Mike Shatzkin Encounters Socially-Aware Indie Authors, is Confused

Shatzkin-MIke-4-300x268[1]Mike Shatzkin is a noted pundit in the publishing industry, but there are times that he truly misses the point. A couple days ago Mike posted a new screed in which he questions the motivations of indie authors who bash the legacy publishing industry. While Mike can see how advocates of the legacy industry are fighting for their jobs, he thinks indies are arguing against their own interests:

While there is a symmetry to the two sides’ dismay about what is appreciated or understood, there is a massive asymmetry here that is hardly, if ever, mentioned. And that asymmetry makes the motivation of the legacy defenders very clear — they’re fighting for their lives — but actually suggests that the “side” fighting them (to the extent that it consists of indie authors) is at least sometimes simultaneously fighting against their own interests.

I found the entire 2,300 word piece to be immensely frustrating. It's not that Mike can't see or connect motivations, actions, and arguments from A to B to C to D; he has all the points to answer his own question in his own post and yet he doesn't see them.

Sidenote: My apologies if this copies a comment left on Mike's blog; Disquis is on the fritz and I cannot see the comments.

To start, let's accept the premise that indies need the majors to balance out Amazon. As much as I would rather not rely on the existing reprobates running the 5 major trade publishers, I cannot argue with the point that indies would be better off with market power divided among more and not fewer businesses.

I'm sure we can also agree that the book publishing industry is going through a revolutionary if not cataclysmic time.

So how do we act to help the majors survive? By pointing out all of the things they're doing wrong (in the opinion of the indie author), or as Mike laid, by bashing them:

Indeed, the content of the anti-publisher rants often includes specific suggestions, or demands: raise the digital royalty, make shorter contracts, pay royalties more often, etc. that are, no doubt, author-friendly.

What really gets me about Mike's piece is that earlier in the article he writes that "Simple logic says that Amazon will treat them best when the possibilities offered by publishers are the best", and yet he doesn't see how indies bashing publishers on contract terms serves that purpose.

Instead he writes that:

But it does seem a bit weird for people committed to demonizing, weakening, and ridiculing the big publishers to be the ones to tell them what they could do to stay competitive. If publishers accepted the suggestions, of course, perhaps Amazon would be pushed to improve author terms too, but that seems a pretty indirect and distant reward to explain all the time and energy some people expend on this.

For one thing, anyone who thinks that all of this bashing could actually _weaken_ a major publisher really needs to get their head out of the echo chamber which is the publishing industry and into the real world. (It is also silly to question "the time and energy some people expend on this" in a post that is over 2,300 words long, but I digress.)

But never mind that; I'm just tired of this piece, and I am tired of Mike's assumption that anyone who bashes the publishing industry wants Amazon to win. (The constant framing of this issue as a binary debate was almost enough to make me abandon this post - twice).

Let me wrap this up quickly.

In short, folks, Mike sees that indies have Motivation A (keeping big publishers around). He sees them pursuing Goal B (getting the pubs to reform) by taking Action C (bashing the publishers on contract terms).

I don't know if that describes all indies but that sure does fit with a bunch of the ones I know.  Some of them dissect the contract terms they won't accept, while others are talking just to talk. (It's the internet; that's what we do.)

And some actually are socially aware, and are joining in the debate so they can point out what they see as the best way forward for the publishing industry.

But I don't think Mike can accept that such people exist, otherwise he wouldn't have repeatedly denied them in his piece.

About Nate Hoffelder (11462 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

26 Comments on Mike Shatzkin Encounters Socially-Aware Indie Authors, is Confused

  1. Actually, Indies don’t need the BPHs to “balance” out Amazon.
    They have Smashwords, Direct2Digital, Nook, Kobo, and Apple as alternate distribution channels for their published works.
    Reforming the “reprobates” doesn’t materially impact them.
    But it does impact the authors tied to predatory contracts, the newcomers that might fall prey, and the general health and perception of writing as a profession.
    Doctors, lawyers, and engineers (among others) worry about policing their professions, so why must authors be publishers meek whipping boys?

  2. I think Mike is perplexed, as am I, why some otherwise reasonable and well-intentioned indie authors are expending so much hate against the big publishers, against authors who choose to work with big publishers, and against fellow authors who oppose Amazon’s tactics in their contract negotiation dispute with Hachette.

    The debate is becoming excessively polarized and ugly, and the hate is originating on the indie side which is very sad. Indies are coming across as a bunch of playground bullies.

