Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice


Last night, following a week that has left me physically drained (and isn’t over yet; I’ve got outdoor, work-related stuff tonight and tomorrow), I collapsed in my chair and popped over to Facebook. Pretty much tops on my list–Facebook apparently having it wasn’t yet time to arbitrarily change my news feed from ‘most recent’ to ‘top stories’–was an article linked from a friend of mine:



The teaser below the header said, “The publishing world could be turned onto its head with a recent revelation that Amazon is in talks to purchase big 5 publisher Simon and Schuster.”

Double whoa.

I immediately made a comment on the article, along the lines of “I don’t think that’s a good idea” or something like that. Not that it might not be a good idea for Amazon, or even Simon & Schuster. Something like that could be a boon to both companies (I’m not saying it is; I don’t know). The reason such a  thing might be bad is because it would potentially further narrow choices for consumers and for authors, and I believe diversity and competition is better for everyone–including the corporations and companies. Anyway, I made my comment, then I clicked on the link and started reading the article.

Within a few paragraphs, I went back and deleted my original comment, and put on a new one, in which I said I would hold off until I did more research.

And then I reached the end of the article, and I was fairly disgusted.

There were two updates appended to the end of the article (though neither one had a time stamp). The first said ‘many sources’–and this was the first mention of any sources at all in the entire article, by the way–were claiming the discussions were about ebook pricing, though the author tried to debunk this. The second update, however, made it clear that the ‘negotiations’ were about ‘a number of issues’, mainly aimed at avoiding the sort of mess that Amazon and Hachette are mired in. Hmm. Seems reports of a purchase were way overblown, and were taken from an interview CBS President Les Moonves did with Fortune magazine recently (CBS owns Simon & Schuster). See this article at Publishers Weekly. There’s no fire here. There’s not even any smoke.

So, rather than yet another massive shakeup in the publishing world, it seems we were victimized by the following:

-an attention-grabbing headline

Should make for some spectacular viewing

-a ‘news’ story that was more analysis than fact-finding
-a failure to update the headline when the actual facts disputed the headline
-shoddy research

In looking at the original article again, there is no investigation; the writer even says “no one seems to know what the discussions are about”. However, someone chose to put an attention-grabbing headline on the top of the ‘story’ in an effort to drive traffic. This is nothing new; newspapers and magazines have always screamed at us from the newsstands, anything to get you to pick it up and buy it. While this headline didn’t quite sink to the level of the Weekly World News, it was provocative, and I bet it got a lot of traffic. The lesson for the day: read all the way to the end, think about what you’re reading, and look for other sources. Have a great weekend.

9 Responses

  1. I saw the article but I didn't read the whole thing. What struck me was the comment that 3 our of 5 ebooks sold are through Amazon. Kind of makes me uncomfortable.

  2. That's so annoying! And I wonder how few people read to the end of the article, or read any of it at all. They'll assume the headline is accurate and that's how rumors start to swirl and take over!

  3. I've gotten bit too many times from headlines like that, then wait forever for all the ads to pop up so I could scroll down to read the darn article, only to find it's nothing like the headline. Now I don't even bother to click. Serves them right, too.

  4. I wasn't blown away by the Amazon purchasing S&S thing, because 1) it's hard to believe – Amazon has their own publishing branch now, and 2) So? Random/Penguin merged and that's made no difference. But I'm glad to hear it was a fake. The thing that really shocked me was I didn't know CBS owned S&S. That's seems very weird to me for some reason… Thanks for the intelligent discussion about the whole thing though. And I love the Weekly World News cover!!

  5. Good grief! Everything is a desperate plea for attention without much in the way of content, these days. Too many quotas imposed on freelancers with stipulations about covering hot-button issues before Buzzfeed and the like. *shakes her head*

  6. I've seen different versions of this story. What seems to be fact is that they are in talks, but no one has confirmed what about. It could be talks about ebook pricing for all we know.

    However, it is a matter of time before Amazon buys a big 5 publishing house.

  7. -Donna W: I know I have done that plenty, myself, where I don't read the full article and get swept up in headline hype. Funny thing, I still don't remember reading that 3 out of 5 thing. That's quite the market share Amazon has.

    -Jemi: I'm guessing the answer to your question is 'a lot.' Interestingly enough, I've only seen this story posted twice: once on Facebook, and once on Absolute Write, where it was also pretty quickly shot down.

    -Stacy: I hate pop-up ads. I *really* hate auto-starting videos, especially as my computer ages and has an increasingly difficult time handling all the bells and whistles coming with web pages.

    -Lexa: The Weekly World News never gets old. I had a summer job on the night crew of a grocery store. Our favorite day of the week was the one where the new edition of WWN came out. Our 4 a.m. lunch breaks were spent reading–and laughing. And yes, it's a surprise to find out who really owns what.

    -Carrie: Nice to see you! I don't know how things are working in freelance web-based journalism, except I guess some people are paid based on page views. I don't know who wrote the headline, but I'm guessing it worked at drawing people in.

    -Donna: I'm not sure if Amazon will need to buy one–they may be on their way to turning it into a Big Six again, just one with its own massive distribution center already built in!

    Thanks for commenting, everyone.

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