In taking sides in Amazon/Hachette dispute, John Scalzi tells readers to do as he says, not as he does
July 4, 2014 | 3:48 am
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.