June 16th, 2008

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

Writers strike?

No, not Hollywood this time. Take a gander at this - there are some BIG NAMES on that list dammit.

Here are some facts behind the UK grab, supplied by UK publisher Hachette Livre:

* Larger British book retailers already receive the most generous terms in the English-language world from publishers.
* Major retailers, including Amazon, generally already receive on average well over 50% of the recommended retail price.
* Amazon now makes some 16% of all book sales in Britain.
* At its present rate of growth Amazon could be the largest bookseller in Britain in about three years.
* Amazon seems each year to go from one publisher to another making increasing demands.

Look, I know it's a huge indtustry and it's all interconnected - but there are a hundred ways to sell books, and Amazon (although huge) is only one of them. But I'm looking at this from the other end of the publishing loop. There might be a hundred ways to sell books, but you can only sell books that are actually produced - and without the authors booksellers like Amazon would HAVE no profits. Hell, there would BE no booksellers like Amazon. So how come it's shaken down to this in the first place - that the most interchangeable of entities in the publishing industry (I mean you can buy book X from Amazon, or Borders, or Barnes & Noble, or Waterstones, or Chapters, or any one of an array of smaller independent bookstores) get *fifty percent or more of the book's selling price*, and the authors who write these books get 10% or very often 7 or 8% royalty on their work, which comes out of the 40% that the PUBLISHER of the books gets to keep and out of which EVERYONE - writers, editors, copyeditors, artists, publicity and marketing people - gets to be paid? What is it about the selling of a book that makes it worth fully half of the book's purchase price? In particular, what makes it worth that to Amazon, which doesn't have to keep up a vast array of scattered warehouses for different retail locations but runs the whole operation from a single major center and online (which should have shaved DOWN the profit margin, not hiked it up...)

I love booksellers, okay? I fully and freely admit that they are more than entitled to a percentage of a book's sale price, because yes, those of them who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic and interacting with their customers face-to-face actually do a HEAP of work towards getting a title to sell to the public.

But Amazon - this, on top of the BOokSurge moment back home in the USA (publish POD with us or no sales bad boys no biscuit) - is Amazon falling prey to an overwhelming hubris engendered by their being the first off the starting line, the biggest, the most household of household names?

And is it time for the rest of the publishing industry to draw a line in the sand...?