Saturday, August 01, 2015

Barry and Joe and More Authors Guild Nonsense

TL;DR - The Authors Guild Still Sucks.

Joe sez: Okay, so the Authors Guild keeps acting like a bunch of assclowns, and now the ABA has embarrassed itself alongside them. There’s a good breakdown of it over at The Digital Reader via Nate Hoffelder, and some smart comments over at Passive Voice. But there’s more to say about this matter, so Barry Eisler is going to unleash some much-needed logic and reason, and then I’m going to fisk.
Barry sez: Publisher Lobbyist “Unprecedented Joint Action!”
Life is too short to continually respond to self-serving publishing establishment bloviation, so I was going to ignore this American Booksellers Association “interview” of Mary Rasenberger, the Executive Director of the Authors Guild. It’s such a regurgitation of long-since debunked legacy publisher talking points that the most useful thing you could do with it is play Bullshit Bingo: Amazon a Monopoly…Devaluing Books…Free Flow of Ideas…Engine of Democracy…Bingo! Besides, Nate Hoffelder had already performed the thankless task of acting as this week’s bucket brigade and responding to this latest cycle of the same old publishing establishment bullshit, and Joe intended to do the same. So I was all set to roll my eyes and move on...
But then I realized: the piece is such a purified expression of publishing propaganda that even apart from the tired, repeatedly debunked substance (a charitable word, under the circumstances), there were a few propaganda aspects worth noting.
First, though the answers Rasenberger provides are entirely predictable (and indeed, have been debunked so many times they’re not worth addressing with anything more than a link or two), the questions themselves are revealing. Here’s a sample:
·How has Amazon’s abuse of its dominance in the book industry directly affected authors?
·How have Amazon’s punitive actions against publishers, such as Hachette during their 2014 contract dispute, impacted authors?
·According to some news reports, self-published authors who once thought of Amazon as their ally are now feeling victimized. Why is that?
·As Amazon continues to sell huge numbers of titles below cost and uses them as loss leaders to entice sales on other segments of its website, what will be the long-term effect on a thriving and robust literary marketplace?
Holy “When did you stop beating your wife,” Batman!
If you were a legacy publisher…if you were an Amazon competitor…if you were any one of the unprecedentedly joint actors…indeed, if you were a clone of Mary Rasenberger, Executive Director of the Authors Guild, interviewing yourself!—would you phrase even one of these embarrassingly loaded questions differently?
Assuming you had an exceptionally low shame threshold, you wouldn’t. The questions would all be the same.
Which brings us to the second revealing aspect of this "propaganda masquerading as an interview" drill. You see, in the standard “blow-job masquerading as interview” gambit, it’s generally enough to hope the reader will just assume the interviewer and interviewee are working at arms-length. Making the point explicitly isn’t really the done thing. Here, however, perhaps not trusting readers to be sufficiently gulled, the ABA and AG are at pains to describe the “unprecedented joint action” of the AG, Authors United, the ABA, and the Association of Authors’ Representatives in going after Amazon for monopolizing the marketplace of ideas, devaluing books, and generally crushing dissent, democracy, and all that is good. The impression they’re trying to create is, “Wow, if so many separate organizations hate Amazon, Amazon must be doing something bad.”
But what’s critical to understand is that the most fundamental purpose of the Authors Guild, Authors United, the American Booksellers Association, and the Association of Authors is to preserve the publishing industry in its current incarnation. Whatever marginal differences they might have (I’ve never actually seen any, but am happy to acknowledge the theoretical possibility) are eclipsed by this commonality of purpose. Under the circumstances, the fact that these four legacy publisher lobbyists agree on something is entirely unremarkable (indeed, what would be remarkable would be some evidence of division). But if people recognize the exercise as a version of “No really, I read it somewhere…okay, I wrote it down first,” the propaganda fizzles. And that’s why these propagandists have to nudge readers with the bullshit about the “unprecedented joint action.” Otherwise, when Authors Guild Executive Director Mary Rasenberger cites Authors United pitchman Doug Preston as though Preston were a separate, credible source, people might roll their eyes instead of nodding at the seriousness of it all. They might even giggle at the realization that all those “When did Amazon stop beating its wife?” questions were functionally being put by Rasenberger to herself.
