Sunday, July 12, 2009

Time Magazine Gets Amazon Right--And Wrong

How lucky can an author get?

Maybe as lucky as Cayla Kluver. She wrote the novel picked from Amazon’s list of indie published books to be the first effort of their new publishing program. She wrote Legacy when she was only 15.

Amazon plans to choose books that have sold well and have received excellent reviews (presumably on their site) and they also plan to put their muscle behind promoting them. So reports Time magazine in the Arts section (June 22, p. 101).

The article touts the pure power of Amazon in the publishing world--something authors have worried about for a long time. And the Time writers Time worry about it a bit, too. They say, “If Amazon can’t make a deal with the publishers, it can always just become a publisher.

Which it is exactly what they are doing.

And yes this will limit the advantage traditional publishers have had in the publishing world for a long, long, long time. Call it clout. In fact it might not hurt the traditionals worldview to get a taste of their own medicine. It's funny how Amazon gets clobbered for their aggessiveness but we only hear whispers about the exclusive old publishers' club.

The authors of the Time article worry mostly because this new model foretells “a different editorial method [that will] engage a very different set of literary values.” From what I’ve seen over the decade since I started in the publishing industry, I figure that those values have been changing for a while now. It took Amazon quite a long time to figure out that their rye toast is buttered by authors and that they’d better treat them well if they want the marmalade (call it good will) to be spread liberally, too.

I tend to give Amazon a break. They only launched in 1995 so when I started noticing some of their exclusionary tactics, they were still infants. At least Amazon does seem to be getting it--that creative people (authors, product developers, inventors) are what feeds their business. It seems traditional publishers don’t quite have a secure handle on that concept except for their A-list names. Maybe they once did, but I don’t remember those days at all.

To be sure Amazon still slips now and then but they are slowly embracing authors without concern for the press they are published on. Ahem! Though once they’ve favored an author or publishing company, they want them to use the presses they own--Booksurge, CreateSpace.com and others.

After Time writers Lev Grossman and Andrea Sachs have done their worrying, they retreat. They decide “it’s not an either/or future. It’s both/and.” I couldn’t agree more.

You may not remember when people were sure that TV would destroy radio, but I remember. This fits with my philosophy of life. Things might change but the universe is large enough and generous enough to accommodate all. Yes, even in a recession.


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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books for writers, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. Her FRUGAL book for retailers is A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal". Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor blog.

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