No surprises, plenty of confirmation:
Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.
Several large publishers declined to speak on the record about Amazon’s efforts. “Publishers are terrified and don’t know what to do,” said Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, who is known for speaking his mind.
“Everyone’s afraid of Amazon,” said Richard Curtis, a longtime agent who is also an e-book publisher. “If you’re a bookstore, Amazon has been in competition with you for some time. If you’re a publisher, one day you wake up and Amazon is competing with you too. And if you’re an agent, Amazon may be stealing your lunch because it is offering authors the opportunity to publish directly and cut you out.
As regular readers know I’m no fan of Amazon. But if the choice is between a provider who charges up-front fees for a-la-carte services and an industry that demands editorial control while banking unsubstantiated percentages, I’ll have to go with the former.
It’s also worth noting, again, how intimately related the industry’s gatekeeping practices and economic stability were. Controlling access to publication and stigmatizing self-published writers created an industry that could dictate terms like a price-fixing cartel. At least until the entire question of self-publishing was revealed to be an industry-perpetuated fraud.
To be sure there are still big problems, chief among them the question of sifting and curating. There exists no reliable self-publishing review site to which one can appeal. The New York Times Book Review does not accept self-published titles for reasons that reveal the rag to be little more than a hometown front for the New York-based industry:
Our thinking, which may be old-fashioned, is that with so great a volume of books being published each year by traditional publishers, and with so many imprints available, every book of merit is almost certain to find a home at one or another of those presses.
Translation: if you self-published a book it has to be crap. But that also means that if your book was traditionally published then it must have been a book of merit. Is there anybody not drawing a paycheck either directly or indirectly from the publishing industry who actually believes that to be true? And wouldn’t that mean the New York Times Book Review doesn’t need to exist, because all traditionally published books are good? Does anybody in publishing ever think this stuff through?
As a writer I would rather write than manufacture books. But I’m not willing to sit outside the gates of a corrupt industry waiting for a shot to mold myself into whatever literary shape the gatekeepers think will be hot next week. If Amazon or anybody else makes it possible for me to produce a completed work that’s who I want to be in business with. Given that publishing long ago offloaded marketing responsibility for most books onto authors themselves, I’m not actually sure what the benefit is of going with a publisher who won’t even let you help design the cover of your own book.