with my dinner.

    Admittedly, I think about money when my rent’s due. The rest of the time I think about dragons though because they’re far more exciting.

    Someone should get him a dragon. He’d be much happier.

    • Admittedly, I think about money when my rent’s due. The rest of the time I think about dragons though because they’re far more exciting.

      With you on that. Aaaaaand another winning t-shirt logo is born.

      Someone should get him a dragon. He’d be much happier.

      Not with you on that, though. I’m thinking charred, gory remains. Maybe his enemies might be much happier, but I think we should just inject him with Essence of Tolkien.

    • Yes! To the part about compassion… and dragons.

    • Just remember to never meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup.

    • The whole focus on money and success in the article disagreed with my dinner.

      Well, that’s the subtext you’re *supposed* to be reading into it. See, the abominable way authors are treated by trad publishing is *good* for them, because we are *artistes* and worldly concerns like eating and sleeping indoors shouldn’t concern us, because we are Arting, and our keepers owners publishers will dole out what we need.

  34. For most of us, for most of our lives, traditional publishers not only didn’t publish us, but they didn’t even do us the honor of alowing us to send our work to a slush pile to be ignored. It was agents only, and most agents wouldn’t take new writers. Basically, the old system had multiple layers of people whose main job was to tell us to F off.

    Amazon, on the other hand, told us to give this writing and publishing business a try – they couldn’t guarentee that we would succeed, but at least they would give us a reasonably fair shot at it.

    So, yeah, there is just a hint of Schadenfreude in some of our trad publisher bashing. We don’t always wish them well. People are funny that way.

    • This. All it takes is a good read of the Writer’s Market to see how few trad pub doors are even slightly ajar to new writers. Amazon leveled the playing field – yes, my books may turn out to be crap that nobody wants to read, but now readers get to make that decision, not some frustrated-writer of an intern going through the slush pile at an agent’s office. For that reason alone, my sympathies are going to be firmly on the Zon’s side.

      On the other hand, I think a more flexible trad pub system will benefit everyone. The old publishing houses need to figure out better ways to make money than overpriced hardcovers and trying to derive most of their income from the 1% best-seller elite. I wonder if the sudden drop in best-seller income among Hachette’s authors is all due to Amazon’s sanctioned-boycott-censorship (a.k.a. longer shipping times and removing pre-order buttons, which as we all know is the same as concentration camps and People’s Courts and the Cultural Revolution), or because more readers are finally finding books they want to read besides those trad pub relentlessly pushes under their collective nose.

      I think we all would do better it trad pub changes its ways. If it doesn’t, indies will continue to prosper at trad pub’s expense, which means traditional authors will unfortunately suffer as well.

  35. He seems to forget that most writers are also heavy consumers of books. Amazon became the most important bookselling channel by being much better for readers — not just in pricing, but in convenience, access to reviews, availability of nearly every title, etc. And now they’re also being much friendlier to authors, too. Hachette’s position primarily benefits Hachette, even though its top-selling authors can’t necessarily see it.

  36. Sounds like he’s suing for peace.

    • Smart Debut Author

      The change in tone these days is so f***ing funny. In nine short months, legacy world has managed to go from:

      “Bundle those freight-class-cattle indie rejects off into their own ghetto somewhere, so that they don’t drown us in their Tsunami of self-published garbage.”

      to:

      “I don’t understand why these nice indies keep saying mean things about us, when we’re fighting for our lives. Can’t we all just get along?”

      • Exactly this. The thing is, corporate publishing and those associated with it, including Shatzkin, are so firmly immersed in that former thought they can’t see around it. They still see indie authors as freight class. They still think there’s too much content that publishers have to sift for readers.

        They still think indie is a viable “choice,” and that’s where they fail.

        Until they acknowledge that corporate publishing isn’t actually a choice, they’ll never be able to fix the systemic issues it has.

        • Smart Debut Author

          …corporate publishing… [will] never be able to fix the systemic issues it has.

          Doesn’t matter — the free market’s gonna fix it for them. Or, rather, for us.

  37. Sounds like publishers/agents/etc now know what it feels like to be one of their authors 😛

  38. “If publishers accepted the suggestions, of course, perhaps Amazon would be pushed to improve author terms too, but that seems a pretty indirect and distant reward to explain all the time and energy some people expend on this. (Or are they promising to sign with the big publishers if they follow these suggestions? I don’t think so!)”

    Look at that, he almost had it, and then discounted it. Of course we’d all love an alternative or additional choice, and many of those who have self published would jump at a fair and reasonable publishing deal.

    If he looked closer, he’d also notice many of the loudest voices have been directly disadvantaged by traditional publishing.

    • “Indirect and distant.” Yeah, because Amazon having to compete with better terms from publishers is indirect and distant. What would “direct and immediate” be? Wads of hundred-dollar bills showing up in our mailboxes? A trad publishing system with better terms (hey, here’s an idea; how about cutting upper-tier advances by 30% and redistributing the money in the form of better royalty percentages for everyone?) makes it far more likely Amazon’s terms for indies will remain the same or even improve.

      Somebody needs to give Mr. S directions on how to navigate away from his lower digestive tract, because his head is pretty much up there.

  39. I want to believe that publishing will transform. Self-publishing is a blessing and traditional publishers can still play a part in the show. They have the potential to do wonderful things for writers. I think once the old guard is out and the new gals come in, we will see beautiful things happen.

    Also, in lieu of tips, several people left beer in their rooms so I love everyone right now.

  40. Simple logic says that Amazon will treat them best when the possibilities offered by publishers are the best.

    Crystal ball b*******.

    I’m just sorry that I skipped school the day they taught everyone else how to predict the future.

    Dan

  41. Hmm, what’s the Upton Sinclair quote again…

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

    Yep, that’s the one.

  42. “But I still can’t understand why he’s in KU but not Oyster and Scribd and 24Symbols, a set of decisions that strike me as being in Amazon’s commercial interest but not his own.”

    Oh Mike… go google “exclusive” and then reexamine your thoughts.

    • If the math says you’re better off going exclusive (i.e., making more money and reaching more customers, or even making slightly less money with far less effort and reaching as many or more customers), then it makes perfect sense. Maybe it doesn’t make sense if Mr. Shatzin is using Whale Math, though.

  43. There is no evidence here and plenty of speculation masquerading as logic. Most of it is b*****t. And ignorance. He does not “understand” why authors in Amazon KU are not in other subscription services. The answer is because KU is part of KDP Select and to be in Select you need to be exclusive to Amazon. And his lack of understanding of why so many authors bash legacy publishing is typical of neo-Luddites. The horse and carriage trade spouted the same crap when the automobile made its first appearance at the end of the 19th century. It’s a failure to understand the impact of new technology on culture–or else merely a “failure” due to self-interest.

  44. its unlikely I’ll ever buy another book from Amazon

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