Rich boys club buys space to say Amazon is bad

The open letter against Amazon from Authors United, the group steered by founding author Douglas Preston, seems to be getting a lot of column inches. And just to make sure, Authors United is buying its own. That is, a full-page ad in the Sunday edition of the New York Times to get the message across. Yes, authors are paying publishers (in this case, a newspaper publisher) to print their words – but no one seems to be crying “vanity press” this time round. (Well, maybe “vanity,” but of that, see more below…)

Evidently the grating irony of authors – those proverbial poor relations and doorstep-haunters of the publishing game – having enough money to pay for full-page New York Times has been was lost on The Bookseller and many other journals. Many authors in the UK and elsewhere would probably be glad to receive the cost of one NYT full-page ad as their entire annual income from writing. But the rich boys club seems equally as tone-deaf when it comes to irony. And I’ll continue to use the term “boys club,” although many of the Authors United signatories are women authors, so long as its leading figures and spokespeople continue to be male authors of a certain age (usually born in the 1950s) – and net worth.

Because there’s a big net of worth in there. Through the kind offices of Celebrity NetWorth (“the latest net worth and salary of your favorite celebrity”), I’m in the position to tell you that John Grisham “has a net worth of $200 million.” James Patterson “has a net worth of $350 million” and earns $90 million a year – more than many small independent publishers would ever dream of seeing, let alone authors. David Baldacci, poor man, is hardly in the same league – he only has “a net worth of $45 million.” I’m not sure exactly what the net worth of Douglas Preston is, though I’ll continue looking, but I do know that he has his own page on Celebrity NetWorth. No wonder he and the other bankable celebrity authors on the Authors United list got together to support Hachette in its bid to keep their book prices high. Got to protect the sources of that kind of income, after all.

Think of the outpourings of righteous indignation that would follow if the Koch brothers were to buy full-page NYT ads to attack intruders on their turf. But then it’s long been the way of American conservatism to bamboozle the little people into thinking that the One Percent plutocrats are Bruce Waynes and Tony Starks, out there fighting on their behalf for Truth, Justice and the American Way. I’m not quite sure how James Patterson or Douglas Preston would look in a Batman or an Iron Man suit, but they seem to be trying it on – in every sense.

4 Comments on Rich boys club buys space to say Amazon is bad

  1. I’m not sure that the net worth of the authors either enhances or diminishes the point they’re trying to make. For me, as a small publisher, Amazon has been a huge blessing. Although I was able to sell eBooks before Amazon (remember Fictionwise?), Amazon has been much more open to small publishers and independent authors than have the traditional booksellers. That said, I think all of us hope for a vibrant and competitive book industry–which includes publishers able to make a living for themselves, their editors and their authors. I agree with Amazon that, in general, many of the traditional publishers have chosen to over-price their eBooks in an attempt to preserve their position in the publishing ecosystem (by overpricing eBooks, they encourage readers to buy paper books at bookstores, where they retain their oligopoly powers). Whether Amazon should have the right to force them to set their prices at lower levels is a very different question (full disclosure… my business was a leader in affordable eBooks back in 2000 when most eBook publishers were pursuing high prices).

  2. Those of us who make next to nothing in publishing are more than happy to let the successful writers foot the bill for this campaign or any other.

    For years, those of us fighting piracy have alerted the big publishers and the big name authors to egregious pirate sites so they can use their lawyers to take them down.

    For years, many of us have been frustrated that the most successful authors paid no attention to the various issues affecting authors.

    Whether we agree or not about specific issues like Amazon, we are glad that FINALLY the big guys are started to use their names and money on publishing issues.

  3. Faced to make a choice between authors successful enough to sponsor a NY TImes ad, and those who must come trembling with cap-in-hand to Amazon, begging, “Please sir, could you please raise that 35% royalty on my $0.99 to $1.99 ebooks just a little higher, I think I’d opt for the latter.

    And no, it’s not because I necessarily want to write like some of them. I sometimes tell people there are three types of authors:

    1. Those who appeal to their readers’s stereotypes and prejudices. Think Gone with the Wind with its defense of slavery.

    2. Those who neither appeal to nor challenge their readers and simply write to be enjoyed.

    3. Those who challenge their readers, hoping to make them better. That’s my Lily’s Ride, which challenges virtually every existing stereotype and prejudice about race in this country.

    It’s the first group of writers who tend to make the six and seven digit fortunes, while I tend to write the third sort and love doing it. I don’t care if I get rich, but I do wonder from time how I will be able to replace my aging 33-year-old Toyota, one I call “the dullest car ever made.”

    But this debate isn’t about good versus bad writing in either sense of those terms. It’s about what best for writing and publishing financially. After all, virtually every element of this squabble between Amazon and Hachette is about money. And for that, the experts are those who have made the most money. They know how the system works and how to make it work for them. For money, they are the one’s who’re most worth listening to.

    Even most of my criticism of Amazon comes down to money. If market-dominating Amazon paid what Apple pays and gave writers the same freedoms (i.e. let them create their own book samples and had better tools for laying out ebooks), writing and publishing would benefit enormously.

    For instance, independent authors who don’t like the technical stuff could afford to hire someone to do their layout. Those who end up with gosh-awful covers could pay someone to come up with beautiful ones. But all that takes money and right now an inordinate share of ebook income goes into Amazon coffers. It’s no accident that the company is so hot and bothered to dominate ebook sales.

    Never forget that authors are not threatened by anything Hachette does. It can only help or harm those who chose it as their publisher. And far from being upset by any alleged attempt by Hachette to keep ebook prices high, I’m delighted. Their inflated prices only help my books sell. Heck, if I were as sleazy as the Obama administration’s DOJ, I’d be prosecuting the Big Five publishers for NOT conspiring to keep their ebook prices high.

    Unfortunately, virtually everything that happens in publishing is affected by Amazon. Apple may go it alone, treating authors as generously as it treats musicians and software developers and paying a marvelous flat 70% royalty.. But when I checked out what B&N pays, it was obvious that its Nook royalty scale was set to be just a little better than Amazon. Amazon’s underpaying means B&N and others underpay too. Not good.

    I’ll spare you my opinion of that last paragraph except to note that it has little to do with writing and even less to do with reality.

    –Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride: Rescuing her Father from the Ku Klux Klan (a novel, set in 1870s NC and adapted from an 1879 bestseller written by eyewitness to that era)

  4. William L. Montgomery // August 9, 2014 at 12:57 am //

    Mr. Perry:
    Please specify what you mean when you say categorically that President Obama’s Justice Department is “sleazy” — as reflected in the following sentence:

    “Heck, if I was sleazy as the Obama administration’s DOJ, I’d be prosecuting the Big Five publishers for NOT conspiring to keep their ebook prices high.”

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