Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Defining Bully

As negotiations between Hachette and Amazon heat up, writers have taken up the gauntlet on both sides and battle it out on in cyberspace and in print. Notable Hatchette authors (James Patterson, Scott Turow, and Nina Laden. Many Hachette authors and other interested parties from the Big-5 have labeled Amazon a bully. For writers and people with a good command of the English language, it seems they don't understand the definition of bully.

Merriam Webster defines a bully as a blustering browbeating person; especially :  one habitually cruel to others who are weaker; a hired ruffian.

Amazon does not fit the definition. Hachette is one fact of a 200-year-old mega-corporation. That would be the stronger of the two parties. One could say that Amazon has clout when it comes to book distribution, but there are other distributors, like Barnes & Noble.

Independent bookstores are also suitable venues for books, especially of the ink and paper type, and Hachette could continue doing business with those smaller distributors as they have since the Great Depression with the same contract that allows bookstores to return books months, even years after they were shipped. Doing business in the same old manner (fixing prices, 90% returns, and draconian contracts with authors) is what Hachette is doing its best to protect as it take the vanguard in the war between the Big-5 and Amazon.

Amazon does have clout, but Jeff Bezos continues to do business the way successful retailers always do business - by putting the customer first. Some books have been showing up at Amazon stores that formerly had their pre-order buttons removed, but that move was store policy when delivery of an item cannot be guaranteed. Once again, Hachette comes out the bully in that scenario since delaying shipments to force Amazon to knuckle under isn't working quite as well as they had hoped.

The Department of Justice has ordered Amazon and Hachette not to discuss negotiations until an accord has been reached. Amazon has kept mum and, on the surface, so has Hachette, except that no one muzzled the PR department at Hachette which is busily demonizing Amazon in the press and in letters to their authors to force Amazon to heel. Once again, Hachette looks the bully. Remember the definition: blustering, browbeating, habitually cruel to others who are weaker, hired ruffian. There is no doubt the employees in the PR department at Hachette and the Big-5 are earning their salaries with glee and laughing all the way to the bank. Demonizing the opponent is always such fun.

I tell people that when a discussion or debate descends to the point where one of the participants criticizes the opponents, slings mud, and begins calling names, that person is on the ropes and losing. Since I have yet to see anything from Amazon or Jeff Bezos while Hachette supporters and the PR department churns out claims of Amazon bullying the Big-5, I'd say that once again Hachette is doing the bullying.

What people seem to forget (one of the many instances) is that the money to fight and demonize Amazon comes from people buying books written by authors under contract to the Big-5. Authors get a very small piece of the pie unless they are proven international best sellers who have also sold movie rights and whose books are shipped in the millions for readers to buy and download, it would seem far smarter for Hachette and the other members of the Big-5 to pay more money to authors and less to PR departments engaged in mud-slinging. But what do I know? I haven't had a Big-5 publisher pick up any of my novels.

Instead of spouting the party line, it might be in authors' best interests to consider self-publishing or negotiating better contracts with the Big-5 or simply signing up with Amazon to get 70% of the publishing pie and monthly royalty payments where they can track their actual sales instead of being paid twice a year and getting publishing statistics that have been adulterated. After all, isn't 70% of the pie better than 25% for digital and 15% to 20% for print and being paid every month instead of twice a year?

Well, publishers take on more of the risk and can print more books? Publishers have editors and cover artists and all kinds of services that the average author doesn't want to have to deal with? You know what? Those services can be hired out for less than the Hachette and the other Big-5 charge for just being themselves.

PR departments do more than sling mud at Amazon. They also handle marketing and advertising. The funny thing is that the mid-list authors, the publishers' bread and butter writers, get very little of those services. Well, you might say, they don't sell as many books. That's true, but think how many more books those same midlist authors would sell if they got the kind of service that the big names get? And how little a slice of the royalty pie they would continue to get. Marketing and advertising can also be hired out - for less than Hachette and the Big-5 charge as the cost of doing business. Looks like the bully here is pretty obvious. The bully isn't taking lunch money, just the lion's share of the pie and leaving the crumbs to the authors without whom publishers would cease to exist.

Writers have been looking at this publishing thing from the wrong perspective and perspective is everything. It's the difference between seeing your spouse go down on someone else or just picking up the pieces of a broken glass.

All of the services that Hachette or the rest of the Big-5 can be bought for far less than what those same publishers charge and the author retains all the rights. Hachette and the Big-5 have convinced the world (that old PR department working over time again) that they are necessary because they have all the cards, rather like a card sharp stacking the deck when playing a bunch of rubes and marks, and just as lucrative -- for the publishers.

The world is changing, but entrenched publishers aren't changing with it. They spread the word that the end of the book is here and the sky is falling because they're not pulling all the strings while they downsize and use MBAs as editors and continue to suck the marrow out of publishing. What difference does it make if a book sold is digital or print? Digital takes up less space and requires one file sold repeatedly while print books are buried in landfills because bookstores haven't sold them and send them back for a full refund. Where is their ecological conscience? Where is their loving care of the environment as they chop down forests to make books that fall apart in 5 years or less on the shelves or end up in a landfill in New Jersey?

Publishers care about their bottom line, the same bottom line that gives them all the power and the rights while they pay slave wages to authors, negotiating the best deal for themselves and not for the writer. Publishers have no interest in being fair, but they will bully the rest of the world into believing they are the victims here.

They are not victims.

Publishers are parasites that have gotten sleek and fat off the hard work and dreams of others while skimming more of the cream off the top.

Authors need to start caring about the future, not only the future of their bottom line, but the future of books and the world in general. They could revolutionize the business by taking the strings into their own hands and doing business for themselves. Hire out the cover art, editing, marketing, PR and still keep more of the royalties than you're getting with Hachette and the rest of the Big-5 mega-corporation publishers. Sell your books in digital formats and use Print-on-Demand for hard cover and paperback books. Fewer books will be published at the outset, but you won't be stuck with bookstores sending books back for a full refund to be pulped and put into landfills. You can hire a manager or a boutique agency to do the heavy lifting while you write and still get more of the royalties than you are getting now.

Books won't die unless we kill them. Unless we, the writers, stop writing them. Unless we allow Hachette and the rest of the Big-5 bully us into giving up and giving in. The bully wearing the $5000 Italian suit and $6500 Italian shoes with the custom made silk shirts and designer ties and accessories is not on your side while he shares his 3-martini lunches with his confederates. The bully is never on your side.

Can you see who the real bully is now? Bully for you.

Bully when used as an adjective means excellent.

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