Clowns To The Left Of Me, Jokers To The Right
Unless you are an author or work in the publishing industry, the current court battle between traditional publishing giant Hachette and Amazon has probably flown under your radar. The simple version: Hachette wants to price ebooks high enough that there is no advantage to choosing them over physical books and they want everyone else to do the same. Amazon wants ebooks priced reasonably, with the high end being $10 (technical nonfiction being the outliers, but this dispute is over popular fiction and nonfiction). As such, Amazon has incentives at this price point. Mind you, Amazon also has incentives for the traditional publishing giants, but for Hachette, this isn't good enough.
As a self published author, I've been keeping tabs on the apparent stalemate for some time. What the eventual outcome means for us hasn't been entirely transparent, but there is a lot of speculation. But yesterday, me and millions of others like me were pulled into the battle.
After 900 bestselling authors published a public letter to Amazon, encouraging them to allow for higher price points on ebooks, Amazon called upon us to send a letter to Hachette's CEO asking him to see the benefits of lower prices.
Well, here's the thing: there are benefits to lower price points on ebooks and in their letter, Amazon pointed out many. Lower prices mean higher sales and higher profits overall. Ebooks do not have anywhere near the overhead costs that hard copy books do, which means that the higher prices are unjustified and unfair to readers. That being said, I will not be sending my letter to Hachette on Amazon's behalf.
Why? Because fair is fair. Traditional publishers hate the ebook market. There are many reasons for this. One of the biggest is that ebooks have allowed for authors like me, who would rather write books than play waiting games with literary agents, a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to get our product directly to our intended audience. Traditional publishers see independent publishers as a threat. They deride us as unprofessional and uneducated. They do everything in their power to suppress our visibility to potential customers.
And they should feel threatened. Their methods are outdated. They value their quarterly profits far more than they value their authors. They came late to the digital book market and have done everything in their power to undermine the progress that has been inevitable ever since the inception of Project Gutenberg's free online library. They buy their titles into the bestseller lists and they hire consultants to dictate what YOU as the reader are allowed to like.
Because of this, I say let them raise their prices on the ebooks that they publish. If they want a new release set at $19.99, let them. If they feel that a price point of $9.99 is taking away from their profits, by all means, allow them to sell ebooks for three times that or more. But allow the rest of us to continue to set our own prices as we see fit. When they see a decline in sales, it will be up to them, not Amazon, not any other third party distribution company, to decide what the best course of action is. And if they still feel that they have been slighted and decide higher prices are the way to go?
Well, what's going to happen is this: Authors who have had the good fortune of becoming a household name and rely on the millions of dollars they are pulling in are going to balk at the lack of sales. Yes, these same authors who are now calling for Amazon to raise prices are going to feel the hurt when Amazon does just this. They are going to blame Amazon, even though they got what they wanted. They are going to hate me and my $3.99/.99¢ indie book price point.
Until they realize that as an independent author, self published through Amazon, I am making more per book at $3.99 than they are with their publisher at $19.99. Then, what they are going to do, is finish out their contract with said publisher and take that household name, which has been made a recognized brand thanks to the millions spent by the publisher on a strategic marketing team, and self publish their next best seller. It has happened before, and it will happen again. And where will that leave the publishers? Struggling to catch up...again.
As I see it, this is not my battle until the traditional publishers find a way to stop Amazon from allowing self published authors such as myself to use their services. And if we ever reach that Fahrenheit 451 level of dystopia, well, let's face it, we have bigger worries than the fate of a small time author such as myself.
Earlier this year, I made the decision to only read and purchase books from my contemporaries: independently published authors. Moreover, I decided to seek out well written works that suffer from a lack of exposure and promote them through reviews on Amazon, ratings on Goodreads, and showcase reviews here with the Write On! segment of this blog. This decision was based purely on my emotional reaction to the bland, poorly written dreck that has carried the "NYT BEST SELLER" label for quite some time. Now, this decision hold the additional weight of showing the corporations that they are not the only game in town and I do not have to play by their rules. I can freely read the works of new and innovative authors. Authors who only want to write entertaining stories aimed at eager readers and don't give a damned what's "trending" at the moment.
Reading for entertainment is on the decline. The boom in reading that spawned from the Harry Potter craze of the 1990s is over. Kids and adults today have so many other forms of personal digital entertainment vying for their attention that e-reading devices such as the Kindle and Nook quickly evolved from simple readers to proprietary tablet computers capable of doing everything from watching movies to playing Candy Crush. I can't even begin to tell you how many heartbreaking times someone has asked me what I do, and when I respond that I am a writer, they smile apologetically and say, "I don't read."
Given this, what company in their right mind would want to price out the next generation of readers? The generation that is still reading. The generation that may only consider the possibility that a book might be an enjoyable form of entertainment because there is, in fact, an app for that. The generation that now has the option to borrow electronic books from their community's public library and will do just that when they can't afford to purchase instead. Who looks at this generation and thinks, "I do not need you."?
A company with a very narrow focus, that's who. Forgive me, but if they want to set themselves up for failure, by all means, let them. As long as there are readers, there will be writers. You better be sure that some of us are going to do everything in our power to make sure the next generation not only understands the power of a good book, but has access to them as well.