Amazon and Hachette and letters and good guys and bad guys
NOTE FROM JAMIE: I will have the post I promised in my last blog this Friday. Instead, Chris Hamilton had sent this very timely post in I thought would be better to publish first. Enjoy!
More on this unfolding story, but first, this pithy summary of the situation:
Since May, Amazon, controller of 60% of book sales in this universe, has been at odds with Hachette–one of the big five publishers–over the price of e-books sold on Amazon. Being the guy who controls the majority of Hachette’s sales, Amazon figured it had the ability to say “Here’s my offer–take it or take it.” Only Hachette didn’t take it.
And now all manner of chicanery has occurred. Suddenly Hachette titles are considerably more on Amazon than they used to be, if you can find them at all. For instance, I bought the Kindle version The Cold Nowhere by Brian Freeman in June for $9.45. If you try to buy it today, you can expect to drop $18.58. Its publisher? Hachette.
There have also been reports of missing order buttons and long delivery times. In a market that’s often dominated by impulse buys, those are potential kisses of death. The whole issue has left authors in the middle and has also started a war of letters between those who side with their publisher and distributor.
Douglas Preston has written a letter urging people to contact Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and ask him to stop holding Hachette authors hostage. Preston’s letter ran in the August 10 edition of the New York Times and has garnered the support of 908 other authors, including, you know, guys named John Grisham and Stephen King.
Amazon, which normally doesn’t comment on stuff because it’s above such things, has decided to change its approach for this. It has fired back with a letter that was delivered to Hachette authors and posted online. The letter asks the authors to ask Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch to–you guessed it–take Hachette authors out of the middle. In the letter, Amazon says it has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle while the issue was resolved. Hachette has rejected each offer, at least according to Amazon.
From here, it deteriorates into everyone taking their favorite side and echoing their talking points.
One thing to consider is that although Amazon is still the king, its crown isn’t as secure as maybe it once was. According to its projections, Amazon may lose as much as $800 million this quarter as it tries to compete with Netflix and Hulu. Its moves against Hachette put it at odds with content creators, one of its four key customer groups.
And there’s an ugly backstory for each side. Hachette was one of the five publishers found to have colluded with Apple in its efforts to impose an agency model on e-book pricing. For its part, Amazon has immense power. This isn’t the first story about it trying to unilaterally alter the deal (pray that they don’t alter it further).
What this means to you depends on which side you believe.