    Why can’t everyone be friends and recognize that there are multiple great publishing options, and indie and traditional are among the best two? Why can’t everyone agree that indies benefit from a strong traditional publishing industry, and they too can benefit from a strong indie movement? Why can’t everyone agree that what Hachette is fighting for is the power to set ebook prices – a power that indies want as well?

    Yes, these indie authors all have good intentions and care about their fellow authors. Mike is rightly asking why the level of hate and disparagement is totally out of proportion with the sins. Same thing for the hate against Mike, which IMHO is not deserved. He’s a good guy, and very smart. The bullies attacking Mike have little tolerance for disagreement or debate.

    Yes, publishers should pay their authors more for ebook earnings and be better partners, but let’s not forget that many intelligent and talented authors *choose* to work with the big publishers and don’t deserve to be ridiculed any more than an indie author who chooses the indie path should be ridiculed.

    The negativity and bullying around this is so high school. It’s an embarrassment to the indie movement.

    • Live and let die?
      So you don’t mind being lumped in with Author Solutions?
      Or Hydra?

      Do you believe that Authors United speaks for all authors?
      That books are not products?
      That it is wrong to lobby for fair remuneration for people in your chosen profession?

      If you see somebody getting mugged or getting their pocket picked do you speak up or shrug and move on?

      Kitty Genovese.

    • “Traditional” (corporate) is not an “option,” and that’s the problem. The bullies are the corporate system and those associated with it who continue to propagate the meme that “self-publishing” is a flood of content the majority of which isn’t very good and which readers require some gatekeeper or other to sift.

      It’s patently absurd.

      The choice isn’t between being independent and signing a corporate contract. The choice is between publishing via Kindle (or, to be fair, SW, iBooks, Nook, anywhere digital) and submitting to agents’ interns and publishers happier to keep the Patterson machine going than develop new talent. Which really means the choice is mostly between KDP and silence on a hard drive. Bullying? Every time some article or other notes that the “stigma” is vanishing or is gone brings it right up again. That “stigma” might be diminishing, finally, but it’ll only be actually gone when people stop mentioning it at all.

      I don’t know about levels, Mark, but assume that the disparagement is directly proportional to the sins of rejections, bankruptcies, awful contracts, terrible treatment, and bad business practices and models practiced by corporate publishers, and I think indie authors’ ire — such as they have — is entirely justified and reasonable.

      Mike’s problem is he’s too corporate. That’s how he’s buttered his bread, and it shows in every post he writes that uses 90 words to say what 9 could better.

      • “the disparagement is directly proportional to the sins of rejections, bankruptcies, awful contracts, terrible treatment, and bad business practices and models practiced by corporate publishers”

        This, especially for those now-independent authors who have experienced it first hand.

    • So the little guys with no millions of dollars in advertising behind them and no full-page NYT ads and relatively few big names on their letters are the ‘playground bullies’. Really, Mark. And we are the ones with ‘little tolerance for debate’ which is why when we debate, you label us as ‘playground bullies’.

      The best I can say is that your comments are rather sad for being blinkered.

    • Most of us *do* recognize that indie publishing is not for everyone and that some people would rather have others responsible for covers and formatting and distribution. Most of us recognize various options as valid: trad, indie and hybrid (which is where I am on the fence). But just because a lot of indie authors are pointing out unfair practices and disrespect towards the providers of content (authors), that doesn’t mean we are playground bullies. To be a bully, you have to be the stronger one in a fight, punching out someone who is smaller than you and doesn’t have a chance. That is hardly the case yet.

  3. It’s in authors best interest to consider the consumers viewpoint and empathize with it rather then blindly side with large corporate interests. This is easy to do because most authors buy a lot of books and they are also consumers. Indie authors vociferously taking the consumers side is in their best interest.

    • I agree, the indie authors /bloggers are the only people with a voice in this expressing the opinions of the majority of informed readers. At the end of the day readers, especially the avid ones that helped create the ebook boom, do not want to pay high agency prices for ebooks. Customers want their books reasonably priced and easy to buy, and right now it’s obvious that Hachette is the one delaying that and that they were one of the ones responsible for the ebook price hike in the first place.

  4. I stopped reading Mike Shatzkin a while ago, when I realized that he saw “publishing” ONLY as legacy publishing. He’s myopic. He can’t imagine that the world has changed, and that things are moving forward.

    He prefers publishing to remain… publishing. He can sing his sad song to the music industry. History rolled right over the top of them, as it will do with publishing.

