The Bakers and the Pot of Gold

From Mark Coker on the Smashwords Blog:

Who doesn’t love cookies and the bakers who bake them?

And if you’re the baker, you probably appreciate your own fresh-baked cookies all the more.

Why am I talking about cookies on a blog for indie authors?

The other day, I received an email from Canadian author Nicky Charles.  She had just read my 2020 Publishing Predictions: House of Indie on Fire post and felt inspired to write an allegory featuring cookie bakers and pots of gold.

I was floored by her story.  It struck me as a must-read for anyone who loves books and the writers who write them. 

. . . .

Nicky asked me to make clear that for this allegory, she employed hyperbole.  She in no way wants to infer that any of the bakers featured in this story make bad cookies.

. . . .


By Nicky Charles

Once upon a time there was a land dotted with quaint little cafés.  The cafés were renowned for serving wonderful fresh-baked cookies to the customers who lined up outside in anticipation of the treat.

The cookies were produced by the bakers of the land who used only the finest and freshest ingredients.  Each batch was tenderly measured and mixed, then sampled with care before being baked to perfection.  It was a long process, but the bakers didn’t mind.  Their goal was to ensure each cookie was a worthy treat for their customers.

Because the bakers worked so hard to produce delicious products, they couldn’t deliver to the cafés every day.  Good cookies took time, after all, and so they rotated who baked each day.  This gave the customers a nice variety of cookies as well as giving the bakers time to clean their kitchens, care for their ovens and shop for ingredients.

The customers at the cafés understood this and saved their money, while waiting excitedly for when their favourite baker would make a new batch of cookies.  On delivery days, the people would rush to the cafés to buy the fresh batch and enjoy the special treat, savouring each mouthful and murmuring about the skill of the baker.

Everyone in the land was happy with the arrangement.  The bakers delivered amazing cookies for the customers. The customers had delicious treats to eat and the cafés made a nice profit, which they shared with the bakers.

One spring day, however, a new café opened. It was big and shiny and sold a vast array of products.  Everyone who visited it stared in wonder.

“Do you sell cookies?”  The people asked hopefully.

“Not yet,” the new café owner said. “But soon we will.”

And sure enough, the very next day the new café owner went in search of bakers.

“I would like to sell your cookies,” the new café owner said to the bakers.  “Lots of people visit my café every day, even people from Far-Away-Places.  I promise you will make lots of gold if you let me sell your cookies.”

The bakers thought about it and began to take some of their cookies to the new café.  Just as promised, many cookies were sold, especially to the people from Far-Away-Places who had never tasted such wonderful baked goods before.  With their pockets filled with gold, the bakers rejoiced that the new café had come to town.

When the people of the land saw this, some began to think they’d like to be bakers as well.

“Baking looks like such fun,” one person said.

“We can sell our cookies to people from Far-Away-Places if we bake for the new café,” another declared.

“We will make lots of money just like the other bakers!”  A third cried in delight.

And so new bakers began to emerge.  Some baked wonderful cookies right away while others learned over time how to mix the ingredients perfectly.  A few decided baking was too hard and quit, but others loved their new occupation and sold so many cookies they even gave up their old jobs to become full time bakers.

The people of the land greatly enjoyed having so many new bakers to choose from and there were now cookies every day at the cafés.

“This is wonderful,” everyone said.

But then, the new café owner made an announcement.  “I have a large pot of gold and I will share it with any baker who sells cookies at my café.”

“A large pot of gold?”  The bakers began to get excited.

“Oh yes,” said the new café owner.  “It is a very large pot of gold. But you can only have the gold if you deliver all your cookies to me.”

“But what about the other cafés?” Some of the bakers frowned in concern.  “And what about the people who eat our cookies there?”

“The people who like your cookies can buy them here,” the new café owner explained.  “I will even serve them on a special plate.”

“That sounds great,” said some of the bakers.

A few bakers, however, thought the pot of gold seemed too good to be true, and some wanted to keep selling their cookies at all the cafés.

The story continues at the Smashwords Blog

As PG has mentioned before, he thinks Mark’s anti-Amazon postings have become old for a great many people.

From Merriam Webster:

Definition of sour grapes

disparagement of something that has proven unattainable

. . . .

Examples of sour grapes in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

  • Jennifer Aniston has some sour grapes over Ryan Seacrest‘s real estate history.— Benjamin Vanhoose,, “Jennifer Aniston Teases Ryan Seacrest for Buying House She Wanted from Ellen DeGeneres,” 5 Jan. 2020
  • To the president and his supporters, the arguments from critics amount to sour grapes, an effort by an impeachment-crazed opposition to play down the success of a focused, successful clandestine operation that echoed the killing of Osama bin Laden.— David E. Sanger, New York Times, “Al-Baghdadi Raid Was a Victory Built on Factors Trump Derides,” 27 Oct. 2019

Link to the rest at Merriam Webster

From The Urban Dictionary:

In an old fable by Aesop, a hungry fox noticed a bunch of juicy grapes hanging from a vine. After several failed attempts to reach the grapes, the fox gave up and insisted that he didn’t want them anyway because they were probably sour.

