All the talk lately in the self-publishing community has been about Thomas & Mercer, the new Amazon.com imprint and particularly their signing of two legendary self-published authors, Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler. Both Joe and Barry have been kind enough to publish their online conversations about their signings - you can read their latest chat here. They're also going to publish their entire conversation on Amazon.com, so keep an eye out for it. As proprietor of this pub, I'll weigh in with my thoughts (since every Tom, Dick & Harry have already done so). Here's my take:
By launching their Thomas & Mercer mystery/thriller imprint, now and in the way they did, Amazon shows themselves as masters of Sun Tzo's philosophies in his legendary tome, _The Art of War_!
This imprint is an OUTSTANDING idea and one whose time has come! For those who don't know what Thomas & Mercer is, here's a snippet from Amazon's May 18th press release about it:
"Amazon.com today announced the launch of Thomas & Mercer, the fifth imprint from Amazon Publishing, focused on mysteries and thrillers. Thomas & Mercer launches with four books that will be released in Fall 2011: "Resuscitation" by D.M. Annechino, "Stirred" by J.A. Konrath and Blake Crouch, "The Immortalists" by Kyle Mills and "Already Gone" by John Rector ..."
It's the next logical step for Amazon. They're already the largest online bookseller, their online hub is massively known and allows them to self-market, promote and advertise, they have a fantastic publishing platform for SELFPUBBERS with Kindle Direct Publishing and their distribution channel is totally owned and controlled by them. That last point is most important since distribution has always been under the primary command and control of the Big 6 (even indirectly, they've always been able to manipulate distributors like Barnes & Noble and Borders) and as in any war, command and control is key. Make no mistake, Amazon has declared war on TRADPUB, but like wise students of Sun Tzu, they have won the war before even fighting the first battle. No doubt they will be met with stiff resistance, at least for the near future, by the infamous and, as Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Kris Rusch always point out, mislabeled "Big 6". The big publishing houses are backed by large corporations with deep pockets. If they decide to put up a unified front, they could succeed in slowing the momentum of T&M but they won't be able to stop the train ... as the saying goes, "that train already left the station."
I told you that Amazon are masters of "The Art of War." Let me show you what I mean by quoting the great general, Sun Tzu, and illustrating how Amazon has heeded his counsel:
"In conflict, straightforward actions generally lead to engagement, surprising actions generally lead to victory."
By launching this imprint with two of the best known SELFPUBBERS in Konrath and Eisler, Amazon has (for now) evaded enticing TRADPUB's biggest authors to jump ship. If Amazon would have waited to lure TRADPUB's whales, it would have given the Big 6 a heads-up. TRADPUB can't keep tabs on Konrath and Eisler's movements as they could their own stable. Plus, if Amazon would have gone after the real money-makers for the Big 6, they definitely would have waged a direct and bloody engagement. I believe the Big 6 were surprised with Amazon's timing and signings.
“Thus those skilled in war subdue the enemy's army without battle ... . They conquer by strategy."
Amazon's strategy is masterful! They launch an imprint which will DIRECTLY compete with TRADPUB on every level but with generals (Konrath and Eisler particularly) that are not turncoats. Joe and Barry have always been patriots (some may call them rebels, I don't). In this way, Amazon doesn't provoke and they don't overtly array their armies for battle. Rather, they're seen as just marching their army directly through TRADPUB's territory, but more as a parade than a menacing force. Out of the box, all the Big 6 can do is stand on the sidewalk, watch and wave.
“In war, numbers alone confer no advantage."
As of today, when seen as one entity, the Big 6 still 'outnumber' Amazon when it comes to scale. However, because of TRADPUB's shortsightedness, stupidity and foolishness they missed the boat when it came to the revolutionary changes in the literary publishing industry. Their entire infrastructure is built on obsolete and soon-to-be obsolete models and processes. Barry Eisler coined the term "legacy publishers" - that is the perfect way to describe TRADPUBBERS now. Because their foundations are built on yesterday's process, their scale is meaningless.
Picture an army of 1,000,000 men all armed with swords and bows and arrows, facing just one super-carrier.
“To ... not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of virtues."
The former describes TRADPUB and the latter, Amazon.
“What is of the greatest importance in war is extraordinary speed: One cannot afford to neglect opportunity."
Amazon is a company built on 21-century technology and innovation which allows the retail giant to continue to act with the speed of a small, nimble company. In contrast, TRADPUB is ruled by the Big 6 who are in turn, mostly owned and controlled by bigger companies with 20th century sensibilities. Amazon saw the HUGE opportunity and were adept enough to jump on it with T&M.
