Good Author, Here’s A Fish

This post is not to be construed as meaning I don’t like my colleagues. I do.  Okay, by and large I do.  In fact, some of my best friends are also writers, and most of them are decent and reasonably sane people.  Fine, reasonably sane people for critters who dance in the half shadow between dream and reality.  Historically the lot of people who do this haven’t been the sanest people in the universe.  So, there’s that.

But the thing is that most of my colleagues, bless their pockmarked little hearts, don’t THINK.  Or they don’t think more than strictly necessary.  This shows in novels that take flying lessons because they can study history and still go with the platitudes they were taught in highschool or the latest insanity being screamed by so called journalists.  We won’t go there.  (And it’s not as if every sf/f/m writer does it, either, just enough of them to make me gnash my teeth and want to slap them with dead fish.  Mind you, since I live at the edge of this state, it’s not really difficult to get me there.  It’s good road, and well paved.)

And I understand – I do – that it’s not fair of me to expect writers to have more resistence to authority and group think than anyone else.  We are, after all, from the same evolutionary stock as other people, at least arguably, even if we are all probably descended from the same Neolithic mad man who roamed the plains of Europe (or, who knows?  Africa or Asia) raving and talking to people no one else could see, (but making up great stories and poems which got him laid and resulted in us).  Humans are, for our sins, a gregarious species, and we want to belong.  You could say that because we’re descended from Ugg the Storyteller and Inseminator, we’re different enough that we feel we don’t belong and therefore try HARDER to fit in.  Which means most of my colleagues have less resistence to authority than normal people.  And normal people have way less resistence to authority than I do.  (This is not hard.  People setting themselves on fire in the middle of squares, in front of tanks probably feel less sheer cross-grained resistence to authority than I do.)

However, this trained-seal act that all my colleagues rush into when someone who is OSTENSIBLY on their side or CLAIMS to be on their side waves the baton HAS to stop.

Lately, on top of the usual “bah bah, Amazon is bad” my colleagues (and SFWA, the world’s least useful professional organization) have been screaming that Amazon wants to control your mind (no, I’m not actually joking, at least three writers who should know better have been making with the mind-control screams) or at least what you read by removing from sale the books from a minor distributor – of small presses – called IPG.

From the sounds of screams echoing from the rank and file – they’re very rank, and they’re filing like nobody’s business – of my colleagues, you’d think Amazon has killed their mother and their father and is now preparing to serve them at a banquet.  They’re removing Amazon links from their sites and screaming J’Acuse at the top of their lungs.

But, you’ll say, surely removing books is a bad thing!  Why does Amazon say you can’t read these books?  Is it because IPG is a small distributor for people of no pull?  Is this because they are disenfranchised?  Shouldn’t you back the other authors (and SFWA – rolls eyes so hard they almost fall out) in speaking truth to powah?

Oh, BROTHER! – rolls eyes again – you people really are the limit.  Point you in the general direction of a cause, tell you that someone is the underdog and you get all wound up and start making with the unison screaming.

Stop waving your fists – if I see one more clenched fist, that person is going to regret it – in unison.  Stop screaming because all your colleagues are screaming, and therefore it must be right.  START THINKING for a change.

First of all, Amazon is NOT saying you can’t read IPG represented books. They’re just saying they won’t sell them (at least not if they don’t agree on a contract.)  This is called RETAIL.  Amazon is NOT a public utility.  If you can remove Amazon links from your site, they can remove IPG from theirs.

Second… Look, let’s start at the top, right?  What IS IPG?  Have any of you bothered looking into it?  No, of course not.  “Small” and “powerless” is all you heard.

IPG is a DISTRIBUTOR.  You know, like Ingrams? Or Baker and Taylor? They started somewhere around the seventies, when distributors were needed.  Are you with me so far?  Good.

What do distributors do?

They take the book from the publisher and put it on the shelves of retailers.  Right.  with me so far?  (No.  Put that fist down.  Don’t start with Amazon removing the books.  We’re going to get there, okay? Think.  I know the first time you try anything it’s hard, but DO try to think for yourself.)

The function of distributors used to be vital and it became REALLY vital in the last decade when bookstores were all big chains and would deal ONLY with distributors.  This is why small presses signed up with people like IPG – because they couldn’t go from state to state, talking to the distributor specialist at the chain or the manager at the few remaining independent bookstores.

So, distributors used to be vital, particularly for small presses.

Right.  So… you see, all these small presses need IPG, because otherwise they’ll have to go from state to state and city to city, talking to Amazon’s regional managers and making sure that the books they distribute are on every bookshelf of every small…. Oh, wait.

Amazon doesn’t have small bookstores.  It has one, central, LARGE site.  It’s ELECTRONIC, not on paper.  Remember that, okay?  It comes in useful LATER.  Yes, write it on your palm and don’t make a fist.  There’s a good writer.

But, you’ll say, that makes it much worse for Amazon to remove the books from this huge store that– Oh, for the love of Mike, bear with me: WHY DOES ANYONE – much less a press, no matter how small – need a distributor to get on Amazon?

Stop scuffing the floor with your toe and talking about how difficult the process of getting on Amazon is.  Are you that stupid, really?  Have you TRIED it?  I have.  I do this on my own for Goldport Press, a press so small that if it were any smaller you’d need an electron microscope to see it.  And I see this process up close and personal for Naked Reader, a press in which I have a part-interest.