So no, this wasn’t remotely a cross-examination, or even a cross pollination (indeed, publisher lobbyists are expert at fleeing anything that offers even the slightest whiff of actual debate—which does make their alleged devotion to the Free Flow of Ideas and Information as the Engine of Democracy worthy of a smile, at least, if nothing else). It was just a stump speech lovingly hosted by someone else’s blog. The sole reason for the exercise was to create the misleading appearance of multiple, arms-length actors when functionally there is only one.
In fairness to the aforementioned Unprecedentedly Joint Actors, there is a rich heritage behind this form of propaganda. For example, in the run-up to America’s second Iraq war, Dick Cheney would have someone from his office phone up a couple of pet New York Times reporters, who would then dutifully report that anonymous administration officials believed Saddam Hussein had acquired aluminum tubes as part of his nuclear weapons efforts…and then Cheney would go on all the Sunday morning talk shows and get to say, “Don’t take my word for the aluminum tube stuff—even the New York Times is reporting it!”
So leave aside the fact that the “joint action” in question is anything but unprecedented—that it is in fact publishing establishment SOP. Anyone familiar with the record of these organizations will instantly realize that the “unprecedented joint action” in question is a lot like the “joint action” of all four fingers—plus the thumb!—of someone throwing back a shot of tequila. Like that of a little boy pleasuring himself—with both hands!—and trying to convince anyone who will listen that the Unprecedented Left and Right Action is proof that “Everybody loves me!”
The third aspect of this publisher lobbyist propaganda worth mentioning is the standard “we’re just disinterested, non-partisan, democracy-loving onlookers” dodge. Authors United, one of the partner organizations cited by both the ABA and the AG in the piece (they all work so hand-in-glove and cite each other so promiscuously they can be hard to distinguish) is particularly shameless in this regard, repeatedly proclaiming “We’re not taking sides” even while buying $100,000 anti-Amazon ads, sending complaints to the Amazon board of directors, and lobbying the Justice Department to break up Amazon. I’d ask Author United’s Doug Preston what more he would do against Amazon if he were taking sides, but these organizations never engage their critics (a tactic that could fairly be cited as its own form of propaganda).
Here, the ABA is careful to issue the standard “We’re not anti-Amazon!” disclaimer—a disclaimer that serves as its own punch line given the surreally tendentious questions that follow it, and given that the very title of the piece is “Why Amazon Deserves Antitrust Scrutiny.” It’s like the old French joke about Germany—“We love Germany so much we think there should be two of them.” The jointly-acting, non-side-taking, non-anti-Amazon ABA, AG, AU, and AAR actually love Amazon—so much they want the company broken into multiple bite-sized chunks!
You know what, though? I doubt even the Unprecedented Joint Actors believe their own storyline. Because a resort to this type of crass propaganda isn’t a sign of confidence or strength. It’s a recognition that people aren’t buying your bullshit. That doesn’t mean the Unprecedented Joint Actors won’t prevail—after all, Cheney did, so we know that sometimes the propagandists win. But this is why it’s so important that their tactics, as well as their aims, be constantly exposed.
Joe sez: So, with Barry’s points in mind, a-fisking I shall go. The asinine interview in crazy bold italics, my reply in common sense regular font.
Two weeks ago, the book industry saw an unprecedented joint action: U.S. booksellers, authors, and literary agents called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the business practices of On July 13, the group Authors United, led by author Douglas Preston, delivered a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice calling for an investigation of Amazon’s “abuse of its dominance in the world of books.” The Authors United action was supported by the American Booksellers Association, which sent its own letter to the DOJ, and by both the Authors Guild and the Association of Authors’ Representatives.
Here, Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, talks about the organization’s support for the Authors United letter and why Amazon’s unprecedented dominance of the book retail market is harmful to authors, booksellers, and the reading public.
Barry just talked about how this is hardly “unprecedented.” But why is the American Booksellers Association involved with this issue? Specifically, how are they being harmed other than Amazon simply competing better than they are? Let’s read on…
BTW: Why did the Authors Guild support last week’s Authors United appeal to the Department of Justice and what has been your role in the Authors United letter?
Mary Rasenberger: We at the Authors Guild have been working closely with Doug Preston for the greater part of the past year on both the longer policy memo and the shorter letter that he is asking authors and others to sign.
Wow. I have so many sarcastic responses in my head competing to be first. It took over six months for two committees of authors to write these terrible 23 pages?


