Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Change in Seasons

By Martha Reed

I know some folks think daffodils are the first sign of Spring, and don’t get me wrong, I love those bright yellow flowers as much as anyone but I live next to a park, so my first sign of Spring is when I start finding baseballs in my garden. I suppose I should be grateful I’m not finding them inside my living room.

The house next door is for sale and people ask me about it when they walk by. One older gentleman asked: ‘Is this a quiet neighborhood?’ and in all honesty I had to answer ‘no’. It’s not noisy like drug related gunfire or gang activity, but we do get kids. Skateboards, scooters, kids on bikes, kids with dogs, teenagers sneaking illicit kisses and cigarettes; they all end up hanging out at the park. Near as I can tell, that’s what a park is for.

Personally, I like all the activity. Writing takes discipline, and it can be lonely. Sure, there are days when I’d rather be outside chasing a ball then inside chasing a deadline. But just having the noise outside is sometimes enough; I imagine it’s rather like a mother listening with half an ear to her kids playing in the yard. I can detect the difference between a genuine yelp of surprised pain and a shrill burst of sibling whinery.

Yesterday I had to chase a band of adolescent ninja warriors off my garage roof so I’m pretty sure I’m developing a reputation as the mean lady at the end of the street. Since I’ve known most of these ninjas from the day they were born, I’m not too worried about it. I think their parents would grant me the temporary authority to keep them safely on the ground. I’m also going to start playing Sheriff of Fourth Street and find out which adult is letting their dog poop in my yard. I find myself ridiculously annoyed by this; I’ve had dogs and I was fanatical about cleaning up after them. But it’s all about rules; commonly agreed upon standards of behavior, and once that breaks down we’re doomed.

Which leads me to a cute little trick Amazon is trying to pull. Heck, they’ve probably already pulled it off by now, which makes it even worse. I hate strong-arm tactics, it lacks finesse, especially when the people in authority make business decisions without taking a consensus from the group most affected by the decision. Amazon.com is telling publishers that if they don’t use Amazon’s in-house POD vendor, BookSurge, then the BUY button will get pulled off their online Amazon sales web page.

Subtle, and nice, too, don’t you think?

Amazon’s argument is that this move will increase their shipping efficiencies and even limit the environmental impact by reducing overall fuel costs. Amazon’s gone all green. Puh-leeze. If limiting environmental impact is truly their concern, then let’s ditch paper altogether and use e-Books. Oh, Amazon’s already done that with their Kindle? And only authors who have Kindle contracts will get to see their books ‘in print’?

I’ve never bought into the argument that restricting competition will result in a better product or a more equitable marketplace. And this latest Amazon decision is not limited to self-published authors or small independent presses; more and more traditional publishing houses are taking advantage of digital technology and POD. As an author, it’s hard enough now to find an interested publisher; where does artist integrity go when you can’t even get access to the readers?

I’m not really worried that writers won’t be able to continue to write. Honestly, you can’t stop us. Even when we don’t get paid for it we still do it. I love the story of the Chinese dissident who wrote his novels in prison and got them over the walls and published by having other almost released prisoners memorize entire chapters. And even though it was heavily fictionalized, I adored the movie Quills. As dreadful as the storyline was, I found a great deal of truth in it, and it’s never an effort to watch the oh-so-talented Geoffrey Rush.

So, whatever your take on the current situation in our publishing world, let’s all just duck and cover. Apparently that old boogeyman Mr. Change is back, again.


Annette said...

Amazon going green? Yeah. Right. The only green they're interested in is the almighty dollar.

Gina said...

Martha, I agree that most of us will keep on writing anyway -- think of "Misery" -- and nothing is certain but change. Still, I'd rather change came in the form of daffodils than more restrictions on how writing can be distributed.