Naked Reader is more with it, having the advantage of people who actually get software, which I don’t, and being able to have books printed and all.

However – backwards about software as I am – I can put stories up on Amazon (and Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.)  Yeah, okay, sometimes depending on how old the file is and how sleepy I am, the file sucks rotten eggs.  And sometimes there’s coding errors in.  BUT again I’m a very, very, very, very bad software person.  And even then I’m learning and getting better.

So, why do these small presses need IPG?  And what does IPG do for them?

Well, judging by the essay on IPG’s site, what IPG thinks it can do is pull the same sort of idiotic trick that the big publishers did and get an “agency” contract that allows them to charge for ebooks at the same rate as paper books.  They need this, you see, to…  I don’t know.  To ensure that ebooks don’t sell as well and paper books continue being viable?  Which, now that I think about it is in IPG’s enlightened self interest, because times must be getting really tough for them with Borders imploding and circulation of paper copies going down.  (Their claim, btw, that an ebook costs the same to produce as a paperbook is utterly mendacious and bad math besides.  MAYBE it costs the same to produce ONE ebook and ONE paper book – or close enough as makes no difference – but here’s the thing, once you have the ebook?  Replication costs are zero.  Transmission costs are pennies.  A million ebooks cost the same as one.  The main publishers wanting to hold on to the paper model is a matter of keeping monopoly and advantages of distribution, NOT of cost.)  IPG’s only hope of surviving is to make eboks so expensive people buy paper and their model is viable for a few more years.

Amazon, who, of course, has invested big in the ebook revolution, doesn’t want that.  It had to swallow this live frog before, courtesy of publishers deploying their trained authors.  We’ll go into that later, again.  BUT it doesn’t have to take it, it thinks, from something the size of IPG and which isn’t even a publisher.  Again, this is in Amazon’s enlightened self interest.

So, you have two parties, each seeking an advantageous deal for its side.

WHAT ARE WRITERS DOING IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS?  WORSE.  WHAT ARE WRITERS DOING ARGUING AGAINST THEIR SELF-INTEREST?

But you’re not arguing against your self interest you say.  You’re on the side of the little guy.  You’re on the side of speaking truth to powah, you’re…  You’re prize patsies, every one of you.  And IPG knows it, because you’ve been here before.

Let’s start with what you did for your publishers, way back, when they leaned on you and you went to your fans, and you stirred the coals against Amazon before.  Remember when Amazon removed the books of some publishers from the shelves, because the publishers wanted the right to set their own prices?  Yeah, the publishers were hurting.  Their paper circulation was falling.

But no one knows and cares about publishers – they care about writers.  So the publishers got the writers to scream.  And the writers got the fans upset.  And it worked.  And now I get to pay 14.99 for an ecopy of a bestseller’s book.  (And let me tell you, buckos.  There isn’t that much money.  Unless you are one of the half dozen writers I buy in hardcover, I’m not buying you in paper at all, either.  Why not?  Because there isn’t that much money and because in these days of economic uncertainty we might need to move, and I’m cutting down on paper.)  Or more likely, I don’t buy it in either paper or ebook.

I thought back then you guys had gone friggen nuts.  Particularly those of you who are midlisters.  I kept thinking “What have your publishers done for you… ever… for you to be so loyal as to pull their fat out of the fire, even though IN THE END it means fewer sales for you?”  But I kind of got it.  Sort of.  This was three years ago, and our fate as authors seemed to be still tied in to the publishers.  If you wanted to reach your fans, you had to go through the houses, right?

And these were the big houses, the people many of you had built careers with.

Right.  Okay.  I don’t have to like it, but I can see how, at least for some of you, this too was enlightened self interest.

But… IPG?  REALLY?   To begin with they’re not a publisher, they’re a DISTRIBUTOR.  In other words they’re a relic from the past with no function in the modern book market and certainly NOT in the ebook market.  And they represent small presses, most of whom are paying their authors – I bet you – in spit and promises and not doing much more for the author than the author can do for him/herself.

So, you’re all ranking behind them and the organization that’s supposed to represent MY professional interests is pulling for IPG because….

I’ll be charitable.  The only reason I can understand for this is that you guys are so insecure, so frigging lost, that you need to say you have publishers and distributors.  Publishers – even small publishers so stupid that they can’t put ebooks on Amazon using an interface even I can navigate –  and distributors –  even very small ones who want to reduce your distribution by raising prices –  are status symbols.  You want to show this off.  You want to tell everyone you’re an “author.”  Your ego is invested in this.

It might be in YOUR enlightened self interest, then.  I’d dispute “enlightened”.

However, this doesn’t explain EVERY one of you screaming like someone is pulling your strings.  Most of you are traditionally published, by big publishers.  You have no dog in this fight.  SFWA certainly has no dog in this fight.  So why are you doing this?  It’s the “speaking truth to powah” and the fist, isn’t it?

Listen children, you want to speak truth to power?  You do?  Then start doing so.  Not to Amazon, which is a RETAILER and who can choose to carry whomever they want, but to the people who have REAL power in this field.

