Why Nobody Blames Authors (And Why You Should)

Whether it’s geo-restrictions, digital rights management (DRM), ebook pricing or ebook quality, it’s rare to hear a reader blame an author for the state of an ebook (unless it’s self-published, of course). And I can see why. Authors are the public face of what readers love about books. They are the creative geniuses behind all the amazing books you’ve ever read. And it’s not just that. Writing books is really hard, and most authors only do it for the love of it.

It’s for these reasons and many more that the last thing we want to do is hang all the things we hate about ebooks on our favourite authors. Especially not when there are publishers, agents and ebook vendors who perform that role very well indeed thank you very much. None of this, however, changes the fact that a big chunk of the blame for why the publishing industry is as slow-moving, old-fashioned and afraid of change as it is lies at the feet of authors. I’ve written before about the Luddite nature of most book editors. But that’s nothing in comparison to authors. Nobody talks about the smell of books more than traditionally published authors. Nobody is more wedded to the comfortable, cyclical traditional publishing model than authors. Most authors love book launches, writers’ festivals, tours, publicity and going into physical bookstores to sign copies of their books for their fans, despite what JA Konrath might say. A huge chunk of authors either support DRM or don’t know what it is, despite the fact that most authors have more direct contact with their readers than their publishers. Many authors don’t care about ebooks, or are afraid of them, and certainly don’t read ebooks themselves.

And then there are the digital holdouts. Publishers don’t like to talk about them, because at the end of the day, most publishers would prefer to protect their authors and keep selling their books than drag their names through the mud in order to deflect the blame. But there are more than a few authors out there who don’t want to sell their books as ebooks at all, and refuse to make them available out of fear, snobbery or greed. Some of them are very big. JK Rowling is perhaps the most high-profile of these, but there are others. Some of them are even Big and Fancy Australian authors.

The fact of the matter is, the reason many of the annoying things about the publishing industry exist are to protect or promote an author’s copyrighted material. Many of these things are not bad at all for authors. Geo-restrictions, as frustrating and exhausting as they are for global ebook readers, are the result of authors protecting their copyright. Authors have the right to sell their copyright in different countries to different companies. Those companies are sometimes in direct competition with one another. This means authors get better deals, are treated better and are publicised and distributed more widely than they would otherwise be if they were sold globally by one single company.

So next time you start working yourself up into a rage about the greed of publishers, agents, retailers and all the other ‘middle men’, ask yourself what the author you love has to gain from the situation they are in. If self-publishing ebooks were as easy and inevitable as it is often made out to be, why aren’t there more authors who are self-publishing ebooks without DRM at super-low prices? The answer is simple: because they’re getting as much out of it as their publishers.

And if you’re a traditionally published author reading this and thinking, ‘That’s not me! I love my readers! I want my ebooks sold at $0.99 without DRM internationally!’ Then please, comment below. And more importantly, speak to your publisher. Educate yourself about ebooks and digital publishing, and you can take advantage of the changes sweeping the reading world. Because ultimately it’s your book, and you get to decide how it reaches your readers.

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Joel Naoum

Joel Naoum is a Sydney-based book editor, publisher, blogger and writer. He is passionate about the possibilities of social media and digital publishing opens up for authors, publishers, booksellers and the whole book industry.

10 thoughts on “Why Nobody Blames Authors (And Why You Should)”

  1. I have at times made comments about (and to) authors about some of these issues, particularly geo-restrictions. I had a particularly heated exchange in a good reads thread a little earlier this year with several other readers and a couple of authors where I argued that if the authors really wanted things to change they could make it happen.

    But ultimately I think you’re probably fighting a losing battle to get ‘us’ (i.e. readers) to place as much blame for the sorry state of affairs onto authors as we do the middle people – the reality is that authors are the one group who are essential to the publishing process. While I personally believe that there is much value added by traditional publishing in terms of quality of content it has been proven that anyone can ‘publish’ a book without all the middle people. And in Australia especially it feels wrong to diss authors collectively – there can’t be more than a dozen or two of them who make a living wage from their craft – the rest must subsidise their efforts with all manner of other other activities. I can’t really feel good about sticking the boot in to such a sorry lot of people 🙂

    1. Oh, I feel pretty bad about it too. But if readers don’t pressure their authors, then their authors will never push for change – and publishers won’t do it. As it stands, there is virtually no pressure from agents or authors to change the state of things in traditional publishing. Traditional publishers are putting pressure on agents and authors to do things differently, but they can only push so far before they risk alienating their authors or pissing off agents. If authors don’t desire change, it is not within the scope of a publisher’s role (to protect and promote their author’s copyright) to force them to do it.

