It’s been posted on Facebook and other social media sites the remarks by one of America’s most admired and treasured writers of science fiction and fantasy. It’s all very public, sides are being chosen, as well as getting going political (GO HERE).
We humans tend to blame things on others when they don’t go our way. It’s always this group or that, which is preventing or perverting our goals—whatever they are. In this case, according to Ms. Le Guin, it’s the mass of unjuried books that are flooding the marketplace aided and abetted by Amazon. Books that are likened to food produced by agribusiness and food packagers full of sugar and fat. And because of this plethora of books our freedoms are in jeopardy? I my humble opinion, no one, at least in the more civilized parts of the world, can tell you what to eat or what to read.
Blaming Amazon for the collapse of the high quality of writing (as if there ever was a nostalgic past of “high quality writing”) is like blaming Safeway/Kroger for the increase in obesity.
If there is one undeniable truth it’s that more books are being written and published than at any time in the history of the world—period. Some are truly great and many are truly crap, that’s the way it is. Humans are capable of great things, but remember that even smart people produce things like the AMC Gremlin, any movie by Adam Sandler, and the “New Coke.”
Every writer I’ve met at conferences and conventions—everyone—has their books on Amazon. Most have self-published because the traditional publishers don’t have the room, the time, the interest, or the dollars to publish everything. Trads will continue to do what they do, but I assure you if they played for their beloved Yankees with their batting averages of published successful hits, they’d be optioned to the Single-A Charleston RiverDogs, tomorrow.
There are two ancient accomplices for human traditions, they are the storyteller and the listener. And today, it’s the writer and the reader. The publisher and the distributor act as middlemen and, of course, take the largest piece of the pie (not sure exactly why—but there it is). Amazon has now completely turned upside down this business model that’s just less than a century old. Amazon—acting as the distributor—deals directly with the author/self-piblisher, cut their deal (take it or leave it), and post the book with no censorship or jury (within their editorial/ethical limits of course). They wouldn’t post the first cover of my novel Toulouse For Death because there was a swastika on the cover. Since they sell in Germany, and the image is forbidden in that country, they asked me to remove/change the cover. That was my decision within the norms they established. But that’s as far as it’s gone.
What is really underlying Ms. Le Guin’s rant is what she herself said: “The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable.” She has become concerned that books have become a commodity and that by inference; the capitalist greed of Amazon is to blame for the collapse of civil discord and freedom. As the great Nero Wolf said, “Phooey.”
Every writer, who wishes to write (and eat) for a living, hopes and prays that their works are treated as more that expressions of freedom—they hope and pray that they become a commercial success. That means selling thousand of books, ten’s of thousands of books, maybe millions. That means by being with Amazon they are paid regularly (not semi-annually as with some trads), it means adjusting covers as needed, it allows fixing typos if found, and it means helping to develop online marketing strategies in a new world of ebooks that wasn’t even a consideration in those science fiction and fantasy books so popular fifty years ago.
In Le Guin’s original blog (GO HERE), she excoriates the Best Seller list (BS), and then, using the initials BS, proceeds to delve into the whole world of fast book marketing and throw away books – one can’t help but say the term bull shit every time she writes BS (my guess it’s wholly intentional). Her points are interesting yet steeped in a cultural rant that has been the progressive’s and conservative’s complaint for fifty years. “(fill in the blank) is leading to the end of civilization.” Now it’s Amazon.
Capitalism is Amazon’s greatest enemy; the works of Adam Smith prove this. If Amazon is successful, others will follow and improve the model. Even today, as Amazon’s stock price climbs and maybe a thousand new books are listed, it is in mortal danger of failing and some day being replaced with something bigger, better, more responsive. How’s that for an interesting fantasy notion.
More Later . . . . . . .