Columns > Published on January 16th, 2012

Can't Everyone In The Publishing Industry Just Get Along?

The level of discourse in this country really sucks. 

It's not enough to be right anymore. In order to be in favor of something you must also wish death and destruction upon the opposing side. This kind of attitude used to be relegated to sports, religion and politics. Now we're seeing the Fox-Newsification of everything, from nerd culture (if I told y'all how I felt about Star Wars you'd publicly crucify me) to the publishing industry. 

Why can't we all just get along? 

It's ridiculous when someone turns their nose up at a self-published author or a lover of eBooks, as if their chosen path makes them less passionate. I understand that controversy means blog hits, and we're naturally attracted to conflict. But you know what? It's a new year. I'm calling for a moratorium on all the negativity. It's time for some optimism.

Here's three common conflicts in publishing, and reasons why both sides should just calm down. 

eBOOK vs. PRINT

The print advocates say: eBooks devalue real books. They take away from the art of a printed book. They contribute to the collapse of bookstores. 

The eBook advocates say: Print books are relics. They're expensive to produce and they take up space. eBooks never go out of print and exist forever. 

You know what's great? Books. My wife and I own hundreds. Maybe nearly a thousand. And they're great! They're fun for reading. People see all the books we have and assume we are very smart. They smell good.

You know what else is great? eBooks. Really, they are. Forget pricing and formats and digital rights management and all that bullshit. We are approaching a future where any book ever published can be available at the click of a button. I don't care if you're a traditionalist or a Luddite, how could you possibly think this is a bad thing?  

The print vs. eBook argument tends to reek of elitism. People who say they don't read eBooks are usually the same people who roll their eyes and say, "I don't even own a television." Like cutting themselves off from technology has made them into a more complete person. 

Yes, technology is changing, and that's not always a fun process. Books are slowly becoming the new vinyl. I doubt they'll ever be as scarce as vinyl is now, but eventually they'll be a thing sought by collectors and passionate book-lovers, and the rest of the population will be reading books on their phones and tablets and toasters. But at least people are still reading, right? Isn't that the point? 

TRADITIONAL vs. SELF-PUBLISHING

The traditional publishing advocates say: If you self-published then you weren't good enough to real-publish. There's no standard of quality. You could smash your face against a keyboard for three hours and publish it, and what's so special about that? 

What self-publishing advocates say: Traditional publishing is just a way for someone else to make money off your hard work. By self-publishing, you maintain creative control, as well as your profits. Self-publishing is so easy, there's no reason to not do it. 

Self-publishing advocates call you an idiot if you want to traditional publish. Traditional publishers turn their nose up at self-published writers, calling them hobbyists who don't take writing seriously. 

Why can't both sides just co-exist? 

Now, there's a longer conversation to be had here about the pros and cons of either side, but at the end of the day, for some people, self-publishing is great. Some people want that control. They want to be in charge of their own destiny. And that's fine. Just because someone self-publishes a book doesn't mean it's going to be bad. There are plenty of books that are traditionally published that are terrible. 

I think at this point it's a matter of personal preference. If someone wants to write, let them! Just because someone self-publishes a book doesn't make a traditional book any less good or valuable. Really, has the wave of self-publishing done anything to hurt the bottom line of traditional publishing? I doubt it. 

And it's upsetting to see that some of the advocates for self-publishing brow-beat new authors, making them feel like idiots for even thinking of going the traditional route. And to those writers I say: Who does that help, beside your own brand? 

INDIE BOOKSTORES vs. AMAZON

The indie bookstore advocates say: Amazon is a heartless corporation that's trying to destroy small businesses. Getting a recommendation from an algorithm is not the same as getting one from a person. Amazon doesn't have the sociability of bookstores. 

The Amazon advocates say: Indie bookstores have small selections. They're gouging readers with their high prices. They're full of elitist employees who only recommend what they like. 

This is a battle I waded into before (here and here). And when I did, I was careful to point out that, while I am strongly in favor of independent bookstores, I am not against Amazon. To wit: I work for a publishing house that's situated in an indie bookstore, and that didn't stop me from doing 98 percent of my Christmas shopping on Amazon. 

Does Amazon want to kill small businesses? Yep. That's how a free market economy works.

And while some people like to argue, oddly, that bookstores are evil, why can't we have both? 

Some people in this great country don't live near a cool bookstore. That's a shame, but thanks to Amazon they have access to a huge, amazing library of books. The convenience factor there--click a couple of buttons, book shows up on doorstep--can't be beat. Even better, click a button, book shows up on iPad/Kindle/toaster. 

But books are something to love and revere and discuss. We absolutely should have temples to them, and that's what bookstores are. Amazon didn't help me meet Bret Easton Ellis or Chuck Palahniuk or Alton Brown or Colson Whitehead or Amy Hempel. Bookstores did that. Don't like the pricing of a bookstore? Think the employees are elitist? Fine. Vote with your dollar. Don't go there. But don't burn them down, either. 

DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY

There's only one thing we should all agree to hate without reservation: Twilight.

Other than that, just because we're not really into a certain thing doesn't mean other people shouldn't be allowed to do it. No one is any less passionate if they don't own a Kindle or exclusively shop on Amazon. It takes effort to hate; channel that energy into something useful. 

And if you disagree with me you are a jerk. 

About the author

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor. His latest novel, The Paradox Hotel, will be released on Feb. 22 by Ballantine. He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. Other titles include the Ash McKenna crime series, the short story collection Take-Out, and Scott Free with James Patterson. Find more at www.robwhart.com

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