Amazon, writing, authors, indie publishing, self-publishing

Authors vs Amazon vs Publishers

Yesterday I posted the email I received from Amazon trying to enlist my help (along with thousands of others) against those big nasty traditional publishers, Hachette (est. 1826).

I’m not a fan of legacy, trade publishers, they are slow, institutional and have tendency towards elitism. Now, here’s the new kid on the block, Amazon (est. 1995), having taken half the market and made themselves indispensable, negotiating hard in the only way they know how, aggressively. The battle has been dragging on for months and both sides are trying to find a way out. Amazon has been restricting pre-orders on Hachette authors, such as Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling‘s detective writing alter ego) and generally restricting sales of Hachette Group’s books.

Battleground

Of course this is a battle for hearts and minds, and for the money ion our pockets. Publishers such as Hachette, not the biggest of the global publishers, and ironically one of the least corporate and macho, are struggling to maintain a moral high ground. They’re a business, they have to make a bottom line to survive, they have shareholders to satisfy and they have the traditional dynamic of an old-fashioned publisher who nurtures its carefully selected authors. But in the corporate world Publishers are pussycats, with supermarket chains such as Walmart and online giants Google and Amazon, out-roaring them with ruthless aggression. Publishing retains the faint air of altruism and culture, but Amazon and the like  want to change the world, and turn it to their advantage. They’re interested in readers, but only as consumers,  as cash cows.

The Big Guns: Bestselling Authors

My gun's bigger than yours, Amazon, Authors, HachetteSo, in step a cadre of successful authors. They’ve had enough, they want to take a stand. The big beasts of authorship, whose brands are much more significant to their readers than the publishers who fund their advances, took an ad in the New York Times this weekend, supported by 900 authors (including James Patterson and Stephen King). These are not Hachette authors, but are pledging their support to a company who they see as supporting their own world view.

A Letter to Our Readers:

Amazon is involved in a commercial dispute with the book publisher Hachette , which owns Little, Brown, Grand Central Publishing, and other familiar imprints. These sorts of disputes happen all the time between companies and they are usually resolved in a corporate back room.

But in this case, Amazon has done something unusual. It has directly targeted Hachette’s authors in an effort to force their publisher to agree to its terms.

For the past several months, Amazon has been:

–Boycotting Hachette authors, by refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette authors’ books and eBooks, claiming they are “unavailable.”

–Refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette authors’ books.

–Slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette authors’ books to Amazon customers, indicating that delivery will take as long as several weeks on most titles.

–Suggesting on some Hachette authors’ pages that readers might prefer a book from a non-Hachette author instead.

As writers–most of us not published by Hachette–we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want. It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation. Moreover, by inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery, Amazon is contradicting its own written promise to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.”

Many of us have supported Amazon since it was a struggling start-up. Our books launched Amazon on the road to selling everything and becoming one of the world’s largest corporations. We have made Amazon many millions of dollars and over the years have contributed so much, free of charge, to the company by way of cooperation, joint promotions, reviews and blogs. This is no way to treat a business partner. Nor is it the right way to treat your friends. Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon, we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business. None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage. (We’re not alone in our plea: the opinion pages of both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which rarely agree on anything, have roundly condemned Amazon’s corporate behavior.)

We call on Amazon to resolve its dispute with Hachette without further hurting authors and without blocking or otherwise delaying the sale of books to its customers.

We respectfully ask you, our loyal readers, to email Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, at jeff@amazon.com, and tell him what you think. He says he genuinely welcomes hearing from his customers and claims to read all emails at that account. We hope that, writers and readers together, we will be able to change his mind.

It’s easy to be cynical about this. Authors who can afford the 100K USD for this sort of ad, a full page in the New York Times, are bound to side with the status quo that has brought them such wealth over the years.

Authors United?

But it is a curious turn of events. It’s rare for authors to agree so publicly, they’re in competition with each other, after all, and it’s extremely unusual for authors to attempt to speak over the heads of their publisher and retailer, to address their readers directly. Perhaps they feel emboldened by the opportunities afforded by the internet, the critical need to engage with their audience, perhaps they’re doing Amazon’s work for them, proving that the traditional publishing model is no longer necessary, that authors can have direct relationships with those who buy and read their fiction, without the need of literary agents or publishers as intermediators.

Chaos on Olympus Painting by Francisco Bayeu y Subias (1735-1795), Amazon, Hachette, authorsOf course, self-publishers and indie publishers have realized this for a long time. The reality is that most indies sell less than a few hundred copies, but we have the freedom to publish, to make mistakes, to correct them overnight, to adjust our methods, to gain some satisfaction. Perhaps its best to let the Olympian forces fight it out above our heads? Maybe, but it does affect us, and we have to take a view.

It’s an interesting fight because it’s being conducted at so many levels: powerful online retailer vs entrenched publisher, publishers’ interests vs author interests, online retailer’s interests vs author interests, big author’s interests vs indie author’s interests. In the next, and final post on this subject I’ll review these core battlegrounds in more detail.

  • Amazon/HDP’s letter to its authors appears in the previous post.
  • The next post looks at the complexities and hypocrisies of the crisis.
  • The full list of authors appears on authorsunited

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