With all those eyes on it, the policy memo was still so poorly done a four-year-old child could poke holes in it.


And during all this time, the Authors Guild could have been devoting its efforts to doing something that actually helps authors instead of publishers.

We could argue about the merits of getting into bed with the enemy that controls you, and trying to change things through appeasement rather than conflict, but then don't call yourself a guild for authors. On the AG website is a lengthy pronouncement on how they protect free speech and defend the"digital arena" from censorship, when they just wrote to Congress in an effort to resurrect a ridiculous offshoot of SOPA.
Might I suggest they call themselves the Vichy Guild?
Barry also mentioned that on their website the AG crows "Half of Net Proceeds is the Fair Royalty Rate for E-Books," while two lines down it calls on the government to investigate Amazon… for paying exactly that fair royalty!

We sent a separate letter to the Department of Justice on this topic last summer and met with them as well. We wholeheartedly believe that Amazon deserves antitrust scrutiny.
Follow this through to the conclusion. The DOJ goes after Amazon. What happens next? It levies fines? Who will ultimately pay those fines? You think perhaps those costs will be passed along? To whom? Customers? No. Amazon wants to keep prices low. So how would it recoup that money, since Amazon is notorious for not making a profit? Maybe, perhaps, Amazon will pay that fine by squeezing suppliers? You know, like publishers and writers? It that what all of these organizations want?
Or let’s say the Assistant Attorney General pushes to break up Amazon. What will happen to Amazon as a result? Well, what happened when Standard Oil was broken up? Hint: many of those companies thrived, but it didn't foster new competition in the market. It simply divvied up the pie. But let's pretend that breaking up Amazon fosters innovation and competition (even though Amazon seems to be the only player actually innovating and competing). What happens next? More competition means… lower prices. Doesn't the Big 5 want higher prices? Isn't that the whole point? What the hell are they thinking trying to use the government against Amazon? How does this scenario end well for the Big 5?

I can think of just one way: Amazon is afraid so it gives the Big 5 all the terms they're asking for to get them to stop poking Uncle Sam.

Do they really think Amazon is afraid? Or that Amazon doesn't have a stable of lawyers who are experts in anti-trust?

If the government fines Amazon, or breaks it up, publishers will be disintermediated even faster than their present course is dictating.

Didn't anyone think this through? The problem isn't Amazon. The problem is that technology--which is inevitable--is changing the way consumers buy and read books. If not Amazon, another company or companies will follow the same path. The reign of paper dominance has ended. They way to thrive is to innovate, not to whine to Uncle Sam.

While Amazon has done a lot that has benefitted the book industry — it created an e-commerce platform that made buying books online very easy and fast; created the first really good e-reader, which dramatically increased access to e-books; and made it very easy for authors to self-publish — in recent years it has ruthlessly used, indeed abused, its unprecedented dominance of the book retail market in ways that harm the book industry as a whole, including authors and the reading public.

And my wife harms me by bathing me with love and constantly supporting me. Maybe I should ask the DOJ to intervene in my marriage.
The fact is Amazon now virtually controls an important marketplace of information. That is not good for bookstores or for authors, and it is not good for democracy. We now have a single, corporate entity that exerts a dangerous amount of control over the channels of free expression that sustain our democracy. A corporation has never before in American history been allowed to monopolize an information or communications channel. The courts and the government never let that happen before, precisely because democracy relies on the free flow of expression and that requires a broad, diverse array of information sources. When the Associated Press, Turner Broadcasting, or Barnes & Noble threatened to dominate a single marketplace of information, the courts or a government agency intervened. It’s important to see the big picture here, because this situation can easily be trivialized. We’re not just talking about the price of an e-book. We’re talking about interference with the marketplace of information and ideas, which is the engine of any democracy.
I’ve already blogged at length about how the “marketplace of information” bullshit is bullshit. But let’s examine the end of that ridiculous statement, “the engine of any democracy.” On the AG website is a lengthy pronouncement on how they protect free speech and a defend the "digital arena" from censorship, when they just wrote to Congress in an effort to resurrect a ridiculous offshoot of SOPA.
So, do they only want to protect the democracy that they agree with? Isn’t that called something other than democracy? They don’t want Amazon to control the marketplace of information, and at the same time they wrote to Congress demanding that Congress control the marketplace of information.
And why is the ABA involved with this? Wouldn’t they want Amazon to stifle the “marketplace of information” so seekers of true information will instead patronize indie bookstores?
Think about it. Your main competition is seriously messing up. Instead of letting them hang themselves with their own rope, you want to get the government involved? Instead of one large competitor, does the ABA want five more smaller competitors? What if the DOJ breaks Amazon up, and one of the new companies formed by the breakup decides to set up a new brick-and-mortar bookstore chain? If that happens, will the ABA be pleased? Or will ABA members just sue the chain like they sued Barnes & Noble?
How about, instead of suing or whining to the government, you just try to compete?
I like bookstores, even if they refuse to stock my Amazon published work. I don’t want them to disappear. But nobody owes anyone a living. If they need government interference to compete, because customers freely choose to shop for books elsewhere, I don’t see how that can be called a good thing.
So the Authors Guild has taken a keen interest in Amazon. We’ve been following Amazon’s behavior in the book markets for a number of years — as have most other publishing industry observers. But I want to be clear on one thing, even after everything I just said: We’re not anti-Amazon. We don’t oppose everything the company does. We give praise where it’s due. We’ve simply opposed Amazon’s more ruthless tactics and the unhealthiness of its monopoly.
What horseshit.
We’re not anti-Amazon! Except when we are!
We’re against monopolies! Except, you know, the Big 5 cartel that controls paper distribution!
Amazon deserves praise for opening up the long tail to readers in the most remote parts of the country, for instance. But did it have to do that at the expense of so many independent bookstores?
No, it didn’t. Some indie bookstores could have opened up to service customers in remote parts of the country. But they didn’t. Amazon did. And Amazon didn’t do it to smite indie bookstores. It did it to reach customers. The fact that indie bookstores don’t offer the wide range of products Amazon offers isn’t Amazon’s fault. No one, Amazon included, is preventing bookstores from competing
And we are grateful to Amazon for making it so easy for authors to publish on their own, but it should pay authors decent royalties and allow them to set their own prices without punishment; Amazon should be transparent about what goes into determining its royalty pool.
I agree. Amazon should pay authors decent royalties. Which is why I’m glad its royalties are four times more decent than the ones paid by the Big Five. Someone really ought to let the Authors Guild know this--it’s important.

