If anything tragic has come from the Hachette/Amazon fight it’s been the fracturing of the writing community as a whole. While neither side is disclosing details we know the argument is centered around e-book pricing. As far as I can tell Amazon wants to charge what it wants at retail, and Hachette is demanding they follow their MSRP. Amazon has responded by inserting artificial purchase delays into the book buying process, and as a result Hachette will see a slump in sales. The LA Times has a good (if not somewhat biased) write up on the whole situation, if you’re not caught up you can check it out here.
Among authors new lines are being drawn in the sand. Some folks are calling for unions. Others are filling out petitions. We have authors like David Baldacci, Donna Tartt, and James Patterson taking sides with publishers and indie powerhouses like Hugh Howey, J. A. Konrath, and Barry Eisler siding with Amazon. Recently Amazon has tried to sway the Hachette authors by offering them 100% of their ebook commissions while the dispute continues—an offer Hachette rejected. This offer was quickly dismissed by Roxana Robinson, president of the Authors Guild because it “encourages authors to take sides against their publishers.” Even Stephen Colbert is getting involved. Long story short: the whole thing is a mess and it’s getting messier.
Obviously we can all see where everyone is coming from: the authors we see choosing sides have skin in the game. Hachette and other big publishers have helped make Baldacci, Tartt, and Patterson very successful through traditional avenues while Amazon has allowed guys like Howey, Konrath, and Eisler to reach their audiences in new and exciting ways. The reasoning from each side makes sense and there’s a knee jerk reaction in all of us to defend the platform which has empowered our success. But author’s joining sides in a fight over positioning and distribution seems like a waste of time when, in reality, the platform doesn’t matter, it’s content that does.
Content Is Born Platform Agnostic
At our core author’s are content creators, and content reigns supreme. The beauty of our creation is it can (and should) live anywhere. With the arrival of eReaders, smartphones, tablets, and print-on-demand services it has only gotten easier for our readers to access the content we produce in a format of their choice. If one distribution channel disappears there are literally hundreds of other ways for readers to get ahold of the content they want, and there are more opening every day. It’s important to do what we can to embrace those new platforms, after all do you care how a reader reads your book? No. You just want them to read it and enjoy it.
Problems arise when an author isn’t the sole owner of their content, when they allow another company to control distribution, and that company refuses to be platform agnostic. Sometimes this is advantageous for the author: they get a big advance, they don’t have to hire a freelance editor, they don’t have to worry about cover art, and someone else handles promotion, etc. If that’s what they want, then by all means go for it, there’s certainly a lot to be said for removing all those extra distractions and focusing only on your art but making that decision does come with a cost. We’re seeing that cost first hand in the Amazon/Hachette dispute.
Long Live The King
Unfortunately, this fight isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon, and this won’t be the last time this happens. These sort of disputes have happened before, they’ll continue to happen. Locking oneself into one camp or the other feels like a mistake. If you’re willing to do the work try to remaining as agile as possible. It is beneficial for not only you, but also for your readers, and the content you create.
Those of us on the sidelines who aren’t getting involved, who are focused on our craft, and watching this all play out without picking sides, we’re the real winners. Platforms change, and there’s always something new that we don’t see coming. Amazon is a significant portion of my own sales, but Hachette and Amazon could disappear tomorrow and I know something else will step in and fill the space they’d leave behind. History sides with those who are prepared to take advantage of whatever is next.
In the end your book doesn’t care where it lives, and readers rarely care how they get your book, they just want to be able to acquire it as easily as possible. Who ever wins this fight won’t matter because, in the long run, as Bill Gates wrote in 1996: “content is king.” That puts content creators in a good position, so, long live the king.