By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
From July 26, 2012
Part of my series of columns on publishing, Writing on the Ether, appearing Thursdays at the invitation of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
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DoJ Statement: Self-Publishing Cleans Up Nicely
Hm, did something just change? Things feel different to you at all? Maybe it’s just me. High on the E-gas again.
No, wait, there it is again. Hear it? Sounds so civil … thoughtful … polite … considered … articulate … businesslike … professional … mature … like a latter-day “when in the course of human events” … naaaaah, can’t be.
But there it is again. Get a snootful of this:
When prices of media are high, they’re a barrier to entry. Many are avoiding buying an ereader because the ebooks they most want are $9.99 – $14.99. If prices came down, more Kindles (and Kobo readers and Nooks and Sony readers) would be sold. That widens the market, which leads to more ebook sales. This is good for authors, and for readers who can get more for their money.
Never mind whether you agree with that line of thinking. Hold your blow darts. Instead, I want you to guess who said it.
I’ll give you a little more. This is so What’s My Line? I can’t stand it, but you’re too young to know what I’m talking about, so never mind that.
I write a popular blog, notable in the industry for its contrary opinions.
Notable in the industry for its contrary opinions?
What, did they reissue Little Lord Fauntleroy? [Cue harpsichord]
That “popular blog” is more “notable in the industry” for:
- putting the screamin’ meemies into everybody who gets within 50 picas;
- making attractive women curse and strong men cry;
- whipping up half the self-described “indie” camp into something that might have inspired William Golden to think about flies on an island.
A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and I’m including four recent blog posts to underscore some of the points I make above, and the structural problems in the publishing industry as they relate to the DOJ suit.
Can it be? The same guy? All underscoring and including and structural-problems-as-they-relate?
Yes, Ethernaut, that’s Joe Konrath in his letter to the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) in support of its proposed antitrust settlement with three of the Big Six publishers.
He has shucked off his trademark rabble-rouser J.A. Konrath drag. And what a sensible figure he cuts when he’s not playing to the groundlings, huh? In fact, his numbers are more imposing when laid out without rancor:
I’m writing to you as the author of forty-six books–eight legacy published, two Amazon published (with three more on the way), and thirty-six self-published, all of which inform the views I express in this letter.
Here’s an excerpt from one of the four posts he mentions for the edification of Justice. In this post, headlined The Agency Model Sucks (that’s the Joe we know and don’t love), he’s addressing readers who may fear an Amazonian future:
You shouldn’t worry about being eaten by a lion tomorrow when there is currently a pit viper biting you in the ass. And if you’re defending the pit viper, you’re an idiot.
And now here he is, knowing that the lords and ladies on Pennsylvania Avenue are unused to such poetics — even in the most amici of curiae — explaining to them that his Newbie’s Guise is just that:
The language I’ve used to rebuke these agents is the language I use on my blog, which is casual, coarse, and accusatory. I mention this just so you’ll know that despite what I think is justifiable anger at the industry practices which I believe betray authors and harm readers, I recognize there’s a difference in the kind of tone one can use in a blog and the kind one ought to use in a letter like this one.
In a thorough departure from the daily ‘tude, our normally Kon-wrathful one, in fact, makes his points to the DoJ with finesse and without the hostility that can turn his best comments into a sneer.
Here’s an example of his perspective in his DoJ letter (PDF), emphasis mine:
Though it is my understanding that the goal of the DOJ’s suit is to protect consumers, it is my belief that the group most harmed by the actions of the publishing cartel is writers, who have been forced to accept onerous, often unconscionable contract terms without recourse. The Association of Authors’ Representatives, and the Authors Guild, which purportedly defend the rights of writers, in fact work for the publishers. For decades, thousands of writers have been exploited by a powerful industry that universally offers nonnegotiable, one-sided terms, which have gone unchallenged.
And Konrath isn’t alone. (I wasn’t just hearing voices, you see?)
I’m sure you will have already received plenty of letters regarding the terms of the proposed settlement; I would like to apologize at the outset for adding to the pile.
That generous opener is from fedora-ed author David Gaughran, who posted his letter to the DoJ at his site before sending it, under the headline An Open Letter to the DOJ from Someone Who Actually Cares About Writers (and Readers).
