If You Close The Door The Night Can Last Forever

Across the internet there is a growing refrain, a chorus rising like the tide to echo throughout the world.  Like one of those stirring musical numbers that starts with a few voices and then more join in, until the whole damned cast is singing and the audience begins humming along in reflex.  It’s a touching moment, honestly, like when they played “We Are The World” on Muzak.

“They can’t ban self-published erotica because if they did they’d have to stop selling Fifty Shades Of Grey!”

It’s so heartwarming to see the whole world unified around a common theme that I feel rather like a heel for pointing out that it’s total bullshit.

It is, though.  Fifty Shades Of Grey is published by Vintage Books, which is owned by Alfred A Knopf, which is owned by Random House, which has merged with Penguin and become the largest producer of printed material on the planet.

You are not.

Cue the second verse, the howls of outrage, the Greek chorus of morbid indignation.

“It’s hypocritical that they treat big companies differently that self-published authors!”

Well, I suppose that depends on how you define “hypocrisy”, but for the sake of the argument I’ll grant the accusation.  So? Hypocrisy is not against the law, if it were then Al Gore would be in prison forever.

Of course retailers are going to treat big companies differently than self-published authors!  They have to.

I just ran a search on Amazon for Random House LLC, and I came up with 26,571 hits. I ran another on Penguin Group LLC and came up with 19,609 hits.  I can pretty much guarantee that not all of their divisions are showing up, so the final tally of Random Penguin is probably quite a bit higher.

Do you have 50,000 titles on Amazon?  No.

Random Penguin is a major money maker for Amazon.  They have the leverage to dictate their own terms.

You do not.

Cue the third verse:

“But self-published authors are a huge segment of Amazon’s sales and growing bigger every day!  If we all got together–” 

Let’s just cut that one short right there.  Not going to happen.  The whole point of self-publishing is the “self” part.  There is no central authority.  There is no “we”, just a whole bunch of “me’s”.

Yes, there are author collectives, and some authors are banding together to create small presses.  As a business move, this makes good sense.  However, while these collectives are able to pool marketing resources and negotiate with retailers as a group, they are still a bunch of small groups.

Nobody speaks for all self-published authors.  Nor would I want anyone to.

If you want to pull your books from mainstream e-book retailers as a protest, feel free.  That is a matter of individual conscience, and I would not presume to advise you.  Do what you feel is right.

Don’t expect that it will have an effect on how those companies do business, however.

I don’t want to seem to be marginalizing the ethical considerations of the situation.  I am a big fan of Ethics, it’s one of my favorite branches of Philosophy.  If you want to grab some beers and waste an evening debating Hegel vs Kierkegaard vs Wittgenstein, I’m your man.

However, I do not expect other people to obey my personal understanding of ethical behavior.  I have to deal with them as they are, not as I would prefer them to be.

Self-published authors are held to a different standard than are traditionally published authors.  This is because traditional publishers have more leverage with retailers due to their volume. 

It’s not fair.  You may think it’s not right.  I personally believe that it is an inevitable consequence of the relationship between producers and retailers.  If you control a significant portion of a retailer’s stock, then you can dictate more favorable terms.

However you feel about it, it isn’t going to be changed by complaining about it.  There is a silly petition circulating to stop e-book retailers from censoring books (which is something that no retailer has the power to do anyway).  It doesn’t matter how many signatures it collects, because none of the people signing it have any authority to do anything about how private companies do business.

The thing for professional self-published authors (and I flatter myself that I am one) to do is to deal with the situation as it is.  If I want to sell my books on a major retailer’s platform (and I do) then I have to abide by the rules that they set for me, as an independent content provider.   Wishing that they would afford me the same consideration that they give to a company with over three billion dollars in sales is pointless.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to If You Close The Door The Night Can Last Forever

  1. kingmidget says:

    Again I agree with you and I’m one of those people who says it’s hypocritical of the retailers to let 50 Shades in but close the door on self-published crap. Just as they have a right to be hypocrites, I have a right to point out that they’re being hypocrites. 🙂

  2. Dave Higgins says:

    As Neal Stephenson said, you need to have morals to be a hypocrite so it is not the worst thing to be.