You want to make yourself useful?  Start doing things like protesting the rights-grabs of publishers keeping bringing things out in ebooks YEARS after they have BY CONTRACT lost right to those properties, or bringing out things for which they never bought ebook rights.  You want to make yourself useful?  Start going after the exclusivity clauses in contracts.  You want to make yourself useful?  Start going after some of the agency clauses which give the AGENCY copyright rights for the life of the property.

If you’re not doing all of that, stop shaking your little fist and screaming that Amazon is controlling your thoughts.  Amazon can’t do that, because it has yet to be shown that you’re capable of independent thought.  You’re only so many trained seals, ready and willing to serve the interests of publishers and distributors, even those who’ve been screwing you for years.  You’re good circus animals, ready to jump on your little bandbox and slap your hands together and arf for the rotten fish you’ve been fed for years – even while fresh fish are swimming all around you.

And yes, that is addressed at SFWA too, in spades.  For years you’ve been a laughingstock.  While distributors and stocking to the numbers and collusion between agents and publishing houses destroyed the mid list you kept quiet.  For years, your only usefulness was a directory that allowed us to find each other.  YOU LET publishers get away with possibly illegal exclusivity clauses that screwed writers to the wall.  YOU ignored what are in most cases blatantly cooked statements.   But IPG is the hill you want to die on?  IPG who wants to screw writers so it can survive a few more years?    Then die.  This is a case of right-to-die I’m 100% behind.  You’ve proved you can commit suicide and you don’t need assistance.

On your bandbox and arf, you trained seal!  Here’s your rotten fish.  Until you develop a brain and start fighting for YOUR OWN interests (and in SFWA’s case the interest of the writers it’s supposed to represent) that’s all you get.

62 responses to “Good Author, Here’s A Fish

  1. I don’t have a dog (or a seal) in that fight, Sarah, but I do get what you’re saying. I only wish more writers would vote with their feet and stay away from big publishers and distributors entirely. Let ‘em all die or rebuild themselves the same way we indie writers have.

  2. Actually, I adore agency pricing. *evil grin* It means that little indie Unknowns can compete on price; two books, both look pretty good, and one’s $4.99 while the other is $12.99? How many readers would look at the cheaper one? I fully support the right of big publishers to shoot themselves in the foot! Over and over! Or little ones, for that matter. (Or, in all truth, me. Having tasted the control over art and the rest of the process, I’m actually fairly possessive about price while I’m here. Heck, if I had an army of clones, hand-marketing might be kind of interesting. …not the least because my spouse would go EEK for obvious reasons, BUT!)

    As for IPG… More power to ‘em if they pull out. They don’t like the deal, they can walk away. If I support the right of an author to walk away from a deal they don’t like, I feel morally obliged to be at least sympathetic to the right of a corporate entity to walk away, too. (And they did it, IIRC, when the contract came up for re-negotiation — a natural boundary-point. Yes?) Maybe they’ll come up with something more Baen-like for publishing their authors’/publishers’ ebooks.

  3. Today seems to be Slap on the Wrist Day for Bahing Sheep — thank goodness. Also speaking up today, even more forcibly and from a slightly different perspective (both of them needed, of course) is Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Check out today’s lovely rant. http://kriswrites.com/2012/02/29/the-business-rusch-you-asked-for-my-opinion/

  4. But. But. Amazon is a monopoly. I mean, nobody else can put up a web site that charges for downloads or provide files that a Kindle can read. Anyway, how would your fans find you if they have to resort to a search engine?

  5. But I want a steak not a fish. Oh, I’m not an author. [Wink]

    Seriously, Good post.

  6. Before I start in, let me make the obvious point that the following is a gross generalization.

    I think it ties in with the “glass slipper” post from yesterday. People tend to come up with narratives to impose order on reality, and become emotionally attached/invested in their creation. They frequently extend this attachment to an irrational extent. (That old saw about being unable to talk someone out of something they weren’t talked into applies.) People who “dance in the half-shadow between dreams and reality” are at least as much (if not more) susceptible to this as the general population.

    If you are a writer and see yourself as a protagonist, then it’s pretty easy to picture Amazon as the antagonist–even to the point of the cliche all-conquering Dark Lord. There’s a good bit of marketing savvy being used to push this storyline. The fact that this is cynical, self-serving, and almost entirely unsupported by reality is mostly beside the point. There are obviously writers with whom the narrative resonates. Once the narrative is accepted and internalized, it’s a very small step to seeing the major publishers, distributes, agencies, etc. as allies. If you do, your perceptions of these actors will be colored by this. They are, after all, on your side. Even when the actions of the “lovable rogue” would be decidedly unlovable when viewed objectively–simply because you’re not viewing the actions objectively.

    Ungenerous of me, I know. But then, I’m a cynic and curmudgeon.

  7. I was totally baffled when I saw SFWA pulling this. Huh? SFWA is going after Amazon for IPG walking away? Only you’ve put it so much more elegantly.

    Awesome, awesome post – you’ve been doing some particularly awesome posts lately. Yes, a rant, but I know exactly how you feel. I have no patience with manufactured drama.

  8. Awesome! I love how insulting you can be without using a single Bad Word.

  9. Disclaimer: I am not a member of the SFWA.

    I am going to politely disagree.

    The SFWA jumping in on the side of IDG is pure economics. Lots of their authors have books on Amazon via IDG, when Amazon decided to put the screws to IDG, their members suffer. Therefore, as an organization that represents its members, its going to support their revenue streams. Even if that revenue stream is one that you (and many others) recognize as foolish in the long run.