Nowadays when somebody expresses sour grapes, it means that they put down something simply because they can’t have it.

Link to the rest at The Urban Dictionary

13 thoughts on “The Bakers and the Pot of Gold”

  1. The analogy breaks down so badly as to be useless. There is no mention of publishers at all, simply authors (bakers) and book shops (cafes). And absolutely no hesitation in looking into the crystal ball and having Amazon gouge its customers. A useless piece of writing, but the usual ADS sufferers will love it.

  2. I think Coker isn’t preaching against Amazon so much as against exclusivity and Amazon’s march toward monopoly. That said, authors choose for themselves (and for their own reasons) whether go to exclusive or wide. I go wide, and I use an aggregator (but not Smashwords).

    And that might be the real issue here: Smashwords’ own cafe is antiquated and clunky. It isn’t competitive even with aggregators other than Amazon. The last time I uploaded something to Smashwords, I could almost hear the “meatgrinder” groaning in the background, operating under steam power.

    • Agreed on Smashwords website and back end, Harvey. You can add the Smashwords ebookstore to the list of things that need to be updated/fixed and have been neglected for a long time.

      • I agree. They keep coming up with new sales venues and new approaches to marketing, etc. but it’s all based on the same system they’ve used since at least back in 2011. I admire Mark for what he started, but I really hope he eventually catches up with modern technology.

        • And back in 2011, writers were actively telling Coker what he needed to change in order for it to make sense to do business with Smashwords. And he insisted they were wrong, they didn’t need the benefits they were getting from Amazon. They should do things as Smashwords wanted and like it, gosh darnit!

          Except, this isn’t the Henry Ford era where you can have a car any color you wanted so long as it’s black.

          • Asimov’s Treasury of Humor included one story that has always stuck with me, about a 60’s True Believer™ on campus who always complained that the college cafeteria didn’t offer strawberry shortcake often enough. An like many of his contemporaries he dreamed of the day when True Believers™ would rise up and overthrow their capitalist running dog oppresors. It was always “come the revolution this” and “come the revolution that”. Especially on the subject of strawberry shortcake.
            “Come tbe revolution we will have strawberry shortcake on the menu every day, morning, noon, and night. Everyone will have strawberry shortcake.”
            One day, his roommate, tired of the daily tirade grumpily said:
            “Have you considered the cafeteria doesn’t offer strawberry shortcake more often because not everybody likes strawberry shortcake?”
            To which the True Believer™ replied, dead seriously, “Come tbe revolution everybody WILL eat strawberry shortcake. And they WILL like it.”

            Common mindset, then and now.
            Yet 60 years later, True Believers™ still await the revolution that will let them force their ways upon all others. And they’ll keep waiting indefinitely because crusading is far easier than doing but the world goes the way of the doers, not the crusaders.

            • Well, mystery solved on where this joke came from! I’ve heard “come the revolution” but always figured it was probably from some 70’s era British comedy like Monty Python.

              And yes, good point. Coker must get over himself.

              • Asimov probably didn’t invent it but he might have helped popularized it. The book is still in print.

                College radicals were a staple of the 60’s and the book came out in 1971 so it can’t be much older. I doubt True Believers™ were joke fodder before the boomers.

                (Harry Harrison used the type in his second DEATHWORLD volume, THE ETHICAL ENGINEER, in 1964.)

                As for Coker, well, he doesn’t have to change his ways if he doesn’t want to but as they say, “If you keep on doing what you always did, you’ll keep on getting what you always got.”

                In biology lots of species find a niche that suits them and they remain unchanged for millions of years. Until the enviroment changes. Then natural selection takes over. The only difference when it comes to ebooks is that the market moves with Internet time, not geological time.

  3. Let’s be serious here: he wants people to sacrifice real income today out of fear of future harm.
    That’s not how most people work.
    Especially people with bills to pay.

    It’s not as if Amazon (or any other retailer) puts a gun to people’s head and says “Exclusive or nothing.”
    Instead, Amazon says :
    “If you want to be elsewhere, we’re fine with it. We’ll distribute your book for 30% of the price you set.”
    If you choose a given title to be exclusive to Kindle, it gets a handful of perks, and if you *further* choose to enroll that title in Kindle Unlimited, you get a slice of the funding pool, depending on user acceptance.

