Friday, March 30, 2012

Establishment Publishing Kabuki

Today I learned via a mass email from Michael Pietsch, Executive Vice President and Publisher of Little, Brown, that Authors Guild President Scott Turow has an op-ed in Bloomberg on Amazon and the legacy publishing industry. The op-ed is mostly a cut and paste of an open letter Turow posted earlier on the Authors Guild website, and because Joe Konrath and I have already fisked the letter, I won't repeat our arguments here (David Gaughran also had a typically excellent response). Instead, I'd like to point out just one thing I think will be of particular interest to readers of HOTM.

At one point Turow writes, "It may seem strange to hear the president of the Authors Guild expressing sympathy for the plight of American publishers." Well, Turow is expressing more than just sympathy; he's adopting and advocating establishment publishing's philosophy and business practices in a manner indistinguishable from the manner in which establishment publishing executives themselves so advocate (indeed, as I note above, the EVP and Publisher of Little, Brown heartily endorsed Turow's op-ed in a mass email earlier today). But yes, Turow is fundamentally correct: it's as unseemly for the head of an author's guild to defend legacy publishers as it would be for the head of, say, the Pilot's Union to defend United. And Turow is apparently sufficiently aware of, and concerned about, the appearance of his questionable role as legacy publishing spokesperson to call it out.

But here's the reason Turow says you should not only accept his unlikely role as legacy publishing flack, but should in fact find it desirable: you see, the Authors Guild and legacy publishers "have been at each other’s throats since the guild came into being a century ago, and we still have serious differences."

This dodge -- the pretense of a real divergence of interests -- is so significant and widespread I wanted to call it out here.

No establishment wants to present itself to the public accurately -- that is to say, as a monolith. If it did so, people would correctly understand that the utterances of every part of the establishment are merely self-serving, and would discount them accordingly. So what establishments work hard to do instead is to create the appearance of conflict, competition, and a divergence of interests. In this way, for example, The New Republic can be used by conservatives, as in, "Even the liberal New Republic says…". Similarly, Blue Dog and other corporate-serving Democrats can be cited by Republicans as "Even Democrats acknowledge that…". And now, as we see, the Publisher of Little Brown gets to say, "Even Authors Guild President Scott Turow says…".

I've written about this phenomenon before as it exists in the establishment media. The apparent divergence of views among NPR and other such "leftwing" media, on the one hand, and the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and other such "rightwing" media, on the other, is intended to distract from the much more important commonality of interests among these establishment media outlets (and here's Glenn Greenwald with a recent piece on what these interests are). I call this kind of competition Kabuki Competition, and not coincidentally, it's the same kind of "competition" that exists among legacy publishers. Yes, they battle over author and employee talent, but these battles are vastly outweighed by the areas in which they cooperate: author royalties, means of distribution, and all the other fundamentals of maintaining their privileged station in the world of books. Remember, Europe's royal clans once fought real battles, too, but what they agreed on was much more important than what they fought over. And what they agreed on was the entire feudal system that was the basis for their profits, their position, and their power. They agreed on their place, and the place of the peasants, and all their battles were fought within those bounds.

So don't be misled: despite what they would have you believe, players like Turow and Pietsch are not fundamentally adversarial. They may differ, and they might actually fight, over how the system's spoils should be properly divided. But on the preservation of that system itself, they are of entirely the same mind and have entirely the same interests.

P.S. Michael, in your mass email praising Scott's latest, you said, "These are interesting times for all of us and I welcome your questions and thoughts about the issues facing our industry. I hope you agree that our open exchange of ideas is critical for continued success." I do! Which is why I've taken the trouble to respond to Scott and now to you, too. Won't you do the same? If not, then particularly given Scott's failure to address any of the numerous thorough and cogent responses to his arguments, which you have now publicly endorsed, people might start to feel that what interests you isn't in fact an open exchange of ideas, but instead a one-sided coordinated campaign of self-serving propaganda.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Scott Turow, Servant of Establishment Publishing

Scott Turow is the president of the Authors Guild, yet his real concern seems to be protecting legacy publishers at the expense of the authors whose interests he claims to represent. Today Joe Konrath and I fisked Turow's defense of legacy publishing price collusion, currently the subject of a Justice Department investigation. We weren't gentle, but when someone pisses down your back and tells you it's raining, you have to call 'em on it. Here's your link.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Publishing, Politics, and Persuasion

Today I did a long interview with the awesome Catherine Ryan Hide, author of eighteen award-winning novels including Pay It Forward. Catherine asked me some great questions, and I talk about publishing; establishments; how the one percent couldn't exist without the support and reverence of substantial parts of the 99%; false-binary thinking; why nothing, not even the Holocaust or child-molestation, should be off-limits to humor; what motivates dudgeon demons and mobs; the Amazon bogeyman; what makes an effective or ineffective book cover; what the publishing industry will look like in ten years; Chihuahuas; and lots more.

Read the whole thing on Catherine's blog. And be careful! Some of it might offend you, after which, you could suffer from feelings of being offended, which many people find troubling.