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.
August 9, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: Amazon, Amazon.com, authors, e-books, ebooks, Hachette, Hachette book group, Hachette Books, Jeff Bezos, publishers, publishing, writers | Leave a comment
Perhaps you’ve heard about the fight between Hachette book group and Amazon.com about pricing on e-books. Amazon is putting the screws to Hachette by not accepting pre-orders or delaying shipping of print books from that publisher. Hachette, like most other corporations these days, is made up of several (relatively) smaller publishers, of which a couple publish books by two colleagues from my New Mexico days.
Walter Jon Williams is the author of many books, including Hardwired, Knight Moves, Angel Station, Days of Atonement, Aristoi, Metropolitan, Implied Spaces, the “Dread Empire’s Fall” series (The Praxis, The Sundering, Conventions of War and Investments, a separate novel set in the Empire’s Fall universe) and his latest works based on social media, This is Not a Game, Deep State and The Fourth Wall. Those last three are affected because they’re published by Orbit, one of those smaller publishers. Walter is an excellent writer. He’s also a smart, gregarious fellow, as you’ll find out if you go to his web page. There you will also find links to his out-of-print-made-into-ebooks, short-story collections and novellas.
James S.A. Corey is an amalgam of two writers, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who paired up for “The Expanse” series, Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, Abaddon’s Gate and the new novel, Cibola Burn, coming out this summer. The series has impressed critics and hit the NY Times bestseller list and the first one has been picked up by SyFy channel for a series. These books also are among those caught up in the argument.
Now, it’s not like you can’t get these books at all. Barnes and Noble is still in business, and they have a web site, too. Plus, there’s all sorts of independent bookstores that have managed to survive the online revolution so far, and I’d recommend you patronize your nearest one if you want these (or any other) books. Wal-Mart is reporting a jump in book sales, too, so there’s another option.And I can’t really shed much of a tear for the big publishers; sometimes the way they treat writers borders on criminal. The Corey duo and Williams aren’t going to be hurt that much from this because they’re established and known writers, but as the Coreys point out on their blog, writers with smaller followings or those starting out could be hit kind of hard. After all, Amazon makes it so easy to buy a book. Click and boom!, a couple days later there’s your purchase.
I’ve used Amazon many times; I’ve bought all the Corey book that way. This last Christmas, I bought several gifts from the company. Now, though, I’m not buying anything from Amazon until they stop being jerks. They’re trying to bully Hachette into meeting their demands, but they’re doing it on the backs of the writers. (Why is it everyone hates the writers and creators? Publishers, movie studios, merchandisers, and now Amazon — always stomping on the people who bring them profits.) Maybe Amazon will win this one. And maybe I’ll never use them again.
So be it.
(Sorry, Walter, but I am not clicking on that video of those identical roller-skating, accordion-playing sub-debs singing polkas from hell or anywhere else. Not going to do it, uh-uh, nope, no way. Your nightmares will remain your own, so stay out of mine, thank you.)
June 2, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: Amazon.com, authors, Cibola Burn, Daniel Abraham, e-books, Hachette, James S.A. Corey, publishers, science fiction, This is Not a Game, Ty Franck, Walter Jon Williams, writing | Leave a comment