Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pretenses and Hypocrisy

I thought of Big Daddy Pollitt several times this week.

Big Daddy is the Southern family patriarch in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. All his loved ones are gathered at the family plantation to celebrate his 65th birthday, and they've decided not to tell him he's dying of cancer ... while they fight with each other for control of his estate.

Burl Ives as Big Daddy walks into the room where his son Gooper and daughter-in-law Mae are trying to persuade Big Mama to sign a legal document giving them control of the plantation. When the couple deny that they're doing anything, Big Daddy growls, "There ain't nuthin' more powerful than the smell of mendacity!"

I've gotta say I agree with Big Daddy. Rewriting the truth to suit one's purposes stinks.

What am I talking about? All the righteous anger the Big Six and the American Booksellers Association are mustering over Odyssey Editions' exclusive deal with Amazon.

Let's recap, shall we? It started a week ago today when John Sargent, Macmillan's CEO, said here:
I am appalled, however, that Andrew [Wylie] has chosen to give his list exclusively to a single retailer. A basic tenet of publishing is that our function is to reach as many readers as we can. We disseminate our books and the ideas within them as broadly as possible.
This is, of course, the same John Sargent who--along with HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Hachette--announced in December a willingness to delay the release of e-books to advantage the print editions.

The New York Times specifically mentioned Mr. Sargent here on December 9, 2009:
John Sargent, chief executive of Macmillan, owner of imprints like Farrar, Straus and Giroux and St. Martin’s Press, said the company has already delayed e-book publication on several novels, including those by Janet Evanovich and “The Gathering Storm,” the 12th volume in the “Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Mr Sargent said the company was likely to delay other titles in the future.
Where was his concern about "reaching as many readers as we can" then when four of the Big Six were talking about delaying e-book releases for periods ranging up to six months?

Yesterday, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) got into the act. ABA CEO Oren Teicher said in an article here:
... from the perspective of independent booksellers one important reality is unchanged: Diminishing the availability of titles and narrowing the options for readers can only harm our society in the long run.
Even UK booksellers joined the parade. The Bookseller reported here on a quote by a spokesman for Waterstone's, a UK and European book chain:
This move has already been criticised by Waterstone's, with head of e-commerce David Kohn saying it was "very disappointing to see that some of our best writers' work is to be only available in such a limited fashion. It does not help build the market, nor does it serve readers well."
First of all, it's true that the e-books in question will only be available on the Amazon Kindle. However, the print books will still be widely available--in hardcover, in trade paper and in paperback.

Second, back in June, 2007, Borders released its first "exclusive and proprietary" title, Slip and Fall by Nick Santora. Back then, Borders Group CEO George Jones had plans to do additional proprietary books, believing that if readers could only locate these books at Borders, it would drive traffic to the company.

I don't recall hearing anyone raise an alarm about the limited availability of this or other planned "exclusive" releases.

The Good Lord knows I've had my problems with Amazon. I've thrown a lot of rocks at them from this blog. In fact, the reason I offered props to the Authors Guild this week was because they so neatly summed up my feelings about Amazon when they said:
Regardless of the exclusivity issues, any direct agreement between a literary agency and Amazon is troubling. Amazon has, time and again, wielded its clout in the industry ruthlessly, with little apparent regard for its relationships with authors or publishers or, for that matter, antitrust rules.
But the truth remains. The publishing industry ignored the changing technological landscape for too long. Now that reality has caught up with them, publishers and booksellers are trying to wrap themselves in a cloak of sanctity--motivated to protest by their desire to protect readers.


I don't like Amazon, but I don't buy the crap the industry is shoveling this week. The Odyssey Editions deal is a plus for authors ... as long as they don't ever forget that the friendly Amazon of today can as easily turn back into the bully Amazon we've seen throwing its weight around before.

"My, Grandma, what big teeth you have."

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