And yeah, I agree it would be nice if Amazon would eliminate its 35% (still twice the legacy rate) band for books priced under $2.99 and over $9.99. But calling that band--which again, at a minimum still pays out twice the going legacy rate--a “punishment” is worse than moronic. It’s blatant fear-mongering through propagandistic word choices. If Amazon is “punishing” authors for paying 35% and 70%, what is the Big Five doing to authors when it pays 12.5% or 17.5%?

The call for more Amazon transparency is also interesting, given the legendary openness practiced by the Big Five. But let’s examine this one in detail anyway.

Amazon’s KU payout rate fluctuates according to some equation only Amazon knows. Like a utility bill. Every month someone comes to the door asking me to “lock in” my gas or electric rate, protecting it in case it goes up. But then I’m locked into the higher rate if prices drop.
Amazon could pay a set, agreed-upon rate per page that doesn’t fluctuate. What then? What if subscriptions become the #1 way to read, and our sales our cannibalized, and we’re locked into that rate?
Well, you could say that if that happens, Amazon could always raise the rate. Or pay bonuses.
But that’s no different than what Amazon is currently doing. That still means fluctuating payments.
If Amazon allowed authors to opt in or out of KU each month, forecasting what the per page rate will be for that month, that would give authors more control. But how much more? If the rate fluctuates, we still have no financial stability. And we still won’t know how much we’ll earn at the end of the month, because we can’t predict how many page reads will get.
I don’t see an easy answer here. But if you’re worried about ebook retailers screwing you, your only true alternative is controlling your own sales via your own website.
In the meantime, KU is optional. We can opt out after three months. And if authors don’t like the way Amazon pays, they’ll leave, and Amazon will need to entice them back with better payments. This seems like a system that polices itself.
Last summer, in the midst of Amazon’s dispute with Hachette, when Amazon began deliberately suppressing Hachette authors’ sales in order to drive a wedge between the publisher and its authors, we worked behind the scenes, writing a series of white papers that led to meetings with the DOJ and a number of state attorneys general.
Well slap me with a mackerel until I spit scales, here comes the “Amazon Attacks Authors!” meme again.
Amazon has never suppressed sales. I swear I'm gonna get a tattoo gun and start inking that on every moron who says they did.

Hachette refused to make a deal with the #1 book retailer in the world, and Amazon had no legal or moral obligation to keep selling Hachette books. Hachette authors should have sued Hachette for bad faith breach of contract, because Hachette used them as human shields to get terms from Amazon that benefitted Hachette and not its authors.

Meanwhile, Doug, with his Authors United grassroots group of authors, brought great and well-deserved attention to the Hachette authors’ cause. We’ve been supportive of Authors United from the start. Doug is an Authors Guild council member — we’ve worked hand in hand with him.
Ah, nothing like a bunch of multimillionaires taking the grassroots approach by wasting $100,000 on a full page NYT ad. Power to the people, man! I mean, isn’t an ad a lot better for authors than maybe, I dunno, sharing that $100,000 with authors who were harmed because Hachette dragged its feet for eight months to sign a new deal with Amazon?
BTW: How has Amazon’s abuse of its dominance in the book industry directly affected authors?
Worst. Interview. Ever.

Unless… maybe this isn't an actual interview? Maybe it's propaganda?

