In taking sides in Amazon/Hachette dispute, John Scalzi tells readers to do as he says, not as he does

John Scalzi has written a blog post noting that publishing “is not a football game” and people shouldn’t be rushing to take sides. Like many of Scalzi’s posts, it seems superficially reasonable. Scalzi’s point seems to be that business is business, and big companies aren’t your friend or your enemy—they do what big companies do, which is whatever is best for them. Their interests might align with yours, or not. That doesn’t mean they like you or hate you. (Though he does make clear he thinks “what Amazon’s doing to US Hachette authors at the moment well and truly sucks.”)

Publishing is a business. I said that already. Guess what? I’m saying it again. If you’re not approaching it as a business, with the same eye toward your own business goals as those you’re in business with undoubtedly have on theirs, then when you find yourself completely at a loss and utterly dependent on the business choices of a company that fundamentally doesn’t care about you outside of a ledger entry, the amount of sympathy you’ll get — from me, anyway, and I suspect from other authors who tend to the business of their writing — will be smaller than you might hope.

It’s a bit odd that he says that even at the same time he expresses sympathy for Hachette authors, who themselves seem to be “completely at a loss and utterly dependent on the business choices of a company that fundamentally doesn’t care about [them] outside of a ledger entry” (well, actually two companies—Amazon and Hachette both) but as Scalzi says himself earlier in the entry, he’s allowed to think more than one thing about a company at a time, so maybe he can do the same about authors.

But the larger problem is that it seems pretty clear that a lot of people have taken sides. You see that in things like the recent New York Public Library discussion, slapped together on short notice and filled almost entirely with representatives of the traditional publishing industry and a single token dissenter. You see it in execs like Steven Zacharius of Kensington Books, who thinks that self-published books should be segregated away from traditionally-published ones, where customers won’t accidentally stumble across them and think they might be worth buying. So it’s all right for them, but not for readers and consumers who are the ones that actually buy the books these traditional publishing folks would just as soon we didn’t have available?

And despite his insistence his readers shouldn’t take sides, it seems pretty clear he’s taken one himself. As we see in the comments, Scalzi doesn’t seem inclined to address points that he disagrees with. When someone asks him how he feels about Hachette wanting to reimpose higher pricing, he responds, “This isn’t the thread for yet another dreary and pointless discussion of pricing.” When someone else points out the parity between Amazon dropping pre-orders for Hachette books and bookstores and distributors refusing to carry Amazon-published books, he accuses that person of “showing that he’s completely missed the point of the entry in his mad rush to erect his soapbox.”

It’s hardly the first time Scalzi has acted like a jerk in comments, but it’s more than a little aggravating every time it happens. But hey, his blog, his rules. Nonetheless, in the end he comes off as smugly pontificating that you shouldn’t take sides, but it’s all right for him to be in traditional publishing’s pocket and if you disagree, well, you’re a doodyhead.

It’s kind of funny and a little sad that Scalzi, himself a poster boy for non-traditional publishing (in defiance of conventional wisdom, he posted his first book, Agent to the Stars, on the Internet for free and had it picked up by a major publisher), has drunk so much traditional-publishing kool-aid, but I suppose he knows what side his bread is buttered on.

For myself, I’d be inclined to say that if you see one set of companies adopting a policy that benefits you and another set trying to overturn that policy, it’s perfectly fine to choose sides, whether you think that company actually “likes” you or not. (And really, since when has it ever been necessary for someone we root for to “like” us back? Do we think we’re close personal friends with our favorite football team? Our favorite rock stars outright admit they “can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend” but that doesn’t mean we like them any less.) All that should really matter for that is whether you like them.

10 Comments on In taking sides in Amazon/Hachette dispute, John Scalzi tells readers to do as he says, not as he does

  1. John Scalzi // July 4, 2014 at 5:10 am //

    “John Scalzi has obvious bias!” proclaims man with obvious bias.

    Alternate theory is that I’ve learned through experience that discussions of ebook pricing tend to fall into standard and predictable pro and con positions that don’t offer any new or useful information – it’s the ebook version of the “abortion is wrong!” thread hijack – so I tell people not to do it yet again, smothering out actual interesting conversation (you also elide the part where the original commenter notes this might be a topic addressed elsewhere and if it is to ignore his question, which is to say he’s fine with me skipping over it even if you aren’t).

    As to the second part, it appears you have missed the point of the article to get on your own soapbox, too, although at least you have the decency to do it on your own site, so well done you there. I don’t think pointing out someone’s soapbox constitutes being a jerk, although I understand why your own biases lead you to that opinion. Likewise I don’t feel obliged to have the conversation with people that they (or apparently you) think I should have; I have the conversation I think is merited. In this case it was “nice soapbox.”

    I don’t address everyone who disagrees with me in *any* thread, for any number of reasons. Someone else in the thread may address it adequately before I do. I may decide that the point doesn’t actually need rebuttal. I may have a life outside my blog and thus prioritize responses based on time available. I may decide that the comment is such a monument to stupidity that it’s best ignored. And so on.

    I think you trying to use my comment moderation as proof I’m in the pocket of traditional publishing – in line with your preconceived opinion – is kind of like reading sheep intestines to tell everyone that Ted over there, who you don’t like anyway, is in league with the devil. It’s also roughly as accurate. I certainly do a lot of business with established publishers, yes. That much is obvious. The point of the article is to encourage people to be actively engaged in the business side of their writing careers so they *aren’t* obliged to be in anyone’s pocket.

