Friday, June 24, 2011

When the writer is collateral damage

A battle is raging out there in Romancelandia.  It's not one with good guys and bad guys per se, and that makes things a bit uncomfortable for those who like things neat and tidy, with the villains securely vanquished (unless they come back as the hero or heroine in the sequel) and the good guys and gals all live happily ever after.

For one thing, there aren't just two sides to this battle.  And I guess that's where the whole definition should begin.

On one side are the Publishers, which are generally represented to be in New York but which can be considered to include the Canadian behemoth Harlequin and all the European conglomerates that operate in New York -- so I'll call them NYP.  This faction does NOT include, however, the small, relatively independent e-publishers who do some print on demand or short runs of paper books, outfits like Samhain or Ellora's Cave.  This is just the big guys.

On the next side are the Booksellers, which include the remaining big chain Barnes & Noble, the online behemoth Amazon, all the other sellers and distributors of paper-and-ink hard copy books, plus the sellers of e-books, which include Barnes & Noble and Amazon and several other large players as well as all the little independent guys.  Most of them don't care what they sell, whether it's DTB (dead tree books) or e-books, as long as they make a profit. 

But this group gets a little muddy because most of the small independent sellers of e-books are also the publishers, and now Amazon is getting directly into the publishing business, too.

On the third side are the readers.  They want books.  Lots of books.  ALL the books.  And they want them cheap.  If there are conflicts within the Publisher or Bookseller ranks, there's even more conflict among the Reader ranks, primarily between those who have embraced the e-technology and those who loathe it.

This bizarre guerre de trois tends to have a whole lot of permutations in which one part of one group allies with another against the other faction in their own group as well as against the common enemy at least part of the time. 

For example, the DTB readers side with the DTB booksellers because:
a.  They like the feel of a "real" book in their hands.
b.  They can get "real" books for free at the library but can't get free e-books.
c.  They can buy "real" books used at Used Book Stores for half price, or at the thrift store or garage sales for a quarter.
d.  They can swap "real" books with their friends.
e.  The "real" booksellers have a vested financial interest in selling "real" books because often these "real" booksellers are in the NAUBS (new and used book store) business and they need new DTBs to keep circulating through the cycle.

There are a couple dozen other weird alliances, but I won't bore you with a litany of those.  Suffice to say that ultimately, the bottom line is the bottom line for the publishers, and getting cheap reading material is the bottom line for the readers.

Wait a minute.  What about the writers?  Don't they have any say in this?

Actually, no.  Or very little.

There are authors, some of them quite successful, who have cut out the publisher and bookseller middlepeople and gone independent.  They are writing their books (also novellas and short stories), publishing those works digitally via Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing and other similar venues, and collecting most of the money themselves.

This can be quite lucrative.

The Publishers used to have a monstrous dislike for the e-publishing format because they couldn't make as much money from it.  And for Publishers, it is always about their profit.  They are corporations, they are not purveyors of entertainment and wisdom.  They are solely concerned with how much money they can pay out in salaries to their CEOs and dividends to their stockholders.  That's what they're supposed to do; it's the purpose of being a corporation: making money for the stockholders.

And the fans of e-books don't like the publishers who are slapping "Agency" prices on them -- a scheme that allows the publishers to set prices artificially (whatever that means) high and stiff both the readers and the booksellers in the name of profits.  Oh, yeah, like that's a big surprise.

Of course once it becomes known that the publishers are going to release e-versions of long out-of-print beloved books then the readers fall all over themselves in happy happy joy joy.

And what do the authors get out of it?  Well, some lucky few may get a pittance.  There's a rumor going around, according to Jane at Dear Author, that the authors of the Loveswept contemporary romance novels which are being digitally republished by Random House never had reversion rights.  In other words, when they signed their contracts, they gave up all rights forever, non-negotiable, sorry Charley, BOHICA.

Why did I never hear about this during my 15 or so years as a member of RWA?

Because the authors are the cannon fodder, and they become the collateral damage.  Always.  And they are made to feel ungrateful if they complain, because after all, they got published, didn't they?

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