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The Blood of Books

A Warning to Authors, Publishers and Readers


CuChullaine O’Reilly FRGS

While a great deal has been recently written regarding Amazon’s unprincipled attempt to dominate the Print-On-Demand market, The Long Riders’ Guild Press believes there is an essential element yet to be considered. What we are witnessing is an amazing affirmation of the old adage that those who do not profit from history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of their forefathers.

As lovers of words and protectors of principles, readers, authors and publishers are asked to recall what occurs when tyrants are allowed to bulldoze the rights of others. To judge such events allow me to remind you of the false promises of another despot who attempted to create an empire at the expense of others.

On May 21th, 1935 the German Führer, Adolf Hitler, promised a peaceful future if his sceptical neighbours would agree to ignore his violations of ethics and treaties. The borders of Poland and France would remain inviolate and the internal affairs of Austria would never be interfered with, Hitler promised. Yet after carefully laying his plans in secret, Hitler struck without notice. His campaign of conquest began in February, 1938 when he summoned the Chancellor of Austria to Germany. Having shed the pretence of being a reasonable man, the Führer proceeded to bully the naïve Austrian leader into surrendering his country without firing a shot.

In an eerie reminder of current publishing events, wherein corporate publishing leaders abdicated their author’s rights without consultation, the cowardly Austrian Chancellor hid his shame by declaring, “We have yielded to force since we are not prepared even in this terrible hour to shed blood.”

As any small school child could have told Europe’s misled leaders, once a bully has a taste of blood there is no hope that he will retreat. That law of the jungle was confirmed when Hitler next admonished the President of Czechoslovakia, warning that “resistance would be folly.” After accepting humiliating terms of surrender, that country was swallowed by its insatiable persecutor in March 1939.

Thus by bluffing, stalling, misleading, preparing in secret and then attacking those who had previously trusted him, the man who had promised that he was no threat to the stability of Europe was able to occupy or control Norway, Denmark, France, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and a large portion of Russia.

Tragically, the memory of man is fleeting and the painful lessons of our ancestors all too easily forgotten. That would explain why publishing house after publishing house has been served up, like heads on a platter, while a corporate elite decided, either following a brief struggle or no resistance at all, to surrender to the demands of a Seattle corporate overlord. By these actions we once again witness those sworn to protect our interests neglecting to recall the painful lessons of Germany’s recent example.

When it comes to dealing with dictators, appeasement fails !

No brave whistle-blower has yet leaked the Amazon “black list” wherein are listed the names of American POD publishers and the order in which they are to be conquered.  Yet the moment that big POD publishers like Lulu and Author’s House succumbed to the Amazon boa constrictor, small POD publishers like The Long Riders’ Guild Press were marked as the next victim to be strangled in the corporate coils.

Now, aided by publishing Quislings, Amazon is busy attempting to seize control of the American POD market, all the while it denies that it has its sights set on England and the rest of the world. That is a song they used to sing in Berlin, a song the Europeans were fools to believe. Mark my words, as soon as Amazon has control of the American book market, and regardless of any current claims of peace, the corporation will attack England’s literary heritage, then systematically attempt to seize control of the rest of the book world. Meanwhile, like previous conquerors, Amazon is shedding crocodile tears and beguiling its victims into believing it means no harm.

The tactics of the book reich were confirmed however when Publish America revealed in an email to its authors that they raised the prices on their own website a year ago under threat by Amazon: "Roughly a year ago Amazon forced Publish America to raise the pricing of our own books on our own website. They would not allow us to sell our almost 30,000 titles at sales prices lower than what Amazon chose to charge, and they threatened us with the very same retaliation that followed a year later after all."

Nor is Publish America the only industry expert ringing the alarm bell. A former VP at the Time Warner Book Group, Jerry Simmons, warned, “The long-term effects for the author and publisher are devastating. With Amazon strengthening and securing their place in the distribution and sales channel, they can do anything they want. The next move will be to squeeze these small authors and publishers for placement fees, advertising fees, and eventually higher discounts. When you give in once, it never stops.

Thus we are witnessing the transformation of a corporation which enriched itself on selling books into a machine bent on literary control and conquest. In a situation such as this there is neither rich nor poor, urbanite nor country, male nor female, Christian nor Pagan publishers. There are those who love, read, write, publish and revere words – and those who would control, censor or enrich themselves unethically upon the blood of books. The former share the same literary fear of extinction via a new common foe.