  2. I posted this over at PG’s:

    I wouldn’t care squat about Amazon vs Hachette’s negotiation, if not for Hachette’s authors shouting about their threatened livelihoods and demanding from readers to boycott Amazon.

    It’s not that I believe that readers would boycott Amazon in large number, but the hypocrisy of it irritates me. Readers boycotting Amazon would not only have hurt my bottom line, but the bottom line of every author who has a book on Amazon (that being trade-published, small-press-published and self-published). For some of them, Amazon is their main income.

    Hachette’s authors are entitled to their livelihoods, but other writers are not? I don’t get enough money from Amazon to live on, but am I not entitled to my lunch-money, because Amazon has removed pre-order buttons and because Patterson says that Amazon is evil? Is that it?

    So you could say all that whining and shouting Amazon is evil made me side with Amazon.

  3. Sure, I’m a bit biased against the publishers. I admit that. I’ve held a grudge against them for something like fifteen years, and feel a little thrill of schadenfreude every time I see them get another setback in court. Frankly, they deserve it. Even so, I’d be happy to see them clean up their act, but I doubt they ever will.

    And it’s not just the comment moderation that bespeaks your bias, it’s your decrying Amazon’s behavior while not saying anything about the behavior of Hachette, who’s been doing things that are just as bad (including, y’know, outright breaking the law). If you’re up in arms over Amazon harming writers’ income, where is the outrage over Hachette and the other four agency publishers implementing a pricing arrangement that not only reduced the amount of money publishers (and hence authors) took in per e-book, but jacked their prices up to where provably fewer people bought them?

    Anyway, I’m not the one going around harboring that bias while trying to tell everyone else they shouldn’t have one.

  4. anon1827301 // July 4, 2014 at 7:32 am //

    Looks like it’s time to stop buying anything from Scalzi

  5. The funny thing about this whole debate is how many people are saying “Don’t take sides, it’s just business” and then follow with “here’s why you should take sides.”

    The fact is Amazon and Hachette cannot agree on a deal.

    Amazon is NOT banning books (the people saying that are LYING). They are selling the books they have access to and can guarantee delivery of.

    Amazon simply appears to be ordering the books when the orders come in (instead of pre-ordering in bulk because, again, they don’t have a deal with Hachette). If Hachette can’t figure out how to deliver books in a reasonable time frame, that isn’t Amazon’s fault.

    Amazon is not treating Hachette unfairly by not taking pre-orders. Amazon is simply not taking pre-orders because they can’t guarantee when or if they will have access to those books because they don’t have a deal with Hachette. It is a common sense response to dealing with an uncertain supplier situation.

    Pre-orders are a *service* provided to business partners with whom they have a good relationship — they are NOT a privilege. You let your dog do his business in my yard and you don’t get pre-orders.

    Honestly, I think the worst thing that can happen to Hachette is for Hachette to get what it thinks it wants, which is the ability to set (artificially high) retail prices. But honestly, I hope they get it. I wish Amazon would just give in, say, “Hey, set your price, let the dominoes fall. Good luck suckers.”

    Amazon gets to walk away and say, “Hey, we gave them what they wanted.”

    Hachette gets to say, “We got what we wanted,” and then gets to watch their sales plummet as readers dump Hachettes $15-20 ebooks in favor of all the independent and small press authors smart enough to sell their books for less than half of that.

    Readers simply discover other authors. And the poor, poor, picked-on Hachette authors get further screwed by their publisher.

    On a level playing field, the indie publishers with great books (and there are many of them) are going to succeed and further marginalize traditional publishing.

  6. The final point I forgot — as an author/publisher, I absolutely side with Hachette (sort of) in one aspect. The manufacturer should be able to set the price that it sells its product to Amazon for.

    Now, if a given manufacturer wants to set an unrealistically high price, that is THEIR problem, not Amazon’s. And honestly, that just opens the doors for more indies.

    Trad publishing simply does not get that they are being blindsided by the tidal wave of indie publishers because they no longer CONTROL access to readers. This dispute is just another silly attempt to cling to their existing business model and it is doomed to fail — Amazon is actually working to try to save trad publishers in the sense that they understand that trad publishers must be price competitive — but trad publishers refuse to understand that.

  7. Previous post “Duh” moment —

    Meant to say:

    “Pre-order buttons are a privilege, NOT a right.”

  8. John Scalzi lied. Period.

    Until he comes down off his soapbox, gets some fresh oxygen into his brain by pulling his head out of his ass, he’s just another James Patterson clone and so out of touch with his own industry that he’s become an embarrassment. I’m embarrassed that I thought he was an objective man with common sense and a grasp on logic.

    Instead, he’s nothing more than a mouthpiece shouting strawman (if not completely false) arguments.

  9. Everyone has a bias and it gets slanted by many different factors. I am biased in this Amazon/Hachette debate because as a reader, Amazon seems to be doing the right thing by me. Hachette seems to be doing the right thing by Hachette, and not necessarily their own authors.

    I was amazed that in the NY public library discussion, only the PG made a point of declaring in his introduction where he stood in relation to the discussion. No other person clearly said what their relationships were in the publishing industry. I guess I could have looked them up on the internet but it would have been nice to hear it from them directly. Trying to come across as neutral when you have an obvious bias makes you look foolish. The so called moderator was my favorite for this.

    So everyone has a right to bias and there is no need to be a jerk about it. A good debate is always healthy. A great debate is when people actually answer the questions with answers that are constructive instead of putting down the people asking the questions. John Scalzi will have his followers and good luck to him/them.

  10. “Chris Meadows has obvious bias!” proclaims author with obvious bias.
    What’s sauce for the goose…

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