Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, July 14, 2014

The real solution to Amazon vs. Hachette

Unless you've been living deep in the Amazon (the rainforest, not the retail giant), you have probably heard... and heard... and heard... about Amazon vs. Hachette.

There have been op-eds. Stephen Colbert rants. Letters from angry authors. Counter-letters from angry authors.

You should be rooting for Amazon, says some. No, you should be rooting for Hachette, says others.

At this point, I agree with Evil Wylie:
(But apparently, I do not agree enough to refrain from writing my own blog post about it.)

In case you need a primer, Amazon and Hachette are squaring off over e-book prices. In order to increase their negotiating leverage, Amazon is trying to squeeze Hachette by removing pre-orders for their books and otherwise making them more difficult to procure. This has dragged on for nearly two months, and in order to help quell complaints that it is harming authors, Amazon recently announced a plan to pay authors in full during the dispute, an offer the Authors Guild called "highly disingenuous." (Here's more background from David Streitfeld).

What I find most amazing about this dispute is the extent to which it is a Rorschach Test for your views on the publishing industry writ large. The predictable traditional publishing industry defenders have come out in force against Amazon, and the predictable anti-traditional publishing industry forces (especially certain vocal segments of the self-publishing community) have come out in full-throated Amazonian defense.

Call me crazy, (and yes, I'm not directly affected by this dispute), but I'm not endlessly titillated by the sharp-elbowed negotiations of two massive multinational corporations who are both fighting for their respective financial interests.

Nor do I see it as a referendum on the future of literary culture, which has been on the verge of the apocalypse for the past five hundred years without said apocalypse ever coming to pass.

Instead, I see this as a wakeup call for authors to think about what it is they're actually arguing about.

Here's the thing, authors. Amazon is not your best friend. Amazon is looking out for Amazon.

Hachette is not your best friend, either. Hachette is looking out for Hachette.

Inasmuch as your interests coincide with Amazon and Hachette, they are more than happy to be your friend. And there are great people who work at both companies. But when your interests diverge with theirs and they want to maximize revenue and are able to extract more from you because they've increased their leverage, whose side do you think they're going to choose? Yours or theirs?

Do you endlessly trust Amazon to protect author's interests after they've thoroughly cemented their position as the primary game in town? Are you really happy with the digital royalty traditional publishers are paying?

So where is the for-authors-by-authors publishing option? How about a partnership with the indie bookselling community to create the literary culture we really want instead of hoping that huge corporations are going to come to our rescue? How about instead of picking which intermediary we like better we disintermediate and build a J.K. Rowling-esque option that truly goes directly from author to readers?

Yes yes, easier said than done and someone has to pick up the mantle and do it. I'm, uh, busy with writing and stuff.

But at the very least, count me out of the letters and counter-letters and the flame wars and the bile. Rather than authors fighting it out we should be working together to create something better.

Art: Symposium by Akseli Gallen-Kallela


Other Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Other Lisa said...

Take 2! (how long has it been since I've had to write an html command? Very)

I very much agree, though I think the J.K. Rowling end-around isn't really an option for most mid-list authors (though maybe a collective of same would be).

Love the idea of a partnership with independent bookstores.

This is about the only article I've nodded "yes" and shared

Lisa (Brackmann)

Rebecca Taylor said...

Absolutely, sick to death of writers (and agents!) thinking that either of these big corporations is their best friend and spouting the hand-fed PR propaganda to all their followers as if they had real insider info.

Jaimie Teekell said...

Siding with one doesn't mean you'll side with them forever. Certainly Amazon is looking out for Amazon's pocketbook but at the moment that involves them looking out for authors' pocketbooks in the face of an industry that doesn't so much do that.

Lisa Shafer said...

Well said, Nathan. I agree, however, with the Other Lisa (literally the Other, in my case); JK Rowling can do things other authors can't because of her super-star status in the writing/publishing world. Only a few other authors could do what she's doing now.

Inkling said...

Forget that ancient Marxist tripe about evil corporations, seen as all alike. Unless I have my heart set on publishing with Hachette, it can't hurt me. Amazon not only can but is hurting me with it's sub-market royalty rates. They're half what Apple pays for ebooks priced outside $2.99-9.99.

Janiss Garza said...

I've been thinking the same thing. As an indie publisher, I'm looking out for myself and my authors in the midst of this chaos between the big boys. And as someone else mentioned, I think a collective for mid-listers would be a great idea.

I came from a music industry background and have been watching all the bad (and some good) that has been going on because of changes created by the internet... and taking notes.

Kerry Gans said...

Nathan - Thank you! I have been saying the same thing for a while now--that we authors need to look to our own interests, because Amazon will turn on us as soon as it becomes profitable to do so. I took their slashing the royalties on Audible as a warning shot. And it is common sense that publishers are looking out for themselves--every business does, Hachette, Amazon, Walmart, whoever. We authors are in the business of publishing, and we need to start looking out for ourselves the way every successful business does. How that comes about, I do not know, but we none of us should be putting all our eggs in one basket at this time. Especially when the baskets are in the process of trying to annihilate each other. Kerry said...