    Yes, the authors could negotiate better contracts with publishers and authors in regards to right. Yes, they *should*.

    Yes, they could work to sell ebooks themselves and sell them on their own websites. Yes, they *should*. Plenty of fine folks already do, such as the people at Book View Cafe and Baen

    But today, today, the livelihood of authors in the SFWA has been hurt by IDG not agreeing to Amazon’s terms and Amazon’s draconian response. And so the SFWA sides with them.

    • Doesn’t matter. More of their members don’t. And there’s plenty more of their members who will suffer by empowering distributors over writers. I don’t exactly see Amazon’s response as draconian. Does your grocery store carry beans when it doesn’t agree to a contract with the distributor? No. They CAN’T carry those books. They don’t have a contract. It’s business. Only someone who views Amazon as a public utility would view this as draconian.

      • I do not view Amazon as a public utility.

        However, wiser people than I (Kris Rusch) have shown that my thoughts are foolish, sallow and callow.

        I will respectfully withdraw from the field of debate.

    • Mr. Weimer,

      I’m going to “politely” disagree with you. You said:first that you aren’t a member of SFWA. I would assume that means you don’t have a membership list of SFWA authors. So, pray tell, how do you know “lots of their authors have books on Amazon via IPG”?

      Second, you say that SFWA had to do this to support their members’ revenue streams. How are they doing this? By removing the Amazon links for ALL their authors if those authors’ books are offered elsewhere, they are hurting those authors who are not involved with IPG. In fact, as far as I can tell, SFWA took this action without asking the rank and file if they wanted it done. This action not only doesn’t represent its members — it represents only a small part of its members — it does impact the income stream of many of them. (I don’t have the site at hand right now, but iirc, IPG stated at the beginning of this that their fiction e-books represented a small portion of the titles involved.

      I love how so many people are crying because Amazon has chosen not to sell e-books IT NO LONGER HAS A CONTRACTUAL RIGHT TO SELL. Wait, what is that I hear? Is it the bleating of sheep? Or maybe the patter of lemming paws racing to the edge of the cliff? No, I think Kris Rusch has it right in her post. It’s “the sound of writers scurrying in a rush to weigh in with anger and fury over this week’s latest crisis.” (http://kriswrites.com/2012/02/29/the-business-rusch-you-asked-for-my-opinion/)

      • As you have pointed out, Kris Rusch has shown that my thoughts are foolish, sallow and callow.

        I will respectfully withdraw from the field of debate.

      • I have a SFWA membership (started writing seriously again recently and rejoined mostly so I could vote for the Nebulas). In one of the places where SFWA members hang out for private discussions (members only), there are some fairly big name authors who are complaining about just that–SFWA officers taking this action unilaterally without consulting the membership.

      • “This action not only doesn’t represent its members — it represents only a small part of its members — it does impact the income stream of many of them.”

        Really? Does it?

        Seriously, who besides writers and people in the publishing industry know what SFWA is? I’m just a newb writer – a year and a half ago I was Joe Schmuckitelli reader on the street. I’ll tell you I certainly had never heard of it. And since I am clearly a representative sample of the reading public (HA!), that should mean something to you. :P

        Beyond that, who goes to the SFWA website in search of books to buy? Maybe three readers on the planet? I highly doubt the removal of those links will have much of a noticable effect on writers’ sales.

        Which makes this action even stupider. It’s probably going to end up being completely meaningless. Of course, I could be wrong.

        • Yes, but our names are still attached to it as members. amazon is unlikely to do something like kick out all SFWA members (money) but other people who do business with us have done that kind of thing in the past after SFWA did this sort of stuff. You know that’s weird, I knew what SFWA was ten years before I was eligible, but then it was a different time, I guess. Actually there’s a strong chance they’ll render themselves irrelevant given that, like publishers, they’re determined to ignore ebooks and indie. (I DO understand it’s hard to tally those. It’s also where the future is.)

        • Michael, I think you might be surprised by the number of hard-core sf/f fans who do know what SFWA is. But even if they don’t, the number of media outlets that picked up the story will bring attention not only to the group, but to what they have done. So, yes, it does have the potential of impacting the incomes of a number of the their members.

          But what is worse than them taking this action is the fact the leadership of SFWA did so without consulting the general membership. It is, however, as Sarah noted, not without precedent. SFWA has done this before and, in the past, it has had dire consequences for some of its members. The action SFWA took has simply served to reinforce the decision of those authors who have left the organization and has caused others to consider not renewing their membership when the time comes. SFWA’s action truly is representative of acting for the good of the few at the expense of the many.

          • I am late to the conversation and so beg indulgence, but as i have been reading SF/F since, oh, 1970 or so (actually, sometime before that but we’ll keep the math simple, eh?) I am surprised that anybody who claims to be a heavy SF/F consumer would be unaware of them. The Nebula Award winning emblem was on many books even then (well, a half-dozen, but WHAT a half-dozen!! Check this list: http://dpsinfo.com/awardweb/nebulas/#60s ) and eagerly purchased the SFWA Hall Of Fame collections of best SF pre-Nebula.

  10. I have to disagree with MataPam. I do not see where you insulted anyone. Calling an idiot an idiot is a statement of truth, not an insult.

