Big Publishing

Is it time to chop down Amazon?

24 October 2014

From The Globe and Mail:

Amazon has knocked a hole in the book publisher’s barricade, agreeing to a new contract with Simon and Schuster, a CBSowned company. A settlement of the row between Hachette and the e-retailer over book pricing cannot be far off. Yet, in political terms, the jury is still out as battle rages between Amazon’s enemies, who accuse it of predatory pricing and of killing off bookstores, and its supporters, who say Amazon’s disruptive business model supports a community of self-publishers and offers consumers cheaper books.

. . . .

A thousand authors (not all of them with Hachette, and, notably, Stephen King) protested that writers were being held hostage by Amazon and, oddly, the American political Left has taken up the cause of big publishing. Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, accuses Amazon of behaving like Rockefeller’s Standard Oil – bullying suppliers and competitors by cutting prices. Franklin Foer, editor of New Republic magazine, calls for government and regulatory action to stop a new golden age of monopoly led by Amazon, Google and Wal-Mart.

It is difficult to feel sorry for big publishers. They have been digging their own graves for decades, ignoring new technology, relying on antiquated marketing and a small cabal of blockbuster authors to support a lifestyle business that employs college arts graduates from nice families.

That a community of established authors supports the big publishers is hardly surprising; the writers’ deepest fear is loss of the cash advance, a payment by a publisher that allows a trusted author to spend a year writing a book without the need of a day job to pay the bills. Amazon promises the radical low-budget, self-publishing solution to the untested, untried new author and Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chairman, has proposed a deal that splits the cover price thus: 35 per cent each to the author and to the publisher and 30 per cent to Amazon.

Needless to say, it doesn’t appeal to Hachette, which would doubtless prefer not to hand over a third of publishing income to authors, compared with the usual maximum royalty of 10 per cent. But the real fear is that the Amazon model, pushed to its logical conclusion, would remove entirely the cost of publishers from the equation, replacing them simply with an agent or manager or nothing.

. . . .

But the fundamental question is whether we think fair competition is just about consumers getting a good price or whether we think that diversity of supply is a good in itself, something that we experience in healthy economies. If we think that more and better books are written when authors have financial backing, then we may need well-capitalized publishers. Better still would be a new model for the writing business, a new kind of Amazon that is prepared to risk capital on human creativity and not just suck the cash flow out of a river of cheap goods.

Link to the rest at The Globe and Mail and thanks to Tudor for the tip.

Speculation Begins on Amazon, S&S Deal

24 October 2014

From Publishers Weekly:

When Amazon and Simon & Schuster confirmed on Tuesday that they had reached new sales terms on the publisher’s print and digital titles, scant details about the deal were revealed. Nonetheless, a raft of stories has appeared about the situation, with many in the press speculating on who benefits, and who loses, from the agreement.

The deal, a multi-year one, is something that S&S CEO Carolyn Reidy said gives the publisher a “version” of the agency model. Reidy explained that the deal allows S&S, with exceptions, control over the price of its e-books. Supposedly, according to Reidy, S&S authors will not take a hit because of the agreement, either; Reidy claimed the agreement allows the house’s writers to maintain “their share of income generated by e-book sales.”

. . . .

Some insiders–all who spoke off the record, and with the caveat that they had no inside knowledge of the specifics–speculated that S&S may have agreed to give Amazon more coop money.

. . . .

At the Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Trachtenberg quoted a person with knowledge of the deal saying that, through it, S&S’s titles would get more prominent promotion on Amazon’s homepage. This, certainly, speaks to the possibility that S&S offered Amazon higher coop fees.

. . . .

One high-placed executive who spoke to PW said it’s interesting to note that S&S’s deal is a multi-year agreement, since Amazon is notorious for demanding short term deals. This exec felt that, perhaps, S&S was able to take advantage of Hachette’s situation, getting Amazon to agree to slightly better terms. Under this theory, Amazon was more eager to strike a deal in order to combat some of the bad press it has received of late.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Vox on Amazon: Way off-base, not entirely wrong

24 October 2014

From Salon:

The battle between Amazon and the Big Five publishers is complicated by the fact that neither “side” is exactly easy for authors and readers to be on. No one who cares about a diverse and healthy literary marketplace, where new ideas and writers can reach a wide audience — and even non-blockbuster authors are paid enough for their work so that they can continue doing it — can reasonably side with Amazon.

