The Petition To Paint Amazon As Underdog

Hugh Howey has a petition out for… well, I don’t know exactly what it’s for, except I think it’s like, an anti-boycott for Amazon? A love-fest for Amazon? I’m not sure.

You can find this petition here.

You have to get through a lot of text to get to what I suspect is the point of the piece:

You may be urged to boycott Amazon. But a call to boycott Amazon is unavoidably a call to boycott authors who can’t get their books into other stores. Boycotting Amazon is unavoidably a call for higher e-book prices. Boycotting Amazon is preventing us from reaching you. It is an end to our independence.

The best way to support Hachette’s authors is by showing Hachette where you prefer to get your books. Let Hachette know that you agree with Amazon that e-books should not cost more than paperbacks. Help us urge Hachette to stop hurting its own writers. Help us urge them to agree to reasonable terms with Amazon.

It is fitting that Independence Day is upon us. Amazon has done more to liberate readers and writers than any other entity since Johannes Gutenberg refined the movable type printing press. With the advent of e-books and the ability to ship paper books to your doorstep in record time and at affordable prices, Amazon is growing overall readership while liberating the voices of countless writers, adding to the diversity of literature. A large percentage of the e-books sold on Amazon are from independent authors. You have validated our decision to write and to publish. Don’t let the wealthiest of writers convince you to turn away.

We urge you to support the company that supports readers and authors. Amazon didn’t ask us to write this letter, or sign it. Amazon isn’t aware that we’re doing this. Because in the end, this isn’t about Amazon. It’s about you, the reader, and the changes you’ve helped bring about with your reading decisions. You are changing the world of books, and you are changing our lives as a result.

Below, you will see the names of writers who thank you for your support. This is only a bare fraction of the people you have touched. Happy Independence Day.

Signed, your authors.

At this point, I’m left to wonder if Independence Day is the new April Fool’s.

I don’t know exactly why Mega-Company Amazon needs a… petition of support? I like Amazon well enough, and as my publisher they’ve been aces. I don’t boycott them — but I also try to diversify my buying habits in the same way I try to diversify my reading and writing and publishing habits. But I also recognize that Amazon has received a lot of criticism for the way it does business (as have many big publishers, to be clear), and further, puts out an e-book environment where you do not really own your e-books. I’ve also read some contracts from Amazon that are bad or worse than some of the contracts you get from big publishers. This isn’t meant to suggest that Amazon is an Evil Monster (I note the laziness of that too-easy thinking here, in an earlier post one month ago today). It’s just meant to suggest —

Well, we don’t need a fucking petition to support them.

They’re not an underdog.

They’re not your savior.

This petition reads like they’re beatific saints descending from crepuscular rays to upend cornucopias of food atop the heads of the homeless. If I didn’t know who wrote it, I’d legit think it was straight-up satire.

I respect Hugh’s interest in supporting the environment that clearly supports him. But this is deeply, weirdly, head-scratchingly absurd. This is, what, a boycott against the boycott? A love letter to a company? I don’t even know. At this point I’m having trouble reading it as anything other than a missive from Bizarro-World.

Some quick thoughts on bits from the petition:

“Petition by: Your Writers.”

No. I don’t support petitions like this. You shouldn’t support a petition like this even as a self-published author. I will scream this in your ear as long as I can: diversify diversify diversify. Amazon is not your mother. It’s not your god. It’s a company. Does good things. Does bad things. *shakes head so hard blood comes out of ears*

“To Thank Our Readers”

Thanking readers is nowhere to be found in this petition.

It is a petition thanking Amazon.

Not even individual people at Amazon.

Just… Amazon. Like, the entity.

“By what is being reported in the media, it may seem like Amazon is restricting what readers can access. It may seem that they are marginalizing authors.”

They are. This is literally true. You might believe that this is a good move in the long run — and you could make an argument that supports Amazon in this, just as you could make one in reverse. But this is literally actually true, not like, spin by the Giant Publishing Machine.

“All the complaints about Amazon should be directed at Hachette.”

All of them? Including complaints about warehouse conditions? Hey, last week they fucked up an order of Transformers and sent it to — well, honestly, I dunno, but now I know who to send my complaints to. HEY HACHETTE: AMAZON’S PRIME SHIPPING DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK LIKE THEY SAY IT DOES. ASSHOLES.

More seriously, some arguments have noted that Hachette has maybe earned this spanking from Amazon. Certainly some publishers have helped feed the beast that is Amazon and have done poorly by their authors. I agree with that. This is not really the way to achieve parity and to improve things, by my mileage.

“High e-book prices are not good for readers, and they aren’t good for writers.”

I agree. But isn’t this how the market works? They charge too much and… people don’t buy it, so they’re forced to be competitive? Hasn’t that already happened? Perhaps I’m being naive here.

“Amazon pays writers nearly six times what publishers pay us.”

Yes, and I am all for publishers paying authors more. But it’s also worth considering that Amazon is literally not your publisher. (I mean, they’re mine, but as Skyscape.) Amazon does very little for you except act as a receptacle for your book. Which might be genius. Which might be dogshit. They literally don’t care. It’s a socket and into it you can shove diamonds, candy, cat feces, bezoars, babies, whatever. The reason they don’t take a lot of that coin is because… they don’t do anything for you. Like edit. Market. Distribute physical copies. So on, so forth. Some authors want that, some don’t. The trick isn’t going ALL-IN with Amazon, the trick is demanding better from all publishers, all companies. The trick is to support authors, not corporations. People over corporate entities. (This feels particularly tone deaf considering the CORPORATIONS HAVE OPINIONS shift with Hobby Lobby. Petitions in sympathy of companies is cuckoo banana sundae.)

“Hachette is looking out for their own interests, not the interests of writers or readers.”

And Amazon is not Mother Theresa tending to lepers.

Like, I can’t —

I don’t even?

What is happening?

Listen.

Here’s how you thank Amazon:

Buy shit from them.

Here’s how you thank authors:

Buy their books.

Here’s how you don’t thank Amazon:

Buy elsewhere.

Here’s how authors thank readers:

Just, like, thank them. Thank them in person. Over email. Over the social media frequency. Offer deals when you can. Help get your books in their hands. Be awesome to them. Don’t write weird petitions to them that aren’t really to them at all.

You don’t aim your high-five for readers at Amazon.

Vote with your dollar. But please, seriously, don’t sign any weird petitions like this. Howey’s deservedly a bookworld superstar, so I suspect he’ll get all the signatures he needs — though for what effect, I have no idea, as this petition feels like a hollow stroke-job that accomplishes absolutely nothing except blowing a blush of hot, fragrant breath toward Amazon and away from authors and readers. This feels like shilling — uncomfortable, in-the-bag, straight-up-shilling.

My message to Hugh would be: I prefer it when you advocate for authors, not for companies. Hugh has been increasingly “all-in” with Amazon — and this is counter to how many authors have been successful with author-publishing. It doesn’t feel instructive. It feels deliberately cozy with the other side of Big Publishing. (And anybody who thinks Amazon isn’t just its own version of Big Publishing has lost their mind.) Like I said before: I’m happy with my experiences with Amazon. I agree they have changed the face of publishing, in many ways for the awesome, in some ways for the whoa what the fuck. They have been a wonderful publisher for my work. But — c’mon. C’mon.

C’MON.

Okay, this petition really is satire, right?

Yes? Maybe?

[note: it’s been made clear this isn’t Howey’s petition so much as one he co-authored and is presently championing — but it is reportedly the work of several self-published authors. I respectfully suggest that as a group they might want to get an editor, as this thing reads like it’s about 3000 words too long.]

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