  11. Actually, Sarah, you’re wrong.
    The reaction of publishers to Authors weighing in and winning the battle with Amazon for them (a battle that MacMillan had lost), was to say… was not say here, have a half-rotten fish.
    There was no reward of any sort at all.
    In fact publishers used their ‘victory’ to screw authors further. E-book royalties are open exploitation. Authors who are not blind, deaf and brain-dead (and actually some aren’t) know this.
    But still they clamor their support.
    Authors are not seals. Seals would have bitten them for not providing the fish. Authors are more like dogs (and I’m a doggy-person), who continue to love and support someone who abuses them.

    • I stand corrected, Dave. It’s what it reminded me of to hear them arfing and clapping their own screwing. But you know more about seals than I do. I apologize to any trained seals and circus animals I might have offended!

  12. I admit to not having fully done my research on the issue, but even when I misunderstood it (I was under the impression, based on the reactions and responses, that IPG was a publisher), I was baffled by the numbers of people freaking out over it and calling Amazon monsters for it.

    But, I suppose, the people freaking out and calling Amazon bad names for it were the sort who were already calling Amazon bad names. Why bother to put actions into context when you can choose to interpret any action taken by a “Big Bad” as evidence of the “Big Badness”, right? Seems like group entities (SFWA; etc) are just sitting there looking for the flimsiest of excuses to do what they want to do anyway without thinking about either (a) how reasonable their actions are in context or (b) what repercussions they’ll see as a result of knee-jerk reaction to the “opportunity” to act.

    Oh well… At least we’ll see who to avoid for awhile? So many writers’ associations I was thinking about joining are just proving that they’re not worth my time or donations once I have money to donate.

  13. Pingback: Bless their pockmarked little hearts | The Passive Voice

  14. Thank you, Sarah.

    Like so many others, I have to agree with you. A year or two ago people were referring to Publishers’ reactions to the ebook publishing world as like Stockholm Syndrome: they were so used to being held hostage by the big distributors and booksellers, that they are willing to fight for their own destruction.

    Now after behaving in an increasingly abusive manner, they’re recruiting authors to fight for them.

    The fact remains that the paradigm has shifted and distributors, and many other parts of the old system, aren’t adding anything to the system any more. They’re just bleeding it. That’s not sustainable, and no amount of screaming and lashing out is going to help.

  15. Thank you for being the voice of reason calling in the wilderness on this subject. There seems to be an awful lot of this unfocused fist waving going on lately.

    Chill people. Look at the actual issue. Think. And sometimes acknowledge that you don’t need to respond to every inchoate notion that floats over the transom.

  16. Thank you, Sarah, for the sanity. I’m getting weary of being called out for not agreeing with this and that “Amazon eats kittens” flap. You’ve done a wonderful job with this article.

    You rock.

  17. Firstly, the manner in which you write about fist-waving and ranting comes across rather like the pot calling the kettle black… The dispute in question isn’t about how much an e-book should cost, or about devaluation of content, it is about how much a retailer (Amazon) should get for delivering a product. It is true that Amazon can do business with whomever they choose, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t sometimes act like a bully, sometimes to the detriment of authors, publishers, and yes distributors. (Which are different from wholesalers such as Ingram and Baker & Taylor – p.s. it is “Ingram”, not “Ingrams”) I know people who work for IPG and they got into the business because they love books, not to “screw writers”. You rhetorically ask what IPG does for their clients, but you clearly didn’t investigate very far to find out… Perhaps you feel that don’t need a publisher, agent, or distributor, but there are other authors feel differently.

    • I don’t remember ever claiming that I was beyond ranting — but hey, at least I don’t echo other people.

      I don’t care how much people at IPG love books. Same as with publishers who got into the business “Because they love books”, they’re now in it for themselves. Sorry. No sale. I don’t care if the dispute is about how cute their shoes are. Writers have no business standing in line for this or claiming “censorship” because Amazon won’t bend on a contract that has NOTHING to do with authors directly.

    • leo, you have a lot of friends at IPG – interesting. You don’t say you have a lot of friends who are *writers*, you have friends who work at a totally unneeded, self-invented middle-man entity.

      What if, every time you wanted to fill your car with gas, you pulled into the service station and a guy unconnected with the service station wanted to charge you 25% of your gasoline purchase, and to “earn” that he filled a bucket from the pump, and used the bucket to pour gas into your tank. Then you had to take his word for how much gas he actually *put* in your tank.

      So the filling station gets in a fight with this guy because they think he’s charging the marks too much, which makes their gas seem too expensive. So what does this guy do? He organizes a bunch of drivers to picket the filling station to tell the owners that they have to make their gas more expensive by letting this guy charge even *more* for his bucket treatment.

      That is insanity. This guy may actually love cars and *really* love the odor of gas — but that doesn’t mean he’s out to do the best for the drivers.

      • George Firestone

        Lin and everyone,

        That has to be the greatest analogy ever written!

        I always find the justification and unquestioned altruism of everyone related to any aspect of publishing having gotten into the business because of their deep and abiding love of books.

        We are all supposed to believe that agents, publishers, distributors, and all other forms of gate keepers are doing God’s work by keeping books sacred and pure for the greater good.