Unlike Amazon, The Long Riders’ Guild Press is unwilling to sacrifice our principles for profits. The Long Riders’ Guild Press instead maintains a tradition of being committed to democracy, free speech, personal sovereignty and literary liberty. We cannot therefore conceive without horror the idea of being seized, controlled, extorted and debased by Amazon’s campaign of conquest. We do not want peace at any price and never at the price of our honour. That is why you won’t see the Long Riders’ Guild Press perpetrating a shameful publishing Austrian-style Anschluss, for despite our tiny size, any attempt by internet-rich, Seattle-based, pedestrian billionaires to threaten the world’s equestrian explorers and travel authors will fall on deaf ears and will be met with a guarantee of total resistance.

These are perilous times for small independent publishers. That is why we must form into a united community, an oasis of literary liberty, consisting of publisher partisans who possess a collective determination to resist, not retreat, before this act of publishing despotism. What is needed is a grass-roots opposition which is collectively determined to preserve our publishing independence until the federal legal authorities can come to our aid. Given the fact that respect for literary liberty is a concept so deeply rooted in American history, The Long Riders’ Guild Press, and other independent publishers, can proclaim its defence as an essential task for this nation’s government. Public confidence must be restored.

In the meantime, any publisher who is threatened or coerced by Amazon should apply for federal protection via their state senator and local congressman. They should also alert the local media to the threat being posed to that community’s literary liberty and finally, alert the internet based publishing community to their peril. While no one publisher can hope to win in a war against Amazon, it must be made clear that every single publisher is determined to inflict the highest possible losses against this common aggressor. Such a campaign will quickly become long, expensive, and result in dangerously alienating Amazon’s most precious asset, its customer base.

Do not fail to realize that this situation not only presents a grave danger to America’s readers, authors and publishers. The treasured concept of what we read and write is also at stake. Once it controls the printing and marketing of this nation’s books, how long before the corporation brings it’s power into play in terms of authorizing what is written and printed? A few years ago six main-stream publishers sent out a million rejection letters a year and dictated what books would be released. There are now an estimated 65,000 independent American publishers and an estimated 200 million Americans planning to write a book. That remarkable literary renaissance is not only under threat, once Amazon controls America’s books, it could in theory sell the nation’s entire literary output to the control of a foreign owner or an unscrupulous corporate media owner with a political agenda.

Despite these frightening events, there is reason to believe that the Seattle behemoth may have failed to account for the public’s anger. As their recent actions prove, enrichment is Amazons paramount concern, all the while it pretends to ignore the explosion of indignation, inquietude and distrust now threatening to engulf the corporation and alienate its traditional customer support. However other corporations have made similar errors and been punished by a vengeful marketplace. For example, when the Pillsbury corporation attempted to crush the legendary ice cream wizards, Ben & Jerry, the rebels fought back via a guerrilla PR campaign that shredded the aura of trust once enjoyed by their arrogant corporate foes. More recently, the once omnipotent eBay corporation is losing power, prestige and money thanks to a rebellion by outraged internet customers.

In closing, what readers, authors, publishers, and governmental officials sworn to protect us, must recall is that not only does history teach us to be aware of tyrants, it also provides us with a voice of warning in our time of need.

On July 9th, 1935 the American Brigadier General, John Ross Delafield, admonished a still slumbering United States to prepare to resist the power of the fascists.

“It is fundamental in all fighting that he who strikes first wins, unless his opponent is prepared. Democracies seldom strike first. The case of dictatorships is different. They can and do. They can plan and prepare for an attack in secret, until the blow is about to be struck. The American people do not realize this distinction,” the wise old warrior cautioned his fellow citizens.

As we know, the General’s warning was ignored, with the result that a defenceless America was taken by surprise on December 7th, 1941. Let’s not allow history to repeat itself. We owe it to future generations who will live and read after us not to be intimidated into silence, nor corrupted into betraying the treasury of words entrusted to our collective care.

This article has now been published in Britain's prestigious magazine, The Bookdealer.  Click on images below to enlarge them.

(From the Editorial page)

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