Tuesday, May 13, 2014

News from the Litosphere

Things are happening! And I have opinions about them!



First up is Amazon's fight with mega publisher Hachette. Amazon wanted a better contract -- what exactly that entails isn't clear, but it doesn't really matter. Their response to it has been reportedly pretty dramatic. Raising prices on Hachette books, suggesting books from other publishers to customers, and even, supposedly, delaying shipping when a customer actually orders a Hachette book.

What to think of all this? Well, back when Amazon was fighting with Macmillan over the high price of eBooks. I was firmly on Amazon's side here, since they were directly acting on behalf of their customers. Here, their position is less sympathetic. One because we're not really sure what Amazon is trying to extract from the publisher. Two because, to get what they want, they're actively making life harder for their customers. And that's a shitty thing to do.

I've heard some more serious talk, though, that this might be an antitrust violation. That Amazon's status as the number one bookseller constitutes a monopoly, and these negotiations with Hachette are therefore illegal. Which ... I don't know if I agree with.

With the caveat that I'm not a lawyer, simply having a high market share doesn't make you a monopoly. Do Amazon's practices prevent others from competing fairly? Not hardly. Plenty of local, independent bookstores manage to succeed in spite of Amazon, and Barnes and Noble is much more aggressive and choosy about what they stock and carry.

Plus, it's hard to argue that Amazon is monopolistic when they allow (and actually make it easy) eBooks from competitors on their Kindle device. If you want to sell your eBook outside of Amazon, there is literally nothing stopping you. The only thing Amazon provides is publicity and familiarity with consumers, neither of which I see them as required to provide to every single publisher and self-publisher.

That said, given that Amazon is getting into the publishing game with imprints like 47North, they're under a lot more scrutiny now. Could it be said that their actions toward Hachette are being done as a way to promote their own published works? If so, I could easily see the government frowning on that (though, the likelihood of any big company getting dinged for anything these days is pretty low).

Next on my list is the 2014 Hugos. Normally, the publishers and authors nominated for Hugos provide the voters with the nominated works free of charge. So, you know, the voters can read them and vote. Kind of an important thing.

This year has made news for two reasons. One is that Tor is giving out the entire Wheel of Time series, which has been nominated for Best Novel (yes, the whole series, don't get me started), in the Hugo packet. Which is awesome!

Not so awesome? Orbit, publisher of Best Novel nominees Parasite, Ancillary Justice and Neptune's Brood, has opted to provide only excerpts. I find this incredibly problematic. Not because I demand FREE BOOKZ! That's not the point, and anyone made because they think they're entitled to the work is in the wrong here.

But reading the Hugo packet is a pretty big time commitment for me in general, especially given that I read fairly slowly and we don’t have a whole lot of lead time. I will probably not seek out the Orbit novels in their entirety by the voting date, and I will not vote for them if I haven’t read them.

That’s not punishing the authors or being spitefully entitled. I really like Seanan’s work, and I’ve heard great things about Ancillary Justice. It’s just the reality of the situation — including full works makes it easy and convenient for me to get them, and removing that convenience makes it a lot less likely I’m going to read everything in time.

The authors themselves have actually stepped back from the decision. They didn't quite decry it, but they did make it clear that it the decision was entirely the publishers, and they had no input or choice in the matter. Curious, especially since Orbit's justification is that they're looking out for their authors.

Clearly Orbit thinks that giving out the full novels with the packet will hurt sales. Which, frankly, I find offensive. They're viewing Hugo voters as direct income sources. Imagine if an indie film distributor got nominated for an Oscar, then refused to provide the film to Academy voters on the basis that those deadbeats should just go out and buy a ticket! It's ridiculous.

I don't know if they'll change their decision. I hope they do, and if not, I hope I can get around to reading the novels anyway. But I'm not going to guarantee it.

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