    As Omar Khayyam put it:

    “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

    (Couldn’t resist the quote, sorry. It seems so apt.)

    It’s easy to see that Shatkin totally misses the point when he thinks that there are “sides”, and that there will be a winner.

    Legacy or indie, there are no sides. Amazon exists because we’re at a period in time where Amazon gives people what they want — good prices, good service, and fast delivery.

    Sadly, legacy publishing is becoming irrelevant, because they’ve lost sight of readers. They don’t care that people want good books at a good price, delivered quickly.

    Of course, legacy publishers don’t care about their authors either, but the Authors United crowd are so brainwashed they don’t see reality even when it jumps up and bites them.

    It’s sad.

    • There are times where I get the impression that he sees only the legacy industry as publishing, I agree.

    • “Sadly, legacy publishing is becoming irrelevant, because they’ve lost sight of readers. They don’t care that people want good books at a good price, delivered quickly.”

      Sorry, this is nonsense. Offensive nonsense. Of course people want good books at a good price delivered quickly. The entire trade publishing industry is geared towards achieving that. But you have to realise that some of those aims necessarily trade off against each other.

      Do you want very cheap books, for instance? OK: this entails spending less on producing them. We can spend less on editorial, we can spend less on design and production, and crucially, we can give less money to authors. The overall profit margin made by a trade publisher in a good year is around 10%, remember. There’s not a lot of room to manoeuvre. So ‘cheap’ trades off against ‘good’.

      It gets even harder when the retailer who has cornered the market decides they want, say, an extra 10% of your margin. Where do we cut?

      I must say that as a ‘legacy’ publisher – thanks for the disrespectful, pejorative terminology, by the way, it’s so helpful – I find the implication that I don’t care about authors or readers very offensive. Especially when it’s coming from what sounds very much like a position of ignorance about how this business actually works.

      I also think that calling authors who disagree with Amazon ‘brainwashed’ displays a lack of any ability to engage with the opposing point of view. Of course they disagree! They’re mentally unbalanced!

      My position is not that no abuses exist in publishing. Nor do I think that self-publishing or indie publishing – you’ll note I don’t have a snide pet term for it – is worthy of disrespect. If we could actually stop making these sweeping, insulting generalisations and start talking civilly about things it’d be a start.

      • It would help the other tradpublishers if they didn’t let the BPHs and the AG/AU present themselves as the face of the industry. If the BPHs don’t speak for you, then speak up and distance yourselves.
        If you acquiesce to their posturing then you are by that passivity painting yourselves as supporting them.

        If you hang around mutts, don’t be surprised if you catch fleas.

      • From observing Authors United posts from the last couple of months I assume the brainwashing charge comes from the fact the majority of Authors United members defending their positions are saying the same thing over & over again, no matter how many times someone proves their statements are misguided or downright incorrect.

      • Says the person who probably saw no problem with the collusion between Apple and the Big Six to artificially push up ebook prices so Amazon would catch the blame from the consumers hurt by it.

  5. Smart Debut Author // 2 October, 2014 at 2:53 pm // Reply

    Think of publishing as a fire hydrant.

    And it’s our fire hydrant, now.

    Maybe we just don’t like the smell the old dogs left all over it.

    Maybe while we’re chasing them off, we need to piss on that hydrant a little before we get comfortable in our new neighborhood.

  6. The reason many Indie authors hate big publishing is because big publishing and big publishing authors often view them with contempt.

    The reason big publishing authors are so wrought about indie authors is because they worked so hard to be published by a traditional publisher and now that mantle of approval is threatened.

    How dare indie authors claim to be their equal.

    The hate is about ego.

    Personally, I would love to be published by Simon & Schuster, but since it doesn’t seem to be happening, readers can find me at Amazon, and God bless Amazon.

  7. I decided to voice my opinion in that screed (outstanding choice of words, by the way) when I came upon this assertion by the ‘esteemed’ Mr. Shatzkin:

    “First of all I can tell you we don’t keep statistics on how many authors “leave” us. But I can assure you that there are more that we don’t renew a new contract with, than leave us. But even for that, we don’t keep stats. Furthermore, if they do leave us for whichever reason we don’t necessarily know if they go to self publishing, they give up writing or they just reissue their backlist in ebook. We keep no sorts of records on how many people reject our offers either. We’re not playing MLB and keeping track of stats like this.”

    My reply:

    “Are you saying that publishers do not keep statistics on the number of and the reasons why authors end contracts with them? That smacks of either arrogance or stupidity. I know that if I ran a publishing house, I’d want to know exactly why an author left me, where he went to and (as best as I could determine) what he got.

