Feb 2, 2010

Macmazon Fail - The danger of mixing business with pleasure...

"Publishing is one of the few things that combines passion projects and financial ventures."

The above statement is unfortunate but true. Most writers (but not all) write because they love it. They love the art of crafting words into meaningful passages that evoke emotion and capture the imagination. They get up sit at the same old desk and stare at that same blank screen time and time again because they can't imagine being happy doing anything else.

The same applies for most editors. In order to process the dozens and dozens of slush pile manuscripts, the average editor really needs to enjoy that diamond in the rough. They need to be willing to shape books with potential but not polish and work with every one of us idiots who are convinced they are the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.

But at the same time, publishing is a business. Units sold represent food on the table for thousands of people across the publishing industry from authors and editors to printers, booksellers, and agents.  Money is involved and that means everyone has their own interests to protect and ultimately, they must obey the bottom line. In some respects, it's no different than agriculture or manufacturing.

But books aren't apples or iPods. They don't grow on trees and they don't roll off an assembly line. Each book is unique, every author different. It's a strange blend of passion and product and it sometimes becomes problematic.

As was the case when Amazon and MacMillian decided to have a little staring contest this past weekend, I had mixed thoughts. Part of me understands that publishing is a business and that everyone is looking out for their own interests. Amazon wants to move product and make money. MacMillian wants to be able to publish books in such a way that they can pay the authors and the editors and everyone else and still have enough to present a strong quarter to their investors. I can't necessarily blame either party. The issue is that more often than not these normal business disputes end up hurting writers.

For your average author (i.e. not Rowling, Grisham, or Meyer) every book that gets sold is another dollar toward a mortgage payment, another meal for a child or two, and if they are lucky enough, a somewhat stable existence. And when anything happens that prevents books from being sold (like MacmazonFail) the authors suffer.

Amazon doesn't sell a specific publisher's books. The authors suffer.

A series doesn't sell well and the subsequent options don't get picked up. The authors suffer.
Publishing houses and magazines fold and go under. The authors suffer.

It sucks. It sucks even harder when the authors being hurt are people who we consider friends; something becoming exponentially easier with the internet. But it's inevitable where books and business collide. It's the risk of combing art and capitalism. And it's a risk that every author takes in exchange for doing something they love. It might be courage or it be insanity but its part of the territory. Unfortunately, I have a feeling this is only the first shot in a much larger war.

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