Monday, 24 June 2013

The War on Traditional Publishing

I haven't heard this particular complaint in a few months (I've been busy), but it's a popular refrain among the suffering trad-publishing mid-list that self-publishers are 'out to destroy' or 'waging war on' traditional publishing. We normally reply along the lines of 'Of course we're not, we just want more options for authors'. Then something like this bullshit happens.

Well, you might say, that's just someone getting angry about the standard of self-published work, isn't it? I mean, OK, they're making wildly inaccurate, baseless, sourceless allegations, but it's just so much hot air. Isn't it?

No, no it isn't. The implicit purpose of rants like that one (and I'll admit, it's a particularly extreme example) is to stop people reading self-published work. It's written to make readers not want to read our books, to make them pass us over without a second thought in favour of 'real' authors and 'proper' publishers. It's designed to put us out of business.

What I'm getting at is this: there is a war on here, but we self-publishers didn't start it. Trad authors like Kozlowski up there and their corporate shills like Scott Turow denigrate, belittle and insult us constantly. They rush to man the walls between the gates they keep, no matter how badly those walls are crumbling. Our business practices are 'corrupt' and 'predatory'; theirs are 'literary' and 'legitimate'. And they control, pretty much by definition, the mainstream media - they control the narratives and with them the attitudes of the majority of readers.

They can charge £9 for a paperback, pay authors maybe £1.50, and then give us the excuse that they've got businesses to run - businesses that pay needless rent on offices in one of the most expensive commercial districts in the world. They can reject an author as dedicated and talented as Joe Konrath 500 times, but publish two ghostwritten 'autobiographies' of Justin Bieber, and then accuse self-publishers of flooding the marketplace with crap. They can engage in an actual crime to force a (bad-for-everyone) pricing model on distributors, then accuse Amazon of 'monopolistic' practices.

So yes, we're fighting a war, in self-defence if nothing else. But there's a difference between fighting a war and aiming for the destruction of traditional publishing. When Britain declared war on the Nazis, or America on the Japanese Empire, we weren't out to destroy Germany or Japan. We were trying to force them to back down, to stop attacking us. The ultimate aim of war isn't destruction; it's peace.

Indeed, Germany and Japan have gone on to be immensely powerful nations, nations that now stand side-by-side with their WW2 enemies, nations whose strength is grounded in economic and cultural ties to former enemies. No-one wants the truly grand traditions of traditional publishing to die out. Traditional publishing has strengths that should not be wasted, and employs a huge number of immensely talented editors, designers and marketers, people whose skills this industry needs more now than ever before.

But until the vicious attacks on self-publishers stop, until the power of the traditional war-machine is broken and the marketplace evened out, until the only thing that matters is the quality of your product and the integrity with which you present it, this is a war, and we ought to be fighting it. We don't want to put anyone out of business. We just don't want to be put out of business ourselves.

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