Monday, July 21, 2014

More Preston Nonsense

From The Bookseller, in bold italics.
Authors United, the group of writers who signed a letter calling on Amazon to resolve its dispute with Hachette, has said it is “developing a long-term strategy”.
The authors include well-known names such as Paul Auster, David Baldacci, Tracy Chevalier, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Mark Haddon, Sophie Hannah, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, James Patterson, Philip Pullman and Donna Tartt.
Hachette Book Group (HBG) in the US and Amazon.com have been negotiating terms for a number of months now. During the dispute HBG authors have found their books subject to delayed shipping on Amazon, and some have had their books made unavailable for pre-order.
At the beginning of this month affected authors signed a letter, instigated by US writer Douglas Preston, which also called on "loyal readers" to email Amazon founder and c.e.o. Jeff Bezos to "change his mind".
Joe sez: The letter is now up to 798 signatures, plus the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust, and the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference.
Color me impressed. They apparently got every author in the SFWA to sign. That's sort of strange, because I think it would be more powerful if the petition maybe listed every one of those authors in the SFWA. But I guess the SFWA had a vote and every member agreed, which is why Preston can add the SFWA to his letter. Or maybe they have some sort of democratic-republic electoral college thingy so the majority speaks for all.

Equally impressive is getting the trust of a dead photographer to lend their support. I mean, who has a bigger vested interest in this issue than Ansel Adams, RIP?

Also, a writing conference signed! That last one is a case of burying the lede, because when a conference develops sentience and can decide to add its signature to a letter, I'd think that's the real mind-blowing part of this story.

But should they keep calling themselves "Authors United"? Shouldn't it be "Some Authors, a Genre Writing Organization, a Trust, and a Sentient Conference United"? 
Why did Preston stop there? Why not add the City of Grand Rapids, the pyramid of Giza, and the Shakespeare Repertory Theater? I have a Mustang, and I admit my car and I sometimes feel differently about the publishing industry. If Preston asked, I bet he could also add "Konrath's Car" to his list of signatories.

But maybe I'm being too picky here. The point is, a lot of authors have joined with Preston to form Authors United.

Except, you know, the thousands that signed our letter.
Preston has now written to the signatories to say that a full-page advert will soon be published in the New York Times, funded by a dozen authors, which will include the letter and the names of the signatories.
Preston also wrote: “This struggle with Amazon may go on for a while. Our group, which we call Authors United, is developing a long-term strategy in case our effort here is not effective. I will be in touch with you about that.

Joe sez: A full page NYT ad! Wow! That has to cost at least $70k! What a bold, impressive statement! You guys are heroes!
“Together, our group comprises many of the finest writers in the English language, with billions of books sold, and we include journalists and authors in every field and genre imaginable and from all levels of success.

Joe sez: Billions of books! Wow! Not just heroes, but rich and powerful, too!

I suppose $70k isn't a lot of money to a group like that, but that's not the point, right? 

I would particularly note that many debut authors have courageously signed this letter. Amazon's recent attempt to dismiss us as a bunch of rich, bestselling authors trying only to protect our income is not going to work.

Joe sez: It certainly does take courage for debut authors, who probably haven't sold billions of books, to sign that letter.

Think of all the money those debut Hachette authors lost out on when Amazon offered to pay them 100% of the price of every book of theirs they sold.

Heck, think of how many of those debut authors could use some of that $70k being used to buy the NYT ad.

Hmm...

So a bunch of rich, bestselling authors, along with a whole writing organization, the ghost of Ansel Adams, and a self-aware writing conference, are blowing money on an ad that I'd argue would be put to better use by helping many of those same debut authors who signed the letter. You know--giving money direct to the suffering authors. Like Amazon offered to. 

Let me think about this a little more.

There have been billions of books sold by this group. I bet, collectively, these authors are worth at least a billion dollars. Seventy grand is like pocket change to them.

