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.