WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
Recently author Claude Nougat posted an article on her blog entitled, “The Author-Reader Amazon Revolution: Mirage or Reality?” I commented with a few personal observations and Claude thought they warranted a blog of their own. It has gotten very good response and so I thought readers of my RectorWriter Blog might also find them interesting.
Claude, your blog post The Author-Reader Amazon Revolution:Mirage or Reality? is a very informative and sobering article that once again leaves my head spinning about the book market today. But also conjures up some memories along similar lines.
A little less than 40 years ago I jumped through these same kinds of hoops but in a different medium: film. I was part of a small production company that decided to make a low-budget feature film for theatrical distribution. The timing was right because several G-rated low-budget ‘outdoor-adventure’ films had done very well, chief among them was Grizzly Adams. The attraction to this genre for the filmmaker was that Mother Nature provided all the sets and most of the players (wildlife) for free. All you had to do was get the cast and crew to a really spectacular location and tell a reasonably entertaining story about a hero single-handedly fighting man’s abuse of nature.
I was chosen to write, direct, and edit for the simple reason that I had more experience than anyone else involved, plus I was still riding on my fame from The Now Explosion. The film was titled Nature’s Way but before its release was changed to Don’t Change My World.
We made the film for next to nothing, just like today’s indie authors produce a book. In its initial screenings audiences responded very positively but to go into wide release, we ran into the same obstacles that indie writer’s face. We weren’t MGM or Universal or 20th Century Fox and they owned the game.
The major studios had long-established relationships with movie theaters around the world, as well as marketing and distribution operations that ran like the proverbial Swiss watch. On the other hand, we were, in effect, knocking on the door of each individual theater. They didn’t want to deal with someone who only had one film to peddle and no marketing machinery behind them. We eventually did sign with a small independent distributor who managed to get our film released nationally but playing at only one or two markets at a time, so the money generated trickled in and seldom covered expenses. Plus the theaters, since they were dealing with a small fry, slow paid, and sometimes no paid, us – something they didn’t dare do with the majors. When we protested they simply said, “So sue us.”
The sad fact of life was that the audiences who saw the film loved it, but getting it in front of an audience was a constant uphill battle that cost more than we could possibly make, especially since much of the time we never saw the money that came into the box office. By the time the theater took its cut (much more severe than Amazon’s take) and the distributor took his cut (always with extra expenses added) and the advertising agencies took their cut, nothing was left (sound familiar?).
The film finally generated significant revenue when it went into non-theatrical release, primarily on cable channels like CineMax (HBO). It was also broadcast by the BBC and several other operators in Europe.
The US Navy purchased a hundred or so 16mm prints for showing onboard their ships. A specialty distributor who provided inflight movies for airlines licensed its use. Same for a distributor who supplied films for college campus theaters. And finally the film was released to the newly emerging home video market. The point being, we had to search out and broker all these deals ourselves.
And the same is true for indie publishers/writers. Anybody who has been in business, whether it’s selling books or selling paper clips, knows that it’s never easy and you have to work at it continuously.
Selling is ALWAYS job one. During the 15 years we toured our play Letters From the Front around the world, selling and marketing was a nonstop daily job – and I mean every single day.
So I guess I come to this issue with a little different and perhaps more cynical (based on experience) but realistic perspective.
If there’s money to be made, then big money is going to control the market. Always. Never been any different since the beginning of commerce. Might makes right.
Will fair play come into play? Don’t count on it.
The question to indie writers/publishers is: what are you going to do about it? Throw up your hands and say the deck is stacked and I don’t stand a chance so to hell with it? Or, I have right on my side but I can’t win so I might as well not play? Are you going to take Amazon and the other major players to court and sue them for what you believe are unfair practices? Good luck. They each have teams of lawyers just waiting to bury you.
Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m being dark or negative, please don’t.
As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat (although why anybody would want to baffles me). Most of my professional life has been spent finding alternate routes around established institutions, with varying degrees of success. My first rule is to never let somebody else define my pathway to success.
If I’m going to fail, I want to fail on my own terms. As far as indie publishing is concerned, my wife (a fellow author) and I are still experimenting and searching out alternative paths. It will take time but it always does. I’m confident that we’ll find a way that works for us. We’ve done it many times before.
The threshold we’re shooting for is not just to make money for ourselves, but to make money for somebody else, preferably a large well-funded organization. That’s what we’ve done before. We found a way to make money for major companies with our product, lots of money. Then they started writing checks to us, big checks. I’m not saying this is the only path. We’re all supposed to be creative people — so be creative about this too!
To be exceedingly trite, we don’t look at this as a problem, we look at it as an opportunity. A huge ground-floor opportunity. And we don’t expect anybody or any organization to do the heavy lifting for us. Maybe we’re naive. We’ll see.