I wish upon an Indie

Author J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter an...

Author J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at the Easter Egg Roll at White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Author: a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc; the composer of a literary work.

That wasn’t hard to define now was it? Ah, but these days the word is so much more complex, no? What sort of author are you, they ask. Genre? What does that tell us? No, sir, what I meant to ask is: are you indie? Are you self-published? Or are you an author?

It’s harsh, and think in no way would I ever honestly address it as such, but the fact is: many do. Publishing companies, certainly, would like to draw the lines there—and then work their best to weed out the ones that don’t meet the latter’s definition.

So what’s the difference?

An “author” in such terms are writers vetted and published by established companies—usually referred to as the “Big Six.” Visibility is at its highest point for this select breed, as the publishers work to get the books mass-produced and mass-distributed. Yet it is also the route that sees the least return for any “author.” An agent if often advised as a go-between, while low percents to the writers, high percents to the publishers means minimum wage rewards, generally. You need to sell a lot (and I mean a lot) for this to equal any sort of earnings.

Not that most of us are in this for the money, of course, but it’s still something to consider.

In the past decade, however, we have also seen the rise of indie authors. Now, for all intents and purposes, both indie authors and self-pub authors are technically “indie”, but generally the term refers to those published by smaller, (you guessed it) independent companies. Distribution is less here–more focused–but the percents are typically greater, and the company still tends to provide an editor.

Amazon Kindle wordmark.

Amazon Kindle wordmark. Public Domain.

Then there are the self-pubs. It means exactly what it says—the author has taken it upon him/herself to publish their book without any company’s hand in the matter. Amazon has truly pushed the advent of this in recent years, as has the e-book revolution sweeping the literary world, but in many cases these people still face great scorn—not just from established literary circles, but from all corners of society. Which is a real pity, when you think about it. Many of them, after all, are writers fed up or terrified of the old guard—men who determine, year after year, the certain type of literature that can fit the mould, and the certain number of those books that can enter the market (I refer you back to the Big Six). Even some very well-established authors, such as J.K. Rowling, have begun to go this route.

And why not? If you can make it work, the rewards are at their greatest for the actual author. The burden of distribution and marketing and editing are all on them too, however, and therein lies the issue.

Many think self-pubs are just giving up. That they haven’t struggled—if they couldn’t convince a publisher, why should they waste our time? It’s nonsense, really. There are many talented authors out there that could never get their works published that way—not with the surging slush piles and increasingly stringent restrictions at the publishing companies. Should they simply sit by and let their works gather dust, than?

Well, the issue is that these people must combat, in such a system, with the (many) people that honestly shouldn’t be published. Those who cannot be bothered to edit, put no effort to organization and, so sorry, simply cannot write. They swarm the self-published scene and drown the image of the rest—while simultaneously swallowing most attempts to find them.

See the conundrum?

Personally, I believe “indie authors” are key to the system—they are a necessary and legitimate response to the failures in a rather chicken-with-its-head-cut-off styled industry. But even so, they do need some sort of guidance, some oversight. The authors that truly try—they do not demean the industry as some claim. However, the mobs of unedited, uncaring scribblers do.

Time adjusts all things, but this is a situations that requires care. Truly, it comes down to the question that’s been at the heart of democracy itself from the oldest of days…

How do we guarantee the freedom, while still providing the security?

What do you think? Because personally, I’m growing tired of standing on this precipice.

The Fall of Giants

It is a curious and oft-repeated consideration that man has a knack for hastening his own destruction.

So it is with the publishing industry. Honestly, there’s no reason for it, no need for it, but still publishers convince themselves down roads no sensible man would walk. It’s been a long-time discussion in the literary field: Amazon vs. Traditional Publishers, e-books vs. print, the question of whether the big publishers could honestly self-destruct, plunging the literary world into further uncertainty. Until recently, as much pain and stupidity as they might reap (and really, they’re skilled at it), I never thought the publishers could actually die. Not entirely, as some shout.

But if you hadn’t heard, publishers have committed a blunder of monumental proportions. Five of the Big Six (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon and Schuster; only Random House escaping) recently conspired with Apple to price set the e-book market, in an effort to stab at Amazon, and also to, as many see it, gouge the e-book market out altogether. Atrocious as that is, they also managed to get themselves caught through acts of blatant stupidity.

Whoops.

A Justice Department lawsuit has followed. While the news reports they are trying (desperately, almost, as some articles seem to paint the tone)  to settle this out of court, either way the publishers are screwed, and I’ll tell you why. Their price manipulation broken, all they have succeeded in doing at the end of the day is to appear (by which I mean, showing rather nicely) desperate, galvanize the elephant in the room—Amazon, and consequently give Amazon exactly what it wanted all along: the ability to determine market pricing.

