Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

*Standing Ovation*

Thank you, Margaret Sullivan, for renewing my faith in my favorite newspaper.

With a statement that admits its coverage has not been entirely fair, Margaret Sullivan calls for more balanced reporting on the Amazon Hachette negotiations. This is great news. From Margaret’s piece:

I would like to see more unemotional exploration of the economic issues; more critical questioning of the statements of big-name publishing players; and greater representation of those who think Amazon may be a boon to a book-loving culture, not its killer.

Update: Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler make good cases for why this public rebuke of David Streitfeld perhaps doesn’t go far enough.

40 replies to “*Standing Ovation*”

Yeah, not on THIS topic he did not. Maybe on other ones. But it does make me suspect when a journalist does a crappy, one-sided, slanted job on one story. How do I trust them on other reporting? Sort of like a home builder who makes a crooked and poorly designed home with weak foundations. Do I trust their other buildings to be safely inhabitable?

“The public editor works independently, outside of the reporting and editing structure of the newspaper; her opinions are her own.”

Not sure the rest of the NYT editorial team is onboard with this edito.

The whole structure reminds me of a cartoon in MAD magazine many years ago. It was part of a piece on X-ray views of common situations. One of the panels showed somebody putting a piece of paper into a receptacle clearly labelled SUGGESTION BOX. The ‘X-ray’ cutaway view showed that on the inside, the ‘suggestion box‘ was a paper shredder.

Very encouraging to see a more balanced viewpoint!

From the comments on this story:

“Look, let the reader decide. If they want to pay for what is essentially self-published (mostly) dreck on Amazon, they will.”

Yup – my readers have decided. They’re buying my self-published “dreck”, and giving it four and five-star ratings. Then, when they can even find my first, traditionally published, novel (it’s not on Kindle – publisher’s choice) they don’t like it quite as much. To be honest, if I ever get the rights back to that first book, I plan on doing a substantial revision to it to bring it up to my own self-imposed, publishing standards.

I’m getting sick of the quality argument, and I get more sick of it every time I’m disappointed by the quality of a full-price hardcover. Good and bad live everywhere and, unlike some others, I value the opinions of real readers the most.

Glad to see NYT at least address this, but she didn’t go very far. What bothers me about his response was her failure to dig any deeper into his dismissal of the 8,000 signatures: “And he says that 900 of their signatures mean much more than ‘a petition that’s open to anyone on the Internet.” To treat them as equal would be false equivalency, he says.'”

She should have asked him if he’d bothered to see what percentage of those 8,000 were in fact authors. We all know he didn’t bother. If most or half were not writers, maybe he’d have a point. Did he reach out to the organizers of the letter to get a sense of the breakdown?

The other half might be readers, or Amazon customers, or just people who are interested in the publishing industry (as I recall, there was a CEO of a publishing company who signed). Even if 99% were not writers, it is incredibly elitist to say their opinion does not matter as much as the opinions of the rich celebrity writers.

I just posted this as a comment on the NYT to further elaborate my point:

It is encouraging to see this acknowledgement by the NYT of the bias in the recent reporting, but David Streitfeld’s comments still show the depth of his bias and also his overt elitism. First of all, he was not curious enough to explore the backgrounds of the people who signed the petition. Many of them are “established authors” including many who are published by big publishers, and even several best-selling authors and a CEO of a publishing company. But of course Streitfeld could not be bothered to check. All he would have had to do was read through the comments to get a sense of who was signing.

In addition, even if many of the signers of the petition were just readers, customers of Amazon, or ordinary people who are interested in the publishing industry, how elitist and dismissive to suggest that their opinions do not matter and that the opinions of 900 writers means “much more” than the opinions of 8000 people on the internet. So if you do the math, he clearly shows that, to him, the opinion of the established authors is “much more” than almost 10 times as valuable as the opinions of other writers, readers and just “anyone on the internet”. Does David Streitfeld believe that those established authors should therefore be able to vote in elections 10 times or even much more than 10 times? Of course he doesn’t, but the elitist condescension in his dismissal of the 8,000 people expressing their opinion is quite disturbing, especially when he is unapologetic about it.

Good response! I wouldn’t expect one from the NYT. I think at the end of the day, independent authors need to just win by just continuing to do what they do. Ultimately, the NYT book department won’t be around to complain about it anyway. They will have gone the way of the dodo bird.

Well, you know, it’s easy to collect 8,000 signatures if you allow any old riff-raff to sign. Those 900 signatures were all curated. Boy howdy, those people are professional petition-signers; they can sign a petition far better than you and you and you, the Great Unwashed, who never had a big Manhattan petition publisher recognize your petitioning talent and anoint you as one of the Chosen Ones.

