Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Bad Idea

There is a saying in the military that there is no such thing as friendly fire. Just so; accordingly, I don’t quite know what to call, or how to classify, a recent story which is moving around literary circles; at least, I don’t know what to call it and remain polite. A “bad idea” doesn’t quite cover it.

J.A. Konrath has been one of the first authors to turn water into wine in the literal sense with respect to e-publishing. While I wouldn’t always entirely trust Joe with driving directions, he is always worth reading and yes, worth listening to, even if you don’t go along with every idea he has. Joe went from A to C without stopping first at B while figuring out how to use the new technology to not only keep his audience but also broaden it, and to make even more money while doing so. The result is that he has an almost overwhelming e-book and short story bibliography, under his own name, under pseudonyms, and in collaboration with others (most notably Blake Crouch, a master scribe in his own right). Konrath, notwithstanding his e-book success, also has an enviable backlist of physical books in print, and has also just signed a deal with a little outfit called amazon.com which is going to publish a new book of his, co-authored with Crouch, in both print (under their Thomas & Mercer imprint) and e-book format.

Now we get to the “bad idea” which I referenced above. The call has gone out on the bulletin board of one of those common interest groups for independent booksellers to 1) boycott the Thomas & Mercer imprint in general and 2) send their stocks of Konrath books back in particular. Whoever thought of this must be a descendent of the British general who during the American Revolutionary War insisted that the Redcoats attack while marching, bunched up together, in rows, the more easily to be mowed down by that aforementioned fire, friendly and otherwise. It would be foolish to do this to any author, barring evidence of the practice of pederasty or some similarly reprehensible activity; I mean, does an independent bookseller actually want to drive traffic to a local superstore by proudly announcing that they won’t be carrying a particular author’s books? It is doubly foolish to do this with Konrath, who has historically been one of the independent’s best friends. Konrath at one point in the not-so-distant-past generously laid out for one and all the manner in which he efficiently visited as many libraries and out of the way bookstores as he could on a book tour using his GPS. He also personally thanked what seemed to be thousands of librarians and booksellers, by name, at the conclusion of one of his recent novels. Booksellers, you’re gonna ban this guy? He turned one of his books into the equivalent of a sandwich board for you.

Booksellers should understand that Konrath is not the illness that threatens their business. He’s not even a symptom. He’s simply figured out a way to adapt. You should be inviting him in to sign his backlisted novels and yes, his new book with Thomas & Mercer when it is published, and to do readings (the man is enormously entertaining, even when, alas, unintentionally so) for your customers. He has the capacity to drive business into your store, not away from it. Who knows, your customers who come in to seeKonrath might buy some books by other authors as well. They’re not going to do that if you’re chasing off Konrath or any other author who has figured out a way to embrace this new medium. It’s an ancient saying, but still true: you draw more flies, and readers, with honey than with vinegar. Or boycotts.

14 comments:

  1. Joe--This is outrageous that anyone would pick Konrath to boycott. He's a feel supporter of Indies and libraries. Like you, I'm not sure I feel completely comfortable with him driving the bus, but I'm sure it would be entertaining, fun, and never a boring ride.

    What I think Indies might be boycotting is the new endeavors of Amazon to encroach into publishing when Indies perceive it as the online enemy. I'm not justifying their behavior or approving it, just trying to understand their motives. Indy stores are getting it from all sides as we head deeper into the ebook/digital future. Amazon makes an easier target than lashing out at publishers who are contributing to their woes in this new digital world. If they lashed out at the larger houses for creating ebook divisions that cut them out of the loop, they'd be boycotting their main suppliers.

    But better understanding the many frustrations of the struggling Indies doesn't excuse any company who singles out an author to the extent they appear to be doing with Konrath--abusing his other titles too. That's just not right, but authors who sign with Amazon should expect bumps in the road when it comes to distribution and markets.

    Konrath is a survivor and will find a way to adapt and improvise. My money's on Joe. I respect him. If anyone can find a way to turn piss into champagne, Joe Konrath will make it happen.

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  2. Not only does that sound like a really bad idea, it comes across as petty and small minded. And how long before they do the same to more authors?

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  3. Boycotts are generally a bad idea anyway. For a bookstore to do it to an author (except for the, ahem, reasons Joe suggests) seems doubly foolish. I don't know how widespread the idea is. It might have just been one vent on a closed Yahoo group. We don't know. What we all know, and understand, is the pain of the indies in this terrible economic environment.

    But does that mean they should not stock Thomas & Mercer titles? Well, Eisler is one of their authors now and there will be more. It wouldn't make financial sense to boycott this line if you're an indie catering to the mystery/suspense crowd.

    The bigger question is whether Barnes & Noble will stock amazon titles. These two are going at it like Mothra and Godzilla. B & N has just hit with a black and white e-reader that is direct competition for the Kindle. The Kindle will have color in the fall.

    Meanwhile, publishers are wondering what in the H E double hockey sticks they're supposed to do to keep authors and a profit. And even employees, who are going to places like Open Road Media or the new offices of Larry Kirshbaum.

    The pace of change has accelerated in just the past couple of months. It's a rugby scrum. It's a saloon fight in Tombstone. It is disquieting for all in the industry, writers included, but it's also exceedingly interesting from a big business standpoint, (I'm sure the faculty of the Harvard Business School are all licking their chops at being the first to write a book about it) and it is also, at times, vastly entertaining.

    Which reminds me, don't forget King Kong -- Google -- out there stomping around.

