Self-publishing advocate Barry Eisler has an opinion piece on Techdirt discussing the way that so many organizations with “authors” in the name (Authors Guild, Authors United, etc.) seem to be arguing on behalf of publishers rather than authors.

Now look, there’s nothing wrong with lobbying the government on behalf of big publishers. The First Amendment guarantees the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, after all, and it doesn’t say those grievances can’t be self-serving or even that they have to be sane. I just wish all these organizations pretending to advocate for authors would call themselves something a little more honest. Power in publishing is already horrendously lopsided. Publisher lobbyists masquerading as author champions only makes things worse.

Reason discusses the piece, Eisler’s long-time cohort Joe Konrath talks about it here, and The Passive Voice readership discusses the original piece, the Reason piece, and the Konrath piece. (And here I am, discussing all of them. Did I just see Leonardo DiCaprio spinning a top?)

So, yes, I get it: these organizations are all trying to pull the moral equivalent of wrapping themselves in the flag, proclaiming they’re doing all this on behalf of the authors, who are in need of protection from the big bad corporate Amazon interest who threatens to stomp all over their livelihood. (Whereas Eisler and Konrath point out that the big bad corporate interests doing more of the author-stomping are the publishers, while Amazon is in turn stomping all over the publishers, or so the publishers would have us believe.)

But whether that’s true or not, there does come a point where repeatedly belaboring it is counterproductive. Eisler and Konrath make some decent points, but they make the same ones over and over again. (And then others such as The Passive Voice, The Digital Reader, etc. pick up the refrain.) I’m more on Amazon’s side than the publishers’, but at the moment I’m ready to hear some dead silence for a while about these publishers-in-authors’-clothing groups until something more substantive emerges than more Authors Guild propaganda.

Perhaps the real problem is that there simply isn’t anything more substantive. They get to make all this noise about how they’ve sent letters to the Department of Justice, and the people mocking them get to point and laugh…but then nothing else happens, and both sides claim moral victory.

To be honest, I’d be surprised if anything did happen. I don’t think the Department of Justice is going to spend more time and resources investigating Amazon again. But you never know. I’m actually surprised none of the Presidential campaigns have apparently made this an issue yet. It is an election year coming up, after all, and authors and publishers vote just like anybody else.


  1. Hey, thanks for following up on my Techdirt piece. FWIW, I’m not really a self-publishing advocate; more an advocate for opening up publishing so authors have more choices. Legacy publishing used to be the only route by which authors could reach a mass market of readers, but now there’s legacy, self-publishing, and Amazon publishing, too, and the new entrants are putting competitive pressure on the New York Big Five cartel to treat authors better. I think this is great–but I don’t really have an opinion about what route makes sense for any given author. It depends on a lot of individual factors, so what’s important to me is that (i) choices exist; and (ii) authors have sound information so they can make whatever choices are best for themselves.

    Lots more on this topic here:

    As for your point about repeatedly exposing establishment publishing propaganda…I get it, and to some extent I feel the same way. The Authors Guild and Authors United et al just keep repeating the same tired, long-since debunked propaganda points, and it gets boring to have to keep debunking them. In fact, I began a recent post like this:

    “Life is too short to continually respond to self-serving publishing establishment bloviation, so I was going to ignore this American Booksellers Association “interview” of Mary Rasenberger, the Executive Director of the Authors Guild. It’s such a regurgitation of long-since debunked legacy publisher talking points that the most useful thing you could do with it is play Bullshit Bingo: Amazon a Monopoly…Devaluing Books…Free Flow of Ideas…Engine of Democracy…Bingo! Besides, Nate Hoffelder and Joe Konrath have already performed the thankless task of acting as this week’s bucket brigade and responding to this latest cycle of the same old publishing establishment bullshit.”

    But closed it like this:

    “You know what, though? I doubt even the Unprecedented Joint Actors believe their own storyline. Because a resort to this type of crass propaganda isn’t a sign of confidence or strength. It’s a recognition that people aren’t buying your bullshit. That doesn’t mean the Unprecedented Joint Actors won’t prevail—after all, Cheney did, so we know that sometimes the propagandists win. But this is why it’s so important that their tactics, as well as their aims, be constantly exposed.”

    It’s hard to know what to do. It’s boring and time-consuming to have to respond every time Doug Preston or whoever bloviates the same dumb, debunked talking points. But responding feels like less of a problem than letting these people propagate their misinformation. If I, Joe Konrath, and others hadn’t responded to the latest bullshit, for example, you wouldn’t have picked it up, and the people who read you wouldn’t be reading about the issue right now. There would be more propaganda, and less rebuttal.

    So though it pains me to have to take the time to rebut the bullshit, on balance I think it’s worthwhile. Even though I kinda wish you could convince me I’m wrong–it would save me a lot of time. 🙂

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