      All of this is not to say there aren’t a whole lot of authors doing the right thing. But there are a lot of holdouts, and publishers and vendors are taking the brunt of readers’ frustrations about this online.

  2. I have at times made comments about (and to) authors about some of these issues, particularly geo-restrictions. I had a particularly heated exchange in a good reads thread a little earlier this year with several other readers and a couple of authors where I argued that if the authors really wanted things to change they could make it happen.

    But ultimately I think you’re probably fighting a losing battle to get ‘us’ (i.e. readers) to place as much blame for the sorry state of affairs onto authors as we do the middle people – the reality is that authors are the one group who are essential to the publishing process. While I personally believe that there is much value added by traditional publishing in terms of quality of content it has been proven that anyone can ‘publish’ a book without all the middle people. And in Australia especially it feels wrong to diss authors collectively – there can’t be more than a dozen or two of them who make a living wage from their craft – the rest must subsidise their efforts with all manner of other other activities. I can’t really feel good about sticking the boot in to such a sorry lot of people 🙂

    1. Oh, I feel pretty bad about it too. But if readers don’t pressure their authors, then their authors will never push for change – and publishers won’t do it. As it stands, there is virtually no pressure from agents or authors to change the state of things in traditional publishing. Traditional publishers are putting pressure on agents and authors to do things differently, but they can only push so far before they risk alienating their authors or pissing off agents. If authors don’t desire change, it is not within the scope of a publisher’s role (to protect and promote their author’s copyright) to force them to do it.

      All of this is not to say there aren’t a whole lot of authors doing the right thing. But there are a lot of holdouts, and publishers and vendors are taking the brunt of readers’ frustrations about this online.

  3. I don’t blame authors (in most cases), but I do think letting an author know that I can’t get their book because of geo-restrictions is the clever way to go.

    My reasoning is that I suspect that Author -> Agent -> Publisher feedback has a lot more clout that Reader -> Publisher.

    Also, by and large authors don’t know about the publisher-imposed georestrictions, and what they don’t know about they can’t fix.

    Plus contacting the author directly has already got me one comp copy of a book 🙂

  4. I don’t blame authors (in most cases), but I do think letting an author know that I can’t get their book because of geo-restrictions is the clever way to go.

    My reasoning is that I suspect that Author -> Agent -> Publisher feedback has a lot more clout that Reader -> Publisher.

    Also, by and large authors don’t know about the publisher-imposed georestrictions, and what they don’t know about they can’t fix.

    Plus contacting the author directly has already got me one comp copy of a book 🙂

  5. Is pushing authors to promote change which might reduce their income a fair thing to do? How many of us would willingly take a pay cut because it suits others?

    On a different note two authors I know recently approached a librarian to get an ecopy of their own work. It seems they thought if a library asked, then an e-version would be forthcoming. Taking lack of knowledge to a whole new level….

  6. Is pushing authors to promote change which might reduce their income a fair thing to do? How many of us would willingly take a pay cut because it suits others?

    On a different note two authors I know recently approached a librarian to get an ecopy of their own work. It seems they thought if a library asked, then an e-version would be forthcoming. Taking lack of knowledge to a whole new level….

  7. It’s a complicated issue. But it seems most readers don’t have an issue with asking everybody else in the publishing business to potentially lose money by cutting prices – when it will mean the exact same thing.

    The situation isn’t that dire, however. As many informed bloggers have argued, there is an argument that global, unified ebook sales and lower ebook prices will actually be better for sales. The problem is, publishers cannot experiment with these possibilities unless the author is willing to try them.

  8. It’s a complicated issue. But it seems most readers don’t have an issue with asking everybody else in the publishing business to potentially lose money by cutting prices – when it will mean the exact same thing.

    The situation isn’t that dire, however. As many informed bloggers have argued, there is an argument that global, unified ebook sales and lower ebook prices will actually be better for sales. The problem is, publishers cannot experiment with these possibilities unless the author is willing to try them.

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