A full page NYT ad is a bold statement. In this case, the statement is, "We're so rich we can take out a full page NYT ad." 

But it is still a statement. Authors United feels so strongly that they have courageously banded together to change the publishing industry by making sure authors are treated fairly. For the first time in history, authors have joined forces to influence publishers to raise ebook royalty rates and eliminate unconscionable contract clauses.

They actually have the courage to band together and say, "Hey! We've sold billlions of books, but we're just the 1% of the 1% and 99.99% of our peers are getting screwed by bad publishing deals! So we're going to actually use our power and money to stand up against the hands that feed us and do the right thing!"

Wait... nevermind. My bad. They actually joined forces and are publishing this ad because Amazon took away some pre-order buttons.

But there is still heroism here. As Preston said in his letter:

This is a totally independent effort. No organization, company, or publishing house is sponsoring us.

Well, except for the SFWA and the living/breathing/thinking Hillerman conference (I never would have thought I'd live to see the day when a conference could pass the Turing Test), and good old Ansel Adams, one of our literary greats.

But they may not be sponsoring them, only supporting them. And there are no publisher signatories, so they obviously aren't supporting or sponsoring Authors United either. 

Not directly, anyway. 

If I had to guess, these rich, powerful authors who have earned in excess of a billion dollars actually get their checks signed by publishing houses. But that isn't a conflict of interest at all, because they're doing this independently, and they've already declared they're not taking sides

I mean, they might have called for Amazon, not Hachette, to resolve this dispute. And they might have told people to email Jeff Bezos. But they aren't taking sides. This is in no way self-serving or disingenuous. And the urge to throw up that I'm currently feeling must be entirely unrelated as well.
“We have many loyal and committed readers. They listen when we speak. That represents power; perhaps even enough power to face down one of the world's largest corporations.”

I won't opine about Preston having so much power over his readers that he can get them to do anything more than read his work, but there is a lot of money and power at play here. Money and power that could be used to help authors in mind-blowing ways. To change the industry for the better. To improve conditions across the board.

But instead, they're using it to protect the status quo. And the rich, powerful authors are standing shoulder to shoulder with debut authors who desperately want to someday be rich, powerful authors.

And that, indeed, makes me wince.

Preston no doubt gets better contract terms than EVERY SINGLE DEBUT AUTHOR who signed his silly letter. Is he fighting for them so they can get his preferred terms? Or is he using them so he can keep getting his preferred terms?

Instead of taking out an ad, why not boycott Amazon?

Instead of circulating a letter, why not tell Hachette that if they don't settle right now, you won't ever sign with them again?

Instead of using the media to try to win the court of public opinion, how about you actually take a long look at what you're fighting for and recognize it for the self-serving bullshit it actually is?

Every author who makes over six figures a year and signed that letter should be ashamed of your current behavior. You've conned the hopeful into standing alongside you by dangling the carrot of privilege in front of them. At the same time, you flaunt your wealth with needless, expensive ads, refuse to stand up against your corporate masters--the ones who are truly doing harm in this negotiation--and immediately reject a proposal by Amazon that could have helped those very authors.

I've been blogging for a while. I blog because I'm an activist, and I want to help. Not help myself, but help others who haven't gotten as lucky as I am. I try to remain populist. I try to share information, experience, and advice that others can use. My tone is often harsh, but I do my best to only attack those who are spouting harmful misinformation. I have no skin in this game and no dog in this fight, because I own my rights and didn't sign them away for my lifetime plus 70 years. Whoever wins the Amazon/Hachette dispute makes no difference to me, but I blog about it anyway because I want writers to be informed. This isn't an ideology. It's a business. But there can be helpful business practices, and harmful ones, and I make an honest effort to expose the harmful and spread awareness of the helpful.

However, I've reached a point where I'm so disgusted by the actions of publishers, and the rich and entitled authors who continue to side with those publishers, that I'm dangerously close to losing my cool.

So I'll just let Woody Allen voice my current sentiments.