Mike Shatzkin Encounters Socially-Aware Indie Authors, is Confused
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.