    I suspect there might be quite an overlap between people who are most vocal about the unfairness and people who are most vocal about how the selection process of traditional publishers is unfair.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I choose to self-publish because it allows me the freedom to be my own editor. I accept that means that I don’t have the resources in the marketplace that a publishing house has. Fair, unfair? It’s the way it is.

      • Dave Higgins says:


        It is like rocks: getting one rock to move is easy, but will not achieve much unless you put a lot of effort into exactly the right movement; getting 200 rocks to move is much harder, but once you have, you do not need to focus so much on the detail. But no one is talking about how physics is unfair.

  3. ameliabishop says:

    Can you tell I am following your coverage of this issue closely? I am 🙂

    I think the reason we (self-publishers) always bring up 50 shades is three-fold: 1. It is traditionally published now, but was originally self-published (only after high sales did it get picked up by Vintage) 2. Just uttering the words “50 shades” delivers a knock-out argument-ending punch to those traditionalists who claim publishing houses set the standard for quality literature. 3. It stands as a reminder that there is a market for almost anything.

    I signed that petition (because why not?) but I don’t really believe there is any danger of amazon or any other retailer stopping their distribution of self-published erotica. It’s simply too profitable for them, and morals fold to profits 10 times out of 10. Will they have to be more careful about what they allow? Probably, and they probably should be. Actually, I believe Amazon has been pretty fair and reasonable in this. It’s Kobo that eliminated all self-published books without reason (though even they are re-shelving most titles now, slowly).

    And really, anyone who complains about having to follow publishing guidelines doesn’t deserve their royalties.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Now, I’ve avoided discussing the Kobo fiasco in detail because I don’t know much about it. I tried to put my works on Kobo and couldn’t get them to accept my bank information, so I don’t really follow the news on them.

      In my opinion, what happened with them is mostly some incredibly lazy programming–rather than try to differentiate between types of books they just shut down the entire “self-published” arm of their operation. As a business move goes it ranks right up there with “New Coke”.

      I am very please that you think my ramblings are worth following.

  4. Doug Daniel says:

    Good post, thanks again for your clarity.

    I don’t particularly like erotica as a concept, I don’t write it, but I refuse to get exercised about other people’s free speech. I also refuse to get upset when companies like Amazon draw a line in the sand, however hypocritical– it’s their sandbox. People would save themselves a lot of wear and tear if they just remembered that.

    So I’m pretty much on the sidelines on this one, watching the volleys go back and forth. My main problem is resisting the temptation to throw something like this on the Kindle author boards (re: “cutting erotica authors loose”)–

    Sigh– yes, sometimes I am just an immature bomb-thrower. I probably won’t do it because it would be like tossing blood into a school of sharks….

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I think that a kneejerk “us vs. them” mentality is responsible for well-meaning writers to come to the defense of some essentially indefensible works, myself,

      • Doug Daniel says:

        Hmm, I think you’re right.

        BTW, I’m kinda sorry for posting the link. I shouldn’t be seeing the funny in this situation just because I don’t have a dog in the fight. The Kindle Author boards, which have become fairly volatile in general lately, currently has several active threads on this topic with a rising level of anger (“It’s censorship!” “But you’re peddling smut!”), which for some reason always tickles something in me that is more thirteen-year-old-naughty-kid than middle-aged father. It’s not very admirable and I need to watch it. No need to throw gasoline on this fire.

  5. Pingback: Self-Publishing VS. Mainstream Publishing | mcwatty9

  6. Came here from McWatty’s site, and glad I did. Excellent observations.

    I must tell you, the mere mention of a “Random Penguin” made me laugh, even as I regretted the fact that anti-trust laws have become a thing of the past. And all THAT is affiliated with Amazon… good grief.

    Self-publishing is what it is. You’ll hardly ever connect with a wide audience. It’s like all the girls who flocked to Schwab’s Pharmacy in the 40s after Lana Turner was supposedly “discovered” there. All those girls, all in tight sweaters, sure that this was like a great fishing hole in Hollywood and they were the catch… not the bait.

    Thanks to McW for turning me on to an insightful post. Peace, Amy (a humble poet who self-published the hard way – formatting everything and having it run off at Office Max!!)

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