Like everyone else in the publishing industry, I’ve been following the many blog posts and articles about Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer publishing imprint, and how those who have signed are ga-ga over the money, the promotion, the control, and did I mention money?
Leading the charge are well-known authors who have abandoned their mainstream publishers in favor of Amazon’s riches. I applaud them because they’re looking out for #1 – themselves. They’re getting more money and selling lots of books. Who can argue with that? Their testimonials have writers rushing toward the floodgates to be a part of the Next Great Thing.
But let’s look at this logically. The authors who are promoting Amazon already have a large readership…that they got from where? Their mainstream publishers. It strikes me as disingenuous and ungrateful when people bash the very entity that made them what they are today. In praising Amazon’s abilities, their focus is on all the things mainstream publishers do wrong and fail to mention what they do right, which resulted in making them a recognizable name and gaining them a healthy readership.
I agree that mainstream publishing has its foibles and we all need to be aware of the evolutionary process in order to remain viable. Competition is good for the soul. But just because Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer is appropriate for those known authors, does anyone really believe this is your typical publisher? And this is where blind faith comes in, and Amazon exploits this very well.
They sign big name authors and offer them the moon. They can do this because, well, they’re Amazon. So Amazon now has a cadre of happy happy authors who are making pretty good money and lots of sales. And best of all, those books are coming out far faster than mainstream publishing. I have no quibble with this at all.
But what has me casting a wary eye is where and how this will eventually shake out. Right now, everyone is rushing toward the new kid on the block who’s offering attractive promises, thus ensuring Amazon’s bid to monopolize the publishing industry. And once it’s done this, then what? Once you have total control, or a huge part of it, you can call the shots and decide who and what gets published.
The marketplace has traditionally been the litmus of what publishers produce. Oh, you want more vampire romance? Okay? Ah, more DaVinci Code? Sure thing. But when you control the majority, marketplace desire becomes secondary because they’re going to buy whatever you’re offering because it’s the only game in town. Now it becomes a matter of, “You’ll buy what we give you not what you want.”
Ok, I realize I sound very 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, but it pays to look past the blind faith and look at the potential realities because authors’ literary careers will be affected. This is a company that disses mainstream publishing (if anyone calls us legacy, I will instruct the beagle to bite their toes off), yet is employing many of its tenets to their own business plan.
I have no problem with anyone taking the best qualities of publishing and combining them with their own ideas, but I wonder if Amazon will use this to become the Costco of publishing. I love Costco for the ability to buy my 50-pack of toilet paper and 75-gallon drum of olive oil. But they appeal to the largest common denominator, which means I can’t buy that fantastic tomato basil soup that only Trader Joe’s makes, or the fabulous garlic French bread the local bakery cranks out every Thursday. For those reasons, I don’t want Costco to be the monopoly on groceries. There are many things they simply can’t do well because of their vast size.
Which brings me to the realities of Amazon. You can’t create a major takeover and not create a serious fallout for the industry. In the rush to be published, I see many writers jumping on the Amazon bandwagon. I believe there’s room for all, but if Amazon edges us publishers out and we become the way of the dinosaur, then what? Many of you may say “good riddance,” but it’s a good idea to consider the repercussions a monopoly may engender downstream.
And it’s this very reason that I cast an edgy eye at Amazon’s signing these big name authors and promising the moon. Their effusive praise is the doorway Amazon needs in order to attract authors down the path of blind faith.
Costco is about one thing, selling lots of things in bulk. Trader Joe’s and my local baker are about a love and appreciation of excellence and quality. I’m not convinced the reality of Amazon is about quality and love of literature than they are about selling piles of books. It’s my hope the two goals aren’t mutually exclusive, but I can’t help but wonder where this road will take us and those who are flipping us the bird now won’t eventually come to decry our demise.