Why Is the Authors Guild Supporting Publishers Against Amazon—And More Than It Supports Authors?

Because guilds don't like competition.


Techdirt asks that interesting question, and helps remind us how the sort of new(er) market entrants making things better/easier/cheaper for both producers and consumers will be vilified and fought when they start chopping away at easy livings available to the powerful and influential before the newcomer came along.

Nick Gillespie wrote the best account out there about how, in a war between Amazon and the traditional publishing industry, both readers and writers ought to be on Amazon's side.

But Techdirt wonders why the Authors Guild takes publishers' side over Amazon's, which generally means over actual authors:

How does the collective voice of American authors, the supporter of working writers, the advocate for the rights of writers, go about fighting for that living wage? Especially given that publishers are making more money from digital booksthan ever, and sharing less of that money with authors than ever.

… the moment when the Authors Guild had maximum leverage over legacy publishers to extract some actual digital royalty and contract provision concessions — during Hachette's contract standoff with Amazon — the organization surrendered that leverage and threw all its Collective Voice of American Authors weight behind Hachette. Even though Hachette's positionwas costing authors money; even though Amazon had repeatedly offered to compensate any authors who were being harmed by the standoff.

What's doubly bizarre about the Authors Guild's reflexive anti-Amazon animus is that Amazon stands for so much of what the Authors Guild claims to want. A pristine example: as I write this, the organization bleats on its home page that "Half of Net Proceeds is the Fair Royalty Rate for E-Books," while two lines down it calls on the government to investigate Amazon…for paying exactly that fair royalty!…

If the Authors Guild really wanted to "advocate for fair contracts," it would support self-publishing, which even more than Amazon publishing is empowering authors with the first real competition the industry has ever seen — a 70% digital royalty rate (four times the lockstep legacy standard); control over packaging and other business decisions; faster time to market. Yet there's nothing on the Authors Guild website about how to use KDPKoboNookPressSmashwords, or any other self-publishing resource…..

Now look, there's nothing wrong with lobbying the government on behalf of big publishers. The First Amendment guarantees the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, after all, and it doesn't say those grievances can't be self-serving or even that they have to be sane. I just wish all these organizations pretending to advocate for authors would call themselves something a little more honest. Power in publishing is already horrendously lopsided. Publisher lobbyists masquerading as author champions only makes things worse.

Much of Amazon's benefit to writers and readers is in the ease, and profit margins, with which it puts the tools of self-publishing in every writer or would-be writer's hands. I wrote back in June about some of the more insane attempts to act like this is a bad thing for authors or for culture. (Hint: it's Ayn Rand's fault!) More writers out there acting like entrepreneurs sucks, because, uh, Ayn Rand was an individualist and this system is individualistic for would-be authors!

Which helps explain the answer to Techdirt's naive question about why the Authors Guild would not be on Amazon's side: The Authors Guild is a guild. And guilds don't tend to like it when it is easier for newcomers to compete with the already entrenched.

Lucky for all of us, writers and readers, Amazon doesn't have to care all that much what they think. Except of course when they are leaning on government to punish Amazon for its practices that make life better for everyone except entrenched publishers, and Guilds.