Publications and monopolies
A Happy New Year to all my readers!
As yet I don’t have a release date for the hard copy edition of Cruel and Unusual Punnishments but I’ll announce it here as soon as I’m given the information. Meanwhile, the electronic version seems to be selling quite well. If you’re among the purchasers thereof, thank you – and I hope you’ve enjoyed the contents (and have used them to elicit groans from families and friends).
More writers from my part of the world – Derbyshire, England – are also busy publishing their work. One recent example, and a very good one, is Anne Grange’s young-adult/crossover novel Distortion, which concerns friendship, family, and loud rock music. Anne’s protagonist, Jason, buys an old acoustic guitar in a charity shop and imagines what he can achieve with it, not knowing that his mother Kaz had once starred in a rock band… Distortion is available in a Kindle version (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N5H19HN/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482338885&sr=1-3) and as a paperback (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1541175891/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482338885&sr=1-10). It’s well worth a read!
Who can blame Anne, or any of us, for publishing via Amazon? Yes, my latest book is available directly from the publisher, FBP, but can any of us be surprised that most of the sales to date have been through Amazon? Amazon is more efficient than most mutinational giants and it’s not as unreasonable about royalties as many traditional mainstream publishers are. But it’s approaching monopoly status, at a regrettable cost: it’s driving many independent publishers to extinction.
A few days ago I received an e-mail from Charlotte Holley, one of the two-woman team that runs Gypsy Shadow Publishing (GSP) in Texas. Some seven years or so ago they e-published my children’s story Fenella and the Magic Mirror, which has been much enjoyed by its readers, thanks in no small measure to Charlotte’s illustrations; hence my inclusion in the circular e-mail. It seems from the message that “All Romance E-books” (ARe) has ceased to be solvent because Amazon has squeezed it out of the market. I never had any direct dealings with ARe but it was reputedly a thoroughly honest company and Charlotte is among many who now lament its demise. The fate of ARe has been, is being, and will be shared my many other small concerns. Charlotte and her colleage Denise are plainly worried about the future of GSP because Amazon is considerably less generous to them than other outlets have proved.
So what’s the loss to us as authors? As Anne Grange and I and numerous other writers have proved, Amazon markets our work and we receive royalties from sales, so why worry if a few small concerns go to the wall? Well, in my view, the loss is significant. In publishing as in any other business, it’s much more comfortable to deal with small companies than big ones, and those who run delightful little businesses such as GSP work enormously hard for their authors for little or no personal gain. You’d have to be pretty thick-skinned not to respect that kind of commitment.
But there’s a more general point. Historians have long found the origins of the Industrial Revolution in 18th century Britain a rich source of research publications. The “causes” of the Industrial Revolution, which for a century or more made Britain the richest and most powerful nation on the planet and by far the biggest manufacturer and exporter of machinery, were many and varied. But one important factor was the encouragement of entrepreneurship and the discouragement of monopolies, government-run or otherwise. As a result of this, anyone with a good idea and the will and commitment to follow it through had a fair chance of success, and a not too remote chance of making a fortune. In France, still very much the cultural hub of Europe, and a great power for centuries, government-owned monopolies stifled enterprise, precluded competition, and thereby prevented the kind of progress that was galloping ahead on the other side of the English Channel. And in the 1790s France suffered a devastating social and political revolution, not an industrial one. In short: it was the variety and range of small business operations that provided the engine for success. Big monopoly proved to be killer of progress and a key factor in unleasing the French Revolution.
Of course, you might argue that industrial progress in 18th and 19th century Britain isn’t a fair analogy for publishing activities in the 21st, but I suggest that it is. However much we value Amazon and what it’s achieved, we need to keep small publishing houses alive. The competition is healthy for everyne concerned. So, fellow-writers, if you have a book you want to get into the public domain, see what small publishers can do for you. Because they’re small they don’t have the marketing power of the big names (certainly not that of Amazon), but no matter who your publisher is, big or small, you still have to do a fair percentage of the marketing yourself. And by helping to keep the small publishers in business, you’re fostering variety and choice, and rewarding some very hard-working entrepreneurs.