Recently the Seattle Times ran several articles dealing with a Supreme Court ruling on an antitrust price-fixing suit brought by the government against large publishing houses charged them with price-fixing. The Times coverage hammered away at what a great thing the decision in the governments facor was for Amazon, which was not a party to the suit but was referred to 36 times in the decision.
I felt the Seattle Times had ignored a major factor in all of this, and wrote them a letter explaining my thoughts, which I have posted below. I was surprised to get a response that letters to the editor are limited to 200 words. While I can see that some control must held over the rants of readers, this seems inane. A couple of days later the Times spent several hundred words extolling their virtues by listing all of the Pulitzer prize awards they have won (there weren’t that many) dating back to 1959!
…But I digress – here is what I sent them.
The Other Side of Publishing
The recent articles on Amazon’s Kindle books and how they have affected traditional publishing houses seem to have omitted attention to an important demographic – the writers who create the books.
For several years I had the occasional joy of seeing an article of mine printed in a newspaper or national magazine, but the process was always one-sided. I would spend the effort and time to create the work, and then send it off by snail mail at my own expense. Usually there was no response at all, and occasionally a rejection that ranged from polite to incredibly rude. An acceptance would be accompanied by an offer of payment. There was little room for discussion or negotiation; it was take it or leave it. With books it was infinitely worse, involving so much more time and effort to create the content, and then the need to send it out to several, dozens, or hundreds of potential publishers, usually with no response at all.
A dozen years ago I published a small book on motorcycles. I received $3 per copy for a modest volume that sold for $19.95, which I thought was more than the book was worth. A thousand copies were sold over five or six years.
Along comes Amazon and the rise of e-books for the Kindle or any other e-book reader. Due to some friendly goading by friends, I created a 2nd and revised version of my book to make it current. With the help of my technically adept son, it was published as an Amazon Kindle offering. It now sells far more than a thousand copies per year, with sales increasing, and the reader pays $4.95 per copy. Amazon keeps 30% and I pay my son 10% for his minimal efforts. My take is almost exactly the same per copy, with no expense to me in the publishing effort, no waiting to see if some editor deigns to even look at the book, and nobody but the end user to decide if the book has merit.
Further, I can check the sales of my books (I now have four of them) every couple of hours if I choose, which becomes an obsessive trait similar to checking e-mail, and every month my son gets a printout of the exact sales of each book. After 60 days a check is cut for the sales per month. The reader can electronically return the book within 24 hours if it is not found to be worthy. The process is simple, and shows respect for both the reader and the author.
The traditional system was not simple at all, and showed scant respect for the author unless he or she was a literary giant with a track record of selling millions of books, and none for the buyer, who paid several times what the e-book buyer is asked to cough up.
I now have a second motorcycle book listed with Amazon, and two novels, one of which was created 20 years ago and then sat in a drawer after an initial failure to find someone willing to give it a chance. I am unlikely to make much money with my writing, which is not a full time job, but that is not why I create. Even so, my books are making the monthly payment on my new car, and that is enough of a spur to goad me to productivity on the next two books in progress.
I enjoy the pleasures of curling up to relax with a book or magazine printed on paper, but I find I enjoy using a Kindle to read books by others almost as much.
At the end of the day it is hard to feel sorrow for traditional publishers who have been reaping profits from the efforts of writers for centuries. E-book retailing as structured by Amazon creates an evaluation of writers by a mass process of economic democracy. It seems to me that Amazon deserves credit for a system that is fair – and the profits they derive from its creation.
David Preston copyright 2012