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.