 

Sir Salman Rushdie

Author Salman Rushdie, public domain image care of Wikimedia Commons.

According to author Salman Rushdie, of course, the US Justice Department “wants to destroy the world of books.” I think that’s taking it a little far, but there’s many that feel that way–livelihoods, as well as an already threatened industry, are about to take some major hits. It doesn’t change the fact of illegality in these publishers’ actions.

What’s more, if this thing actually goes to court, well, let’s just say the publishers can’t really afford a drawn-out lawsuit right now, nor the bad press it would bring. Or, I suppose I should say, the additional bad press it would bring. Apple would survive without trouble, of course, because they’re Apple–this is probably little more than a roadbump for them.

Now, I’ve heard some sources debate whether this anti-competitive behavior could actually be pro-competitive. It’s not, but unfortunately, things have devolved to a point now where we have but one of two choices—and both of them end in monopoly.

The publishers and their anti-competitive mindsets would have given all the powers of a monopoly to Apple and anyone aligned with them.  Unfortunately, in failing, they manage to achieve the same exact effect, but without any of them reaping the benefits. Instead, they eliminate competition on the market because Amazon will, in the power vacuum , spring forth, and become the monopoly in turn, reestablishing a firm and commanding hold on the e-book market.

Makes for good news, of course, but a pretty rotten situation.

What’s still worse, at least, for publishers? Even if they weather the Justice Department lawsuit, they already face a class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of all e-book customers, that could run them damaged into the billions—a crippling prospect at such a critical juncture.

But the people at Amazon are probably doing a little dance right now. What about you?

E-Readers

The Kindle

The Kindle. The I-pad.  The more time comes and goes, the more of these electronic goodies come prancing onto the market place. Book sales are at a terrible low, profits made only worse by the war raging between the motley crew of national bookstores left and the online sellers like Amazon.com.

So the question I ponder today is: what is the future of literature? The Kindle costs over $200, but if you are a voracious reader, you’re easily paying more than that for your hard copies every year. Books themselves can be cheap, but no book (outside of a penny and dollar shop) are going to top the stories on Kindle. Kindle’s prices are on the rise, but as a whole, its prices remain incredibly cheap compared to its hard-copy competitors. Plus, as long as you don’t drop your Kindle in water, your collection is going to last forever. Wear and tear’s not an issue there.

Another advantage of E-readers? Many books in one. You have a portable little friend that has your whole collection right at your disposal. It’s far easier to keep track of than a stack of bulky books. If you are like me, though, you have a thing for aesthetics. I love the smell of old books. I love the feeling of the paper between my fingers, nor can I focus so clearly on a screen as I can upon a book. Plus, there is nothing quite like the weight of a hard cover well-in-hand.

Still, for those well-suited to the screens, these electronic readers have adjustable fonts, to accommodate aging eyes. They can easily combat the glare of the sun, as well. There are no pages to turn, nor tear, and you can proceed at just the touch of a hand.

Speaking as a college student myself, though, the benefits to us students should be obvious. Supposing the book stores all turned to Kindles with their stocks? Hundreds of dollars are wasted on textbooks every semester. With the Kindle’s prices, imagine how much money we younglings could save?

Yet what do these electronics mean for libraries? Could the future be shelves lined with blank readers, waiting to be checked out? Maybe you would have to bring your own and set to browsing their selection. Perhaps a display—pick your program, what’s your pleasure? Just click a button and download your choice! When the due date’s come and gone, the program/book of your choice will simply disappear again, and you will be ready for another check-out. It’s less personal, but the ease is undeniable. I would be interested to see how they charge you fines, though. Perhaps it would simply do away with them all-together, if the program simply disappears after a time anyhow.

But as an author, I implore you one and all to think on what the e-reader will mean for the writer. We labor over every script, but it is we that are always the first screwed over by the companies, the publishers, etc. When the market suffers, rarely is it the companies that feel the hurt—always the writer. Money is rough to come by in the profession, unless you are one of the lucky ones like George R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling. So when we turn to the even cheaper markets of e-books, how much additional hurt will it put on writers? Are the royalties on a $1 book sale going to keep a writer going? The companies still have to pay everyone that works for them, and at a buck a pop, do you really think they are going to be kind to the authors? That nice little copyright only means so much.

As a practical son of the times, I see the advantage of the e-readers. I see the advancement they embody for society. As a writer, however, I have to side against them. Convenient, yes, but the negatives for authors far outweigh the good. Plus, for me, it all comes back to those aesthetics. I am picky where many others aren’t, I know, but it is simply how I feel.

Think about it. Draw your own conclusions. One thing is for certain, though: the literary world is at a crossroads. One can only guess what might yet come after.