But the publishers have botched so many opportunities in recent years, and have been so maddeningly slow to adapt to the digital marketplace, that it’s hard not to feel that they deserve some kind of comeuppance. So when Matt Yglesias writes a Vox explainer about how we shouldn’t feel sorry for publishers, who are “superfluous” and “terrible at marketing” and deserve to go out of business, it’s excruciating to read not because it’s so off-base — which, for the most part, it is – but because it’s not entirely wrong.

Publishers’ interests aren’t always aligned with those of authors, or readers, and a lot of their business practices don’t make, and have never made, much sense. In spite of that, though, there are a few great reasons why writers and readers need to stay on their side.

. . . .

Unfortunately, publishers seem uninterested in investing those [higher profits they're earning from ebooks] in ways that would help them break free of Amazon’s market dominance. But to figure out why they’re so reluctant, it helps to shake off the Yglesias-y paradigm wherein books are interchangeable widgets.

. . . .

So why haven’t publishers, as Yglesias suggests, made their own e-reading apps and e-bookstore? I don’t think it’s because they or their parent companies “don’t really care.” For publishers to do that, they would likely have to forgo selling their books on Amazon entirely, or at least forgo selling them effectively. If Amazon reacts to holdups in pricing negotiations by delaying a book’s shipping by three weeks and directing readers to similar, more available titles, you can imagine how it would react to publishers’ competing with them directly. While a publisher’s e-bookstore launched and got its footing, all the books published that season would be essentially doomed.  All publishers, in theory, want to wean themselves off of Amazon. But none of them can bring themselves to imagine letting years’ worth of their and their authors’ hard work go up in flames.

Because – oh, right! – the editors and marketers and salespeople and publicists who work at the major publishers work incredibly hard and care deeply about books, and for all their flaws, this is the best argument for their survival.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Al for the tip.

Amazon is doing the world a favor by crushing book publishers

23 October 2014

From Vox:

Here’s a little real talk about the book publishing industry — it adds almost no value, it is going to be wiped off the face of the earth soon, and writers and readers will be better off for it.

The fundamental uselessness of book publishers is why I thought it was dumb of the Department of Justice to even bother prosecuting them for their flagrantly illegal cartel behavior a couple of years back, and it’s why I’m deaf to the argument that Amazon’s ongoing efforts to crush Hachette are evidence of a public policy problem that needs remedy. Franklin Foer’s recent efforts to label Amazon a monopolist are unconvincing, and Paul Krugman’s narrower argument that they have some form of monopsony power in the book industry is equally wrongheaded.

What is indisputably true is that Amazon is on track to destroy the businesses of incumbent book publishers. But the many authors and intellectuals who’ve been convinced that their interests — or the interests of literary culture writ large — are identical with those of the publishers are simply mistaken.

. . . .

Wisdom on this subject begins with the observation that the book publishing industry is not a cuddly craft affair. It’s dominated by a Big Four of publishers, who are themselves subsidiaries of much larger conglomerates. Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS, HarperCollins is owned by NewsCorp, Penguin and RandomHouse are jointly owned by Pearson and Bertelsmann, and Hachette is part of an enormous French company called Lagadère.

These are not tiny, helpless enterprises. Were their owners interested in the future of books and publishing, they could invest the money necessary to make their own e-reading apps and e-book store and render Amazon entirely superfluous. But the managers of these conglomerates don’t really care. If they can get famous authors to lobby the government to stop Amazon from killing them for free, then they’re happy to take the free labor.

But they don’t want to invest actual money and energy in competing with Amazon, they’d rather wring whatever remaining profit there is out of book publishing and dedicate the money to dividends or other industries they’re also involved in.