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  4. Indies boycotting writers? Now there's a circular firing squad if I've ever seen one.

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  5. I read about this proposed boycott on Konrath's blog. This is the second I've heard of it. Hopefully it won't get a lot of buy-in from booksellers.

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  6. Jordan, anyone who has ever seen Joe on an early-morning book panel has been on one of those rides!

    W.C., good point. As Harrison Ford said in "Witness," "What are you gonna do?! Kill everybody?"

    James, I have a problem with boycotts in general as well. Good point on whether B & N will stock Thomas & Mercer titles. What happens when T & M has a really huge seller, that everyone wants? And I wonder, would Amazon boycott B & N? I's like to think not.

    Joe, perfectly stated, as always.

    John, I think it's just in the discussion stage, I don't see or hear anyone jumping on that wild horse yet. I sure hope they don't.

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  7. This reveals a very shortsighted mentality on the part of this bookstore. I liken this to last year's hysterical calls for boycotting Arizona because of their new immigration law. I wondered what the boycotters would do if (and it's certainly a possibility) 35 or 40 states eventually had such a law.

    The boycotting bookstore has to be very careful here. It's quite possible that many more legacy authors will go the Amazon/Thomas & Mercer route. Then what will they do? Boycott all of them? Strip all their books from their shelves? What point could they possibly be trying to make when someone comes in their store asking for the new Lee Child, for example, only to be told the store refuses to carry him, INCLUDING all of his pre-A/T&M backlist.

    I would say this to that bookstore: Time to take of the blinders, wipe the mist from your eyes, and see the world as it really is, not the way you'd like it to be.

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  8. I heard of this story a week or two ago and I'm of the same mind as everyone here - I particularly like Joe's image of a circular firing squad.

    I'm sometimes exasperated by indie bookstores, who have been complaining about first the big chain stores and then Amazon. Yes, I absolutely understand their frustration. I had a lovely little bookstore in the nearby town for years that I bought books from regularly and she went out of business. She told me that she could buy hardcover bestsellers off the shelf at the Kmart two doors down than she could through her distributor.

    I would also point out that I've always been told stories over and over and over again how wonderfully friendly indie stores were, etc., and although I heartily and enthusiastically promote Aunt Agatha'sin Ann Arbor (which is, after only, a mere 70 or 80 miles from my house, so it's not like I'm going there on a regular or even semi-regular basis), the bookstore that was in Lake Orion was nothing of the kind. The woman who ran the store snapped at my kids, was rude to me, and just about all the things critics claimed Border and Barnes & Noble were.

    And which never have been to me.

    I think it's unfortunate, really, that indie booksellers have decided to start a business in an industry as faltering as bookselling. Look, I understand, okay? I'm a writer, for God sakes. If it was all about money, I'd have been an engineer or a stock broker or stayed in genetics where I started out. At the same time, I sometimes think indie booksellers opened a business with their eyes half-shut. THESE ARE THE CONDITIONS OF THE MARKET YOU'VE DECIDED TO ENTER.

    Just like as a novelist or as a freelancer, I understand the uphill battles my books face to gain readers. And sure, I bitch about some of it, too. But boycotting the creators of the product you're selling?

    Hmmmm.

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  9. It's called capitalism. If your business model fails, you go out of business. When was the last tie you ought a celluloid collar or spats... Well everybody except Joe Moore whom I've seen in spats.

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  10. "Well everybody except Joe Moore whom I've seen in spats."

    I traded my spats to Miller for a brand new buggy whip.

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  11. Mike, I agree on all points. On of my earliest experiences with boycotts was in Catholic grade school. For some reason the school got premiums for submitting Campbell soup can labels. We ate so much soup I can STILL taste it when I wake up in the morning. Then along came Caesar Chavez and all of a sudden the church pastor is telling us to boycott Campbell's. WTF? Instead, I boycotted church.

    Mark, excellent point. I live in a fairly small suburb where everyone knows everyone else. Several years ago a goodhearted but wrong-headed woman opens a toy store with no toy guns, action figures, blah blah blah. Fair enough. However, she installs her mother as the clerk, a grouch of the first order. Mom wouldn't permit children to touch the toys and would yell at them for running, laughing, etc. I fell out one day while overhearing a conversation between two women in a local supermarket when one of them said, "And she yelled at my daughter just for picking up a My Little Pony!" I knew exactly who she talking about. Needless to say, the store is no longer in business and the old mom is at home, restringing her broom so that she can travel up to Akron or somewhere.

    John, on point as always. Blacksmiths? Adding machines? Video stores? Adapt or perish.

    Joe, as long as there is sex there will be buggywhips.

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  12. Joe Konrath rocks. Outrageously outspoken, sometimes, but he is author, through and through. Joe could carry his own TV reality show. Anyone who chooses to boycot Konrath is just asking to make the guy famous. I say, go ahead, do it. Joe deserverse outrageous success.

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  13. Not only does Joe deserve his success, he's worked hard for it. He's put in his time. He's always thinking, always moving forward. That's what it takes to stay in the game. Any business who's not constantly innovating, moving forward and looking for new revenue streams has the potential to be left behind or swept to the side.

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  14. I can never understand any author suggesting that another be banned in any way, or setting out detrimental comments of any kind regarding any other author. It's a tough business; we'll all have our personal opinions of writing and or a situation, but in the professional world there is only one way to be--supportive. It's tough out there--we all know it, and yes, the book world is evolving, and like it or not, we'll be evolving one way or another, too. Joe tackled the world his way and seems to be doing well at it. More power to him.

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