Giant Mega Kaiju Smackdown Retrospective! ZonGhidorah vs.Frogzilla a Year Later: Who Won, Who Lost the (and Who REALLY Lost)! With Special Guest Appearances by Joe Konrath as the Smog Monster and in His World Debut, Hugh Howey as Flackra
A year ago today, the world watched agog as two rampaging giant monsters fought a deadly battle for publishing supremacy in the streets of New York (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms tried to horn in, but was told absolutely no stop action).
The first monster was ZonGhidorah, King of Online Channels, a fearsome fire spitting dragon from Redmond with three fear striking heads, the first one named "Distribution," the second "Kindle," and the third "Imprints."
The second kaiju was Frogzilla, a giant amphibian from France, less fearsome than ZonGhidorah, but, under the right circumstances, tastier.
The battle began when ZonGhidorah landed in Manhattan right on top of the Publisher's Pricing Model Edifice and began to dismantle it from top to bottom. Unfortunately for Frogzilla, the other publishing kaiju were all having lunch together that day at The Russian Tea Room where they talked about nothing very much at all except on the topic of do Americans make tastier snacks than the Japanese. Frogzilla would have to fight alone.
The battle began with tremendous bellows and much chest pounding, though, oddly enough, not much damage was done. This all changed when King Ghidorah's Channel head spit flaming nuclear radioactive acid onto Frogzilla's Amazon availability and site rankings and toasted them to a crisp. Innocent Hachette authors could be seen fleeing the streets of New York City screaming and crying madly as their book sales plummeted.The horror was indescribable.
At one point in the battle, the Smog Monster, a creature made of toxic gases and slime, rose from the swamps of Secaucus, New Jersey (where else would he live?) to join forces with ZonGhidorah against Frogzilla. His chief weapons were noxious and interminable blog posts that threatened the consciousness of any who came within their range.
The battle reached its crescendo when Flackra rose from the cockroach-infested swamps of Florida and joined the fray. He was guided to conflict by two tiny shobijin wearing mumus. The one on the left is Hoffelder-san, the one on the right, Gauhgran-san. In addition to the mumu, Gauhgran-san always wears a "No Author Solutions" T-shirt.
Flackra is a Giant Moth with a huge woolly body supported by massive wings. When Flackra is on the move, it emits a constant keening cry of KKKDDDPPP FFFOOORRREEEVVVVEEERRR. Such is the buffeting power of its flight that it was able to drive thousands of indie authors who had absolutely no reason to be there towards the great conflagration being generated by the ongoing rampage. New York Times reporter David Streitfeld reportedly wet himself when Flackra's giant bulk filled the New York sky. That's the power of a kaiju!
Once at the battle's epicenter, Flackra flew around Frogzilla spitting out poisonous petitions proclaiming that Amazon was paying authors riches in such quantity that rents in Manhattan might actually start to look affordable.
At this point, everyone was sure that Frogzilla was about to cry "Mon Dieu!" and fold up into a nicely seasoned dish of CUISSES DE GRENOUILLE À LA PROVENÇALE. But, to everyone's amazement, this didn't happen! Instead, channeling his pre-Waterloo inner Napoleon, Frogzilla bellowed "Merde,!" rolled up a bunch of Authors United petitions, and beat the King of Online Channels around its two outer heads with it while simultaneously dropping water balloons filled with the tears of Hachette authors on the middle.
Finally, ZonGhidorah had enough of this and told Frogzilla to just hand over a big extra wad of euros and he'd go away. The deal was struck and the King of Online Channels flew back to Redmond. Once safely home, he proceeded to unleashed his fearsome henchman, FirePhone, on the mobile market where it proceeded to get its ass totally kicked by iPhoneZilla, with help from Samsungasaurus.
The other monsters watched ZonGhidorah's abrupt departure from the scene in dismay and didn't quite know what to make of it. Finally, the Smog Monster oozed away and wrote a long, boring blog post about the entire affair every other sentence of which began with "Smog Monster sez."
Flackra fled back south, his departure hastened by an alert New York Sanitation Police squad that attempted to ticket him for spreading garbage on city streets. The New York Consumer Affairs apartment also tried to sue Flackra for deceptively claiming that charging an operating expense is a royalty, but it's hard to serve a giant bug.
The shobijin have reportedly found work in a gentlemen's club in New York. The precise nature of their duties is unknown at this time.
Wow, that was exciting. Now, let's see a year later how the respective parties are all doing.
How Did ZonGhidorah Do?
He lost. Amazon did succeed in extracting more margin from the book publishers, though how much is unknown. The larger publishers were able to give up the least, the smaller the most. All of the contracts that were signed are private and you'd have to do a lot of digging (and some bribing) to obtain precise details. In terms of a typical channel fight, Amazon did well.
However, as I've noted before, after the publisher's collusion trial, Amazon's goal was to gain control of the E-book pricing model. This attempt was driven by the belief that "He who owns the price of a thing controls the thing." (With apologies to George Herbert and Dune.) Amazon not only failed in this attempt, it failed so significantly that its grip on the market, and its ability to project fear, were weakened in so far as the larger publishers were concerned. (The smaller ones are still terrified.) As proof, look at how HarperCollins kicked sand in Jeff Bezo's face when it was time to go to contract.
But, like King Ghidorah, Amazon is a patient beast. It will be back. It's continuing to put pressure on the publishers by adding a silly line on its listings saying the price on agency books is set by the publisher. Here's a brief note to Amazon. I want my listing to say my price was set by me and I'll take the consequences if I make a mistake. I don't need you price rigging the world to your benefit.
On the other hand, Amazon has innovated and shaken up an industry that badly needed it. For that, they deserve credit. I'll give them more the day they get out of my marketing and pricing shorts.
How Did the Publishers Do?
They won. The primary goal of the publishers during the fight was hold on to agency pricing at all cost. Many people still do not understand why publishers fight so hard for agency.The publishers do not agency all their titles, only the newest and hottest. They do this for the same reason Apple can charge full retail when a new gizmo goes on sale. Amazon buys its Apple products from 1 Infinity Way under high tech's version of agency, MAP. Perhaps Hugh Howey wants to write a petition telling us how Amazon is paying Samsung a living wage?
This takes us to another nonsense claim that AAAG repeated during the battle, that $9.99 is an "optimal" price point for E-books. It was a claim that failed high school statistics. And now the publishers are proving it. Why do publishers charge more for certain E-books?
Because they can. If they were overpricing, they’d be punished at once. It’s an open market and there are plenty of alternative titles But if you have an established rep or brand, you can charge more and people will pay it. That includes indies. And yes, if you're formally published and your house MAPs your book, you make more money.
But I don't think the publishers fully understand the disruption still building and bubbling under them. They been issued a stay of sentence, not a reprieve.
How did AAAG (Aggregated Amazon Ankle Grabbers) Do?
Ugh. Who cares. Collectively, through the entire fight, they were a disgrace. Bad info, unrelenting propaganda. However, I see some signs of embarrassment and remorse (though not from Howey, AAAG's biggest player). Let's hope they'll make up for it in the future.
Who REALLY Lost?
Indies, of course! In respect to Amazon, we look like Tokyo after Godzilla has left after a relaxing day tearing the place apart. We are still:
Let's not even get into the issue of the Kindle subscription program and what you make.
It's a pity. Had AAAG not flacked so relentlessly for Amazon, they were in a position to do the indie community some real good. They could have pointed out the problems with the publishers and asked Amazon to change its policies in respects to indies when media attention was focused on the fight. It might have moved the needle. That chance has passed. It will take another big dust up before it arises again.
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