Keeping Score

I’ve been reading (and participating in) discussion about the US DoJ’s recent antitrust suit against Apple and book publishers. In one particularly vocal crowd–mainly self-publishers like me–there’s an opinion about the whole mess that goes something like this:

  • Apple is wrong.
  • Smashwords (Mark Coker) is wrong.
  • Scott Turow (president of the Author’s Guild) is wrong.
  • The Independent Publisher’s Group is wrong.
  • Cory Doctorow is wrong. Twice.
  • The New York Times is wrong.
  • The Atlantic is wrong.
  • Wired Magazine is wrong.
  • Forbes Magazine is wrong.
  • The Seattle Times is wrong.
  • The Wall Street Journal is wrong.
  • Charles Stross is wrong.
  • John Sargent (Macmillian) is wrong.
  • Computerworld is wrong.
  • Thousands of writers who successfully publish through the “Big Six” (like, say, JK Rowling) are wrong.

As far as I can tell, only Amazon, the DoJ, and Joe Konrath are right (and for those not in the US, it’s standard practice for state governments to pile on to antitrust suits).

Update: Apple has told the DoJ it wants a formal trial to defend against the DoJ’s accusations of price fixing. For those unfamiliar with this kind of thing, it’s almost unheard of for a company to demand an antitrust trial–that is, unless it feels almost certain of winning. My guess? A trial will make many people (including Amazon) very uncomfortable, because it offers a golden opportunity to make public what’s really going on in ebook publishing.

Luckily, Amazon’s never been sued in an antitrust suit. By the way, did you know the law firm leading the charge in the antitrust suit is in the same building as Amazon, and has done business with Amazon?

It makes for good link bait and website traffic to couch the struggles of publishing in two-dimensional, epic archetypes; a battle of “good” vs. “evil”, of “big” vs. “independent”, and so on.

The truth, of course, is a lot more complicated than that. No big business “loves competition“–not even Amazon. All large publishers aren’t out to control or kill of the voices of writers seeking publication. The Department of Justice doesn’t wear capes and rescue babies from burning buildings. Apple isn’t out to destroy the rest of the world, and Amazon isn’t out to save it.

What surprises me is that writers–nearly all of them self-publishers like me, as far as I can tell–tell the story in this fashion, and fall on the Amazon/Konrath side of the antitrust suit discussion.

Sometimes, like the parallel “big publishing is dead!” story line, it reminds me of a certain banner I saw hung upon a ship’s deck not long ago. Even if it were true, what career benefit do writers derive from repeating it ad infinitum? And what if it isn’t true?

There’s an air of shrillness and desperation about it, a dangerously black-and-white anger that doesn’t do a damn thing to help writers, really. In fact, I think it does the opposite–it encourages myopia when we so very much need the opposite of that. And I’m guilty of contributing to that shrillness, too.

But what’s needed now isn’t screeds; what writers need is help navigating the waters, from both the industry and each other. Especially the growing segment of the writing world that chooses to self-publish, taking on the countless production and marketing tasks that those evil “traditional” publishers once did for writers.

That’s part of the reason I started the Tech-Savvy Writer in the first place–but several months later, I’ve found myself out on the pitch joining in the fray. So, dear reader, I’m re-dedicating myself to the stuff that matters, and to letting other writers keep the big publishing/antitrust discussion going. Here goes.

3 thoughts on “Keeping Score

  1. W. Dean

    You’re swimming upstream if you think you’re going to shake self-pubbers out of the revolutionary mindset. Amazon is David, the Big Six Goliath, and they’re on the side of Right. The natural human impulse to see things in terms of goodies and baddies is just too deeply ingrained in us; and the feeling of being one of the anointed fighting the forces of evil confers a sense of clarity and purpose.

    They’ll find out when royalty rates are cut, but not sooner.

    1. James Gill Post author


      Thanks. I guess the idea is I’m not going to swim upstream any longer. And I’m one of those self-publishers, after all. I’m a big-picture person by default (as a student of philosophy, maybe you can empathize), but that’s led me out in the weeds debating corporate intentions, instead of focusing on writing what might be helpful and informative.


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