04. April 2008 · Comments Off on The Advance of the POD People · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun and Games, General, Literary Good Stuff

Here we are, after a week of the Great Amazon-Booksurge Kerfuffle of 2008; wherein the great 800 pound gorilla of internet retailing has strong-armed various small POD (publish on demand) houses into having any of their books sold through Amazon printed for delivery to the customer by Amazon’s in-house print division. They did this by the simple expedient of threatening to ‘turn off’ the Amazon “buy” button for those authors who publish through those POD houses. Essentially, the book would still be there on the Amazon page… but if you wanted to actually to buy, you’d have to go through one of the secondary vendors… and it wouldn’t qualify for the free Amazon shipping. And having Amazon do the printing – through a POD publisher notorious among the cognoscenti for shoddy work – and charging for it, chipping away even further at author royalties… the fur is still energetically flying among the book-bloggers and writers’ discussion groups. It was the blatant bullying of the Amazon/Booksurge reps which got up peoples noses the most. Honestly, it’s as if they never heard the old saying about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Scroll down for my previous posts on this – and check out this page of updated information from Writers Weekly is here Oh, goody, the American Society of Journalists and Authors is adding their voice to the mighty chorus! This doesn’t look like it is going to die a quiet death and very soon, as much as Amazon probably hopes it will.

Now there seems to be a lull in the storm while everyone takes stock and figures out what to do next. Although my publisher, Booklocker, has declined the offer of a contract for Amazon-Booksurge’s services with the vigor and force of a concrete block thrown through a plate-glass window – indeed has taken a very prominent place in aggressively reporting on the tidal wave of criticism crashing upon Amazon.com as well as practically surfing on the leading edge, “To Truckee’s Trail” is still available through Amazon. (No link, I’ve sworn off Amazon for the moment!) To the best knowledge of the other IAG members, no one’s buy buttons have been turned off, and we have member-writers published by just about all of the various POD houses. The fury continues unabated, though – and it’s hard not to imagine various lawyers hastily brushing up on various anti-trust regs and laws though. And whatever in-house emergency meetings at Amazon this week must have been eventful. Oh, to have been a fly on those walls!

Standing back and taking a long look, and considering other developments though – as the release of the handy-dandy-Espresso Book Machine and perhaps this kerfuffle-du-jour is just one more of those harbingers of change in the world of books and publishing. Everything changes, nothing stays the same for long. Having been hanging out in among the book blogs and in the author discussion groups for the last two years has been enlightening. Many of the other writers in the IAG have been in and around the writing game for years . They don’t have the five-figure royalty checks – if they did, they wouldn’t be hanging around in the discussion group skulling out ways to market their books if they did. But what I picked up, over and over again was a feeling that for most writers, the way the literary industrial complex is set up… it just was not working, and not working in a big way. This guy (now on hiatus, unfortunately) was a shrewd and extremely knowledgeable insider.
This blogger is another: and what they were saying was confirmed by the writers that I met in putting together the IAG; which is that it is nearly impossible for interesting, genuinely original books with niche appeal to even slip in over the transom at traditional publishers.

If you aren’t an established best-selling writer already, forget trying to break into the club. Still, there were all sorts of interesting bits of knowledge floating around – like the day of big advances from a publisher is probably over. And if you do get one, you might have to pay it back if the book doesn’t sell. And that more and more publishers were using print-on-demand, for exactly the quantities needed, rather than print a warehouse full of cheap copies that would be remaindered and pulped. And all but the very top rank of best-selling authors had to go out and do their own marketing, organize their own signing events.

In the light of all that, I speculate that Harper Collins’ new imprint is trying to tap into the indie-author and POD paradigm. From what I can make out of this story and from some of the IAG group discussions, it all seems like Harper Collins is having a go at what we’ve been doing with our various POD houses – Booklocker, and iUniverse and all the rest for the last couple of years. We’ve saying with varying degrees of desperation, hope and passion that big publishing just couldn’t go on the way it has been; it had to change, or go down. Now we see the very first cracks in the wall of Things as They Are, and hope that the paradigm shift has really and truly happened.

One of the big traditional publishers is tentatively trying out something new, and trying out what indie writers have been doing in the last five years. Why, yes, I think I’ll have a drink, so that I can toast to them.

And to myself – I sold a copy of “To Truckee’s Trail” to a contractor doing work on a house in my neighborhood, and two copies to co-workers at one of my jobs. There is a reason to keep a box of copies and a fistful of promotional materials in the car, you know!

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