While he writes that he hadn’t anticipated it serving as a kind of a petition, Gaughran was approached by 186 colleagues either in comments or in email: they wanted to have their names appended to his letter. And so it is that his letter is listed by DoJ as “Gaughran et al.”
Unlike some of the publishers named in the suit, I’m not part of a major media conglomerate that owns newspapers and television stations around the globe. I’m a one-man operation who set up a publishing company to release my own books.
That’s what’s compelling about these messages to the DoJ from self-publishing authors. Here is Gaughran distinguishing his stance from that of organized efforts:
Vocal resistance is to be expected…One such group are best-sellers like Scott Turow, the President of the Authors Guild — an organization that claims to represent the interests of writers. Another such group are literary agents like Gail Hochman, the President of the Association of Authors’ Representatives — an organization of literary agents, which also claims to represent the interests of writers. To be clear, neither organization speaks for me.
These comments got through.
The DoJ statement specifically calls out an assertion in Konrath’s letter, writing:
Joe Konrath, author of 46 books, clarifies that letter-writing campaigns by the Authors Guild and the Authors Representatives “did not solicit the views of their members, that they in no way speak on behalf of all or even most of their members.”
And Justice mentions Gaughran specifically, as well:
Many comments from self-published authors, in particular, expressed appreciation that Amazon opened a path to publication that was immune from Publisher Defendants’ hegemony. David Gaughran, writing on behalf of 186 self-published co-signors, writes that “Amazon is creating, for the first time, real competition in publishing” by charting a “viable path” for self-published books.
When the DoJ made its 64-page “stay the course” statement available Monday in response to the 868 comments filed about the proposed ebook pricing settlement with HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette, only some 70 of the more than 800 letters were supportive of the settlement the government has proposed.
And naturally, the overwhelming bulk of the news coverage went to the majority critics of the proposal.
That’s why I felt it might be good to point out that among the writers of those 70 favorable opinions — and in the signed support of others like the 186 behind Gaughran’s statement — we have heard something new.
These are voices and opinions of disparate entrepreneurs, solo operatives, independent authors. And however put out with them the establishment members may be at times, these non-aligned writers landed some palpable input in this official exercise. These messages were organized, calmly expressed, made without expletives or anger — and they got across.
It looks to me as if the self-publishing crowd did itself proud this time. And even if it means putting aside our respective opinions of the DoJ action to observe this, each of us needs to recognize that these folks found a seat at the table for non-traditional publishing.
As the DoJ wrote:
..Mr. Gaughran observes that “[t]he kind of disruption caused by the Internet is often messy,” and those who “do quite well under the status quo” naturally resist change.
I’m inclined to give the last word here to Konrath. And I’m glad I took the time to search out his letter in the DoJ compendium to see how he handled this.
If he can find a way to address issues in the self-publishing community as he’s done this time — without the fume-‘n’-foam shtick, which only alienates some of the support self-publishing needs — then he’ll play a more progressive role in a situation that could use some effective leadership.
Look at the snap and provocative grace of his phrasing when he leaves the snarl behind and instead — to paraphrase the scriptures — heaps hot logic upon their heads:
Amazon has not destroyed competition. In fact, it is the only company encouraging it.
DoJ and Self-vs.-Traditional Publishing: A Coda / Gardner
I know publishers are still making traditional advance/royalty deals, they’re still printing paper books, and they’re still taking a year or more to get a book out. I don’t know how long this will continue.
Can an Ether item have a coda? You bet it can.
What agent Rachelle Gardner is trying to get across in Knowing What We Don’t Know is that we all need to keep quieting the natural impulses we may feel to try to see a solution, an answer, an end, an outcome when, in fact, none of that exists.
In some ways, the entire publishing industry is still operating “business as usual.” Most of us have years or decades of experience behind us. We know things. Based on our experiences from the past, we’re reasonably accurate at making predictions for the future and making decisions accordingly.
But look at the tremors sent though the industry by such events as the DoJ action. Needless to say, trying to advise each other during all this is fruitless, and exhausting. Being honest about the widening, deepening questions will become more important before it becomes less. Gardner:
We’re often speaking from a limited amount of personal experience, a bit of evidence/data, and a lot of our instinct based on years in the business. But it’s a mistake if we fail to acknowledge what we don’t know, and instead act like we “know” what we’re talking about.
Click to read this week’s full Writing on the Ether column at JaneFriedman.com.