First of all, I was interviewed today by erotic romance writer Clarissa Wild, so come on over and say hello.
Here is a cautionary tale about hiring external help to bring your e-book to market. The religion-critical site Pantheos reports that one J.O. Herrera wrote and planned to self-publish a book about atheism. He hired a formatter recommended by Smashwords. Unfortunately, the formatter vehemently disagreed with the content of J.O. Herrera’s book and decided to “improve” it by adding a bunch of religious links to a book about atheism. The book in question may be found here at Smashwords, hopefully without problematic links.
Now I fully understand if a service provider refuses a job they cannot do in good conscience. As a translator, I have been in that situation myself with regard to translations regarding business deals with blatant human rights violators (I used to have a client who never met a dictator or shady regime he wouldn’t do business with. I was so glad when he finally retired), selling products or services I find morally repugnant or translating correspondence that made me uncomfortable (because peeking into somebody else’s argument is unpleasant) or that was just plain rude. I’m not exactly overly sensitive either, for example I translate a lot of military stuff, which makes many translators uncomfortable. I even did translations for the nuclear power industry, even though I am strongly opposed to nuclear power. So far there have been only two occasions where I flat out refused a job (and two more where I came close). It’s never pleasant, especially if you fear losing a client and/or need the money. However, if you feel that you cannot do a job in good conscience, then refuse and recommend someone else. But accepting the job only to mess up a client’s project is bad form and just plain unprofessional.
This isn’t the first story I have heard about e-publishing service providers not doing the job they were contracted for for religious reasons. At Kboards, there were at least two authors recounting experiences with audio book narrators who suddenly had moral qualms about “rude” words in the text they were supposed to narrate. Of course, it’s always possible that the service provider really had no idea that the book in question violated their moral code and/or religious convictions until they had already commenced working on it. But with a book entitled God doesn’t exist and yes, I can prove it what did the formatter think it would be about?
Meanwhile, the North German radio and regional TV station NDR has discovered e-books and self-publishing. At any rate, I was watching their weekly cultural program Kulturjournal today. Sandwiched between reports about ugly architecture, Polish WWII resistance fighters and comics about dadaist artists was a report about the e-book phenomenon. The video is here.
The report was basically the usual “Amazon is evil” screed. They interviewed a publisher’s representative (thinks e-books are important and is currently in the process of setting up an e-book store on the publisher’s website – a little behind the times, isn’t he?) and a fellow from the German publishers’ and booksellers’ association, who believes that only a united front can stop Amazon (Isn’t Amazon as a bookseller operating in Germany a member?). The gentleman of the publishers’ and booksellers’ association also expressed concern that the proposed free trade agreement with the US might put an end to the German fixed book price agreement, since the USA obviously won’t introduce fixed book prices. He is right about that, if the uproar about agency pricing and supposed price collusion surrounding Apple and the Big Six/Five publishers is any indication, since agency pricing basically was a fixed book price agreement of sorts. However, I don’t view the free trade agreement, if it is signed at all, as a threat for the fixed book price agreement, since there likely will be a cultural exception to allow programs like the fixed book price agreement or film support grants to continue.
Among all the doomsayers, the NDR report also interviewed a German self-publisher, writer Kristen Wendt, who said that self-publishing was quicker and less complicated and therefore more suited to 21st century publishing. Meanwhile, the voice-over lamented that no publisher decides whether those self-published books were or good bad and that there is no publisher to provide editing, nurturing and marketing. They also added a quote by Ms. Wendt about the importance of reader reviews and sales rank and that “everybody wants to be in the Amazon top 100″. Kulturjournal host Julia Westlake then added her own comments about how the e-book revolution had opened the floodgates for “unedited trash”. I knew there was a reason Ms. Westlake always rubbed me the wrong way.
In short, it’s business as usual. “Amazon is an evil monopolist (plus, they refused to talk to the NDR – geez, I wonder why), publishers and independent booksellers are vital, self-published books are unedited trash”. As usual, there is no mention of any Kindle competitors such as Kobo, Apple or Tolino, the e-reader developed by the German Telekom and a bunch of German bookstore chains. As worried as these people are about a potential Amazon monopoly, you’d think they’d at least mention Amazon’s competitors for balance’s sake. Still, at least I hope Ms. Wendt got some sales out of this. Though NDR doesn’t even have the common courtesy of linking to her Amazon author page on their website.
I can totally understand why Amazon doesn’t want to talk to NDR reporters BTW, cause the NDR is a member of the ARD network and the last time Amazon had ARD reporters camping out at their gates, they found themselves accused of exploiting workers and hiring Neo-Nazis for security. There is a thread at The Passive Voice about the uproar here, while the original documentary (which almost no one who repeated the Neo-Nazi thing watched) is here. So after that hatchet job (which attacks labour practices that are highly problematic, but far from limited to Amazon and the result of ill thought-out welfare reforms under the Schröder government), I wouldn’t talk to ARD reporters either, if I were Amazon.
While looking for a link to the Kulturjournal report about e-books at the NDR website, I also came across this radio report about self-publishing from last October, which I didn’t hear at the time, because I always listen to Radio Bremen rather than NDR Radio and I definitely don’t listen to NDR Info a.k.a. talking head radio. The audio version is here.
In many ways, this report is even worse than the Kulturjournal report. To be fair, they do have author Florien Tietgen extoll the “radical democratisation of the book market” due to e-publishing. However, his statement is immediately followed by the statement of a publisher representative about a lack of quality control for self-published books. “You can’t tell whether a book has been edited or for which age range it is intended”, laments Ms. publisher representative. Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she?
What is more, there is zero mention of Kindle Direct Publishing or Kobo Writing Life or Smashwords or Draft2Digital or XinXii or indeed any commonly used self-publishing platform – in a report on self-publishing! So what do they talk about, if not about actual self-publishing? Turns out that this report extolls the virtues of assisted self-publishing on platforms like Tredition and neobooks. Now I’m not familiar with either platform. neobooks seems to be a cross between Authonomy and Smashwords. I might actually use them one day, since they distribute to some stores I can’t reach otherwise. Alas, for the time being they only accept Word documents and not formatted epubs, which is a dealbreaker for me. Never mind that I’m not sure if they accept English language e-books at all. I’m not so sure about the other one. It might be legit, but it’s certainly not a service I will ever be using.
It turns out that the self-publishing report was part of a whole series of radio reports on e-books. There is a pretty good installment about the German e-book market and why e-books are having a harder time here in Germany than in the US (though the US market share figures they give are seriously out of date for 2012), there is a report about reader demographics and one about enhanced e-books. All in all nothing really new there.