Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Evidence That Authors Are The Least Important Part Of Books

In the eyes of booksellers and distributors, it seems that authors are not important, because our copyright is apparently not really under our control if it is bad for business, and it seems our careers can get the shaft by devastating the sales figures companies use as a blind guide to buying future books in the name of corporate pissing matches, or embrace publishing models that exploit authors and dilute the quality of the words on printed pages.

Nice to know where we stand in the world, considering how our imaginations, sweat, dreams, lost sleep, destroyed health, broken relationships, lost time, are the engines of creation that drive this entire multi-billion dollar industry. Are we nothing but cattle to the meat packagers?

I know editors don't believe that, and every publishing house's marketer or sales staffer or assistant I met was a true believer in the truth of books, but I wonder if everyone else in the supply chain has lost touch with the heart of what a book means to people until it gets through to the individual bookseller in the bookstore, another true believer that gets it, who earns near minimum wage in shitty retail conditions for the privilege of working in the stacks with something they love.

I hope the folks in-between wake up.


Jaylene aka Moogie said...

Made a tweet recently wondering how much authors(providers of the product) received as opposed to the rest. Production, marketing, etc which is especially small with ebooks. I suspect that the authors "cut" is extremely small, just like for the farmer who produces the grain for say that $4.99 box of cereal. Sad situation made worse by this thing with amazon.

Foxie said...

It seems to be the same with every industry: The producers get next to nothing, and the middle-men take the lion's share and dictate terms. Who cares about authors? There's a thousand more waiting to replace each one, right? Bastards.

J m mcdermott said...

Howdy Jaylene!

Everyone's cut is small per unit. Publishing is a narrow margin industry. When distribution channels clog publishers up to increase their own profits at the expense of viable business models of quality prose, publishers suffer just as much as authors, in their way. Publishers are the farmers, in your metaphor, and what is good for them is generally good for authors. We're business partners with our publishers, after all.

It seems to me to be a question of a desire for short term gains at the expense of the larger picture.

Jeff Bezos seems to be the only distributor with any kind of vision, and his vision is very selfish. It does not seem to take into account the way quality happens in books. Ultimately, without encouraging quality, publishing becomes a system of failure, where audiences leave for other mediums.

If you create an ecology that rewards volume at the expense of quality, you get the steaming piles of word noise shoveled into the world by shady operators like PublishAmerica.

Anyway, thanks for your comment.

I don't mind low wages, because I know publishers also get almost nothing in exchange for their greater risk. I support Pan-MacMillan in their spat with Amazon's gamesmanship. Amazon is to blame, in this one. I also think that distributors operate under a quantity business model - equating profit with sheer volume - when that's not the only measure of success, nor is it a healthy way of contributing to book culture. Quality is the other path to financial success, and ultimately it is a path that also contributes to book culture. It is important for everyone involved in the process of publishing to find ways to create ecosystems that promote the increased quality of books.

Currently, with the three links above, I feel like I'm scribbling into the dark at a candle that's almost burned out and when it's gone no one will lend me a spare candle to keep on working hard for all the good people of the world.

J m mcdermott said...

Foxie, I do want to point out that book editors are basically book producers, and distributors are, actually, very important, and individual books actually don't make a lot of money for anyone.

But, distributors are also at risk when authors aren't valued. If the quality of a product isn't valued, audience will decrease.