And there goes Salon again with another ridiculous Amazon hit piece, this time with Laura Miller (she who’s Sworn Off Amazon And She Really Means It This Time) proclaiming that, if they know what’s good for them, self-published authors really should be cheering for Hachette rather than Amazon—because as long as the big publishers keep their prices high, it means more people are more likely to buy their cheaper, shoddier works. Well, okay, she doesn’t outright call them “shoddier,” but she suggests that editors-for-hire, for those writers who do hire them, aren’t likely to be as tough on a manuscript when the author is also the one paying their salary.
This doesn’t mean that good books can’t come out of the self-publishing world, but readers expect a higher average standard from traditionally published books and are willing to pay for it. The proof of this is in Amazon’s own bestseller list. As much as everyone likes to carp about the stinkers produced by the Big Five, the Kindle top sellers remain dominated by traditionally published e-books, despite their higher prices. Most readers are not willing to read dozens of sample chapters in order to find something acceptable or to rely on consumer reviews of questionable authenticity. The smaller population of readers who are willing to wade through the self-published chaff in search of those precious few grains of wheat quite reasonably expect that they should not have to pay premium prices for the privilege. It’s a rough system, but it functions.
Now, I’ve heard plenty of self-publishing enthusiasts admit that, as writers, they wouldn’t mind seeing the traditional publishers keep their e-book prices higher, even as, as readers (which all writers also are), they’d like them cheaper. But the argument feels a little hypocritical coming out of Miller’s mouth. As a commenter to the article astutely points out, Miller is herself published by Little, Brown—a division of Hachette. So she’s not exactly, shall we say, unbiased. Nor is she better-placed to know what’s good for self-publishers than folks like J.A. Konrath or Hugh Howey, who have both published both traditionally and by themselves.
If Hachette wins, is she going to put her money where her mouth is and start self-publishing, since that means more people will buy her cheaper books that way? (And she’d even take home more of the royalties.) I rather doubt it. The whole thing comes off as a disingenuous smear, probably orchestrated by her publisher.
In fact, I’d turn it around and say that if Hachette authors knew what was good for them, they really should be siding with Amazon. They’ll sell more books at lower prices, and thus make greater royalties—Amazon’s discounts come out of its own margin, and publishers still get the same wholesale amount. Agency pricing resulted in lower sales. This was proven statistically over the course of the trial.
Of course, this only matters to the midlisters; a lot of celebrities (maybe even including Miller herself) are given advances so high that they’ll never earn out at standard royalty rates. So maybe Miller doesn’t even care how well her book sells—if she got one of those mega-advances for it, she’s already got her gravy.
I can’t wait to see what Passive Guy, Konrath, and Howey make of this.