        Never mind the fact that they have been making the lion’s share of the profits from books created by the authors they feed off of, bleeding the author host even to the point of death, knowing that there was always another author waiting in line to be the next to be bled. (Mixed metaphor, I know.)

        Hopefully, the fact that authors can now control their own destiny if they choose to work at it, is not too scary for them to handle.

        Sarah, Thank you for the rant, and PG for the link.

        George

    • No one is saying authors shouldn’t have agents or publishers — if they want. What Sarah, myself and other commenters are saying is that there is more to the story than IPG has said and that Amazon isn’t the big evil that has destroyed the publishing industry.

      Nor has anyone accused those who work at IPG of being out to “screw” writers. What Sarah has said, as well as others, is that she is tired of the lemming-like behavior of some writers and others in the field who are so quick to jump on the Blame Amazon bandwagon without ever looking beyond the initial cries for Jeff Bezo’s head. The problems that face publishing today began long before Amazon and are entrenched in the out-of-date business model legacy publishers continue to operate under. The failure to embrace new technology and new customer demands, over-building and not recognizing changes in buying trends before it was too late have also contributed to the problems now facing the industry.

      But back to IPG and the current cries against Amazon. None of us know what the terms are that IPG turned down nor do we know what they counter-offered. The head of IPG has been proclaiming loudly how much better these terms would be for its clients, but he hasn’t offered details, at least not to my knowledge. I have to wonder just what those details might be and how close they were to the agency model, especially since two other distributors have signed new contracts with Amazon this week – and without any of the issues or name-calling that has surrounded the IPG non-deal.

      The resulting hue and cry by some authors who haven’t looked at the facts is what others are fed up with. Then you have the leadership of SFWA removing Amazon links for all books on their site, whether the authors of those books dealt with IPG or not. This action, taken without consultation of the membership-at-large, is detrimental to those who don’t work with IPG. Yet, those same lemming-like authors aren’t yelling about the loss of sales for their fellow writers. Why? Because it was a strike against Amazon, the big evil.

      If you want more examples, these same authors decried Amazon for striking against traditional publishing when Amazon announced its own publishing lines. Yet, there was no hue and cry raised when Barnes & Noble and other booksellers announced they refused to sell these books. Authors are being hurt by this decision but that doesn’t matter. Not when it is yet another strike against Amazon.

      Why is it that people think Amazon has a duty to sell e-books it no longer has a contractual right to sell? That is the question none of those condemning Amazon want to answer. If you ask them, they either change the subject or say it’s Amazon’s duty to sell them to help the authors of the world. I’m sorry, but no. Amazon’s duty is to make money for its stockholders. Nor is it my duty as a writer to slit my own financial wrists because a small number of authors are published by companies that use a distributor that can’t come to terms with the largest e-book store around.

  18. Amanda –

    To quote Sarah: ” But IPG is the hill you want to die on? IPG who wants to screw writers so it can survive a few more years? “

  19. What so many of the fist-wavers seem to fail to grasp is that this is a BUSINESS DEAL. The whole point of business is to make the best deal possible for your company, wether that be IPG or Amazon. That is how business’s stay in business, by making their company a profit.

    But somehow profit has become a four letter word (even though I have to use the fingers of both hands to count the letters). Makes a person wonder wether the fist-wavers come from the halls of academia or some government job somewhere, because they obviously are out of touch with the real world.

  20. Leo, point. However, you fail to address any of my comments. And, as a writer, I can understand Sarah’s point. IPG is a middleman. It is one more cog in the works that takes money from the writer. IPG is the entity that bargained with Amazon, not the publishers and sure not the authors. IPG was bargaining for the best deal for IT, possibly for the publishers, but that won’t raise the amount of money the authors get, not really. Their agreements are with the publishers. They get a royalty percentage of the sales price or the cover price of the e-book, depending on their contracts. That is it. And again, you have failed to address the issue of why Amazon should continue to sell e-books to which is HAS NO CONTRACTUAL RIGHT TO SELL.

  21. Writers should definitely sign, or not sign, agreements with Amazon or an “old-school” publisher according to their will. I don’t think Amazon should sell anything to which it doesn’t have a contractual right. I do think that they should pay a fair amount to their suppliers – be they an author, a publisher, wholesaler, distributor (or manufacturer in the case of non-book items).

  22. Leo, we are agreed there. However, I haven’t seen anything except the head of IPG saying it was fair. No details have been given. And, again, most of the ire Sarah and so many of the rest of us feel is because there are so many willing to instantly demonize Amazon just because it’s Amazon.

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  24. I’m no lawyer, but as someone else above pointed out, if Company “A” has no contractual right to sell the product of Company “B”, if Company “A” does so they can be sued into bankruptcy. At least, that’s my reading on this. The difference to the naysayers is that Company “A” is evil, corporate giant bookstore killer Amazon and Company “B” is a company that very few have heard of (including published authors).

    I just checked on Amazon and saw that my book (which is not distributed by IPG) is still available. So… whatever.

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  26. Hi Sarah,

    Wow. A lot to address here.
    First of all, no, SFWA didn’t pull all the links to Amazon. We did decide to stop using Amazon as our exclusive store and moved to giving people a choice of other booksellers.

    Why? Because this is the second time that Amazon has used this particular negotiating tactic. That’s twice that our member’s books are suddenly unavailable due to a pricing dispute.