MR: Amazon has artificially driven down the price of books and, because of its market dominance, it has been able to force publishers of all sizes, as well as independently published authors, to accept its terms on a “take it or leave it” basis.
Amazon has indeed driven down the price of books, but how is that artificial? That’s called "reality". When you have a lot of buying power, you can negotiate for better deals, and pass along the savings to consumers. You can even afford to make some items loss leaders.
As far as harming independently published authors, is Mary Rasenberger high? Serious question. I say some really stupid shit when I get high, and I can forgive her this giant hunk of idiocy if she was bogarting a purple kush spliff when she said it.
If not, I’ll remind Mary that indie authors get 70% for self-pubbed sales on Amazon, and 17.5% through Big 5 publishers. I’ll also remind Mary that both Amazon, and KDP Select, are optional for authors, not mandatory, whereas if an author signed with a publisher they have ZERO say on who sells it, or for how much.
Plus, it drive me nuts when Authors Guild morons say things about Amazon that could also be directly applied to Big Publishing. Hey! Mary! You think Amazon has take it or leave it terms? Have you ever seen a contract from the Big 5? Do you think it’s maybe significant that the authors who sign the Amazon “take-it-or-leave-it” contract can walk away from it pretty much any time? Think that’s maybe worth mentioning? While by comparison a legacy contract functionally lasts forever? See any distinction there that might be worth pointing out--unless your point is obfuscation rather than education?
Since no one can sell books without Amazon, guess what? They take it.
Where were you, pre-Amazon, when tens of thousands of writers actually didn’t have a choice? You really think this is a new phenomenon? Those who have market muscle tend to flex it. But I don’t see anything in the KDP TOS that gives Amazon rights for the author’s life plus 70 years, or non-compete clauses, or any of the many unconscionable things that Big 5 publishers have stuck us with for decades. Amazon is so big and mighty it could demand all rights. It doesn’t. Stop calling Amazon a bully when the real bullies, the ones who came before Amazon, are so much worse.
Small publishers in particular have been hurt: they have had to accept really unfair terms, and there is nothing they can do to fight back. Amazon could care less if one little publisher refuses to sell through them; that publisher will just go out of business and it won’t affect Amazon one bit.
And someone think of the poor travel agents, driven out of work by Expedia and cohorts! And shouldn’t the DOJ be going after Netflix for hurting all those poor cable company monopolies?
Low prices hurt authors because their royalties are lower, of course.
Joe makes $2.74 on a $3.99 ebook on Amazon via KDP. Joe made $1.74 on a $9.99 ebook when he pubbed with the Big 5.
And do we even need to get into the “lower priced books sell more copies” argument?
But it has also devalued books generally. Amazon has commoditized books by offering them all at the same low price, losing money so they can lure readers in as consumers. The result is that readers start thinking books should be that cheap — even though those prices are artificial — and everyone else is forced to lower book prices.
I spanked this ridiculous “devalue” meme over five years ago. Books are not being devalued. Period.
Barry and I were chatting about this, and he reminded me that books compete with other forms of entertainment. As those forms become cheaper and more ubiquitous, the notion that we can protect the place of books in the entertainment ecosystem by making them more expensive is suicide. What kind of hubris could lead to these positions? Books are not special snowflakes. When you can get unlimited Netflix streaming for $9.99 a month, you shouldn’t price an ebook that can be read in eight hours at $14.99. That’s not a sustainable business model.
Needless to say, advances are way down, as well as royalties, and fewer books are being bought by publishers because there is only so much money to go around. It is one of the reasons we have full-time authors making 30 percent less in absolute dollars (not accounting for inflation) than they did in 2009 when the e-book was first taking off.
And here we have the Authors Guild doing what it does best; advocating for publishers. Because we all know that publishers write the books, so publishers deserve keeping 75% of the royalties.
If authors are making less, publishers should pay more. Maybe the Authors Guild should focus on getting better royalty rates from the Big 5. Or maybe authors should dump them and earn 70% royalties going indie.
Another way Amazon has adversely affected authors is an issue [ABA] members are familiar with — the drastic reduction in discoverability on its service (leading some book buyers to go to stores to browse and then buy on Amazon). Most mid-list books simply get lost on Amazon; it is difficult for the titles of lesser-known authors to be discovered on Amazon, where “discoverability” often means simply being updated about the newest title from famous authors.
Seriously, hasn’t discoverability always been a giant issue with all midlist authors? What does Amazon have to do with that?
Except, you know, giving ALL authors the chance to reach readers, rather than the gatekeepers who prevented 99.9% of them from ever reaching anyone.
An author has a better chance to get discovered by readers on Amazon than they have getting discovered by readers in a Big 5 slush pile.
So, the mid-list authors are badly suffering in sales, and because publishers are not making enough on those books, they are disinclined to offer advances that actually support writing the book.
Newsflash: no fiction author gets an advance for a first book. And with all self-pubbed  books, you start earning money 30 days later if you hit publish, which isn't that far removed from the 14 day waiting period after starting a new job. So enough with the BS "authors need advances to survive" meme.

If you need some sort of income to feed yourself while writing, try Kickstarter or Indiegogo, neither of which keeps your rights for your lifetime plus 70 years.
Hence, we see more and more books by celebrities rather than authors. At least there is more work for ghostwriters!
That’s the answer. Change your name to the Ghostwriters Guild. Then I won’t have to keep wasting my time on you.
BTW: How have Amazon’s punitive actions against publishers, such as Hachette during their 2014 contract dispute, impacted authors?

Why do I feel like I'm watching the audience participation during the Rocky Horror Picture Show?
MR: To begin with, Amazon’s punitive actions against publishers end up harming individual authors much more than they harm the publishers they’re intended to punish. There’s no way around it. Many publishers are themselves major corporations — some are parts of multinational conglomerates — and they can absorb the losses caused by Amazon in a way that an individual author cannot.

Wait a second... publishers are losing money? And it's Amazon's fault?