. . . .

When I was a kid, my father was a novelist as were both of my grandparents. So I heard a lot of stories about how useless publishers are at marketing books. Then I got to know other people who wrote books and they had the same complaints. Then I wrote a book, and their complaints became my complaints. But it’s easy to whine that other people aren’t marketing your product effectively. It took the Amazon/Hachette dispute to conclusively prove that the whiners are correct.

After all, imagine a world in which publishers were good at marketing books. Then it would be almost trivial for Hachette to get what it wants out of Amazon. It could just not sell its books on Amazon! Unlike in the old days when it might have been inconvenient for someone who lived in a town with a Borders but no Barnes & Noble to go get a book that Borders didn’t sell, it’s trivially easy to click on some non-Amazon website to order a book. But you do need a customer who actually wants to buy the book.

. . . .

The real risk for publishers is that major authors might discover that they do have the ability to market books. When George RR Martin’s next iteration of the Game of Thrones series is released, I will buy it. If I can buy it as an Amazon Kindle book, I will buy it that way. If he decides that the only way people should be able to read the book is to get Powell’s to mail them a copy, then I will buy it that way. And I am not alone. Nor is Martin the only author with the clout to not worry about the terms of distribution.

But for a publisher to team up with a celebrity author in this way to bypass Amazon would merely reveal how easy it would be for a celebrity author to bypass the incumbent publishers. In the old days, even the most famous author would need a publishing partner to actually make the physical books. Today that’s not the case. Martin needs a software platform to sell books, but publishers don’t have one. He could easily hire one or more editors to work with him on the copy if he wants to.

Link to the rest at Vox and thanks to Morgan for the tip.

What’s Next for Authors United?

22 October 2014

From David Gaughran:

Authors United has been spectacularly unsuccessful in its supposed mission to get Amazon and Hachette to agree a deal.

By contrast, Simon & Schuster was able to agree a deal in just three weeks – without the intervention of Douglas Preston’s group.

To be fair, Authors United has been very good at one thing: getting media attention.

Perhaps it’s time for Douglas Preston to widen the aims of the group and start campaigning on issues which actually matter.

It would be great if Authors United could get the media to focus on any of these problems. Alternatively, Authors United could continue to focus on propping up a broken system which only rewards those at the very top (like Douglas Preston, surprisingly).

1. Diversity in Publishing

Publishing is very white and very middle class. And, at the upper echelons, often very male too. One of the many knock on effects of this is that traditionally published books tend to be very white and very middle class. Publishing claims to want more diverse books from more diverse voices, but I don’t think that’s going to happen until more people from diverse backgrounds are representing authors and acquiring books.

2. One-sided Contracts

Contracts offered by publishers can contain awful clauses. Option clauses which unfairly tie authors’ hands. Reversion clauses which are meaningless in a POD/digital world where books never go out of print. And non-compete clauses which can pointlessly damage a writer’s career.

Some say that a good agent will negotiate those out. My experience of talking to fellow writers is that it’s often the case that even good agents can fail to negotiate these out because they don’t want to damage their relationship with the publisher. But, really, these clauses should form no part of any boilerplate. Agents shouldn’t have to negotiate them out because they shouldn’t be there in the first place. And the upsurge in digital-first imprints taking unagented submissions means this is a growing problem.

. . . .

6. Author Exploitation

The most unwelcome development in the last few years has been the huge increase in author exploitation. What’s particularly distasteful about this phenomenon is that the most predatory companies are not the fly-by-night operations of the past, but huge corporations exploiting writers on a massive scale. Oh and they are owned and operated by traditional publishers, happy to profit from this crap.

