Sunday, May 25, 2014

Turow & Patterson: A Plateful of Fail with Extra Helpings of Stupid

Yestserday I fisked Lilith Saintcrow because of her wrongheaded stance regarding the negotiation between her publisher, Hachette, and Amazon.

Today it came to my attention that two heavyweights have shared their thoughts on this matter, bestsellers Scott Turow and James Patterson.

They didn't sway me with their implacable logic and iron-clad arguments. They won't sway you, either.

Because what they said is some of the stupidest shit they've ever said. And that's saying something.

This is from Patterson's Facebook page. Patterson is in italics, I'm in bold.

Read four of the most important paragraphs I'll ever write.

Because nothing is more important than kissing your publisher's ass while demonizing Amazon--the same Amazon that is making you many times richer. 

If you ever write about something really important (like pretty much anything else), you've trivialized it with that stupid opening.

The press doesn’t seem to consider this newsworthy, but there is a war going on between Amazon and book publishers. This war involves money of course, and though I have an opinion, I’m not here to comment on what might be a fair and reasonable settlement.

You mean the press didn't run this screed for you? What a shame. 

Also, you say you're not here to comment on what's fair and reasonable, yet at the end of your nonsense you call for laws to change things. I'm pretty sure that tidbit, and this entire post, is you commenting on what you believe is fair and reasonable, and I'm also pretty sure you're sharing your opinion.

There are other significant issues people might want to consider. Currently, Amazon is making it difficult to order many books from Little, Brown and Grand Central, which affects readers of authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, Nicholas Sparks, Michael Connelly, me, and hundreds of others whose living depends on book sales. What I don’t understand about this particular battle tactic is how it is in the best interest of Amazon customers. It certainly doesn’t appear to be in the best interest of authors.

I'd bet none of the names you mentioned depend on book sales to make a living. Unless you've all done really poorly with your investments.

Tip: When you want to engender sympathy in a reader, they probably aren't going to cry over what's happening to a small group of famous multimillionaires. Big bad Amazon took away your preorder buttons? What's going to happen to you as a result? You'll have to fire the servants at one of your vacation homes?

As for the hundreds of authors you didn't name who are really being hurt by this situation, they should hire a lawyer and get out of their contracts, like I did with Hachette. Then they won't get caught in business power struggles, and they'll actually have some control over their sales.

And as for being in the best interest of Amazon customers, I can make an educated guess. Who wants ebook prices higher, Hachette or Amazon? In this negotiation, if Hachette gets its way, will Amazon be forced to raise ebook prices to make up for Hachette's new terms? How does the customer benefit if ebook prices are raised?

More important—much more important—is the evolution/revolution that’s occurring now in publishing. Small bookstores are being shuttered, book chains are going out of business, libraries are suffering enormous budget cuts, and every publisher—and the people who work at these publishing houses—is feeling a great deal of pain and stress. Ultimately, inevitably, the quality of American literature will suffer.

Because there can be no quality literature without publishers and book chains.

Hmm. I thought writers were the ones who did the writing. And I think they can reach readers without publishers and book store chains. Perhaps through companies like... what's the name of that big online bookstore? The one that made ebooks popular? I think it's named after a river...

If the world of books is going to change to ebooks, so be it. But I think it’s essential that someone steps up and takes responsibility for the future of American literature and the part it plays in our culture. Right now, bookstores, libraries, authors, and books themselves are caught in the cross fire of an economic war. If this is the new American way, then maybe it has to be changed—by law, if necessary—immediately, if not sooner.

For God's sake, someone think of the culture!

Jim, I probably don't need to lecture you about how capitalism works, or how business negotiations work, so I am forced to assume that you're sticking to an emotional appeal rather than actually trying to make sense, because you're aware that your argument sucks the farts out of roadkill.

Maybe you should stop suggesting the government get involved, because the last time they did, they brought suit against your publisher and four others for collusion. Are you sure you want the DOJ to poke into Hachette's business again? I bet Hachette doesn't.

I also bet it is difficult to get anything done "sooner than immediately". But here's an idea: you get together with the other rich authors you mentioned and start your own online bookstore. Then you can do whatever you want with it. Sell paper books at high prices. Refuse to sell ebooks. Bend over for every publisher with unreasonable demands. And best of all, you can make sure you only carry quality, gatekeeper-vetted American literature steeped in culture.

And since you're obviously concerned about the hundreds of authors whose living depends on book sales, you could also send them a few grand each, to tide them over until Hachette stops dicking around and agrees to Amazon's terms. 

Or maybe Hachette could show some balls, stop whining publicly, and actually pull all of their titles from Amazon. In fact, maybe the CEOs of all Big 5 publishers should meet in secret and discuss a strategy to deal with Amazon. It's bound to work.

Speaking of whining publicly, here's a wonderful tidbit from Passive Voice:

In a comment about one of the Amazon/Hachette posts, Elka wondered how Hachette would react if an author who was negotiating a publishing contract with Hachette went on the internet to complain about Hachette’s negotiating style and contract terms.

