Scotland: The Paperback

My buddy Glenn Cheney has a little publishing company called New London Librarium. There he publishes a lot of his work, which is very good. Glenn is testimony to the way that talent itself is not what gets rewarded when it comes to the writing biz. (Or the music biz, or anything else that happens where art meets commerce.) He put together the pages and designed a cover and presto! a book. Which you can order right there on the website, or, I believe from amazon. Although, really, does amazon need your business?

Speaking of the devil, many have asked about my experience with amazon. Everyone I worked with there was smart, courteous, prompt, and competent. Everything happened exactly the way they said it would. Scotland topped the Kindle singles charts for the better part of a week. They voted it into the top ten of the year. That has all translated to selling about 2500 units, total royalties $3000. Which, depending on how you look at it, is either pitiful or better than a sharp stick in the eye.

I don’t know whether amazon’s point is to turn writers into sweatshop workers, but our relationship to amazon is chillingly like the relationship of iphone assemblers in China to Apple. In the interests of bringing consumers what they want for low price, amazon will turn us all into content serfs. Too bad.

That’s the only reason I regret my involvement with them. But it’s a pretty big reason.

To be fair, one thing I think amazon is trying to do by having this tier of not-quite-self-published work is to restore the curatorial function of the publisher–which, of course, they have done everything they can to destroy. I mean, they must recognize that most of what gets self-published is pretty bad, writing-wise, and that as profitable as it is for them to kill the gatekeepers (for what is the necessity of gatekeeping when the gate is only a portal to bits and bytes? You just open the gates, collect a dime from everyone who passes through, and after that who cares?) there is still some reason, some responsibility even, to exercise judgment and to help the public figure out what to read. They don’t recognize it enough to pay an advance or a guarantee, but still at least they’re trying. I don’t exactly hope they will succeed, but if this is what is going to happen, if the tastemaking function of the traditional publishers is going to be obliterated, then I suppose I don’t want them to fail either. It’s just too bad that the emerging model will make it so that the only people who can afford to write (aside from the Gladwells and the Cornwells out there) will be the independently wealthy, the impoverished, and the otherwise engaged.

Of course, Sony Pictures, a traditional gatekeeper, sure did a poor job of tending its gates recently. And plenty of crap has gotten in, and plenty of really excellent material (like Glenn Cheney’s)  has been largely excluded by the old regime, so I’m not sure the good old days were really so good. Things are never as good as they used to be, and they never were.

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