How, exactly?

Let's read on...

Amazon controls more than 40 percent of total book sales in the U.S., 75 percent of online sales of physical books, and 65 percent of the e-book market.

Oh, snap! So publishers are losing money through Amazon because Amazon sells more of their books than anyone else!

Wait. Hold on. That doesn't make a lick of sense.

Publishers set the prices of books on Amazon, via the agency model. And publishers sell most of their books through Amazon.

How could Amazon be causing publishers to lose money?

Call me stupid, but if I'm selling a lot of something, and I get to set the price, doesn't that earn money for me? And if it doesn't, shouldn't I stop selling through that particular retail outlet?

How can the Authors Guild spout this craziness with a straight face?

When Amazon stands between authors and the reader or potential readers who might want to buy their books — as they did with the Hachette authors — it is the authors who feel the sting.
Let me see if I understand this; when I sign a contract with a publisher, expecting that publisher to properly exploit my work by selling it in every market possible, and said publisher doesn’t do that because they want to keep the prices of my books high when Amazon wants to keep them low and sell more copies thereby making me more money via volume, I’m supposed to get angry at Amazon and not my publisher?
Tell me again what I need a publisher for?

Seriously. If Amazon controls so much of the industry’s sales, why do I need a Big 5 company when I can put my books on Amazon without them? ESPECIALLY when some publishers, like Hachette, prevent me from fully utilizing Amazon?
And that’s just the financial side of things. There are some very real and very frightening risks to the free flow of information when one corporation has the power to favor or disfavor expressive, creative works.
I agree. I was rejected hundreds of times by the Big 6. How dare they stifle my voice! The DOJ needs to force them to publish me!
When a corporation gets this kind of power, it can play favorites. It can pick winners and losers. It has picked winners and losers. Last summer, Paul Ryan’s book was published by Hachette [and was among the titles initially delisted by Amazon]. Paul Ryan’s a congressman; he has a pulpit. So he went on TV and complained. What happened? In a flash, his book was fully available again.
Amazon didn’t delist any Hachette titles. Stop the revisionist history nonsense. Amazon removed pre-order buttons, because it had no contract with Hachette.
Most authors don’t have the power to make that happen, of course. But you can see, the power to suppress or promote certain ideas and certain political flavors is there. And it’s a threat to free speech, plain and simple.
Actually, the threat to free speech is demanding that a retailer sell what you want them to sell. Next does the Authors Guild want to tell me what I can and can’t write?

The Authors Guild does this all the time. Not only do they make arguments that can easily be turned against them, they also make accusations against Amazon that can be applied to the Big 5, in much bigger ways. But the Authors Guild constantly defends the Big 5. It's just a house of bad logic cards.
This isn’t mere speculation; it has already had a chilling effect: Doug Preston describes how dozens of bestselling authors declined to sign an Authors United letter last summer for fear of retaliation from Amazon.
Show me ONE author who was retaliated against.
In fact, Doug Preston recently had a book promotion on Amazon’s Prime Day event. So Amazon retaliated against its #1 Critic by selling a fuckton of his books.
Damn, why won’t Amazon retaliate against me like that?

And since when did being afraid of someone equate to someone actually being injured? Authors were afraid, ergo Amazon must demonstrably be a monster?

Or maybe authors were afraid, because they're a bunch of babies?

As Barry put it in a recent Techdirt post:

All of which gives the lie to the oft-repeated Authors United claim that Amazon “retaliates”against authors. There’s no evidence at all for this charge; in fact, were it true, it’s hard to imagine how the books of every Authors United member, even those of floridly outspoken Authors United pitchman Doug Preston, would be available on Amazon, despite all the crazy accusations and anti-Amazon advocacy. These “author” organizations demonstrably have no fear at all of crossing Amazon. But the one group they never cross is the New York Big Five. Which is about all you need to know about where real retaliation, and real power, lies in the book industry.

Someone once said, “If you want to get noticed, pick a fight” (I thought it was Banksy, but couldn’t verify–if anyone knows, I’d be curious). Good advice, and I doubt anyone would claim you can get more attention with a blog post than you can by picking a fight. And clearly the AG isn’t across-the-board *afraid* of picking fights; look what it’s done WRT Amazon and Google. So why is it willing to pick fights with Amazon and Google, but not with legacy publishers? Why even within the relatively safe confines of the very blog post under discussion here do they not call out even a single legacy publisher by name?

I'll agree that authors are afraid. But they aren't afraid of Amazon, because if they truly were they wouldn't speak out.

