The war between Amazon (who has led the wholesale changes seen in publishing in recent years) and traditional publishers (currently Hachette Book Group) has come to a head over e-book pricing. Hachette’s position is that they have the author’s best interests at heart, but indie writers argue otherwise. One of them, Robert Bidinotto, explains that there is more to the story:
…even though publishing contract terms (including advances, royalties, and rights) are simply awful for 99% of authors, a relative handful of Big Name Authors do in fact benefit disproportionately from their alliances with Big Publishing. These “one-percenters” (to borrow a term from current political parlance) get extravagant advances from the publishing houses — advances so large that they don’t care much about other contractual terms, such as royalties and subsidiary rights, which other authors must endure. They have a huge vested interest in keeping the publishing industry frozen in amber, exactly as it is. As marquee figures in the industry, these Big Name Authors also dominate prominent writers groups, such as the Authors Guild. So, when such individuals and groups issue statements, purporting to speak for authors generally, you can be sure that they are really only representing their own narrower interests.
You can read the complete post at his site and the petition that supports the Amazon side. Bidinotto also writes, “Look, I have no problem, in principle, with publishers. If they really did what they promise to do — take the burdens of editing and publication off writers, compensate them reasonably, and market them creatively and intelligently — I think many more authors would be happier than they are now. A number of small presses still do this.”
And that is truly what is at the heart of the debate. It isn’t that Big Publishing is evil or that no authors ever succeed with them or that no one but bad authors indie publish. Once writers had another path to publish their works, they were free to question the system that usually left them with the least return. If big deals come along, that’s great, but most writers would be happy to pay the bills and make a living. And most don’t.
The industry is changing. The death of many bookstores has shown us that. If traditional publishers don’t change, will they follow the same path?
P.S. For an example of how some in traditional publishing are adapting, see the October issue of Writer’s Digest in which “The Evolving Agent” details how agents are joining the digital era.