    Whatever you think about IPG, this particular tactic of Amazon’s is bad over the long haul if it works. If Amazon is able to force its terms through market weight, instead of negotiating them, then that is likely to lead to lower author incomes in the long-term. It’s not likely that Amazon will notice any impact of SFWA redirecting those links, but removing the links isn’t to punish Amazon. And it’s not likely, based on the information from our affiliate links, that any author will suffer financially from the redirection of the links.

    As we say in our statement, “Our goal is to make sure that it is possible to order our members’ fiction. Hurting authors to make a point about a publishing model is not a good practice, for anyone.”

    On the other front: The things you say we haven’t been doing… like our involvement in getting the Google Book Settlement overturned, negotiating for our members with Nightshade, Dorchester, getting a revised Kindle contract from Amazon, or other contract disputes… Those things? We have been doing them.

    • Mary,

      As a SFWA member who is somewhat unhappy that I didn’t even hear about this until it went explosive:

      As I recall, anyone selling anything they haven’t got the rights to sell is bad news. So what makes it so horrible for Amazon to not sell things they don’t have the right to sell?

      Is it not unfair market pressure to tell Amazon otherwise? (What would you say about this if the store involved was a new bookstore?)

      Where and when did SFWA start acting against the shenanigans being reported regularly by Kris Rusch? You know, the unconscionable anti-compete clause, the “all your rights are belong to us” clauses, the sales of ebooks to which the publishers have no rights and so on – all of which are being done by the big players, not the minnows like Nightshade.

      Oh, but I forgot. Publishers are associate members in SFWA, which means SFWA doesn’t make too much noise when it’s one of the big players. In those cases, SFWA meekly follows party line and conveniently ignores actions from the big boys that would probably be RICO-worthy should a really good lawyer get into them.

      • Kate, I’m sorry that you are unhappy. So far, aside from this post and one member in the discussion forums, the rest of the responses we’ve received have been very positive.

        You are correct. Amazon should not sell books to which they do not have the rights. In this case, as I understand it, the contract had not expired when Amazon made the decision to pull the e-books.

        We do get involved in contract disputes on a regular basis but can rarely publish those successes without violating member confidentiality. This is one reason we maintain both the Grievance Committee and the Legal Defense Fund for our members.

        • “So far, aside from this post and one member in the discussion forums, the rest of the responses we’ve received have been very positive.”

          I am a SFWA member and have grave concerns about the unilateral action taken by SFWA. I haven’t said anything either in the “discussion forums” (by which I presume you mean the web forum) or on sff.net because I really don’t care for the “dogpile on that guy” approach to “debate” that I ran into constantly during my earlier membership. I do not have the time, nor the energy, for the drama. I’ve got my own windmills to tilt at.

          Somehow, I don’t think I’m alone in that. Citing how many people are vocal on a web forum is not strong evidence of much of anything.

          • Citing how many people are vocal on a web forum is not strong evidence of much of anything.
            Absolutely fair, David. “My lurkers support me” is not a good argument. Then may I say that, based on the member response when the board took the same action during the Macmillan dispute, this seemed consistent with the previous actions. Current discomfort with the “unilateral action” is disturbing, more so because the initial response from members and the larger industry was positive.

            Some interesting concerns are being raised, which is why I’m trying to engage here. If you are more comfortable avoiding the dog pile, my email address is in the member directory, and I would very much like to hear what you have to say.

            • I am just now reading these responses and, before I look to see if you’ve responded to my comments below, I have to say, assuming your membership would have the same reaction to what happened regarding IPG as they did to the Macmillan dispute is beyond me. How many of your authors are directly impacted by the IPG issue? Now, how many were impacted by Macmillan? Also, different time and different public feeling about what happened. As I commented below, it is time for SFWA and the publishers to start listening to their readers. Trying to save the hard cover part of the business by raising prices for e-books isn’t going to work in the long run.

    • Let’s look at the SFWA announcement. “Therefore, SFWA is redirecting Amazon.com links from the organization’s website to other booksellers because we would prefer to send traffic to stores where the books can actually be purchased.” That sounds to me like you have pulled the Amazon links for all your members who have books listed on your site. That is not giving people a “choice” as you said. A choice would include allowing them to choose Amazon if they should so want.

      But let’s go further. Did SFWA consult its membership before taking this action? Or is it now the policy of SFWA to act on the behalf of the few, even if it is for the detriment of many? What happened with regard to Amazon and IPG is a contractual matter. No new contract was agreed upon. So what right did Amazon have to continue selling the books distributed by IPG?

      Where is SFWA when Barnes & Noble refuses to carry a book just because the publisher was subsequently purchased by Amazon? Where is the outrage when Random House raises the price of e-books for libraries to a degree that will force libraries to cut the number of titles it buys in order to accommodate these artificially inflated prices or offer fewer digital titles for their patrons who want to be able to borrow e-books?

      As for this being the second time Amazon has resorted to this tactic, I have another question for you. You say Amazon removing the IPG distributed e-books impacted SFWA members. Tell me, what percentage of your membership was directly impacted? Now, what’s the percentage that has been impacted by your decision to remove the Amazon links? And, before you say you didn’t remove them all, I remind you of SFWA’s announcement that the only Amazon links not removed are for those books not available anywhere else.

      So, is SFWA;’s motto “Act instantly, without consultation, for the benefit of the few and at the expense of the many”?