I can guess how they'd react. They'd dump the author immediately.

I'd be seriously amused if Amazon did that to Hachette. It would suck for a lot of authors, but maybe it would finally prompt them to hire lawyers.

But Patterson hasn't been hogging all the stupid for himself. Then was this nugget from Scott Turow, quoted in the Washington Post.

“This one goes along with the pulling of the buy buttons as the most daunting exercise of brute market power." 

As I've stated ad nauseum, Amazon removed the buy buttons because Macmillan was trying to strongarm Amazon into raising ebook prices.

Amazon can sell whatever the hell it wants to sell. It isn't a monopsony, and even if it was, during its entire existence its main goal has been to satisfy customers with low prices and good service.

I'll opine that the most daunting exercise of brute market power is the lockstep, non-negotiable 25% ebook royalty rates most major publishers force upon their authors, among many other unconscionable clauses.

Turow, a lawyer who has written 11 books, including legal thrillers such as “Presumed Innocent,” said that Amazon recently raised the price of his most recent book, “Identical,” a move that he said would depress sales. 

You mean you're upset because Amazon raised the price of your book to your publisher's list price?

Really?

Did you really say that?

Really?

Pick your favorite response:

a) Don't they have irony on your planet, Scott?
b) As a lawyer who has to argue for a living, how could you say something this stupid and ruin your own case?
c) Welcome to the midlist world of no discounting, where 99% of published authors live, and so do all independent bookstores. 

“What kind of entity in a competitive market would willfully drive customers into the arms of its competitors unless it believes it doesn’t really have any competitors?” Turow said. 

What kind of entity in a competitive market would willfully offer authors shitty contract terms unless it believes it doesn't really have any competitors?

Answer: Your publisher, and all other major publishers, who had a cartel that controlled paper distribution, so most authors were forced to accept shitty terms or not get published. 

And now the publishers are unhappy that someone else is using their power to dictate terms? Boo fucking hoo.

BTW, last I checked it isn't illegal to drive customers to a competitor. Competitors actually like that kind of thing.

And I can't resist quoting Scott from two years ago:

"The irony bites hard: our government may be on the verge of killing real competition in order to save the appearance of competition."

So two years ago you were upset because you felt (wrongly, in your defense of the Big 5 collusion suit) that Amazon was killing real competition, and now you're upset because Amazon is fostering competition by driving customers away.

Yes, Scott. The irony bites hard.

But back to the fisking...

“Can you imagine Best Buy refusing to deliver for a period of weeks what’s available from its competitors? But Amazon behaves as though they’re the only game in town. And increasingly they are. It’s a head-scratcher why anyone with regulatory authority would tolerate it. If this is not an example of untoward power, I don’t know what is.”

Can you imagine the government stepping in a mediating every legal, private business transaction? Because that's what you and Jim are begging for. Do you really think that will make the world a better place? Do you really think that's what the Big 5 want?

I don't know the details of the Hachette/Amazon negotiation (only Amazon and Hachette know those details), but I bet Hachette wouldn't like the DOJ, or some congressional committee, or anyone for that matter, telling them how to do business. Because if someone with regulatory authority took a look at the unconscionable contracts that publishers have been sticking authors with for the last fifty years, I bet they'd order some recompense.

But I'll answer your question. If Best Buy refused to deliver for a period of weeks, I'd just order what I wanted from Amazon.

Joe sez: This situation seems to really be burning up the Internets. Sending a shout out to Passive Voice again, they call it Amazon Derangement Syndrome

The major publishers, and many authors, really seem to hate Amazon. 

Why is this?

Because publishers used to be the only game in town. They abused that power, offering one-sided contracts to authors who had nowhere else to go. Authors, me included, were brainwashed into doing whatever our corporate masters asked, and we accepted whatever pittance they offered and were grateful for it because we believed we had no choice.

Amazon offered a choice. Not just for writers, but for consumers who wanted larger selections and didn't want to pay luxury prices for books. (Publishers didn't just control who got published, they also controlled the prices of their titles. What other industry prints a price on its product?)

So the big bully that is legacy publishing is angry that it can't be a big bully anymore, because of Amazon. 

And, like all bullies, legacy publishing is a coward at heart, because it won't stand up to Amazon by pulling all of its titles. 

So instead, publishers whine about Amazon because they don't have the guts to do anything else and collusion didn't work. Fat cat authors like Patterson and Turow call for government intervention using pathetic emotional appeals, because they don't want to lose their cushy places in the status quo. Brainwashed authors like Lilith Saintcrow suffer from Stockholm Syndrome and refuse to believe their publishers are the abusers.

And Amazon? Amazon keeps quiet while slowly but surely conquering the world. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, where that anti-Amazon piece just ran.

That's what true power is. Not whining in public. Not worrying what people think of you. Just changing the world by innovating, lowering prices on goods, offering unmatched service, and only flexing muscles when being bullied.

The day may come where Amazon does, indeed, become the bad guy.

But that day isn't today.