Last night, while we were each enjoying our own pursuits at our desks (my particular poison of late has been playing the MMO Rift while jotting down ideas for my stories), my ever-lovely fiancee told me the story of Harper Collins screwing over a cover artist. I gave the idea a little consideration, and asked her to send me a link, as I was ready to get on my high horse about the publishing industry yet again. And here we are. But first, the link is right here (clicky clicky). The two covers in question:
The original is on the left, the *ahem* “original” take by the publishing industry is on the right. And it gets worse than just being a pretty blatant rip-off. It turns out that Harper Collins approached the artist of the original to purchase it, and she said no. So HC must have hired someone else to ape it. Classy, right? Reminds me of the Ghostbusters/I Want a New Drug crap (or Tom Waits/Doritos) that the music pulled back in the 80s. Actionable? You got me. But unethical certainly. I actually think Huey Lewis put it best when talking about their run-in with this kind of thing:
“The offensive part was not so much that Ray Parker Jr. had ripped this song off, it was kind of symbolic of an industry that wants something — they wanted our wave, and they wanted to buy it. … [I]t’s not for sale. … In the end, I suppose they were right. I suppose it was for sale, because, basically, they bought it.”
That is what gets to me about the whole thing. It’s not the seeming arrogance of feeling like they can easily get away with it and disrespect the indie publishing movement (which admittedly could and likely is a projection), it’s the robbery of unique creative ideas perpetrated by an industry that seems to have become devoid of creativity, visionaries, and leaders at a time when all three are desperately needed.
Take a look at the current book deal news on Google News. Check it out, I’ll still be here. As of this writing, no less than Casey Anthony (whew boy), Kirstie Alley, a TV show host, an athlete, and a cat have gotten book deals, in among the drips and drabs of people with legitimate stories. Oh, and I’ve also noticed eBook prices have risen lately, dramatically so. At first I thought this just might be my imagination. Surely I just wasn’t paying attention when I bought these books, even if it would have been very much unlike me?
Well, no. Turns out I was right. Let’s look at an example. My first Kindle book was the excellent “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” pretty much a year ago today. I bought it at $7.14, and it was not on sale; I remember because I balked at the price but decided the book was worth it. Just…here. Here’s proof:
Today that same book is $9.99. Basically a 29% hike. Oh, by the way? Mass Market Paperback? $7.99. I’ve seen it happen with other books that I was once considering at the 9.99 price point; they’ve ballooned up to $12.99, the seemingly new price point. Now why is this? It seems that part of it is Apple entering the arena and allegedly engaging in price fixing with the industry (thanks, guys, your greed knows no bounds), and the other part is the industry trying to kill ebooks to save the precious hardcover.
I mean, I’m a writer. I know writers who depend on stories to their livelihood. I’ve turned friends away from finding sites that offer pirated eBooks, encouraging them to purchase the book because I don’t want to harm the authors, and this is making even me feel like piracy may be the answer. Well, piracy or boycotting the major publishers who follow this price scheme, which is my actual current plan. Who can afford to drop this much money on an eBook, of all things? If I spend that much, I want a physical product, and yet I’m all out of room for physical products in my home – I got a Kindle so I could sidestep all the hoarding concerns. I do fairly well financially, too. I can’t imagine what people who make less are doing. Doing all of this while eBooks are pretty much propping the old, rotting system up seems like insanity, but there you go.
Look, times are tough for the publishing industry. I get that. They’re facing the same challenges that the music industry has faced for the last 12 or so years and that the movie industry has faced for the last 6 or so years. Democratization of delivery methods is all fun and games until a bloated bureaucracy gets threatened by it. That’s exactly why I was saying the industry needs creativity, visionaries, and leaders right now. There’s a lot to be learned from how those other industries handled and continue to handle the “threat” of a new business model: you can either be the brute and try to destroy everything in your path, or you can be intelligent and agile.
Okay, there are probably other paths, too, but I think finding those other paths is implicit in the latter approach. The problem is that it’s easier to just keep fighting and throwing money at propping up the status quo, but long-term it’s also a lot more destructive. I had high hopes for the publishing industry, and that’s why I was ready to hitch my wagon to it earlier this year, but as time has gone on, it’s looking more and more likely that they’re going down the same path.
It’s disheartening, because I think publishers provide an invaluable service to authors and readers. I don’t think the time for publishers is over, yet. Not at all. We need some sort of gate-keeping process or seal of approval to help readers distinguish the wheat from the chaff, but as I think about that, I realize that the current gate-keeping system is also pretty broken. Lots of great mid-list stuff gets turned away because it’s not going to be a quick hit. The ROI consideration just gets in the way of good art and trying to do something unique.
Maybe the answer is a return to the guild system. I don’t know. I’m not here to really examine that today. But I am looking at why I’m going with self-publishing for now, why it feels like a good fit for me. Messes like this just reinforce that going with a publisher right now wouldn’t be living up to my personal value system.
Come on, publishers. I know you can do better than this. I’m like Mulder…I want to believe, but I need a reason to believe. Give us that reason again.