Penguin Random House bought Author Solutions two years ago and, instead of cleaning house, it has aggressively expanded its scammy operations. HarperCollins, Harlequin, Simon & Schuster, and Hay House are just some of the traditional publishers with exploitative vanity press operations being run on their behalf by Author Solutions. This is completely unacceptable. And instead of getting worked up about what Amazon might do in the future, I respectfully suggest that you should focus on what publishers are doing right now to authors.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to T.M. for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

Simon & Schuster e-book deal with Amazon closes a chapter

22 October 2014

From The New York Post:

The Simon & Schuster agreement with Amazon brought a sigh of relief to some authors, who will not have to worry about it deteriorating into an ugly, protracted battle such as the one that still pits Amazon against Hachette on e-book pricing.

“I love both Simon & Schuster and Amazon, so I’m thrilled that war has been averted,” said Walter Isaacson, the best-selling Steve Jobs biographer, who just released his latest S&S book, “The Innovators.”

“I think [S&S CEO] Carolyn Reidy and [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos should now be made peace envoys to the Middle East so they can save not just publishing but the world,” Isaacson said.

Link to the rest at The New York Post

What the closure of Bilbary tells us about the market

21 October 2014

From Futurebook:

Full disclosure. I liked Bilbary. I even went on BBC Radio 4 to say so. The site seemed to be an attempt to take the skills of the shop-floor bookseller or librarian onto the web, while at the same introducing a new way of acquiring that content, lending. I also thought its link-up with libraries was smart. There’s no particular reason why libraries should acquire e-books in the same way they acquire print titles, and Bilbary offered an alternative model. Was it then doomed to failure? Probably.

According to the liquidator’s account, which The Bookseller reports on today, while there was initial “interest from publishers, they later proved unwilling to enter into contracts allowing the trade books to be loaned, consequently the company secured content for sales only to enable it to get to the market sooner”. Liquidator Portland blamed “fundamental gaps in the company’s understanding of the market and the rise in level of competition that had developed” for Bilbary’s demise. “Despite the company’s efforts to cut costs by terminating staff contracts, vacating the rented premises and closing the Luxembourg office, funds of £1.5m was needed to continue with a re-structure of the business. An external investor had pledged to invest £750k, provided this was matched by existing or new shareholders, unfortunately the investor later took the decision not to invest.”

Bilbary’s likeable founder Tim Coates has his own take. The former Waterstones m.d. told my colleague Benedicte Page that the site was hampered by the terms discussions between Amazon and Hachette USA, meaning that investors could not be certain what business model would arise in the future. “The dispute between Amazon and publishers on e-book pricing [and the agency model] makes it impossible to invest. We are in a situation where investors are terrified of risking a new venture because no-one knows what the pricing structure will be. As long as the argument has been going on, any investor says, ‘What is the pricing model?’ and you can’t answer them. Bilbary was caught in the crossfire from the industry dispute and we weren’t alone.”

The liquidators were appointed on 29th April 2014—just as the dispute between Hachette and Amazon broke cover, but it is possible to understand why investors were jittery even before that. The shift to agency four years before meant a new way of doing business with publishers gaining new controls over how e-book content could be sold and at what prices. Surprisingly, a lot of booksellers were against agency: they recognised that it removed a key lever from their customer offer, and knew that publishers would take years to understand how to price to the consumer. The Department of Justice’s intervention in 2012 meant even this new way of doing business had to be re-written. During that time Amazon first lost, and then gained marketshare, with competitors such as Apple, Kobo, and Nook largely failing to make significant head-way in the major markets of the US and UK. At the same time, the massive growth in those two markets halted, at least for the major publishers, while a huge shadow market around self-published books rose – virtually out of nowhere.

Link to the rest at Futurebook

Hachette and Authors United are in a box

21 October 2014

PG is certain that someone has made the following observations, but he hasn’t seen them, so here they are.

The deal between Amazon and Simon & Schuster has put Hachette in a box.

The Amazon/Hachette agreement was critical to Big Publishing because Hachette’s was the first of the court-ordered Price-Fix Six contracts to expire. The new Hachette deal would set the pattern for the other miscreants when their Amazon contracts expired.

By making a deal with S&S two months before the S&S contract expired, the Amazon/S&S contract is the pattern contract for the other publishers. One does not assume that S&S has harmed its authors or itself with its Amazon contract.