You know, like how the Authors Guild never speaks out against the Big 5.
BTW: According to some news reports, self-published authors who once thought of Amazon as their ally are now feeling victimized. Why is that?
According to a talking squirrel in a dream I had, hearsay is not only admissible in court, but new provisions allow witnesses to also express how they feel about the hearsay and it’s totally iron-clad evidence. That’s how come we could burn all those mean old witches who were cursing my fields and making my pee pee shrink into my body.
Wait, is leading the question allowed?
Also, speaking of non-sequiturs, I love it when something is demonized without proof, because it always leads to good things. I mean, cats are satanic and evil and therefore need to be outlawed. What’s the worst that can happen?
MR: As we’ve seen time and time again, at the end of the day, Amazon is only interested in one thing —
To become the most customer-centric company on the planet?
its own welfare and obscene growth.
Damn! I was wrong again!

Amazon really needs to change their mission statement.
That became clear to a lot of the self-published authors who used to be on Team Amazon right when Amazon began pulling the rug out from under them on their royalty payments. When Amazon rolled out its subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, last year, it automatically enrolled most of the self-published authors who published with the KDP Select program in the subscription service, where readers got unlimited access to hundreds of thousands of books for $9.99 a month. So, all of a sudden, a lot of these indie authors’ royalty checks just plummeted. And there were some misgivings in the indie community; many of these writers thought they had a partner in Amazon.
We're your Authors Guild, pandering to you even if you can't get a real publishing contract! As long as, you know, it suits our current pro-publisher agenda…
I didn’t mind KU, because KDP Select is optional, and Amazon is only offering subscription services because customers want them. Incidentally, Amazon wasn’t the first ebook subscription service. KU was launched to compete with others. Competition is what everyone wants, right?
Worse, though, Amazon treats its indie authors as second-class citizens. Traditionally published books in Kindle Unlimited were paid for as if sold every time a reader read beyond a certain portion. Indie authors, on the other hand, are paid pro rata out of a pool, which pits indie authors against each other in a competition for readers: One author’s gain is another’s loss.
I already debunked this silliness when I fisked Scalzi. Subscription services aren’t zero sum. If someone borrows my book, you don’t lose $1.40. That what “one author’s gain is another’s loss” actually means.
And there is no limit to the number of books that can be borrowed, and the pool is only limited the same way the any industry’s gross sales are limited.
And how does Amazon calculate the amount of money that goes into the pool? No one knows but Amazon. There is a complete lack of transparency in how it determines what the pool is and, so, what any author’s royalties are. They expect authors to just trust them? It is shocking when you think about it. Imagine if a publisher said, “Don’t worry, we’ll pay you something out of our profits; just trust us.” Not exactly a model for professional authors to rely on.
I already explained this above, but I’ll add: KDP Select is opt-in. If you don’t like what you get paid, you opt out. And it’s not like professional authors EVER knew what their royalties would be. From the beginning, authors were asked to trust publishers with royalty statements. Trust the indecipherable figures. Trust that the numbers were true when we had no way to verify them. Trust that their withholding reserves against returns were fair and consistent.

With Amazon we find out within 30 days, instead of 180, what we get paid.

As for complete lack of transparency, anyone can read Amazon's KDP terms of use. It's transparent. But every single publishing contract varies to some degree. Where's the transparency there? Instead, we get NDAs that bestselling authors sign to never admit how high their royalties are compared to other authors. Via the Authors Guild:

If the Authors Guild is demanding transparency, how about starting there?

Things got even worse when Amazon announced that starting in July it will be splitting up the Kindle Direct royalty pool in a completely different fashion, based on the number of pages read — and this was announced just weeks before it took effect. We still don’t know how that will play out, but one thing is sure — if the per-page model benefits Amazon financially they will start forcing it on publishers, starting with the smallest, who have no bargaining power.
Shit. It sounds like the bank forcing me to pay my mortgage so I can live in this nice house.
Ha! Kidding! I don’t have a mortgage. I paid off my house with one month of Amazon royalties.

If you want to play, you pay. Everyone knows this.
But someone should worry about the poor publishers. And what better advocate than the Authors Guild?
Are they really too stupid to see this blatant conflict of interest?
Our biggest problem with Amazon vis-à-vis indie authors is that they do not treat their authors as professionals. They provide a take it or leave it contract. Yes, we have lots of problems with the standard contracts of traditional publishers — but at least they allow authors to individually negotiate terms. The KDP authors don’t even have that luxury — they are forced to accept Amazon’s terms and its unknowable royalties, or go somewhere else.
Uh, publishers keep rights. Like, forever. Amazon doesn’t. Authors can walk away from a KDP contract anytime. See my comments on this above. If you’d rather have the ability to negotiate your contractually obligated 25 author copies up to 30, and in exchange for that power give up ever being in control of your book again, knock yourself out.
Whoops, the problem is that Amazon has so dominated the market there is nowhere else to go if you want any reasonably sized potential audience.
Translation: The problem is that Amazon sells so goshdarn many books, they get to dictate their own terms. Except, you know, where they don’t. Like when legacy publishers forced the Agency Model on them, which hurt author sales.

But let's punish the company that made us more money than any other.
BTW: As Amazon continues to sell huge numbers of titles below cost and uses them as loss leaders to entice sales on other segments of its website, what will be the long-term effect on a thriving and robust literary marketplace?

