Hugh Howey writes up a sharp piece on the massive bias against Amazon in the reporting of news around the publishing industry. Howey frames his argument in the bigger picture of technology disrupting industry. Tesla is disrupting the legacy car industry. Netflix is disrupting the legacy movie and tv industry. And the list goes on, in all of them we see the same tug of war between old and new.
Two forces tug legacy industries from opposite directions. On the one side, you have customer demand. On the other side you have a mix of fear and laziness. In-between is where corporations and industries find themselves, and they face a choice. Sadly, in most cases, the fear and laziness win out. It’s left to radical new upstarts to provide customers with what they actually want.
via Give Customers What They Want | Hugh Howey.
But I think Howey misses the brutal truth in his analysis. Amazon isn’t just disrupting publishing, it is butchering it before our eyes. The bookstores still in business like Waterstones in the UK are on their last legs. Established mid-sized publishers like Quercus and Osprey hit major financial problems this year, making redundancies and selling off imprints in recent months, with many more in extremely difficult circumstances. The entire legacy publishing industry is at risk, because Amazon stole the digital publishing market out from under them and is exploiting this to the full. Why is the publishing industry so biased against Amazon? No one likes the person who is murdering them.
Does anyone remember Authonomy? The site launched by HarperCollins back in 2008 was supposed to revolutionise and democratise how new writers were discovered. I try and keep track of new talent entering the writing field, and it occurred to me recently that I couldn’t think of a single writer to come out of Authonomy and become an established author. Maybe I’m missing something, but after some time researching, I still can’t find any true Authonomy success stories.
Let me suggest that Authonomy is based on a profoundly inaccurate assumption. It’s an assumption that the publishing industry has good reason to believe, and that aspiring writers are happy to buy in to as well. The assumption is this – that there is far more good writing than can be published. Picture a world crowded with talented writers, either naturally gifted or rolling off the production lines of MFA courses and the like, but with far too few opportunities to publish to go around.
Well. If this assumption was true, wouldn’t Authonomy, and many other web sites and publishers claiming to promote new talent, have actually turned some up by now?
Here is an alternative possibility. Good writing is rare. In fact, so rare that there is far LESS of it than the publishing industry needs to thrive. In fact much of what the publishing industry does is find ways to promote and make money from not-so-good writing in the periods between the rare bits of good writing turning up. And because it is rare, when good writing does show up, it has value.
Which is really the point. Too many writers proceed on the assumption that their work is good enough, but valueless. The healthier and more productive position to take is that your writing is not good enough, that you need to keep improving, but that when you do make good writing, it does have great value. The difference between these two poles is often the difference between success and failure as a professional writer.