Tuesday, 16 September 2014

It's just business...

So books "aren't consumer goods," (like toasters, televisions and razors), according to Authors United, in their protest letter to Amazon's board at the online giant's stand-off with huge and commercial publisher, Hachette - see links below.

Really?

"Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense and often expensive struggle on the part of an individual," they claim. Cue gravelly voice-over and sombre music.

Well, thanks for that, AU. That makes me and fellow authors sound like someone you wouldn't want your daughter bringing home. Intense at times, I grant you. But quirky? Not so sure about the expensive, either, because I've always found writing to be near-unquantifiable when it comes to cost. You do it because you have to and love to, regardless of time and money spent on paper, equipment and ink, in the hope that one day you will move up from part-time to full-time author and some kind of income.

What puzzles me about the piece, however, coming as it does from a group which includes some of the most successful and commercially-minded writers around, is denying the place of books in the consumer field. I might have held such a lofty view once, but lost it a long time ago, back when the only way of making money from writing was working at it like any other job (actually, harder than any other job I'd done), writing and submitting, researching and feeding the market and never letting up.

Sure, I love books; love writing them and reading them. But that aside, I know they're bought and sold (and re-sold) just like toasters, televisions and razors, because that's the world we live in.

And I have no argument with that. It is what we've made it.

Go ask any publisher and you'll find that they think of it in terms of sales figures, marketing and the bottom line. It's a hard-nosed business and if you have a rosy-eyed view of it, see what happens once you as an author don't match their idea of meeting a target.

(Actually, for an author, finding what the target is would be something new; it's not a concept we're supposed to worry our little heads over... until we miss it).

And maybe that's what's wrong here: authors on the whole don't think commercially enough. Many of them tend to harbour the rosy-eyed view still, and feel shocked when the glass is scratched or shattered. But that's changing fast, which is evident with so many choosing smaller indie publishers or the self-publishing route; they are taking a strictly commercial view of their work (yes, work as in job), and looking to maximise their output and returns. Shock, horror.

Unfortunately, there still seems to be a gap between publishers and writers on that score, as if we're not supposed to think commercially at all, (perhaps because we're so quirky, lonely and intense).

It's been a long time since I looked on writing as anything but a job (still the best one I've ever had by far, incidentally), and that was about the time I discovered a magazine publisher had used an article and photos by me without telling me, without credit or payment, as if it were a staff piece. When the editor tried to deny it, I paid him a visit - and came away with a cheque but no apology.

Since then it's been business all the way.

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Authors United letter here
Further commentary courtesy of Mathew Ingram at Gigaom

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