Bookseller ranking June 2013In the immediate aftermath of the latest Hugh Howey-helmed AuthorEarnings report, which came hard on the heels of the UK Society of Authors’ lamentation over the state of … well, author earnings … , The Guardian sought out SoA general secretary Nicola Solomon and Philip Jones, Editor of The Bookseller, for their reaction to the report. And the response from The Bookseller‘s corner at least was not exactly positive.

In The Guardian, Jones said: “this is a very narrow selection of a particular type of market at a particular time … you can’t extrapolate from bestseller rankings on the Kindle store to a picture of the wider market. Howey sees an ice-cube, and shrieks ‘iceberg’.” He also noted that:

The fact that we don’t know who this ‘Data Guy’ is or where he’s come from suggest that we should take the Author Earnings report with a large pinch of salt… I think of it more as part of Amazon’s PR effort, rather than an objective overview of the digital marketplace.

Others have raised questions about Howey’s Data Guy partner before, but going from these to the conclusion that Howey and team are basically acting as stooges in Amazon astroturfing seems rather further than even Howey’s previous critics have been prepared to go. This is not the position that other UK media appear to take.

The furthest that Jones seems to go to reach out to the other side of the debate, at least in the quotes cited by The Guardian, is to say that an “adult debate” about ebook sales and author earnings. True, but starting with a premise that the other side is acting in bad faith with slanted data doesn’t sound like a good basis for an adult debate.

The Bookseller is essentially taking up a position for booksellers and publishers and against authors. It doesn’t have to be that way. Booksellers especially, and some publishers, may be a constituency worth defending, but hardly at the expense of the authors they depend on. If there is less of a case for self-publishing than Howey makes out, fine, but at least acknowledge how much value it does have, as far as it goes.

In particular, while Jones complains that “I’ve yet to see Howey look at a piece of data, and not seek to pass it off as a problem big publishers have caused,” SoA’s Solomon seems very clear that big publishers have caused a big problem for authors. She is the one stating that”: “the terms many publishers are demanding are no longer fair or sustainable.” Jones needs to answer that point far before moving on to rubbish the alternatives instead.


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