The Bookseller Hopes For a Swiftian Response to Amazon, But That’s Really Just a Distraction From the More Serious Issues
As you may recall, Swift posted an open letter to Apple which she protested the three-month free trial period for the upcoming Apple Music service. Apple hadn’t intended to pay royalties to labels during the free trial, but Apple backed down in response to industry protests.
Ah, but Apple is cool, and only those that buy Apple are cool and Taylor Swift is cool. So if Taylor Swift says Apple is not being cool — and is holding back her coolness in protest, Apple has to give in, least they lose their all their coolness and cool people don’t bother with their uncool music stab …
No matter whether Swift really has that much influence or not, it has led some in publishing to wish that publishing had its own Taylor Swift.
Philip Jones penned a column today on The Bookseller asks:
Could a little bit of Swiftian kick-back help the book business too? It is worth contrasting Apple’s manoeuvre with the changes Amazon made to how it will pay indie writers signed up to its all-you-can-read Kindle Unlimited (KU) and the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL). The change (in brief) is that from 1st July authors with books in those schemes will no longer be paid their percentage of Amazon’s pool of money once 10% of a book has been read, they will now be paid based on what the number of pages read, after the Amazon-mandated "Start Reading Location" (SRL).
Similarly, one wonders how indie authors outside of the elite group feel about Amazon’s change in terms. Many were co-opted into Kindle Unlimited without prior request because Amazon felt compelled to move against Scribd and Oyster, and though writers can opt out, the fund from which Amazon generates payments (though it has risen month on month) is still entirely made-up. Now how writers get paid has changed too—and without any sense of their being any negotiation. It is an extreme scenario, but not one we should feel entirely comfortable about.
Jones' column crossed my desk only hours after I reported on the UK Society of Authors efforts to secure better treatment for authors, so I can’t help but wonder whether his focus is misplaced.
In recent weeks we have read about not one but two authors groups which have announced that they are actively fighting for better terms for authors. In addition to The Society of Authors, over here in the US The Authors Guild has started detailing the many outrageous boilerplate terms in the standard publishing contracts.
TAG has called the industry on non-compete clauses (preventing authors from writing elsewhere), interminable contracts (preventing authors from walking away), long payment cycles, and many other exploitative contract terms.
And Jones thinks we need a Swiftian response to Amazon, but not the publishing industry?
While any reasonable person would agree that the payment terms for Kindle Select could be better, the rest of the KDP Select contract is in almost every other way superior to the standard publishing contract.
I think so, but I also know that’s not going to happen.
And I can tell you why.
I’m going to cut through the bullshit and tell you what is really going on.
Never mind the coverage in the mainstream media; that’s just the smokescreen.
And never mind the post Jones wrote over at The Bookseller; that too is just a smokescreen.
I know that the Swift-Apple story is framed as Swift striking a blow for artists, but it really isn’t. She won a fight for the industry, not the artist, and anyone who says otherwise is being disingenuous.
If she really wanted to fight for artists she would be fighting inside the music industry (instead of championing labels' ability to price albums), making a public spectacle over contract terms which are even worse than what authors get in the publishing industry.
But she won’t.
Swift isn’t going to rail against the music industry any more than Patterson would attack publishing. They are both superstars of their respective industries, and that superstar status depends on the industries. They understand this, and so they won’t rock the boat.
As we saw when Patterson got involved in the Amazon Hachette dispute last fall and again when Swift took on Apple, the superstars will only use their status to fight external enemies, but they won’t lend their status to fight homegrown problems.
Never mind that this effectively makes the superstars allies of the worst actors in their industries; they’re still not going to rock the boat.
It would cost them to much to do so.
Yes, I am accusing them of acting solely in their best interest; I’m fine with that because I never expect anyone to act any other way.