Amazon has performed a switcheroo. Now the onus is on Hachette. What’s wrong with Hachette that it can’t get the same contract that S&S has?

Commentators not terminally afflicted with Amazon Derangement Syndrome must now surely conclude that Hachette’s intransigence is the cause of the loudly-trumpeted suffering of Hachette authors.

At some point, Hachette’s public problems with Amazon are going to influence authors’ and agents’ decisions when Hachette and S&S are bidding for the same book.

If another large publisher coming out of lockup signs a deal with Amazon, the game is completely over.

Speculation on the Amazon – Simon & Schuster Deal

21 October 2014

From Hugh Howey:

Whew. As a Simon & Schuster author, I have to say I’m relieved to see how quickly my publisher struck a deal with Amazon. According to several sources, the negotiations took just a few weeks and the agreement was reached with months left on the current contract. It’s a multiple-year deal, and both sides sound pleased with the results. Simon & Schuster retains the rights to set prices, and Amazon retains the ability to discount.

Everyone is speculating on the finer points of the deal and wondering why Hachette can’t come to terms with Amazon.

. . . .

Engadget reports that Simon & Schuster now has “a financial incentive to drop prices.”

The New York Times quotes S&S as saying that “with some limited exceptions,” the contract gives S&S the ability to dictate prices.

A financial incentive to drop prices. Limits on S&S’s ability to dictate prices. What does this deal entail?

Some commentators are hailing the deal as a return to Agency pricing, but I wonder if these are the same commentators who claim that self-published KDP authors employ Agency pricing?

Guess what? We don’t.

Our agreement with Amazon is something more like Incentivized Agency. If we set our prices between $2.99 and $9.99, we get 70%. If we set our prices outside that range, our split drops to 35%. According to our EULA, Amazon retains the right to discount our ebooks as it sees fit.

What does this mean? It means if we price our ebooks at $14.99, Amazon has plenty of meat left on the bone to discount our ebooks back down to $9.99. The customer gets a good price, and Amazon still makes a profit. That is, we the authors are punished for jacking up the prices.

Who wants to bet that this is what Amazon wants from publishers? The KDP agreement is what Amazon offers with practically zero negotiations back and forth. We should take it as their ideal agreement. The publisher (in this case, individual self-published authors) set the price. But it’s within a range that Amazon specifies, or else we lose margin.

So when Hachette cried foul back in May that Amazon was after a percentage of profits, that’s because they saw Amazon offering perhaps only 50% on ebooks priced above $9.99.

. . . .

There’s another advantage to this deal for Simon & Schuster. Pressure for higher ebook prices comes from print retailers, who don’t want to be undercut. Publishers aren’t stupid; they know they can sell more ebooks at a lower price and make money doing so, but they worry about harming existing partnerships. S&S can now price some ebooks high, knowing that Amazon has room to discount, and they can go to the buyers at their major accounts with the digital list price to show their support. That is, the blame for the eventual lower sale price will fall on Amazon, which brick and mortar outlets already loathe, and S&S gets to look like a champion. Meanwhile, they are giving up a percentage of margin to help Amazon discount. Everyone wins. Especially the customer.

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey and thanks to Patrice for the tip.

The great Amazon debate: A leading Amazon critic and a self-publishing rock star try to find common ground

21 October 2014

From Salon:

After I wrote a piece calling self-published authors who defend Amazon “no better than Ayn Rand libertarians,” I received a flood of social media high-fives from those within publishing, their frustration with the giant palpable. I also received fierce blowback from the self-published community. The most thorough and entertaining came from Joe Konrath, who has self-published 24 novels (three of them No. 1 Amazon sellers), hundreds of stories, and has sold over 3 million copies of his books.

He, in turn, received a flood of digital high-fives from the self-publishing community for his zingers, the pent-up frustration at what they believe is one-sided media coverage palpable.

I could have left the name-calling to the social media ether, but we rarely ever really engage with those with wildly differing opinions. I reached out to Konrath and we had the following exchange of ideas.