Wonder if any published writers were denied a spot at the bottom of the AU letter? What were the vetting requirements? How many books? When? With what sales? What if you summer in Kansas instead of Maine?

If you did not qualify for Authors Guild membership, could you sign?

Anyone know of authors who were curated off the letter?

BTW, back when the petition first came out, I did an unscientific survey of the about 100 of the signatures, and about 75% were authors, many of whom reported that they were published at some point in their careers by traditional publishers, and a few well known bestsellers.

In other words they were obviously just “anyone on the internet” who goes around randomly signing petitions about subjects that they know nothing about.

Anyone else have their comments not show up on the NYT article? I posted several comments over 6 hours ago, and not one has shown up. I am polite and make my points with reason and logic, and all of my comments on other articles have been posted within an hour or two.

Maybe their moderation system is overloaded.

No one will read that and nothing will change. The New York Times will stop spewing propaganda when they’re bankrupt, and not a second before.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this isn’t important. When the Public Editor essentially calls you out in print (however politely) for your biased coverage, you are being reprimanded in a very public and humiliating way. This is a journalistic spanking of the highest order for Mr. Streitfeld. More importantly, it will serve as “cite-able” validation to those of us who have been bemoaning the biased coverage in many other outlets, not just the Times, and will serve as a warning to editors everywhere to double-check their reporting on the subject. This is a rather big deal.

Agree. I doubt any reporter would include this in his resume. Bias can survive as long as everyone on one side agrees it isn’t biased. When card-carrying members of that establishment stand up and call it bias, the facade cracks a bit.

The next NYT article on the issue should be very interesting reading.

Thanks for making this point. It is easy to see how Sullivan did not go far enough, but that should not hide the fact that this is a “big deal” as you say. I quoted you on Joe’s blog also as I thought your comment especially helpful in putting things in perspective.

My response to Margaret Sullivan, also published in the Times in the comments to her article, was this:

“While I admire your attempt to correct some of the misconceptions that are running rampant concerning the Amazon/Hachette story, in your third paragraph you have perpetuated a point that is factually wrong while stating it as an absolute instead of what it is: a misconception that plays right into the hands of the Amazon bashers. Amazon is not “slowing the delivery” of any Hachette titles. Those titles are being shipped less quickly because (since Hachette no longer has a contract with Amazon and may not for the foreseeable future) they are no longer being held in Amazon’s warehouse. While this dispute is going on they are being shipped from Hachette’s warehouse and Hachette’s delivery system is not as efficient as Amazon’s. Nobody’s is. Hachette, of course, will not discuss that. It makes for better p.r. if people believe that Amazon is doing dirty, nasty deeds and costing Hachette business. The same goes for the pre-order buttons. The acceptance of a customer’s pre-order by Amazon is a promise by Amazon that a particular book will be delivered to that customer at some future date. Without a firm contract in place, any business, not just Amazon, would be crazy to accept pre-orders for any item that it may not be able to fulfill. That’s not Amazon punishing Hachette. That’s just wise business practice. You should have made those points much more clear.”

Very well said. When you order from Amazon the order goes immediately to Hachette, who then takes three weeks to ship it and they blams Amazon for the delay? What surprises me is how many people don’t know this, glad you do.

Well said!

Whatever argument one wants to make, whether in favor of Hachette and against Amazon, or in favor of Amazon and against Hachette, or in favor of not taking sides, etc.–they need to use actual facts for their critique or position, not propaganda, wholly fabricated nonsense, and lies of omission.

Unfortunately, Streitfeld et all have done a masterful job of spinning this story to their own ends. There are still too many of his own Times-reading rabbled hordes who think like this:

“As a print and digital subscriber to the New York Times, I have nothing but praise for David Streitfeld’s fair and thorough coverage of Amazon’s struggle to control the book business and shape all aspects of publishing and bookselling to its own liking. Streitfeld is quite even-handed in his reporting. The reason Amazon company operatives (and consumers hunting for the lowest possible book prices) attack the reporter assigned to cover their favorite company is because they have a veseted [sic] interest in making sure nothing negative about Amazon or Jeff Bezos appears in any publication. If the public editor of the New York Times( or anyone else) seeks to muzzle or mute reporters whose writing is based on the facts, then she is doing readers and the newspaper she works for a great disservice. If anything, I find Streitfeld (and his editor) give Amazon the benefit of the doubt, while the reporter’s detractors simply parrot each other in hopes that their complaints will give Amazon a free pass on its unethical labor practices, predatory pricing, and blatant attempts to put independent bookstores (and others) out of business.

In light of the many government contracts given to Amazon and how little we know about those deals, and for the reasons mentioned above, there ought to be many more investigative reporters covering Amazon.”

