When everyone else loses, but the Too Big To Fail
Everyone you know has a smart phone these days. You hardly have the option NOT to have one. We can dicker about Samsung versus iPhone versus Blackberry, but the fact is you can hardly function without one any more.
But just as everyone you know has one, almost everyone you know has probably dealt with the darling of the hardware fails: the spiderweb screencrack.
Why, in this advance piece of digital marvel-work, does the ruddy carry-have all the integrity of a swiss cheese bandana?
I can explain in three well-chosen words: please give them your undivided attention. BECAUSE IT CAN.
Just as a car bumper no longer protects your vehicle from minor damage, just as everything from shoes to pop stars break down before they’ve even had the chance to become obsolete, we live in a world where your possessions are subject to the whim of companies with too much money and power to care if you’d like to keep your phone or car and not upgrade “with the times.”
The only thing worse than the deliberate poor quality of the products we’re offered and their inability to communicate with future versions of themselves (how many Apple power cords do YOU have?), is what I like to call “cyclic fetishization.”
It’s not just for bell bottoms or skinny jeans any more!
Now, you can wear enormous headphones just like they did when the Walkman came out, only now it’s cool. Again.
And why? BECAUSE THEY CAN.
Take the current Titanic battle between Hachette Book Group and Amazon. Just because you’ve maybe only heard of Hachette recently doesn’t do much to indicate its power or prestige.
Founded in the early 1800s (yes, THOSE 1800s) in France, it now owns Hyperion, and publishes such high-profile authors as Mitch Albom, David Baldacci, and Stephen Colbert.
Amazon I’m sure you’ve heard of. If you’re an author yourself, you may be publishing through Amazon’s integrated print-on-demand service Createspace. If you’re alive, you may have shopped for books or a million other products through Amazon’s website.
For a company that has put more bookstores out of business than Netflix did Blockbusters (before you ask—not a checked fact, more of an irresponsible hyperbole, but you get my drift), the idea that Amazon should be firmly on the side of the little guy is ridiculous.
But that’s where Amazon has shown up recently, touting its horror that Hachette would dare to offer its eBooks at a price comparable to that of print copies.
Amazon sent out to all its Createspace authors, by definition a group that is not represented by major players in the publishing industry, a lovely little email asking them to get on board, to protect their own interests by writing an email to Hachette’s CEO. This email should be deploring the high prices they want to charge for electronic copies of their catalogue. Oh, and send a copy to them, the “Amazon Team,” of course.
Mine came labelled as an “Important Kindle Request.” I opened it because I though it might have some bearing on me as an author, or perhaps even be something that would benefit me. Instead, I read this:
Dear KDP Author,
Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50.
Hachette is being ridiculous, of course, but Amazon no less so. Just invoking George Orwell and “good-old-dayism” doesn’t do much to obscure the facts. Authors are NOT the movers and shakers in the publishing world that you would like to believe we are. Yes, Stephen Colbert managed a huge shake-up when he asked (well, told – it’s Stephen Colbert, after all) his viewers to pre-order Edan Lepucki’s debut novel California to stick it to Amazon.
What did we get out of it? All apologies to Edan, I never buy a first novel because I’m told to, not by a comedian, and probably not by a critic. She got an insane boost to her career; Colbert made a point that one high-powered person can have an effect on other high-powered persons – and the rest of us?
If that’s not an object lesson in how little the “Clash of the Lit Titans” has to do with the average person, I don’t know what is.
Buy your books at Amazon’s “undercut everyone, even the author on her own website” prices, or at Hachette’s “we’re losing money because too many people prefer eReaders to print versions” ones, the answer is the same. It doesn’t make a hill of beans sort of difference which you choose. The only winner will be one of the giants.
And that’s the problem with monopolies. The Internet has its levelling advantages. I can put up my own website and sell my books, advertise my travel around the North American comic book circuit so you can find me at appearances and buy direct. I can blog, and reach as many people as find me interesting.
But neither Amazon, nor truly Hachette, has an interest in making me rich, or even helping me make a living. I know that Amazon can offer my books at whatever discount it wants, whenever it wants, and for as long as it wants, without my being able to say “boo.” I know Hachette can artificially create a New York Times bestseller with the aid of an admittedly (by me, I mean) much beloved nearly late night comedian.
But in the battle of the giants, we’re ground forces, and camp followers. Don’t confuse your objectives with theirs, and never believe they have your true interests at heart. If they want to pull your favourite products without warning, or change their terms without warning, there’s nothing you can do but go along with it.
They’re going to do it whether you object or not. BECAUSE THEY CAN.
For an extra laugh, visit the hilarious one-page website Amazon hacked together, www.readersunited.com where the above letter is also printed along with out-links to supporting articles. You’ll find it as transparently self-serving as George W. Bush’s PR site “www.bush2isthegreatestpresidentever.” Okay, made that last one up. But you get my drift.
Jen Frankel is a self published author who has several books under her belt and has appeared on a variety of mediums, including magazines and InnerSPACE. Her latest book dips into young adult science fiction with Leia of Earth.