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Amazon and Hachette and letters and good guys and bad guys

August 11, 2014

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.

  1. August 11, 2014 10:55 am

    Check out the post by the small independent publisher Press 52 on this topic on Facebook. I couldn’t agree more with this:

    “Hachette should be free to set e-book prices that are in line with their own goals, not Amazon’s. And Amazon is free to leave the print book market to other booksellers and focus on the more lucrative e-book market, should they choose to follow their own advice. But using its position and power to force other businesses to get in line or go down should earn Amazon a time-out from people who value fairness and choice in the marketplace.”

    As you can see from Press 52’s post, this is not limited to Amazon v. Hachette. Amazon is bullying smaller publishers, too. Even a couple of my clients with their own imprints have reported that “Temporarily Out of Stock” or long-delivery-time notices have showed up on their book pages and other promotional features have been stripped out. Why? Could it be that their publisher is not Amazon and they don’t take part in their merchandising programs?

    It’s very clear to me who the bad guy is. Amazon wants to be our everything: our only bookseller, our only publisher. And they intend to punish and bully whoever doesn’t fall in line, even the little guy. Every book buyer and ever writer should be concerned about their grab for power.

    (Not to mention that they misrepresented Orwell in their letter asking readers to spam Hachette. )

  2. August 12, 2014 9:39 am

    If in fact Amazon is the bad guy, why does Hachette do business with them? What did Hachette do before Amazin existed? I think Hachette and the our big publishers are so use to doing whatever they want at the expense of the consumers, including price fixing,……how dare Amazon set the boundaties on what they can do!. 🙂

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