      • First, let me be clear. SFWA’s decision was to stop using Amazon as our default market. We did the same thing during the Macmillan pricing dispute and then began linking to Amazon again after that was resolved.

        Your argument that this is to the detriment of many is focused, I think, on thinking in terms of immediate sales. Am I right on that? I just want to be clear before I try to answer the concerns you’ve raised.

        I’ll touch on this one though because it has a quick answer.
        Now, what’s the percentage that has been impacted by your decision to remove the Amazon links?
        When we track the affiliate links, most people who click through buy something other than what they clicked on. Most of the benefit of the Amazon links was the kickback that SFWA received from purchases and even that was less than $.10 per member per year. From a purely economic sense, there is very little benefit in retaining Amazon as our default bookseller. Perhaps half a percent of our members will be affected but I seriously, seriously doubt that any of them will experience a noticeable drop in revenue

        That said, I would not advocate that other members or writers redirect their Amazon links.

        • I think looking at the issue with IPG the same as you did the Macmillan issue is a case of apples and oranges. IPG is a distributor. They are a middleman that was looking for the best contractual deal for themselves and, possibly, the small publishers but I can pretty much guarantee you it wouldn’t be of any real benefit to the authors involved. If you doubt me, ask your authors how many of them have seen any real benefit from agency pricing. Talk to your mid-listers in particular, and see just how much they are benefiting–or not–from it.

          As for your question about whether I’m looking at immediate sales or not, I wasn’t, although they were a consideration. No, I was looking at long term impact because SFWA’s announcement doesn’t say anything about restoring the links should Amazon and IPG come to terms.

          I guess my biggest concern from your response is that SFWA was looking only at SFWA’s financial impact from removing the Amazon links and not from how it would impact your member authors. So, SFWA loses only a dime or so per member. But your authors are losing potential sales, not only from the link they clicked through on but on other titles they may have explored as a result.

          More than that, you don’t “think” your members will experience a noticeable drop in income. But you don’t know and you didn’t ask for their thoughts on the process.

          I guess what surprises me the most is your last comment. SFWA, by removing the Amazon links, has indicated to its members that this is the action is feels should be taken. No, you haven’t said so in so many words. But you represent these member authors. You are supposedly taking action that is for the benefit of all. If that is the case, then how can you say you aren’t advocating for them to remove their own Amazon links? Or have you just admitted that SFWA may have acted without due consideration and you are hoping your members look at the issue closer than the governing body did?

  27. There is commonly accepted if not optimal way to find out who has more supporters. Replace the leadership, through elections.

    The SFWA by-laws state the dates for the various steps of the annual elections. Nominations are now closed, the ballots are supposed to be on their way to the members with voting rights.

    So maybe this is the time to find out which candidate has which stance on the various issues of writing and publishing in the days of the ebook and cast your vote accordingly.

    • Chasm,

      Sadly, the choice this year mostly isn’t: all but one of the core positions is single nominee, and funnily enough policy on matters like contract disputes between Amazon and publishers/distributors aren’t listed.

      That said, write-ins are allowed. I wonder how many write-ins for Pinky and the Brain it would take to get the message across?

      • Back when I was more active it was like a cliche to get people to run for office. Offices were rarely contested and too many of the folk that one would maybe like to see run were too busy writing to be bothered with running for office in SFWA.

        So, yeah, “not optimal” is one way to put it.

        • The dictum is that those who have a career will lose it, unless they’re some house’s golden child. I’m not going to say running SFWA is easy either, and the other thing — I am mindful of this — is that we don’t have the kind of numbers to make a difference. To change that would necessitate changing the design to something closer to RWA with a mentee or unpublished division that’s far larger than the published division (of course, that too will change with indie publishing.) Since that is impossible — or maybe undesirable — it truly IS the world’s most ineffective professional organization, though it works well as a directory and networking place. That wasn’t even a criticism, just an observation. But — given all that — if it can’t be effective in the real stuff one does wish it didn’t go blundering in where it has no business. And by the way, in reply to Kate, it wouldn’t be the first year that something like Mickey Mouse wins the right in votes. It makes no difference.

          • *lol*

            I guess Disney wants a heap of money for that.
            OTOH they just may sent you a cast member, for even more heaps of money. ;)

          • To be fair to SFWA, the community they try to represent does tend to cause fond thoughts of retiring to a peaceful life of herding cats.

      • Well, why did I have the sneaking suspicion that it would be that way?
        (It is after all almost always that way in any organization where the positions don’t not come with lots of money or power, preferably both.)

        I don’t really have a race in this horse. I just want to read interesting books every now and then.

        So I’ll wait and see if not only the SFWA but also similar organizations like the AAR will finally start to represent their clientele again or if they’ll continue their rapid decline into oblivion. (Or being the usual misanthrope and exaggerating just a bit too much if the SFWA continues the decline into a directory of easy marks and victims. – I seriously doubt that the new generation of writers has much need for them in the current, declining form. There is after all always the option to start the next trade organization.)

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  29. It’s rather funny, but I know of only two articles which have pointed out that International Publishers Group is obsolete. Mine and yours.

    Of course it is probably too much to expect the Mainstream Media, much of which is owned by the same companies that own the publishers. to get things right. Or to want to get things right.

    Wayne