Or this:

“Many of the ‘books’ that Amazon allows to be put out on its platform range in quality from the mediocre to the dreadful. Finding the few gems is like looking for a diamond ring buried in a five-foot pile of horse manure. And those gems probably could have found traditional publishers if the author had been willing to do what it takes. Your demand that the reporter embrace unlimited e-publishing as a positive ignores the much lesser society we will have if traditional publishers are forced out of business by Amazon.com. Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand.”

Furtunatley, there are still those who see it all for what it is:

“This lede in one of Mr. Streifeld’s recent Amazon stories tells you all you need to know about the fairness and accuracy of this series: ‘The authors are uniting’ [instead of] ‘some authors’ or ‘many authors’ or ‘several high-profile authors.’ ”

The Amazon/Hachette war is the simplest thing in the world to understand, it baffles me when so many can’t see who the bad guy is. So let me make an analogy….
I own a toy store and i sell Disney toys, I sell more Disney toys than disney. But then Disney increases the price i must sell the toys at, I know there is no reason to raise the price, less will sell and the guys who make the toys will lose money. In the mean time Disney will not sign a new contract with me, so there is no way i am stocking up my warehouse with millions of their toys because i don’t know if i will be legally blocked from selling them next week. I surely will not take preorders because I don’t know if Disney will let me sell them either and i don’t want to screw my customers. But I do still sell Disney stuff, it takes longer because when my customers order, i order, since I can’t risk millions of dollars to stock stuff I have no contract to sell…. NOW, imagine if Disney sued me for not selling thier stuff… How can they? They are the ones who will not sign a contract. They should be on their hands and knees because i am still selling more Disney than Disney, and all the risk is mine. HAchette is like the annoying little brother in the back seat of the car, he keeps prodding you until you prod back, then he tells mommy you prodded him and acts like you are the bad guy. Grow up Hachette.
Hachette is 100% wrong, their little writers group are 100% idiots, Amazon has every right to stop selling all Hachette stuff until Hachette signs a contract. And maybe that is what they should do, once and for all. No contract, no sales…

Hugh, you’re more forgiving than I am. Propaganda is a stretch? I don’t see how. She lets him make the “false equivalency” claim without calling him out on it? No mention of whale math, which is an egregious example of false equivalency in the opposite direction within the same piece? What about the obvious conflict of interest? I see this piece as an attempt at damage control for a job so obviously poorly done, they had no choice. I no longer trust the foundations on any of their buildings. They should be proud–they can now claim they’ve mastered tabloid reporting. Look out, TMZ, here comes the NYT!

So very pleased to see Sullivan weigh in and rightly criticize the NYT for taking sides in this fight. I had great faith that if enough people complained, she would eventually take a look at this — and come to the right conclusion.

Thanks to Margaret Sullivan and others at NYT who got this done. I doubt that it was easy and suspect it will cost dearly.

Comments that I posted earlier on Joe Konrath’s blog…

Let’s not let NYT wiggle out of this by just focusing on and letting them scapegoat Streitfeld and Spector. This comes from the top, as witnessed by this June 3rd 2014 editorial by (drumroll please….) THE EDITORIAL BOARD).
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/04/opinion/amazons-power-play.html?_r=0

All right thinking concerned peoples of the world were supposed to have saluted and obeyed such an infallible unbiased unconflicted declaration from the NYT gods.

The NYT gods clearly knew and approved of (and perhaps commanded?) Streitfeld’s pieces.

Seems that Sullivan’s calling out of Streitfeld’s coverage has not had much effect going forward. Streitfeld came out with a new article today that seems as lopsided as ever. He does cherry pick some quotes from Amazon supporters (mostly Hugh) to try and make it look like a balanced article, but in the end he is still insinuating and suggesting that Amazon is somehow being nefarious in every way.

He even quoted me (!) but again it is a cherry picked quote designed to make it seem like supporters of Amazon are only interested in their bottom line. It was taken from a comment on the Passive Voice article about Shatzkin’s wondering why indies would get involved. Most of the other comments were about the altruistic reasons we get involved, but I just happened to point out that there could be a financial reason to care, and so Streitfeld picked my comment to pain us all as mercenary self-interested parties.

The ironic thing is that he also completely misses the point that has been made repeatedly, that from a purely economic perspective, it could be argued that we should want the big publishers to keep overcharging for their books.

Oh well, this whole experience has been quite eye opening as to how the mainstream media works….or doesn’t work….in covering the news.

Yes, given the latest Streitfeld article, one wonders if Sullivan’s statement was actually a cover-your-ass move designed to ENABLE the NYT to continue merrily on its biased rampage. Because now when anyone complains, they can point to Sullivan’s statement and say, “See? No bias here.”

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