Michael Tamblyn, President of Kobo, weighed in earlier today with his take on why indies should side with Hachette. In a 31 tweet manifesto (found via The Bookseller), he lays down what I am going to call Tamblyn's Domino Theory.
What's the TDT, you ask?
You can read all 31 tweets at the end of this post, but the short version is that indies should support Hachette because they are the first domino to fall. According to Tamblyn, after Amazon crushes Hachette, it will proceed to bend the remaining major publishers to its will. Next on the list are the medium sized publishers, and then smaller and smaller publishers, and finally indies.
Hence the name Tamblyn's Domino Theory.
It's an interesting theory, and I am sure that the usual pundits in indie publishing are working on posts that debunk it, so I am going to save them the effort.
I don't know if anyone else noticed, but the TDT is very similar to an argument I proposed in June of this year. Tamblyn's manifesto is more detailed and more elaborate, but the general thrust is the same: that indies have a financial incentive to side with the big boys because after the big boys go down the indies will be next.
My argument was thoroughly eviscerated in a matter of hours. It was debunked from multiple different angles, and while that was painful at the time it is going to prove useful today.
The comment section of that post offers multiple reasons why Tamblyn's Domino Theory is wrong, and I invite anyone who wishes to respond to pick your favorite comment and elaborate on it.
- Indie authors take note: Amazon is, among other things, a machine designed to optimize product prices in order to gain share and sales.
- Amazon, like every retailer that reaches a certain size, turns to its suppliers to grow profitability by demanding more favorable terms.
- The Hachette-Amazon fight is an especially public manifestation of that Big Retail process. Nothing new there (Walmart, Target, B&N et al)
- Some vocal traditionally published authors (but not all) support Hachette and criticize Amazon and…
- Some vocal independent authors (but not all) support Amazon and criticize Hachette…
- Defense of Amazon by indie authors makes sense on one level. For them, Amazon is the well-spring, where the self-pub revolution started.
- But it seems like self-published authors believe they are protected somehow – that what is happening to Hachette won’t happen to them.
- Some indie authors even muse that the best possible strategy is exclusivity with Amazon, leaving readers on other platforms behind.
- In the long run, I don’t think that Amazon makes a big distinction between a publisher and an indy author – they are both suppliers.
- Hachette and the rest of the big 5 sit at the top of a list of suppliers to be “improved” from Amazon’s perspective.
- Hachette is first because one negotiation with a big publisher makes a lot of bestselling books more profitable. That’s efficient.
- I don’t think anyone believes that Amazon will stop with Hachette. With a successful conclusion, all pubs will go through the same thing.
- They will move down the list. Midsized or smaller publishers come next. (Assuming this all isn’t being pursued quietly in parallel.)
- From Amazon’s perspective, how is an independent author any different than a publisher? Still a supplier, to be made more profitable.
- The indie author’s situation is most tenuous of all. If >80% of sales come from Amazon, *no leverage when it’s your turn to be “optimized”
- An indie author, like any publisher, can take her books away if in conflict with Amazon. But it hurts the author *way more than Amazon.
- A reasonable author response to the Amazon threat wdb: “they won’t need to do that to us. Our prices are already where they need to be.”
- (Indy authors on Amazon are penalized if their books are too expensive, so that’s largely true.)
- But that assumes that the Amazon battle is about price. It’s not. It’s about profit. And _any_ supplier can be made more profitable.
- If indie authors are 20% of Amazon’s total sales, then it’s hard to imagine that indie authors aren’t on that list to be improved.
- But if the Amazon battle extends to indie authors, authors will have less leverage. Especially if they are exclusive.
- The mechanisms for the Amazon squeeze are in place, agreements allow it. Self-pub inclusion in Select, Unlimited, KOLL are early examples.
- Selling other publishers and authors, Amazon can survive without Hachette, but uncomfortably and less profitably.
- With a diverse base of retailers, Hachette can survive without Amazon, also uncomfortably and less profitably.
- Both parties having other options is why this dispute wasn’t over in a week or a month.
- The litmus test for an indie author: could your income survive a conflict with Amazon? If not, it’s worth thinking about how you could.
- To paraphrase: “First they came for the big New York publishers, but I wasn’t published by a big New York Publisher…”
- Then they came for the mid-sized publishers, but I wasn’t published by a mid-sized publisher…
- Then they came for the academic presses…
- Then they came for the literary presses…
- Then they came for me.