Writing blogger Kristen Lamb recently posted a long article about the collapse and purchase of Barnes & Noble, which is worth a read if you’re confused about the current state of publishing and book selling.
It’s worth reading the comments below the article from writers and B & N employees. One of them mentions James Daunt’s appalling attitude to his Waterstones employees’ wages, which is confirmed in this article:
To see him as a saviour riding in to rescue B & N and its staff, customers and the writers that create its product is laughable. He’s a wealthy man out to make money from what he can, one of the 1% who rule the world who favour the best-selling authors who make the most profit. We all know the phrase “It’s just business”—which is doublespeak for “I’ve behaved appallingly to get what I wanted and there’s nothing you can do about it”—book-selling and publishing are businesses…the most vulnerable will be oppressed. That includes authors.
A few random thoughts:
*I’ve always been surprised that Amazon didn’t swoop in to buy B & N, but perhaps they feared further anti-trust investigations.
Seeing as how they’re establishing a bricks and mortar presence, it’s possible they’ll buy some of the old B & N stores.
* Although many people who work in the book trade love books, be they book-sellers, editors, literary agents, book cover artists or publishers, this doesn’t necessarily translate into respect or recompense for the writers on whom the whole business depends. For any surveys that show there’s been an increase in readership, most of the public are indifferent to books and their creators. As an author, it sometimes feels like everyone is against you—even those who are supposed to be on your side.
Writers are the foundation stones of the book business. If we’re not treated properly the whole building will collapse. Imagine if a supermarket chain decided to only stock the 100 best-selling food products, not promoting anything new or unusual. They wouldn’t last long but might start to sell novelty items to bring more buyers in, maybe have a café, as B & N did. If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, why should anyone buy it? That holds true for the author, their agent, the publisher and then the book shop.
* At the moment, I’m at a crossroads with my writing career. After being with Smashwords for years, I recently transferred to Draft2Digital. I’m happy with their efficient operation, but feel like my Cornish Detective series might sell better on Amazon. Some authors have made millions from being on Amazon.
But, I resent their controlling ways. Effectively, they’re an intelligence agency gathering information on their traders and customers. This blog is available for whoever wants to read it, but I don’t know who’s got access to it. It doesn’t fill me confidence to know that Amazon is spying on me.
I’m loathe to go exclusive with them for my crime novels. As someone says in reply to Kristen Lamb’s article:
...some authors have figured out a sweet spot to milk a good living out of KDP Select. That’s fine, but having all their eggs in one basket could come back to bite them in a massive way if Amazon arbitrarily decides one day to change the payout structure.
I’ve had some experience of their forceful marketing tactics when they suggested I participate in bundling my titles with other low-selling writers’ eBooks, which would have yielded me about 10c profit for each sale! Books are like light bulbs or bars of soap to Amazon.
* Instead, I’ll be staying ‘wide’ for my book launch this summer. I believe in Ernst Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful approach to economics and to living. I intend to market and publish at a manageable and personal level, going grassroots with my marketing, through local libraries, reading and writing groups, Cornish media, self-publishing my series via the D2D aggregator and also selling directly from my dedicated website.
Relying on faceless corporations and huge book store chains means I’d be giving away the tiny amount of power I have over my career. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t grab a publishing deal with one of the Big 5, as happened to James Oswald:
For now, though, I intend to self-publish in eBook format, not worrying about POD until it’s requested by readers.
Writing is a lonely task. Many of us yearn for the support and validation of signing with an agent, getting a traditional publishing contract or interacting with Amazon’s ‘experts’ to market our eBooks, but any of those can fail to provide what they’ve promised. Then what?
It would be lovely to see your novel on a book store shelf, but what if they don’t promote it all? What if the whole business fails? It happens, however big the company. Bosses stick their heads in the sand, pretending that all’s well. Even Jeff Bezos predicted that Amazon would fail one day:
Going it alone, I’m sure I’ll make mistakes, but they’ll be my mistakes—easy to correct—not impossible to negotiate with an algorithm on Amazon or whoever chooses what to stock in the revamped B & N.