Amazon v Hachette and who’s right

If you like reading and writing you are probably aware of the ongoing dispute between Amazon and Hachette. The issue can be boiled down by people like Hugh Howey who know more about the industry than I do, but there appears to be a rift between so-called “A-list” authors and the “Indies/self-published” authors. While to the layperson this is big corporation vs. big corporation, to those who read and write we know the future of publishing is at stake.

Assuming both sides are being forthcoming about what they believe, the battle seems to be focused on how much in royalties an author should receive and who has the most control over the price on an e-book. A lot of self-published/indie authors think that e-book prices charged by the Big 5 are too high and are often used to compensate for book-flops from other authors in the same brand. Many readers balk at paying more than $10 for an e-book, since you don’t actually have a copy of a book, only a digital version of the text and cover. The established authors, however, appear concerned that Amazon, probably the biggest shipping company ever this side of the Dutch East India Company is monopolizing the industry and could soon end up as the only major book distributor-and one need not look at one’s cable bill to know how much monopolies suck.

From the Financial Times, dated August 12 (edited for length and emphasis mine):

Authors should back Amazon in the battle with Hachette

 
©Luis Grañena

Agroup of leading authors, including Donna Tartt, Stephen King and Malcolm Gladwell, has attempted to intervene in the dispute between publisher Hachette and retailing behemoth Amazon. Observers of the music industry are familiar with this tactic; prominent musicians are persuaded that the interests of music publishers are aligned with their own. The reality is very different.

Music and print media are among the industries most fundamentally changed by digitisation. When Amazon likens the change to the arrival of the paperback, it makes a grave underestimation; the invention of printing is a better analogy. Costs and barriers to entry in distribution have almost disappeared…

The role of the book publisher has been based on control of access to channels of distribution. The ambition of the aspirant author has always been to “get published”. Along with the decision as to what should be published, the company has traditionally provided a collection of associated services: identification, support and finance of the underlying literary project, editing of the draft manuscript, and marketing and promotion of the finished work.

But the large conglomerates that have come to dominate publishing are run by people who love money more than they love books. These support activities have been cut back in the interest of maximising the revenue, from control of access to distribution. Today’s bestseller lists are filled with imitations of books that have already been successful; footballer’s memoirs, celebrity chefs, vampires and female-oriented erotic literature.

Such publishers are ill-placed for the new environment. I do not know the extent to which the printed book will remain extant in two decades. But enough ebooks are already being sold to signify that being published by a company such as Hachette or Penguin Random House (part-owned by Pearson, which also owns the Financial Times) is no longer critical.

Readers will miss the traditional bookshop and the comfortable ambience of the library. We have a nostalgic affection for technologically outdated steam locomotives and candlelit dinners. Change is rarely an unequivocal benefit. But the authors who signed the open letter have missed the most significant business consequence of the evolution of the book industry. The author will now be placed where he or she should be – in charge.

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This article was written by someone who is siding with Amazon-seeing the future of literature as digital (though printed books I think will never go out of style, they just may not sell as many copies or will be treated like collector’s items) and traditional publishes as being obstacles to progress. Though the traditional publishers will argue that allowing a company like Amazon a lot of control over the distribution of books is bad.

Your thoughts? Who is right?

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