Saturday, July 19, 2014

Do Publishers Really Want the Government to Protect Writers?

There are many odd things about the weird media campaign by big publishers against Amazon.  The first was the unreasonable expectation that readers should be outraged that they had to wait a week or two to get a copy of Hachette titles or that they couldn't pre-order Hatchette books on Amazon when they could easily find them elsewhere.  Then there was the strange assumption that the general public should leap to Hatchette's defense in a private business dispute without knowing exactly what was in dispute.  Then there was James Patterson, well known for cranking out marginal thrillers with teams of ghost writers, lamenting that Amazon was going to destroy "literature."  The Salon website weighed it with almost daily anti-Amazon pieces, the oddest of which was an attack on angry self-publishers that ended with a plea for them to support big publishing against Amazon.

But surely the strangest argument in the dispute, and the larger battle between big publishing and Amazon, is the idea that the government should somehow intervene on big publishing's side.  Take this nice little plant in a generic Reuters news feed: "The U.S. government's unwillingness to stop Amazon from using hardball tactics in fights with book publishers has angered book lovers…"  What?  Who?  What book lovers are angered the U.S. government won't intervene?  The book loving public couldn't care less.  But I guess that reporter got his drinks paid for by some Amazon hating publishing executive.

It really shows the desperation of big publishing.  They have to know that this argument doesn't work, but seem to hope the threat will be enough to get Amazon to back down.

It's completely absurd for anyone to think the government should intervene in this business dispute when no one really knows what it's about.  Moreover, the last time the government intervened in the publishing world, it was clearly against the big publishers in the Apple price fixing lawsuit.  Still, proxies for big publishing keep floating this idea out there that government action somehow makes sense, without being able to say exactly what the government is supposed to do.  Yell at Amazon and tell them to do whatever Hachette wants?  More embarrassingly, they hint that they might have to wait for a more "friendly" administration, all but admitting they need a government that can be bought off with bribes to fight for their side.

It should be increasingly clear to those behind this failing spin campaign that they are losing the argument.  Readers, the general public and self-publishers have not been fooled and they aren't going to be.  The debate is shifting rapidly, not only as to why Amazon might not be in the wrong, but why nasty standard practices make big publishing a villain, not a victim.   Along those lines, there is a great piece on the Huffington post by Thomas Hauser, explaining why the government should intervene, but against big publishing. 


It seems to me the longer this debate goes on, the more it damages traditional publishers and helps Amazon.  I suggest it's time for the big publishers to advise their minions to move on to another topic and focus on cleaning up their own abusive business practices.

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