This is the fourth blog post in a shortish series in which I analyse an article written by David Rozansky, publisher of Flying Pen Press (discussed here at AbsoluteWrite), regarding literary agent Andrew Wylie’s decision to set up his own publishing house, and license e-book rights to some of his clients’ works exclusively to Amazon. Mr Rozansky’s piece first appeared here, and my other blog posts in this series are here: part one, part two and part three.
I shall now hand you over to Mr Rozansky, who we meet in full flood. Remember that I’ve chopped his original article into a few episodes, so he is bound to sound just a little disjointed.
They Had It Coming [continued]
We writers, who have screamed from the street with fist held high, “I’m mad as hell, and I am not going to take it anymore!”, have started our own publishing companies, with a focus on serving writers, not on serving shareholders. And now we stand laughing as the giant publishers desperately try to save themselves from eventual obsolescence by stepping up their bully ways.
The focus of your publishing company is not on serving writers: it’s on avoiding any risk to yourself as a publisher, and on shifting all that risk onto your writers, editors and designers. And even if your focus were on writers, that’s not what real publishing is about: like every other business it focuses on its customers—the readers. Only vanity presses focus on writers because writers are their customers. And big publishers aren’t bullying their way out of obsolescence: they’re adapting, and changing, and funding research, much as they always have done. This is another dose of your ill-informed opinion, slathered with more rhetoric.
This business of publishing has always been about getting the words of the writer to the eyes of the reader. Thus, it is only natural that authors would seek out the easiest form of publishing that most efficiently reaches the reader.
That’s a fallacious argument. Turn it into a syllogism and you’ll see. And “easiest” very rarely equals “best”—for writers, publishers or readers.
When authors can give their material directly to readers via blogs, internet and electronic books, they quickly adapt such formats. That it is more profitable for the authors to do so is just an added bonus.
More profitable than what? Print books? But it isn’t. Blogs rarely make a lot of money; they’re more usually a promotional tool for a book rather than its primary income stream. And writers have been able to produce blogs and e-books for years: neither facility has significantly changed publishing, nor have they had much of an impact on print sales.
Bookstores will also suffer obsolescence. In the 1970s, bookstores insisted books be returnable to the publishers. And it became the industry standard.
Your history is off: bookshops didn’t insist on returns, the system was pioneered by publisher Ian Ballantine (a lovely man: I met him just once) in the early half of the twentieth century in an effort to boost sales in an austere time. The whole system of returns was already a long-standing industry standard by the 1970s. I think it could do with reworking, but that’s not pertinent to this discussion.
But offering low-price, narrow-margin products universally on a return basis is very risky, and very expensive. The bookstores squeezed the publishers, and the publishers had no one else to squeeze in return other than the authors.
Publishers go to great lengths to ensure that they’ve got their pricings right, and to take into account the delays involved in getting paid for the books they publish and sell. And if you think that the writers have taken all the cost-cutting measures on their shoulders alone you’re wrong: have you not read about industry redundancies? Publishers have negotiated cheaper print-runs, lower freelance rates with editors and designers, tighter discount structures with their distributors and sales teams and so on. Many writers are being paid lower advances (although so much there depends on their agents): but their royalty rates remain pretty much the same.
Despite what most authors say about supporting independent bookstores, the truth is, given the choice between selling books on a returnable basis through bookstores or selling directly to the reader at no cost or risk, authors will serve the customer directly. After all, the reader is not the bookstore’s customer, the reader is the author’s customer.
The issue of supporting independent bookshops and (presumably) favouring them over chain bookshops has nothing to do with whether writers should sell to bookshops or direct to their readers. This is another fallacious argument. Nor does it have anything to do with returns, which have little to do with a writer’s cost or risk when selling direct to readers.
As for whether or not the reader is the customer of the bookshop or the writer, well, it depends on where the reader buys the book from. According to the UK’s Sale Of Goods Act the sales contract is between the customer and the seller, not the creator of the goods concerned. I’ve not checked US legislation but suggest that you might want to in your role of publisher.
The bookstore is merely an intermediary, one that has become irrelevant in the author-reader relationship.
Last time I was in Waterstones there was a heck of a lot of people standing in line, waiting to take part in that irrelevant act.
And Amazon is in no better shape. While Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Sony and Apple all try to control access to ebooks, the truth is, ebooks are not controllable by device. The open Internet trumps them all.
Fallacy again. Amazon is doing well: it’s dominating the market and, last time I looked, making a profit. DRM is a separate issue from Amazon’s commercial success or otherwise; hackers will almost always be able to defeat DRM protocols eventually, but reading a Kindle e-book on the iPad is pretty dire, because of the errors in formatting which result even with the Kindle-for-iPadd app, so I do have my doubts about the quality of the hacked books you seem to be supporting; and who is this mysterious Open Internet which is somehow trumping everyone? (And you do know what trumping is slang for, right? Because I couldn’t read your comment without sniggering. Shame on me.)
The Internet, where you are reading this article, where you read thousands of articles, stories, and websites, millions of words, and watch an ungodly amount of video—the INTERNET!
You’re assuming that everyone uses the internet in the same way that you do. They don’t. Most people don’t look to the internet for all their entertainment, many people don’t buy things online, and most people don’t yet read electronic books.
Already, the Internet is the easiest tool for authors to reach readers. Almost all serious authors write blogs.
No, books are the easiest way for writers to reach their readers. And despite the huge numbers of blogs and websites there are out there, relatively few writers write blogs, regardless of how serious they are about their craft: most of them are far too busy writing their books. If you think I’m wrong, please put me right and provide me with your source for this statement. Unless, of course, it’s just supposition on your part.
As more devices can access the Internet in more places, and more people become comfortable with the data cloud, books on Internet will become the norm. No one will be able to control this distribution, not even Amazon with its “shocking” exclusionary contract with The Wylie Agency. Soon, when you want to read a book, you will simply enter the title or the author’s name in a search engine or click on a link on some blog somewhere, and presto, the book appears on your favorite browser.
You mean we’ll be able to download e-books with the click of a mouse? But we can already do that. What’s so revolutionary about it? And if no one is “control[ling] this distribution” then who will be accountable, and how is it going to happen?
If there is no control, there can be no accounting. Which means that no one will know how many books have been sold, if they’ve been paid for or given away, or if they’ve been pirated and distributed illegally. And if that happens, how will writers get fair recompense for their writing?
You’ll be glad to know that we’re nearly there. The next article in this series will be the last, and will appear on September 20. Thank you for sticking with it for so very long.