Monday, 13 October 2014

Why I Joined Authors United

I guess "because I was asked" isn't an answer?

It's true though; or a part of the truth, anyway.   On July 3rd this year I got an e-mail via the SFWA, drawing my attention to an ongoing dispute between retail leviathan Amazon and publishing giant Hachette.  As the e-mail pointed it, such disputes are far from unusual; what was different in this instance was that Amazon had chosen to penalize Hachette by boycotting their products, which in this case meant books, which in turn meant boycotting the works of a considerable number of writers who were little more than innocent bystanders to the conflict.  In response, author Douglas Preston was intending to post an open letter of protest, and was looking for other authors who'd be willing to put their name to it.  Having read through what he'd said and done a little digging, I decided it was something I wanted to be a part of.

I guess my reasoning came down to two things.  Firstly, as a consumer more than as an author, I've been growing increasingly fed up with Amazon.  Some of the reasons are relatively minor: I got fed up with them when I took up their Prime trial offer and had a series of lousy experiences with unscrupulous couriers trying to meet unattainable targets.  I've been fed up with them since they took over Lovefilm, my movie-providing life blood, and ran it into the ground in ways that seem intended to push users to buy more stuff on Amazon.  Then again, some of the reasons have been more serious: I got deeply fed up with them when I saw that, during a period of brutal economic cutbacks, they continue to pursue a policy of what looks a lot like deliberate and calculated tax avoidance.  In short, my consumer relationship with Amazon had been suffering a death by a thousand cuts, until I'd come to view it as a company that liked to throw its weight around in ways I felt I was unwilling to support.

Despite all that, though, I think it was the second thing that clinched my decision.  Because the second thing is that I don't like seeing authors get a raw deal; and often, too, I get tired of the lack of cohesion in a field that could desperately use some.  Authors United, as it would come to be known, looked like a valid attempt to draw writers together in a meaningful cause, and that alone was enough to peak my interest.  In a sense it didn't matter that it wasn't a cause that directly affected me, or many of those being asked to involve themselves.  In a sense, that was the entire point.

Now here we are in October, the Amazon / Hachette feud is still a thing - and so is Authors United.  And despite being offered numerous opportunities to retract my signature, I'm still a member.  Will I see it through to the end?  Who knows?  And at this point, who can begin to guess what the end will mean?  At any rate, while there have been some points in their communications that could certainly have been phrased a whole hell of a lot better, I still feel like AU is doing more good than harm.  And if my presence and the presence of writers like me is useful for one thing, it may at least puncture the absurd myth propagated in some quarters that the group consists of nothing but high-earning, A-list authors - for I am clearly neither of those things.

Which I suppose is the reason for this post.  Because by the same measure, a lot of people (and notably, Amazon themselves) seem intent on turning the Hachette / Amazon situation into an argument between old-style publishing and Amazon's brave new world, or between print and e-books, or between outmoded traditionalists and self-publishing revolutionaries.  And there's no doubt it shades into all of those topics; it touches on a whole host of things, and the fallout of this dispute will undoubtedly have vast repercussions for the publishing industry and perhaps for consumerism in general.  But for me, what's at stake here is that Amazon is callously attacking the livelihoods of my industry colleagues so that it can plow more money into its already heaving coffers, and asides from finding that a disagreeable prospect, I have no dog in this fight.  I've little loyalty to traditional publishing or to print as a medium, and certainly none whatsoever to Hachette.  All this is to me is two companies throwing authors into the firing line - and while Hachette are surely not blameless on that front, Amazon have been the main culprit at every turn. 

Also ... they purposely misquoted George Orwell to suit their corporate agenda, in what would appear to have been an entirely unironic fashion.  And frankly, if it weren't for all the other reasons together, that one alone would have done it.  For wasn't it Orwell himself who said, "those who misquote 1984 are condemned to repeat it"?*

* No, it wasn't.  But I'm pretty sure Orwell said something about "those who misquote that quote about forgetting history are condemned to, um, something something something bad." **

** No.  Wait.  I made that up too.

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