* * *

Hi Joe,

Your “Fisking Salon and Rob Spillman” was the most entertaining thing I’ve read in a long time. If only some of my authors and students had the same bite, humor and energy.

I wanted to engage in a conversation. I realize this may be impossible, but as you have already established that I am a 100 percent Idiot, I thought there would be nothing to lose.

. . . .

As an indie publisher, I have been on the receiving end of Amazon’s tactics.

I don’t want to split hairs, go through each other’s posts line-by-line. I do, however, want to apologize if it seemed like I was dismissing self-published authors or genre writers. That was not my intention, nor is it what I believe. My intention was to point out that Amazon has been a very good platform for a large number of self-published writers, which tend to be genre writers.

One thing I want to make clear: I believe that Jeff Bezos is a genius. He has single-handedly changed the way the world shops.

His hero, Sam Walton, was also a genius. Bezos’s bible is “Sam Walton: Made in America,” Walton’s autobiography. Walton’s legacy is the big box store where very cheap products, many made in China, are readily available. His other legacy is the destruction of small town America and family-owned businesses. When I drove back roads across the U.S. last summer, small town after small town had boarded-up downtowns with a Wal-Mart and perhaps a Costco on the periphery. Those people lucky enough to have jobs were working for half the wages they used to under dehumanizing conditions (you have to purchase a uniform, at your own cost, to begin with). According to your argument, this is just the free market at work. Efficiency. The Walton heirs are now worth more than $100 billion. The U.S. now ranks 93rd in the world in income inequality. The middle class has shrunk dramatically over the past 20 years, with average salaries stuck at 1994 levels while the S&P has more than doubled in value adjusted for inflation over the same time.

. . . .

I believe that Amazon is trying to do Walton one better. With traditional publishing, $10 million in sales required 47 employees. With Amazon, the same amount requires 1 employee. Was the old way inefficient? Perhaps. Maybe I work in an obsolete world of literary fiction, creative nonfiction, and journalism. In my world, editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, book reviewers and bookstores are necessary and vital. Book advances are what fund many book-length nonfiction projects. I am also concerned about local economies being squeezed out by massive, unchecked corporations that do everything legally possible to avoid paying local and national taxes. Again, they are doing nothing legally wrong, but I would argue that there is a greater moral issue at play here.

. . . .

I look forward to your thoughts.

Sincerely,

Rob Spillman

. . . .

Hi Rob –

Thanks for the kind, levelheaded email. I’m impressed by your tone, your willingness to engage, and the integrity it took to email a loudmouth jerk like me. Remember, I didn’t say you were a 100 percent idiot. Only that you were getting close to 100 percent in that Salon piece. :)

I read your email with an open mind, and agree with much of what you said, along with the sentiment behind it. I believe you’re sincere.

I also drove across country, signing at more than 1,200 bookstores in 42 states. This was only a few years ago, but I’d guess at least one-third, and possibly one-half, of those bookstores no longer exist. That saddens me. I love bookstores, and booksellers. In my novel “Dirty Martini” I thanked over 3,000 booksellers by name in the back matter.

. . . .

“I am also concerned about local economies being squeezed out by massive, unchecked corporations that do everything legally possible to avoid paying local and national taxes.”

This is where you begin to lose me. I know it isn’t your intent to dismiss self-published writers, but I think there’s a very good argument that Amazon has been a boon to tens (hundreds?) of thousands of authors that weren’t ever given a chance in your world, which you reference above.

. . . .

“But from my POV, it is hard to see how anyone can face off against a company willing to lose $100 million per year just to gain market share.”

A company doesn’t have to compete with Amazon. A company can instead innovate in sectors Amazon doesn’t presently care about. Have large publishers innovated anything? Did they create an online bookstore where people want to shop? Did they invent the e-reading device and app everyone wants to use?

“For me and most of my colleagues, we are being squeezed, and Amazon has massive power and endless resources.”

I actually do understand. But that doesn’t forgive all of the glaring errors and bad logic in your Salon piece. Being squeezed hurts. It’s human to want to lash out, fight back. The trick is to analyze what the best response is.

