Tour’s Books Blog

June 2, 2014

It’s All About the $$$$$$$$$$$

Filed under: Editorial,General,Observations and Comments — toursbooks @ 8:05 pm
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Don’t let anyone kid you, when it comes to books, or tires, or hot dogs, it’s all about MONEY.  The latest squabble is between Hatchette and Amazon is where Amazon wants what it wants and Hatchette knows their bottom line will hurt, but they refuse to go on bended knee to the internet giant.  Books-a-Million is emailing its customers to let it know it has the Hatchett books available for pre-order because Amazon has pulled purchase status.  Yeah, it’s hard to feel sorry for publishers who have had a stranglehold on the industry for nearly 200 years, but then again, Amazon is playing like a schoolyard bully.  They say the old publishing paradigm is dead.   Editors are passé and there are no filters between writers and readers – well, except Amazon.

Short term, readers win with low prices.  Long term …………….  that’s a different story.  Creative writing, hell, any writing, needs a good editor.  And for novelists to develop, they need someone to work with them, push them, make them better.  Agents have a place too, they get new writers in front of the right industry people.

Established writers were touting Amazon’s e-publishing platform as the greatest thing since sliced bread.  The got TWICE the royalty they did from publishing houses.  Well, that is, the USED to get that.  Now that Amazon has them, they’re cutting that so writers now earn less.  Amazon is a sword that cuts both ways.  Yes, they are right in saying people can buy online elsewhere, but Amazon is so much bigger and more diverse than any rivals, they can take these financial hits and not care.  Hits that would kill Book-a-Million or B&N.

The other thing is the elimination of editors.  You know why so many authors thank their editors?  Because they make them do better.  Drop sections, enlarge other, polish their writing.  Read The Detachment by Barry Eisler, then go read his Hard Rain.  Then tell me, which story is polished, crafted to a fine edge, and which is decent, but could have been so much better.

I have to lay part of the blame on readers.  Readers are no longer discerning or discriminating in their choices.  I’m not talking great literature and deathless prose, I mean well crafted, ORIGINAL fiction.  Half of what’s out there – IN PRINT – is tripe, devoid of plot, believable characters, or even well developed world building – and let’s not mention PROOFREADING.  Some of it is really badly written tripe – thank-you E.L. James.  Then there’s the ‘oh, that worked, so lets copy it’ mess.  And the worst part – people still buy it.  Charlaine Harris, Janet Evanovich, Jack Higgins, and so many other authors have either settled for lame or decided to recycle plots with variations ad nauseum.  Sales do fall, and some have dropped big time.  Not all the blame belongs to ebooks, either.  If I had $5 for every time the word ’eminent’ was replaced by ‘imminent’ (which is 100,000 fingernails down the blackboard at once for me), I could pay next months mortgage payment in advance.  Electronic proofreading, thank-you very much.  People, you have a glitch in you program!  An ‘Imminent scholar’?????  ARE YOU SERIOUS?

As consumers, we want a good price and when a hardcover book is selling for $20+ on Amazon, we decide to wait for the paperback.  Well some publishers are putting their most popular stuff into trade size paperback and demanding anything from $12-$16 for it!  Even with discounts, its $10-$13.  So we do what I do, and join Paperback Swap or Book Mooch, use the library, read one of their ebooks.  But you know what?  Reading an ebook seems to make the ‘experience’ less memorable.  Especially for younger readers.  Words on a paper have spatial value that words on a screen do not, and as a result, the ability to recall things is actually better with printed material.  That said, nothing will stop the gradual phasing out of print books, until they become a pricey, high end collector item rather than the format of choice.

Why?  Because it’s all about MONEY.  Want recipes for cream cheese?  Go to Kraft’s website.  Butter cookies?  Try Land ‘o ‘Lakes.   Something special?  Epicurious.  And food blogs are ubiquitous.  Reviews on hotels?  Forget AAA, Mobile Guide, even Michelin, go to Yelp or Trip Advisor or ask on Chowhound.  No printing required.

In all fairness, the vast majority of authors toil away earning a meager living writing well liked, but not famous books.   A few, like Harris, Evanovich, Patterson, Child and others make big big bucks, but the REALLY big bucks is selling the book for a movie!  Ask the estates of Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, or Agatha Christie.  Harris got rich with True Blood, but it took a piece of fan-fic turned bestseller to make E.L. James rich fast – a kind of rich authors of far better quality will likely never come close to.  Probably even faster than J.K. Rowling – who at least wrote a wonderful set of creative, memorable books turned into equally good movies.  Seriously, do you think Robert Crais or James Lee Burke have money like Rowling, despite their many awards?  I’m sure both have made excellent livings off their work, but aren’t billionaires.

But Jeff Bezos is a billionaire.  Not because he’s a brilliant writer, but because he had the foresight to build an electronic empire that all but annihilated competition.  Now that empire seeks greater control over publishers.  The real question is, long term, who will be the ultimate loser?  Unfortunately, in a battle like this, it will end up be the readers – and everyone else except Amazon.

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