Uh, cheap and plentiful books for everyone around the world?
MR: Just like any ecosystem, a thriving literary marketplace is a diverse, multifaceted literary marketplace. We need a diversity of publishers — big houses that can invest in major projects and distribute on a mass scale, as well as small houses committed to publishing marginalized voices.
Actually, the majority of us don’t need publishers. Fewer than 1% of authors need that extended paper distribution. .
We need diversity of authorship no less. And we need diversity in our distributors. We need independent stores with community ties and highly curated collections; big box stores for the selection they offer and their purchasing power; we need public libraries to serve their communities; school libraries to get kids reading; we need Amazon, too.
You need tricks when you don’t have truth. The buzzword is “diversity”. Who doesn’t want or like diversity?
The thing is, it’s a strawman. Amazon isn’t hurting diversity. Amazon is making consumers happy. You can’t force a consumer to shop where you want them to. You also can’t force a supplier to deal with a retailer. And how is selling more titles than ever, and allowing all authors to publish whatever books they want, and enabling readers to find any book they want, anything other than “diverse”? If this isn’t diversity, how would you characterize the Big Five’s function of “curating” titles by making sure 999 out of 1000 never even see the light of day?
You’re whining about the cow you’re currently milking.
Has there ever been a diverse marketplace as the AG describes it? Are retailers supposed to promote their competition? Are readers supposed to read only what certain companies want them to read?

Here’s the truth about publishers: they limit what they publish.
Here’s the truth about bookstores: they limit what they carry.
Here’s the truth about Amazon: they have no limits (except for certain types of erotica). And if they don't carry it, a third party can sell it via Amazon.
Any real fan of diversity wants more choices. That’s what Amazon offers.
Here's what Amazon doesn't do: prevent competition. Any supplier is free to go to any other retailer.
Our concern is that Amazon is ruining that necessary diversity.

If the Authors Guild truly wants diversity, their members need to do what I did, and start their own company.

Its loss leader pricing allowed it to capture its outsize market share. That market dominance enabled it to extract excruciating terms from publishers, which in turn led to a dangerous amount of consolidation among publishers.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, we see the effect this is all having on authors. In April, we at the Guild conducted our first major member survey since 2009. The findings aren’t encouraging. Median writing-related income dropped 24 percent in that time; full-time authors’ median income is down 30 percent, from $25,000 to $17,500.
But whining for government intervention might work, too. Because maybe the government will break up Amazon, and Amazon will die, and then we call go back to higher book prices, fewer book choices, and lower book royalties.
Yeah. That sounds a lot better than actually advocating for authors.
Advances are down — authors need these to keep the lights on while they finish their books. These developments are unsustainable. We need to turn things around so that authorship can once again be a sustainable career, and so that authors can continue to create the sort of work that sustains the rest of the industry — and that sustains its readers and our culture at large.
In these carefree days of crowdfunding, we don't need advances. And crowdfunders only want a book in return, not 75% of your royalties for life plus 70 years.

But there is, indeed, something unsustainable happening.
It’s called the status quo.
BTW: What kind of feedback are you receiving from your members following last week’s appeal to the DOJ?
MR: The response has been terrific. We’re really looking forward to seeing how many signatures the letter collects. We have a huge number already.
I can’t feel bad for my peers when so many are so stupid. I don't know what the "huge" number is (I'm guessing somewhere between five and a gazillion), but anyone who signs that ridiculous letter is either showing they have Stockholm Syndrome, are motivated soley by greed, or are a product of a failed educational symptom.
Here's my plea to not just the Authors Guild, but to humanity in general: Think about why you believe what you believe, and then logically and ably defend your beliefs. Everyone knows that publishers are being disintermediated by Amazon. And everyone knows that bigshot authors--those status quo bestsellers who have gotten fat off the gravy train--don't want publishers to become extinct. That position is defensible. Take that position. It reveals you as greedy, self-interested dicks, but it's honest. Trying to guise greed in the form of altruism is evil. Using the media for your propaganda is insidious. Repeating the same easily refutable nonsense arguments and accusations, over and over, without ever engaging in public debate, is embarrassing. If you really believe Amazon is bad, learn more about the situation, or take a closer look at your own motivation. I challenge anyone from the "huge number" who signed the Authors Guild letter to write a guest post for my blog about why they did, defending their point of view. You can even do it anonymously. Shoot me an email. Explain to the world why you sided with a bunch of morons. Prove that I'm wrong. Am I asking a lot? For you to justify your signature? Or are you someone who votes without knowing why they do it? Someone who makes decisions without thinking? Someone who eagerly wants to ban dihydrogen monoxide? Surely a single signatory out of that huge number has the guts to step up and explain, in their own words, why they want government intervention with Amazon, and what they expect will happen. My blog is yours. I'll be waiting....