Sometimes the best response is to move on.

What you’re feeling is no doubt akin to what buggy whip manufacturers felt when Henry Ford came along. When a new tech replaces an old one, people are disintermediated. It sucks, but it’s life.

“What I can’t understand is why you would cheer for Amazon in its fight against traditional publishers. Here comes one of my analogies that you love to pull apart – -it seems like rooting for the lions against the Roman prisoners in the Coliseum.”

I was a Roman prisoner in the Coliseum, being feasted on by lions. Those lions were big publishers. After 20 years, a million written words, and nine rejected novels, I finally landed a book contract. And I worked my ass off and published eight novels with legacy publishers, dozens of short stories with respected magazines, and went above and beyond everything that was required of me, in order to succeed.

And I got eaten. One-sided contracts, broken promises, lousy money. But it was the only game in town. If I wanted to make a living as a writer, I had no choice.

Then Amazon invented the Kindle.

I first self-pubbed in May of 2009. That first month I made $1,500, publishing books that New York rejected.

Those same rejected books have earned me hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I cheer for Amazon because it saved me, and thousands of other authors, from the Coliseum. And I try to show others there is a way to make money from publishing where the terms are better, and the writer stays in control.

“My central argument is that if Amazon crushes us all, it will be able to dictate whatever terms to anyone using its massive platform. What if it suddenly decides to flip terms and only offer you 30 percent, or decide that your books really should be sold for 50 cents?”

Rob, that’s what the Big 5 already do. Except for an elite, tiny group of upper-tier authors, the Big 5 treat 99.9 percent of us badly. Keeping rights for term of copyright? Non-compete clauses? Twenty-five percent e-book royalty on net? I’ve had chapters cut by editors that I wanted to keep. I’ve had terrible cover art. I’ve had my titles forcibly changed. And my experience isn’t unique. I’m friends with hundreds of authors. A few were treated like kings. Most were screwed.

You worry that Amazon might someday offer 30 percent when publishers right now offer 17.5 percent? You must see how odd that is.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Brandt for the tip.

PG will briefly comment on Salon’s point about Walmart because it’s so typical of what happens when big city folk drive through small towns on their way to other big cities. He believes it is also an example of how out of touch Big Publishing is with the lives of readers.

PG grew up on ranches and farms outside of small towns. Small towns were where he went for excitement. While he left the farm for the big city when he went to college, after several years in a couple of big cities, he moved back to a small town for 16 years. He’s lived in cities since then. When he visits his brother or sister, however, he visits small towns.

People from Manhattan vacation in Bar Harbor or Martha’s Vineyard or Carmel and think they’ve experienced the ideal small town. They haven’t. They’ve experienced small down Disneyland for rich people.

Walmart  is one of the best things that has happened to every typical small town where it has built a store. Typical small town retailing isn’t like Carmel. Typical small town retailing is dead-end minimum wage jobs. Typical small town retailing is limited choice and high prices. Typical small town retailing is one of the reasons that graduates of small town high schools head elsewhere as soon as they can. Typical small town retailing is why families who live in small towns travel to the closest city for a better shopping experience..

When Walmart  takes applications to staff a new store, the line of people who want to work there extends way out into the parking lot. The line includes almost everyone who is an employee at the existing small town retailers. Small town Walmarts never have problems filling open jobs.

Why? Because Walmart offers a future. You can start at a cash register and become a store manager and then move up from there. Without being a college graduate. The manager of a Walmart is easily the highest paid retail employee in a small town. He/she makes more money than the owners of all but a couple of small-town retail establishments.

Walmart  is also the very best thing that happens to poor people in small towns. Why? Their minimum wage salary or welfare check buys them much, much more at Walmart than it does at any other retailer in town.

Visitors from Manhattan who venture into a Walmart are always grossed out by some of the customers they see there. Why? Because those customers are poor people trying to make their incomes stretch as far as possible. Even poor people like to have a nice selection of products they can afford in a clean store.

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