Observations on science fiction, writing, life and whatnot

It’s about the authors, stupid

When you try to take over the world, you sometimes do really odd things.

Amazon.com wants to be the world’s merchant, so it’s picking fights with other retailers or suppliers to make them fall into line on pricing and supplies. One of the biggest arguments is with Hachette Book Group over pricing of e-books. Hachette owns several American publishing houses (among them Grand Central Publishing; Little, Brown and Company; Hachette Books and Orbit), and is in turn owned by a larger company in Europe. So we’re not talking about a mom-and-pop operation here; this is a Giant Corporation.

Hachette still publishes books on paper, although it does publish most if not all books as e-books also. Amazon worships e-books. The company sees the technology as the key to controlling all publishing.

Amazon.com is telling publishers what they should charge for e-books. Hachette disagrees and wants to set prices for its own products. In retaliation, Amazon has delayed delivery of Hachette books, deleted the pre-order button on some, sent customers notices that instead of buying a particular Hachette author perhaps they would be interested in a book from a publisher that’s hewing to the Amazon.com line or perhaps a copy from one of Amazon’s used-booksellers (which bring no income for the original author) and perhaps other things to gum up the ordering of Hachette books.

So it’s a pissing match amongst corporate giants, so what? Well, it’s the authors who will be suffering. Many famous ones, some not so famous. Some fiction writers, some nonfiction writers. Authors need sales to continue to write, to continue to make a living (though only a small percentage make their living through writing only). Amazon’s tactics, while aimed at the Big Corporation, sweeps up writers as collateral damage.

And now, Amazon is recruiting writers and readers to help them in battle. Authors who have books on their Kindle e-book system found an e-mail in their inboxes rallying the troops for the big conflict: “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.”

Then they give an e-mail address to Hachette and also tell you what you should say:

 

– We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.

– Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.

– Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.

– Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

 

The “illegal collusion” mentioned was the antitrust suit brought against publishers for getting together with Apple to fix e-book prices. They lost, and now Amazon’s crowing about it. People who opposed the suit are now saying “we told you so.” The point was, it’s illegal to collude to fix prices and the publishers were rightly shot down. Now victorious Amazon is telling everyone else how they should price their products instead of letting the market decide. Amazon is acting the role of the monopoly now but because it’s one company, it doesn’t face scrutiny.

It’s disingenuous for Amazon to say “stop using your authors as leverage” when the company is doing just that. The authors are caught in the middle no matter who started it. Amazon touts its big royalties to authors, but you can bet the farm that if it prevails in this, it’ll find ways to cut those payments. Amazon is not looking out for the interest of authors, it’s only looking out for itself. Once it’s got the power to set all prices, it will bring its corporate power down and squash the talent. The talent always gets squashed; look at what happened to the creators of comic-book superheroes.

And that last line about authors not being united about this is a laugh. Of course they’re not united. Authors tend to be a fractious bunch anyway, but I think a general key here is authors within the traditional publisher realm versus authors of e-books and “independent” publishers. The Amazon e-mail says a petition against Hachette garnered more than 7,600 signatures. What it doesn’t say, though, is how many of those are strictly e-book authors, how many are with the big houses but who have e-books also for sale, and how many people just signed it because they hate the big publishers. Many, many people would like to see the “middlemen” — agents, editors, publishers — done away with, but the percentage of e-book authors with bestseller status is very small. Some people can do it that way, and more power to them. But there is still a place for traditional publishing.

Amazon’s cute e-mail is in reaction to an ad appearing in the Aug. 10 New York Times signed by around 900 authors calling on Amazon to stop being jerks. The petition is described as being from bestselling authors, but my name is on that petition and I’m far, far from the bestseller lists. Most of the signers aren’t either, but they are concerned that Amazon’s tactics are hurting them — or their friends, as I said in a previous post.

Look, Hachette is no angel in this. They just seem to be the company that wants to have its own say about how it prices its own products. But make no mistake — they can be as avaricious as Amazon. They can squash talent and take advantage of them as anyone else, and they do. And it’s got income from all sorts of places, so it’s not going to collapse if it loses this argument. This is mostly about the talent, the writers who spend much of their lives sitting at keyboards, writing, revising, editing, trying to come up with stories to entertain and inform fans and the general public. I agree that e-books tend to be overpriced, but I don’t like seeing my friends caught in traps they didn’t make and had no reason to expect.

No, Jeff Bezos, although I have an e-book in your Kindle system (though not for much longer, perhaps), I will not send a reply to Hachette based on your e-mail. I will tell you this: Go suck eggs. You know, the eggs from the golden goose you killed by squeezing literary creators.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s