If you have been following the Hachette vs. Amazon saga, you might be excused for thinking it’s a battle between Heaven’s angels and Hell’s spawns. Depending on your source, Hell is either Amazon (assuming you’re reading newspapers and traditional media) or Hachette (if you’ve been on any Indie author’s blog).
Which is funny to me, because this is just another commercial disagreement: Hachette wants a fatter profit margin, and Amazon wants better prices, in order to cement its virtual monopoly. It can afford to sell cheaply, since it makes up for it by selling other products, too.
Amazon has been following the same policy of boxing together products for as long as I can remember. Its entire Kindle revolution – even its many detractors admit it has revolutionized ebook distribution, single-handedly building an entire new publishing sector – is based on the premise “buy the Kindle, so you can get any book.” The line between product and platform has never been blurrier, and Amazon likes it that way.
So, why all the drama?
I believe it’s because of the traditional publishers’ worry over losing the ebook battle. They have been in denial for ages, and now they overreact. And yet, it shouldn’t have to be this way. To explain my line of thought, we should agree on a few points:
- Traditional publishers won’t publish any kind of work they believe won’t be profitable.
- This makes them conservative when selecting titles to publish
- Indie authors, on the other hand, have faith in their work and are inherently experimental
- Amazon doesn’t care if every person in the world publishes their work on Kindle, since it costs it nothing to do so.
- The sheer volume of Indie titles, combined with their low prices, allow readers to become more adventurous in their choices
- At the same time, Indie authors have to go through a steep learning curve, that involves:
- honing their writing skills,
- learning the importance of marketing
- appreciating the difficulties of publishing
- Many Indie authors would jump at the opportunity to be traditionally published
- Therefore, traditional publishers should use Amazon like the NBA uses college basketball to coach the best players.
In effect, Amazon could become a huge training center for new authors. Once they have picked up the necessary skills and proven their profitability, most of them will be more than happy to sign on to the publishers’ teams, seeing it as a natural progression.
There will be those who have become so successful that they will prefer the freedom of keeping their own rights, but I believe that most authors will gradually be hybrid ones; self-publishing some of their work and publishing traditionally the rest. I mean, even Hugh Howey, often considered to be the number one Indie friend, does that. It makes perfect sense for both writers and publishers. It even allows publishers to experiment a bit: if a title has been profitable on Amazon, it should be profitable on paper, too.
As for authors, publishers might even be convinced to stop some of their most unsavory practices, such as paying the author once in a blue moon, keeping 90% of the profits and locking authors into idiotic contracts with non-compete clauses.
So, instead of looking at this in a short-term way, my suggestion to traditional publishers is this:
You can’t put the genie back into the bottle. What you can do, is use it in a way that will allow everyone to get rich. So, dig your head out of the sand and start thinking!