One side defends the ideals that this nation was founded on: Independence and freedom from tyranny. The other side is made up of elites who keep the little people down and take the money that is rightfully theirs in an attempt to control the message and maintain the status quo.
I’m talking not about the Tea Party and big government, but the worlds of self-publishing and traditional publishing. Yet the rhetoric in both debates often sounds very much the same. In 2009, the Tea Party movement took shape in the United States. At just around the same time, ebooks began gaining in popularity, and as the digital publishing revolution took off, so did the once-stigmatized practice of self-publishing. Authors were suddenly able to get their ebooks to large audiences without going through traditional publishers. On January 20, 2010, Amazon began offering 70 percent royalties on self-published Kindle books (priced between $2.99 and $9.99.) In doing so, it opened up a new revenue stream for thousands of people.
. . . .
The wildly differing rhetoric used on each side provides some insight into why the negotiations seem so momentous, and it is one explanation for why it can be so difficult for the supporters of each side to find any common ground. Some of the most outspoken leaders of the self-publishing movement have adopted Tea Party-like rhetoric benefiting Amazon that can make it difficult for those from the “elite” world of traditional publishing to sympathize. Those traditional publishers, bestselling traditionally published authors and literary folk, on the other hand, tend toward anti-Amazon arguments that the self-publishing movement finds preposterous.
. . . .
Amazon’s ability to pull this off reflects an underlying trend in the self-publishing movement: Its reliance on Tea Party-esque, “freedom fighter” rhetoric. Earlier this year, self-publishing site Smashwords published “The Indie Author Manifesto,” modeled after the Declaration of Independence and including the line “I shall not bow beholden or subservient to any publisher.”
. . . .
Meanwhile, statements that Hachette and Amazon released last week illustrate the ways in which Amazon has picked up on the voice of the self-publishing movement, while Hachette’s language is stilted and formal:
“Amazon has just sent us a brief proposal. We invite Amazon to withdraw the sanctions they have unilaterally imposed, and we will continue to negotiate in good faith and with the hope of a swift conclusion. We believe that the best outcome for the writers we publish is a contract with Amazon that brings genuine marketing benefits and whose terms allow Hachette to continue to invest in writers, marketing, and innovation. We look forward to resolving this dispute soon and to the benefit of the writers who have trusted their books to us.”
“We call baloney. Hachette is part of a $10 billion global conglomerate. It wouldn’t be ‘suicide.’ They can afford it. What they’re really making clear is that they absolutely want their authors caught in the middle of this negotiation because they believe it increases their leverage. All the while, they are stalling and refusing to negotiate, despite the pain caused to their authors. Our offer is sincere. They should take us up on it.”
“We call baloney” is the master stroke: Brief, folksy and eminently tweetable. “Our offer is sincere. They should take us up on it.” Just 51 characters — easy to share that!
Hachette’s statement is written with more complex language and can’t be distilled into a single phrase; there is nothing there that you want to tweet and I had to think for a second about what they meant by “sanctions.” Both sides argue this is war, but Amazon is more charming about it and makes its message easier to spread.
. . . .
One of the main reasons that charges of “elitism” rankle the traditional publishing world, I think, is that most people who work in the industry — whether they are publishers, independent booksellers, editors or authors — don’t feel like one-percenters. And most of them aren’t: Book publishing pays notoriously low salaries and most authors — whether they are traditionally published or self-published — will never get rich.
Supporters of Hachette and traditional publishing fear Amazon’s growing power. They worry that its business practices will drive publishers into the ground, forcing them to consolidate or go out of business, and leading to a less competitive and vibrant marketplace for books.
But I think that many members of this group fear the loss of the “right” kinds of books. Thus far, all of the greatest self-publishing successes have been in genre fiction – thrillers, mystery, romance, science fiction — rather than literary fiction or narrative nonfiction, the types of books that win the biggest prizes and get serious reviews. There is a fear that in a world dominated by self-publishing and Amazon, it’s not just “books” that wouldn’t get published, it’s the “important” books that wouldn’t get published. (Robert Caro, anyone?)
There is, too, a fear that Amazon does not value or respect books as cultural objects. “To our knowledge, Amazon has never clearly and unequivocally stated (as traditional publishers have) that books are different and special, that they can’t be treated like the other commodities they sell,” the Authors Guild’s Richard Russo wrote last week. “This doesn’t strike us as an oversight.”
Link to the rest at GigaOm and thanks to Sharon for the tip.
PG understands the use of the term, Tea Party, in the article for timeliness, but suggests that Populist is a better description of some of the characteristics of the indie publishing community. Populist movements have arisen on both the right and the left in American politics.
Additionally, the self-publishing viewpoint is international and a uniquely American political term probably doesn’t describe similar feelings overseas.