A handful of thoughts about this New York Times article on Amazon’s new publishing program:
- “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” [said Amazon’s Russell Grandenetti]. “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”
I’d add that the “now” is superfluous. It’s always been that way. Everyone in the middle has always been (or should always have been) providing a service, either to the author or the reader. If you aren’t one of those two individuals, and you work in the publishing industry, then your job description needs to be tied to one or another (or both) of those anchors.
Examples: agents, marketers, and publicists work for the author; editors, designers, and typesetters work for the reader.
- If Kiana Davenport’s accusations are true, Penguin needs a spanking.
In 2010 Ms. Davenport signed with Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin, for “The Chinese Soldier’s Daughter,” a Civil War love story. She received a $20,000 advance for the book, which was supposed to come out next summer.
If writers have one message drilled into them these days, it is this: hustle yourself. So Ms. Davenport took off the shelf several award-winning short stories she had written 20 years ago and packaged them in an e-book, “Cannibal Nights,” available on Amazon.
When Penguin found out, it went “ballistic,” Ms. Davenport wrote on her blog, accusing her of breaking her contractual promise to avoid competing with it. It wanted “Cannibal Nights” removed from sale and all mentions of it deleted from the Internet.
Ms. Davenport refused, so Penguin canceled her novel and has said it will pursue legal action if she does not return the advance.
I’ve heard plenty of “Amazon is evil” FUD coming from publishing industry types (some of it in this very article), but I’ve never seen Amazon behave as viciously as Penguin is accused of behaving here. That traditional publishers are afraid of Amazon is obvious. Fear can cloud judgment. Behavior like this — retaliating against authors for taking advantage of a marketplace outside the publisher’s control to build their own brands — is very likely to lead to exactly the outcome Penguin is seeking to avoid. I know I’d think three or four times before signing a Penguin contract (if one were ever offered, which, of course, is unlikely) after hearing about this.
- You think Russell Grandenetti is related to comic book great Jerry Grandenetti?