Posted by: tksellman | February 4, 2010

One response to the Author’s Guild regarding Macmillan v Amazon (crosspost from Writer’s Rainbow)

This blog entry was crossposted from Writer’s Rainbow

from the Author’s Guild
The Right Battle at the Right Time 
“Macmillan’s current fight with Amazon over e-book business models is a necessary one for the industry. The stakes are high, particularly for Macmillan authors. In a squabble over e-books, Amazon quickly and pre-emptively escalated matters by…” <more>

Writer’s Rainbow’s response:
This battle is necessary because paper publishers have to *prove* they’re in the service of authors and literature and, frankly, they *aren’t,* not in 2010. They’re in the service of bottom lines, from which they extract a lot of money and from which very few authors (especially new ones) can expect to make more than a pittance, if they can break into the pearly gates at all.

I take issue with this part of Macmillan’s statement:

“Without a healthy ecosystem in publishing, one in which authors and publishers are fairly compensated for their work, the quality and variety of books available to readers will inevitably suffer.”

Let’s get something straight… do the research and you’ll find that authors do NOT receive fair compensation for their work UNLESS they’re bestsellers. And who decides bestsellers? Not readers, but publishers. Books with bestseller status arrive that way not through genuine sales but through financial arrangements made before those books are even published.

Yes, it’s a scam and it’s been going on forever.

Bestselling authors comprise a very small percentage of the total authors being published, and yet the lion’s share of revenues for book authors go primarily to the bestsellers. This is because big house publishers bank of the bestsellers to keep them afloat (by investing in their shelf positioning and bestseller status). Newer authors can only get in through the gates of traditional publishing as long as their publishers have bestsellers to draw income from.

Let’s not forget: *publishers* are making a heap big more wampum on books than authors are. So really, Macmillan’s statement, in a more accurate sense, might be one that says:

“A healthy ecosystem in publishing fairly compensates publishers for their products irregardless of the quality and variety of books available.”

This is not to say that bestsellers are not diverse or of high quality; it’s to say that there are huge numbers of excellent new authors turned away from the gates because they simply aren’t a known quantity. They aren’t “branded.”

Even poorly done books, when branded effectively, can be bestsellers.

I’ve tired of publishers claiming they care about literature and books when that’s the last thing on their minds at the end of the day. Theirs is a crappy business model from the 20th century that they’re still trying to pass off as a legitimate strategy in this century. It’s been failing since the 1970s; this is not an issue of “the economy” in 2010. The industry will keep on spiraling downward until publishers start thinking of their authors as something more than toilet paper to be sold at Costco.

Though, to be honest, that scenario makes them sound shrewd… like Amazon. Which is to point out that they really aren’t all that different from Amazon, just a vulture with a different kind of pattern to their feathers.

Who’s the big loser here? Readers. They don’t even know what they’re missing.

New writers at least have a fighting alternative to this closed process with POD and Amazon etc. The stats are out there: self-publishing is actually a better money maker for new voices in 2010. You *will* make more money off your book if you go this route. And if new writers can do well in that way, using Amazon as a vehicle, then Macmillan & Co need to rethink their business model or they’ll be missing out on all that literary landscape they believe they’re somehow advocating for.


  1. Dear Tamara,
    Thank you for being brave enough to voice this viewpoint. As a want-to-be-book-length published author, I am not well informed on why “Amazon” is so much more evil than Barnes and Noble or Books-a-Million. As a reader/consumer/critic, however, I love Amazon.

    Amazon, while not friendly to authors with its cut-rate prices, is very consumer and researcher-friendly. Do I need to look up the publishing date of a “comparable” book? I can usually find the publishing info faster on Amazon than finding the actual book in my own, extensive, 3000-plus-volume, personal library. Do I want to buy a book present for my husband, whose reading tastes differ from mine? I can look at my Amazon account’s “recommendations” based on books I have purchased from Amazon for my husband. Will my ADD son actually read a YA novel? I can skim the reviews of dozens of parents, to find who else has an ADD child, and whether or not they recommend the novel. Do I wish to promote a friend’s book in my blog? The easiest way for me to do that is to add a link to the book’s page, in either Amazon or

    Of course, Amazon is not my first point of purchase. When I find a book I wish to buy, I first visit my local bookstores. Chances are that they don’t have it in stock, either because it was just published, or because it came out six months ago (such a short shelf-life). At that point, I buy it from Amazon.

    In summary, Amazon has found a way to provide much of the service that independent booksellers provide: recommendations, knowledge of the books, and anticipating my desires. Amazon does this 24/7. I will continue to visit my first love, physical bookstores, but I will not boycott another bookseller who meets my needs so well (Amazon).


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