In the realm of social media, I follow a lot of industry leaders: agents, publicists, writing-business gurus, and of course successful authors. The articles, blogs, and other news items that they post, I will often open and leave open on my desktop for reading during my appointed reading time. Currently, I’m behind. Truth be told: I read slow. Yet, I think I retain the information I read better than some that read more quickly. So this morning I poured myself a mega-mug of coffee and donned the reading spectacles and went to work at reading all these open tabs about the latest and greatest in book publishing, trends in the business, blogs about what the who’s who in the writing world is reading, and most notably (since I’m gaining momentum in that direction), what’s what in the world of epublishing/ebooks.
All day I’ve been digesting one of these articles. I have concluded that any writer trying to break into the publishing world, especially if you’re planning on doing the ebook route, needs to read this: What Amazon’s ebook strategy means, written by the author, Charles Stross. Not only do you need to read this article, but you’ll likely need to do like I did and set up a Google alert on some key phrases (digital rights management, epublishing trends, amazon business strategy) so you can continue to follow everything that happens with this very critical piece of the publishing puzzle.
In the honor of full disclosure, Mr. Stross is one of my favorite authors when it comes to hardcore science fiction/space opera. He is a 2005 Hugo award winner, which is nothing to sneeze or poo-poo your literary snoz at. But he’s also a computer guy whose spent a good portion of his writing career providing expository on technology and human interface. The fact that the Linux penguin, Tux, is the icon for his URL endears me greatly. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t read his post on this subject matter without looking at it critically. But even taking point by point and examining it and playing devil’s advocate, I can’t find a lot of holes in the information he presents. And for those who are just learning the business of the write life — he outlines some nice terms for which you need to be aware.
Here’s my bullet points from all the information Stross provides, which are really sticking with me personally (your Casz’s Exec Summary, if you will, featuring non-technical, non-business-ese language):
- Amazon can placate emerging writers with contests and grants all they want; but, it won’t take away that on both sides of the coin — author or consumer — we’re all getting screwed by the Bezos’ empire (by the way, he is worth more than $40 billion, mind you).
- Amazon is the entire planet’s Wal-Mart. And we all know what Wal-Mart has done for the little guy.
- Learn about Digital Rights Management, it’s impending death (which would be good in the long run for authors and publishers and consumers).
- Don’t be fooled by the fact that this element has the word “Rights” in it and sounds like it would be something good.
- When dealing with ebooks remember Stross’ words here, a special heads up to bibliophiles like myself:
Now, most ebook customers are not tech-savvy. It is possible to unlock the DRM on a Kindle ebook and transcode it to epub format for use on other readers; but it’s non-trivial. (Not to mention being a breach of the Kindle terms and conditions of use. Because you don’t own an ebook; in their short-sighted eagerness to close loopholes the publishers tried to make ebooks more like software, where you merely buy a limited license to use the product, rather than actual ownership of an object.) So, because Amazon had shoved a subsidized Kindle reader or a free Kindle iPhone app into their hands, and they’d bought a handful of books using it, the majority of customers found themselves locked in to the platform they’d started out on. Want to move to another platform? That’s hard; you lose all the books you’ve already bought, because you can’t take them with you.
As with most things in this global economy, it’s all more complicated than it seems. Because, being able to be listed on Amazon is a marker in this modern write life. Having folks find your work easily helps sell more of your work. It’s a vicious circle thing. But the power of the internet is this: we can all be Amazon. I think of many books I’ve purchased as of late, even ebooks, which sometimes is the only way to get some of the newest writers out there, are purchased through independent sources, whether they be brick and mortar stores or through the author’s web site directly. The point I’m trying to elude to here, albeit clumsily, is that as writers if we’re just automatically going to Amazon to purchase our books — we’re feeding the Monopoly and Monopsony. Take a little more time and support the independent book and mortar stores (sounds like the big six are going to need more revenue for legal fees) and/or go to your favorite author’s site and purchase directly from them or their publisher. Buy the real book whenever possible. Ebooks are great for checking out an author and testing literary waters, but if you want to own those words forever — an old fashioned book never ceases to satisfy.
It’s disheartening being an emerging writer and having to also spend time on a business model that seems to change every six months. But it’s a necessary evil. I encourage folks to do their own research and tell me in the comments below what their own tactics, strategies and knowledge is on the business of writing. All I know is that right now I’m thinking that perhaps a bad habit of writing industry reading really isn’t such a vice.