Well said, Nathan! I'm one of the Hatchette authors unintentionally involved in the dispute. My book, "Dolls Behaving Badly" was first delayed, and then priced at $52, and now has been completely removed from Amazon; you can buy the eBook but not the print copy. This, of course, impacts not only sales but credibility since it looks as if my book has been rendered out-of-print.
Basically, I'm tired of the whole fiasco. It has, as you pointed out, nothing to do with authors and everything to do with big-company profits, very little which will actually reach the pockets of writers.
I'm also tired of self-published authors gushing on and on about the wonders of Amazon. Umm, hello, Amazon doesn't care about you as a person or as a writer; it just wants to make money off your product, as does Hachette.
I want this to end. I want my book available for purchase on Amazon again. I just handed in my second book to my publisher but nothing can go forward until this conflict resolves. And who knows how long that might be?
Thanks for posting, and happy writing.

Amelia said...

Oh, good. I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't want to side with one big corporation or the other. I've been unmoved by the arguments on either side, and I wish we could just move on. Creating some kind of collective for book-selling would be great, but it wouldn't be easy to draw customers away from Amazon.

Lynda Jo Schuessler said...

"So where is the for-authors-by-authors publishing option? How about a partnership with the indie bookselling community to create the literary culture we really want instead of hoping that huge corporations are going to come to our rescue?"
Would absolutely love to see what this would look like and I'm certain that the indie community will get there sooner rather than later.

Marilynn Byerly said...

Those of us in the early days of epublishing (late 90s and early 2000s) saw epublishing and small epublishers as an end run around the bottleneck of the corporations who owned the publishers, the distributors, and big box stores.

Unfortunately, we discovered that readers wouldn't shop at publisher sites or sites that don't carry a bunch of books. They chose the big sites and then Amazon when it came along. As shown by Amazon's dominance, they still choose a big site for one-stop shopping.

That's why people talking about their own sites or group sites just makes me sad as well as scared spitless about the Amazon Godzillas of the world. Readers will always choose the simple path to their books.

Terin Miller said...

I agree with you 100%, Mr. Former Agent Man.

Where are the Sylvia Beachs, the Robert McAlmons, the Bill Birds? Even Boni & Liveright? Charles Scribner? Where are the individuals taking charge of the now readily available technology to publish books JUST TO PUBLISH THEM, TO GET THEM IN FRONT OF READERS?

That's what Sylvia Beach did for James Joyce. No one was going to publish Ulysses (whether they were right or wrong is not the debate at hand). So, she did. And it cost her most of her life, as most of whatever she made on it went to either paying taxes, or helping to finance Saint James in the style to which he preferred to grow accustomed.

Obviously, that's no way to make money.

Let's just try, please, not to confuse writing to sell books to make money for a publisher and ourselves with writing literature. Or publishing literature.

Because, as the song said, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls..."

Which, as yet, Amazon does not hold the rights to.

thewriteedge said...

Finally, a voice of reason. I completely agree with everything you've said, Nathan, and I can't think of anyone better than you to spearhead a substantial, tangible movement that will allow authors to connect directly with readers. After following your blog and reading your book, I have no doubt that you would truly have the writers' interests at heart while coupling that with your industry know-how.

Anyone else want to vote Nathan for president (of an organization that puts authors first, that is)?

Anonymous said...

This is a good solution.

But frankly, I'd rather see the DOJ start to investigate some of the more questionable things Amazon has been doing that I won't get into right now. If any of the allegations are true, any other company would have been burned. Martha Stewart went to jail for far less. It's despicable how they get away with as much as they do...if the allegations are true. There should at least be an investigation for the sake of authors who do play fair and to NOT game the system.

terryd said...

Heresy! We "content providers" shouldn't worry our little heads about important matters of finance. We should be happy that our books allow our noble betters to make their yacht payments, take our pittance and be grateful for it.

Yes, isn't it funny how the middlemen have managed to become the story?

As a Hachette AND Amazon author, perhaps I'm entitled to vent.

Auden Johnson said...

A collective book selling community for authors by authors is a great idea. I like how self publishing has given us an option other than the Big 5. Though I like Amazon, I don't want them to take over. As you said, they're in it for themselves. It sucks how the publishing industry is less about the authors.

The problem is, as others have pointed out, someone could create another book seller but readers will still go to Amazon. Outside of super authors like J.K. Rowling, I can't see any author successfully selling ebooks outside of Amazon. It's possible but it would take awhile for the community to get off the ground. During that time, authors won't be selling as many books.

Julie Musil said...

Well said! I'm watching with interest, but have no desire to throw flames OR bile!

Laura Martone said...

Eloquent as always, Nathan - and it makes me happy to see someone like you (a published author, an advocate for writers, and a former agent) unwilling to choose a side in this mess. As someone whose publisher was just bought by Hachette, I'm unsettled by what's happening, but to be honest, I don't trust either corporation - and I wish that, as Other Lisa suggests, there was a collective of sorts for mid-list authors... but of course, as Marilynn says, we'd still need an easy way to sell to the masses.

Diane Vallere said...

It is human nature to see our partnerships with these companies as more than business, but that's exactly what they are. We might not agree with their decisions, but we can't fault them for making them, because that's what they're there for: to make money.

Nice post on an emotional issue.

Ellie Anthony said...

Brilliantly said!

I really love the idea of a partnership with independent bookstores too!

Meghan Ward said...

Hear hear!

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