    It’s literally business as usual.
    Every other business is the same:
    Different distributors offer different terms and the supplier chooses which one(s) suit them based on *their* needs and expectations. It’s called channel management. Proctor and Gable does it, Rolex does it, Samsung does it. Even Tesla and SpaceX. It’s an everyday part of the business world.

    We all know what Amazon offers.
    We all know what traditional publishers, big and small, offer.
    We know what Coker offers.
    A lot of people choose tradpub, a lot choose Amazon, a lot less choose smashwords. Who bears the onus?

    Ebooks aren’t exactly news. Its been over a dozen years since Kindle mainstreamded ebooks. In that time tradpubs have set pricing and royalty terms that (wisely or not) suit their agenda.
    Amazon likewise has developed a wide variety of approaches to making money. Some succeeded, some failed. (Kindle Worlds, for one.) But they *tried*.

    What has Smashwords tried?
    What have they done for writers lately?
    In many ways, his Anti-Amazon crusade is no different than the whining from some of the non-chain bookstores. They open a storefront, stock the books, and expect buyers to show up without them doing much of anything to make it worth their while. (Some do and you don’t hear them whining do you? They know that is exactly how commerce works.) “Stock it and they will come doesn’t work.”

    Neither does berating customers for acting to serve *their* best interests as tbey see them rather than how Coker or Melville House ora motley assortment of old school publishing veterans see it.

    It is “their* choice to make good or wise.
    It’s not going to change.
    So you do something about what you *can* change or you get out of the way.

    The metaphor?
    Pretty hollow and meaningless because it doesn’t apply to the real world of today’s ebooks.

    The problem Coker faces is his view of the market is predicated on a fallacy. He sees the market as conforming to an old and well understood phenomenon, one with a catchy name and all: “The Tragedy of the Commons”. There’s entire books about it. In a nutshell, here:

    Thing is, there is no commons anymore.
    Coker worries about a market model that was killed a decade ago. There was a time when Amazon didn’t dominate ebooks and wasn’t going to. Circa 2009. But that ended and the existing players adapted. But Smashwords hasn’t. Coker pretends there is still an ebook commons when it has been carved up and the first mover and most agike, determined player has already carved up the lions share for themselves.
    Amazon won but it wasn’t all their doing. Their fiercest enemies did most of the damage to tgeir opponents.

    Sony killed their healthy proprietary ebook system by pivoting towards interoperable ePub. They expected the major stakeholders (publishers and hardware vendors) to recognize the importance of maintaining an open and common DRM environment. Nook bkught out Fictionwise (Amazon’s biggest challenger for tbe hearts and minds of Indies) and ran it into the groubd when tbey went with a proprietary ePub DRM but they at least hedged tbeir bets by supporting the emerging interoperable epub DRM system. (In the end it cost them their business just as it did Sony.)
    Apple didn’t, they went purely proprietary like Amazon, with the understanding and at least tacit approval of the major publishers. That was the stake tbat killed Adept.

    Apple and the Agency conspiracy validated the walled garden model and killed interoperable epub in the US and UK since only small vendors supported it and most small vendors were crippled by the conspiracy hat left them without marketing tools to compete with the walled gardens and, worse, the foreclosure of the US market to hardware-only ereader vendors.

    You can’t have an actual commons for ebooks when all the mayor players long ago put up fences to protect their domains. The commons died with the Six Hour price War. The die was set when Nook moved ereader hardware to a near cost model.

    And you can’t blame suppliers for weighing the costs and benefits of scrambling for the last potential customer scattered across a half dozen stores, versus putting all their thrust in mining the dominant market with 85-90% of available dollars.

    Mind you: this isn’t to say going wide has no value for anybody. That last 10% or so has value for some. Mostly legacy authors who established themselves and their fanbases in the pre-Kindle epoch. It would be lunacy to give that revenue stream if you already have it. Kindle Unlimited isn’t that big yet.

    But for newcomers and recent arrivals, trying to establish themselves in the new normal?
    They need to weigh concentration vs outreach. And most are choosing concentration (for now?) out of rational self interest, hypothetical future harm be darned. KU’s inexorable growth, month by month, proves it.

    No, it isn’t tbe healthiest market when a single hegemon is in charge of the two biggest distribution channels but that is the world we love in. You adapt or wither.

    Commerce is Darwinian, Mr Coker.

  4. And one cafe owner tried to do the same thing the new cafe owner had done.

    But, the bakers looked at him and said, “Why should we bring our cookies to your cafe? It is old and creaky. The tables are sticky, and people don’t like to go in there.”

    So, that cafe owner spent eleven long years screaming at bakers.

  5. Let’s be serious here: he wants people to sacrifice real income today out of fear of future harm.

    He’s been saying the same thing for ten years. Consider how well it’s working for someone who took the advice in 2011.

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