I should be finishing my next book tonight. But I’m not. Right now, I’m following the Amazon vs Hachette dispute, mostly out of morbid curiosity. Now, for those of you who are avid readers, or who have been following this whole thing, you know that we all have a dog in this fight. As readers, we’re faced with the prospect that many of our favorite authors’ books will become more and more expensive to buy on Kindle if Hachette wins. Because evidently, Hachettte thinks they need to sell fewer e-books than they do hard copies.
As authors…well, it depends on who you are. If you're a traditionally published author, my personal opinion is that the prospect of Hachette winning this battle should scare the living shit out of you. Here’s what I foresee you being able to look forward to if they do:
More “life of copyright” clauses.
More non-compete clauses.
Higher prices for your e-books, without a corresponding increase in return for you.
Fewer e-book sales for you.
More indie authors outselling you.
More indie authors.
As an indie author, I still have a dog in this fight, but it’s more of a sentimental thing than an economic one. See, I hate it when authors suffer. And in the end, whether Hachette wins or loses, their authors are going to suffer. I can guarantee that. I’ve been around for a few years, and the only thing I’ve ever seen roll downhill without fail is shit. My personal and political views aside, I don’t see Hachette authors coming out ahead in this whole thing no matter how it plays out. Hachette’s executives…bonuses all around, motherfuckers, because “integrity” and shit. Authors? Sorry, we had to cut our marketing budget, and so on. In my messed up worldview, this is how it’s going to play out either way. And for Hachette’s authors, this has got to look like some kind of Greek tragedy at some point. These folks HAVE to root for Hachette as the hand that feeds them. I mean, yeah, they could decide not to play by the corporate script, but being a voice of reason in a tragedy usually earns you an early and messy death offstage. So for many, all they can do is shut up, hang on and hope they survive the inevitable plunge over the cliff. Some, however, are up there with the mad king whipping the horses. Not sure what they’re thinking is, and I usually end up being a wiseass when I try to figure it out.
No matter which side prevails here, there is one thing I’m certain of in this whole thing:
If Amazon wins, I think we all win. I could be wrong. I have about a 50/50 success rate with that predicting the future thing. This is why I don’t do psychic readings for a living. But the way I see it, Amazon gets Hachette to price books reasonably, and readers can afford their favorite writers’ books. Hachette’s authors sell a TON of books. Hachette makes money, Amazon makes money, and I keep making money like I always have. (Zombies sell. Always. Thanks Mr. Romero.) Unicorns poop rainbows and fart glitter and the world is a happy place, unless you’re a Hachette author, in which case, you still get a little screwed. Yay peace on Earth.
If Hachette wins, the other Big Four come into their negotiations with Amazon stronger than before and demand similar deals. Big publishing house e-books cost a lot and sell enough to earn best seller status just long enough to slap it on the cover of a book below an author’s name. Indie authors’ books cost less and our readers are the ones who get good books at a decent price, which means we sell a ton of books and more of us make a living as writers than Big Five authors do. We make money, Amazon makes money. I poop rainbows and fart glitter, which means my doctor makes money. Hachette’s authors still get a little screwed. Maybe more than a little.
In the short run, indie authors win either way, and I’m fine with that. Granted, very little of the coverage of this whole clash of literary titans has acknowledged that we even exist, much less have an opinion on the outcome. In the long run, that is going to hurt the publishing houses. The big publishers have never realized who their true customers really are. To publishers, their customers are bookstores and booksellers. Readers are an unfortunate distraction that someone else has to deal with, which means publishing houses have no almost interest in what readers want outside of how that drives bookstores. They almost never talk to the people who are actually buying their product at the end stage. They have long forgotten where the loyalties of readers truly lie.
Word of warning, publishers: Readers have zero loyalty to you. ZERO. “I can’t wait until Simon & Schuster puts a new book out!” said no reader ever. Guess who readers send fan mail to? Hachette executives? Hachette stockholders? No.
Authors. Readers follow authors. Readers love authors. Readers wait for authors to put books out. Readers have conversations with the people who write the books they love. Readers leave reviews for those folks. We talk to our readers; in our blogs, on our websites and in emails, face to face conversations and through the stories we write, we develop those relationships with our readers. Publishing executives don’t. If I meet Jim Butcher, I’m likely to go all fan boy. If I meet the CEO of Roc Books, I’m likely to not know it or really give a damn. It is the relationships that authors have created with readers that keeps a publisher alive. And in this day and age, an author can sever their relationship with a publisher without ending their relationship with their readers. With Amazon, they can do it and still make a living without needing a publisher.
That should scare some folk.