A Conversation About Books and Money, Part Two

We weren’t quite done with Friday’s “who knows?!” dialogue about the best way to link to books on our (or your) website, and we asked Emily Gould to stop by and clarify a few things.

Nicole: Hi Emily, we’ve been talking about that thing you wrote, in case you wanted to flesh anything out.

Emily: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to respond! I’m kicking myself now for not explicitly explaining, in that post, why I don’t think it’s a good thing when sites like The Hairpin participate in the Amazon Affiliates program. It’s not at all because I don’t approve of making money — wow, do I ever approve of The Hairpin making money. And I don’t care about making money in non-transparent ways. I just want media outlets that care about the future of the culture they’re covering to look twice at whether it makes sense in the long term for them to have a relationship with Amazon.

I’m glad you guys are thinking twice about whether the amount of money you’re making via that program is worth throwing your weight behind a business that has repeatedly showed that it doesn’t care about the future of the book industry. Amazon treats books as loss leaders to get people in their store to buy other things, regardless of what that means for other booksellers, for publishers, and for authors. In the past, when publishers have balked at their pricing, they’ve removed their “buy” buttons. They’ve opened their own publishing imprints, so they’re competing directly with the publishers whose books they’re selling. They generally give the impression that they don’t care whether other publishers continue to exist.

A lot of us are just starting to think about sustainable culture — i.e., whether the decisions we make, as consumers, are helping to create a future for the kinds of books we want to read, music we want to hear, and movies we want to see. A lot of the infrastructure that used to support all of those culture industries is eroding rapidly. When there’s less marketplace diversity, when one retailer is selling the majority of all books and can bully publishers into accepting their prices, that is felt in the industry not, as Edith says, as a helpful culling of the herd (though she’s right, there are “too many books!”) but as a conservative chill, as publishers become more and more risk-averse.

I’m not saying we should boycott Amazon — I’m saying we should make sure we shop diversely for diverse things, to ensure that the culture we like consuming keeps getting made. I don’t think it makes sense for you to point your readers in exclusively one direction, even if you are getting a nice kickback in exchange. I mean, a sort-of-nice kickback—while I agree that $1,000 is a lot of money, if I can just be gross and talk about “your brand” for a second, I don’t think you should let them get away with paying you that little to have The Hairpin’s implicit seal of approval. You’re worth more.

Nicole: While we’ve got you on the … line? … : ebook publishing, and The Future. Go!

Emily: Last things first: well, there are two possible futures! One is the dystopian future, and let me get into that first.

In the bad future, we never wake up and think about how our book sausage is made until it’s too late. The major publishers contract and consolidate further and thousands of people who have made careers as book editors, copyeditors, production editors, designers, salespeople, marketers, and publicists lose their jobs and are unable to find new ones. The only publisher that survives is Amazon, and every book is a Tim Ferriss knockoff or a Fifty Shades knockoff. I mean, I’m exaggerating slightly, but only slightly.

In the good future, readers make the connection between the books they enjoy and the publishing infrastructure that enables those books to be created. We buy new hardcovers when we can afford to, ebooks when we want instant gratification and convenience or to audition books we’re not sure we want on our shelves forever, and we take out books from the library when we don’t feel like paying full price at a bookstore. We buy from Amazon, from Kobo, from the iBookstore, from our local independent bookstores and from B&N as long as they exist. We buy books directly from publishers and authors when we want to make extra sure they’re getting the biggest cut they possibly can, and we buy from other places when convenience is more important or the authors are long-dead anyway.

I don’t know firsthand how the Indiebound Affiliate program stacks up to Amazon’s, but that is worth looking into.

About ebooks — well, I sell them. I like reading them. I especially like reading them on my iPhone and iPad mini. I wish I was getting paid by Apple to say that, but I’m not. I also read print books. I am excited for the books I love to be available in both formats, which means, I don’t think books should be published exclusively as ebooks and I want more of the print backlist titles I love to be made available as ebooks, which won’t happen without advocacy of people like me and Ruth and customers like Emily Books‘s readers and subscribers.

Nicole: Thanks so much, Emily. We’re offering our readers a choice, going forward, and we want to know how people like it, and what else is out there. We’re also curious to see what the future of good writing is, which, as Edith points out, is not the same as the future of the book industry.

Read books, everyone!

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