    To not care about such information shows an alarming detatchment from the realities of doing business. It makes the publishing houses appear to treat authors as a natural resource that will always be there and that they do not need to be concerned with.”

    Shatzkin’s answer?

    “Why is it that the people who have absolutely no experience in a business have such complete and total confidence that they know how it should be done, whether they’ve been thinking about the question for five seconds or five minutes. (NEVER for five days!)

    Your arrogance is stunning. And stupid.”

    That tells me all I need to know about Mr. Shatzkin.

  8. One more thing: I neither ‘love’ or ‘hate’ either ‘the Big Five’ or Amazon. I see neither of them as my friend. To me, it is all “strictly business, nothing personal.”

  9. About a year ago, I got interested in self-publishing enough to start seriously educating myself about it. I never tried to publish a book before, either traditionally or independently. I haven’t even finished my first book yet, I just wanted to learn about how it works. I didn’t have any hate toward or knowledge about traditional publishing, other than it seemed like it would be more fun to be able to put books for sale without asking anyone’s permission.

    So this is my outsiders view of how this debate started and who is to blame if some people think it’s too ugly or polarized. This is how I saw it:

    SALAD DAYS: I start reading blogs looking for info about self-publishing and quickly found this website and learned about Hugh Howey. I was amazed to find that people like him, and many wonderful others, took a lot of time to provide (free!) inside information about how self-publishing works, giving tips and helpful suggestions and talking about the positives and negatives of Amazon. No one was saying Amazon is perfect, just that it was probably the best way to go for self-publishers. Hugh in particular talked about all the improvements Amazon should make. Hardly anyone ranted about traditional publishing, other than to say be careful of signing long term deals where you lose your rights. The biggest controversy seemed to be whether self-publishing is as “legit” vs traditional publishing. And it seemed most self-publishing advocates were very careful to couch their advice with, “but traditional publishing can be a better option for some people…”

    STORM CLOUDS: All of a sudden, self-publishing is attacked as a huge shit volcano by what appears to be a coordinated PR campaign where various traditional publishing advocates argue that self-publishing is ruining Amazon by flooding it with junk and soon no one will be able to find any good books. Not to mention, really terrible writers (like me?) think they can get rich overnight (really?) and should just not even publish. Self-publishing advocates reasonably respond to these attacks by defending the legitimacy of publishing your own work. Hugh and others defend self-publishing as a preferable alternative for many people, and defend that money can be made and that good books are being written.

    ATTACK OF THE CLONES: My impression is that the Hachette Amazon fight was an untimely interruption of this PR campaign by traditional publishers against self-publishing. And for some reason, some PR guy got the idea that they could continue bashing self-publishing while at the same time arguing self-publishers should support Hachette against Amazon. The key piece in that regard was Laura Miller’s truly insultling junk on Salon, where she both trashed self-publishers for being angry failures, and advised them to support Hachette because high prices are good. This meme, which never made any sense, was repeated endlessly and is still the main basis of Mike’s argument. Hugh, JK and many others explained rather early why it made no sense, but their arguments were never really addressed other than to suggest they might have ulterior motives. Around this time, as Amazon was called evil and there was talk of boycotts and government action, self-publishers more forcefully defending the advantages of Amazon against traditional publishing. It was around then I learned how truly terrible traditional publishing contracts were. Many formerly traditionally published authors, related their horror stories about how their careers were hurt by bad deals and lazy publishing companies. That was when I really learned about how badly traditional publishing treats the writers under it’s thumbs.

    TRENCH WAR: Now, having failed to convince indies to join their side, and failing in their attempts to rally the public for government intervention, the focus of those supporting traditional publishers is to again attack self-publishers for spending too much time talking about this.

    So here’s my conclusion. The hate was clearly started by the traditional publishing advocates, and it’s continued even as they sought self-publishers support. If trad supporters stop attacking self-publishing I’m willing to bet self-publishers will quickly return to sharing tips about how to sell more books with each other. And to criticizing Amazon.

    However, that won’t happen, because the institutional hate from the traditional publishing world is just too strong.

    Meanwhile, something missing from Mike’s piece is that if high prices for Hachette books are such a good thing for self-publishers, that’s exactly what we are getting now, since Amazon isn’t discounting Hachette books as much. So, selfishly, it would actually be in the interests of self-publishers for this war between Amazon and Hachette to go on forever.

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