“A sovereign of high character and intelligence must be able to know the right man, should place the responsibility on him, and expect results."
By launching with Konrath and Eisler as their generals, Amazon showed true wisdom! They selected two of the brightest and boldest new authors who have already showed themselves fearless to the intimidation of the TRADPUB industry. Not only are they showing confidence in both men, they LISTEN to them and their advice! Eisler speaks about how he suggested changes to their contract and they LISTENED ... something TRADPUB has NOT done for the most part with any but their biggest authors. I believe Amazon will continue to pursue authors like Eisler and Konrath - writers who understand and utilize the newest processes of publishing and who continue to invent new ways of marketing themselves. NOTE: In their published chat, both Joe and Barry speak at length about the fact that they are NOT adverse to TRADPUB - they are NOT trying to destroy TRADPUB - and that, to them SELFPUB is not so much an ideology but an astute business decision. In other words, they will continue to utilize self-publishing when it's the prudent choice. As for their Thomas & Mercer deals, those deals were the prudent choice.
“If an enemy has alliances, the problem is grave and the enemy's position strong; if he has no alliances, the problem is minor and the enemy's position weak."
This one you might think would side with TRADPUB, after all they have decades of alliances with large-chain and indy brick-n-mortar booksellers as well as media outlets, big-name authors, agents, reviewers, etc. However, TRADPUB's alliances are not as strong as they may appear. In fact, their strongest alliance may be with their newest competitor ... Amazon! The Big 6 continue to sell a ton of books (both paper and eBook) via Amazon and their Kindle platform. As for their other alliances:
- Just like the Big 6 - major brick-n-mortar retailers like Barnes & Noble and Borders are suffering from their own shortsightedness and stupidity. Borders continues to operate one step away from total bankruptcy while B&N is being acquired by a rich man who already stated that he's not as interested in bookstores and paper books as he is the NOOK.
- Media outlets thrive on news and more and more, the most exciting news is coming from the rank and file of SELFPUB and from the new hybrids like Amazon's Thomas & Mercer.
- Big-name authors have become big names from TRADPUB, no doubt, but that doesn't mean TRADPUB will keep it's monopoly on them. Just like with Eisler and Konrath, big-name TRADPUBBED authors will make the prudent choice for themselves. Many might remain with TRADPUB, which is NOT a bad thing but others might move to imprints like Amazon (and there WILL be others) or SELFPUB. Dean Wesley Smith has always asserted that the wisest choice for ALL authors is to utilize both, if possible - TRADPUB and SELFPUB and now let's throw in the HYBRIDPUBS like T&M. They each offer advantages.
To sum up, although for now it appears that war has been declared on traditional publishing in general and the Big 6 in particular - I believe that it's TRADPUB and the Big 6 that perceive it that way - more so than Amazon, SELFPUB, or the folks do!
Traditional publishing will NOT survive in its present and past forms. They will HAVE TO adapt and to some extent they already are. There is no denying that a change has taken place in literary publishing. The balance of power has shifted. The once all-powerful Big 6 NO LONGER control the industry as they once did ... and they never will again. That is the way of things in a capitalist society. It is the natural progression of things.
Once upon a time, the word computer and the company, IBM were synonymous. When Microsoft came along and started designing operating systems and applications for 'desktop' computers, the IBM stogies decided to dismiss the new company, technology and industry. They stuck with what they considered 'tried and true' mainframes, and turned a blind eye to the needs and desires of the folks. IBM is hardly ever spoken about anymore.
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana)
I'll leave you with the summary of a great book titled, _The Limits of Strategy_ by Ernest Von Simson.
"1992 was a killing year for the four computer companies most important to business buyers over the decade. All four had been dominant suppliers of minicomputers for the preceding fifteen or twenty years. But on July 16, the CEOs of both Digital Equipment and Hewlett Packard were pushed into retirement. On August 8, Wang Laboratories declared bankruptcy. In December, IBM halved its dividend for the first time ever, forcing the resignation of its CEO a month later.
How did this happen? All four CEOs were clever and experienced. Two were founders of their companies; the other two highly successful career executives in their respective companies. All four were simply overwhelmed. And while there was no single explanation for what happened, there were definite common themes.
They recur again and again in the many stories of this book. Are the deadliest changes unavoidable because strategy is too easily thwarted by cluster bombs like technological velocity, cultural inertia, obsolete business models, executive conflict, and investor expectations? The year 1992 is the fulcrum of this book, but the underlying theme is company transitions in the face of massive changes in markets, technologies, or business models - or, in other words, the limits of strategy."
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