Amazon vs. Hachette: A Reading List to Get You Caught Up
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Unless you’ve been living under a rock that doesn’t have internet access, you’ve probably been hearing about the Amazon / Hachette contract negotiations. Normally, contract negotiations between two giant corporations don’t interest anyone. But for a host of reasons, from fears about the future of publishing to vocal authors (allied with both “sides”), the current negotiations are generating a lot of conversation in the news.
If you want to get caught up to speed, I’ve compiled some articles to catch you up to speed.
PLEASE NOTE: Despite how many on both “sides” of the issue talk, no one outside of Amazon and Hachette knows exactly what is being fought over. Amazon has claimed they are asking for all ebooks to be priced $9.99 or below, Hachette sources have leaked that Amazon is demanding giant “co-op fees,” and other reports have mentioned the possibility of enforced POD printing among other things. Contract negotiations also change, so some of the early reported terms may be off the table now. In short, remember that neither Hachette nor Amazon’s public PR efforts are likely giving the whole picture.
Although normally an infamously tight-lipped company, Amazon has begun making major public statements about this dispute:
“With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out-of-stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market — e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can be and should be less expensive.”
“We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.”
Hachette has not said much publicly, but Hachette’s CEO did respond to Amazon’s call for KDP authors to email him:
“• We set our ebook prices far below corresponding print book prices, reflecting savings in manufacturing and shipping.
• More than 80% of the ebooks we publish are priced at $9.99 or lower.”
Author’s United is a group of over 900 authors — ranging from household names to midlist authors — who have spoken out publicly against Amazon’s tactics:
Author’s United: A Letter to Our Readers
“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 Earth’s most customer-centric company.”
Flavorwire gives an overview of what is going on:
“So, how have months of negotiations affected Hachette’s bottom line? The first half of 2014 has actually seen a 5.6 percent increase in HBG’s US sales relative to last year, so… not too badly, it would seem. Nonetheless, e-book sales have fallen, now making up 29 percent of adult book sales in the US versus 34 percent a year ago.”
Many have pointed out that Amazon completely misread Orwell in the aforementioned letter to KDP authors:
“It’s clear that Orwell is praising the paperback, not arguing for its abolition,” wrote TechCrunch. “Only a fool or a businessman would twist that quote so completely. But that’s exactly what Amazon did and that’s horrible.”
Author Hugh Howey, one of Amazon’s most loyal defenders, was recently interviewed by Publisher’s Weekly:
Publisher’s Weekly: Four Questions for Hugh Howey
“Right now, I have aligned myself with Amazon, because their customer-centric philosophy has done more to encourage reading and drive this industry forward than any other single company on the planet. Many think I’m overstating the case to suggest this, or that I sound like a shill. I’m a lifelong reader, bookseller, critic, writer, and publisher.”
Authors John Scalzi and Chuck Wending have both had insightful commentary on the issue:
John Scalzi: Amazon Getting Increasingly Nervous
“But as a propaganda move, it’s puzzling. A domain like “ReadersUnited” implies, and would be more effective as, a grassroots reader initiative, or at the very least a subtle astroturf campaign meant to look like a grassroots reader initiative, rather than what it is, i.e., a bald attempt by Amazon to sway readers to its own financial benefit.”
John Scalzi: Amazon’s Latest Volley
“if Amazon is on the side of authors, why does their Kindle Direct boilerplate have language in it that says that Amazon may unilaterallychange the parameters of their agreement with authors? I don’t consider my publishers “on my side” any more than I consider Amazon “on my side” — they’re both entities I do business with — but at least my publisher cannot change my deal without my consent.”
Chuck Wendig: What Is An E-book Worth?
“An e-book costs nothing to make. But it costs everything to write — a story, after all, always costs yourself, or part of yourself. And an e-book costs a lot to edit. And design. And market. And of course the story must be procured and the author secured and all of these cost dollars and cents, or bitcoins, or dogecoins, or e-chits, or book-ducats. But of course, e-books cost nothing to make.”
Chuck Wendig: In Which Amazon Calls You To Defend the Realm
“First and most importantly, is anybody else tired of this? The Amazon-Hachette shit-show? It’s like watching two trucks crash into each other from in the middle of the collision. It’s like a game of chicken where nobody wins. (If anybody thinks I don’t have enough ‘balance’ here, I also think the NYT “900 Authors Are Standing Sadly By Their Sad Shacks Because Amazon Keeps Stealing Their Juice Boxes” article is half-a-bag-of-nonsense, too.”
Critic Laura Miller argues that self-published authors should actually be siding with Hachette in this battle:
“As irksome as it may be for self-published authors to acknowledge, it’s in their best interests that traditional publishers like Hachette be allowed keep the prices of their e-books high. That’s on top of the uncomfortable reality that the emergence of a viable self-publishing community has been — contrary to what many self-published authors assert — a greatthing for traditional publishers. It provides a minor-league system where they can track the emergence of popular writers without having to risk any of their own resources in developing new authors’ careers.”
Author Lee Goldberg points out that while Amazon has a history of delaying or deleting books when in contract disputes, indie bookstores often refuse to stock Amazon imprint titles:
Lee Goldberg: My Letter to Douglas Preston
“You wrote in your ad: “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.”
Does that same sentiment also apply to the brick-and-mortar bookstores, from big chains to indies, that refuse to stock paperback books from Amazon Publishing’s imprints Thomas & Mercer, 47North, Montlake, etc?”
Critic Carolyn Kellogg digs into Amazon’s math:
Carolyn Kellogg: What Amazon’s e-book numbers are and aren’t telling you
“Amazon’s statement is poorly phrased. It’s making a generalization about e-book prices, not claims about how a specific work of art will sell. Unless, in fact, it tested a specific work of art — information it has not revealed.
As Farhad Manjoo writes in the New York Times, “while it may be true that $9.99 is better than $14.99 in general, certain books might make the most money at $10.99, $11.99, $12.99 — or even $2.99.””
While Jake Kerr argues that Amazon’s position is not as strong as many assume:
Jake Kerr: Making Sense of Amazon-Hachette
“A key point that is almost universally missed outside of the tech world is that Amazon’s position in the ebook business is fragile. There is no greater chasm between author and Silicon Valley understanding than this. A very large percentage of authors feel that Amazon is in a commanding position in the ebook industry and that one of their goals is to create a monopoly position. While Amazon is in a commanding position, to think that monopoly is their goal illustrates a lack of understanding of Amazon’s relatively weak position.”
Forbes notes that Amazon is using the same tactics it used on Hachette with Disney:
Dorothy Pomerantz: With Disney Dispute, Has Amazon Gone Too Far?
“It’s not clear what’s at the heart of the dispute (Disney is not commenting and I’m waiting to hear back from Amazon). But it’s beginning to look like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is becoming increasingly belligerent in the pursuit of profit.”
Finally, here’s a lighter take on Amazon’s claims about price elasticity from Teddy Wayne in the New Yorker:
“TIMMY: I just bought one by my favorite book-length content creator, who has exponentially built up his fan base by asking his publisher to price his book at a reasonable $9.99. That guy must have so many groupies at his book readings held in hip night-life establishments and not in boring old book “stores”!”
UPDATE (08/18): The New York Times reports that over 1,000 German, Austrian, and Swiss authors have joined in protest against Amazon (who is using similar tactics against a German publisher that it is with Hachette and Disney):
“The writers, supported by several hundred artists and readers, have signed an open letter to Amazon, the online retailing giant, accusing it of manipulating its recommended reading lists and lying to customers about the availability of books as retaliation in a dispute over e-book prices.”