A clash of titans or something like that! (#SFWApro)

I’ve already posted about Amazon’s ongoing dispute with Hachette (more here). As far as I know nobody’s spilled the beans on the details, but most of the reports say Amazon wants bigger discounts on ebook prices from Hachette. Until it gets them, it’s delaying shipments on Hachette books and refusing to pre-order them. It’s playing similar games with Warner Home Video.
Douglas Preston and a number of other authors have called on Amazon to stop the games, as they’re hurting Hachette authors and those who want to buy their books (Wall Street Journal has some coverage here).
In response Hugh Howey and a number of other self-published authors have issued a counter-letter (click through to read it) which regurgitates a shit-ton of cliches about publishing: The New York Publishers conspire to oppress authors and leech away the profits! They dictate who does and doesn’t get published! Their tyranny is contrasted to the nobility of Amazon, which lets readers decide who to read and gives authors better terms, and which is 100 percent in the right in absolutely every way in this dispute.
While I don’t dispute the authors’ argument that Hachette is acting out of self-interest, the assumption that Amazon is only doing this with the interests of real Americans at heart (in contrast to those evil publisher types who are probably all Commies, Nazis and Islamofascists [satire, not a direct quote from the letter])? Please. If you believe that, I can sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. Seriously. I have legal title. It’s a steal.
In the first place why is Amazon’s preferred ebook price “right” where Hachette’s is not? It’s quite possible Hachette does set them unreasonably high, but I don’t think “Amazon wants to sell them for less” is proof.
•Amazon’s motive, from most accounts (and I’m talking industry and news articles, not Hachette’s press releases) is to get better terms that will allow it to make more profit while keeping prices low. That’s certainly legal and normal, but it’s hardly selfless or motivated by any desire beyond profit. Amazon’s not a philanthropic organization, it’s a business and a cut-throat one where employees are concerned.
•A lot of authors still prefer to go with publishers, even the Satanic New York Publishers. If Amazon cuts into publisher profits that’s not necessarily good for those authors. Or for publisher employees.
•Publishers not publishing particular authors isn’t the same as some kind of blacklist. I’ve had lots and lots and lots of novels turned down. That doesn’t mean the publishers decided people “shouldn’t” read my work, just that they didn’t want to publish it. Not the same thing.
•While Amazon certainly did transform the face of bookselling, that transformation was a while ago. In the unlikely event everyone did boycott Amazon, it’s not like there aren’t other websites that do the same thing now. More will spring up if Amazon disappears. So I don’t anticipate falling into the evil tyranny of the New York Publishers even if Amazon does vanish (I do have one ebook out there).
•George Washington once said that nations are never friends: Individual leaders may get along, but ultimate the most two countries can be is allies with common interests. Same thing here. Amazon is an ally when our interests (our being authors, readers or whoever) coincide. There’s no guarantee they’ll always do that. If Barnes & Noble did disappear because of Amazon (the pro-Amazon letter seems to feel this would be wonderful—”the bookstores going out of business were the ones that didn’t feel like bookstores.”) that doesn’t guarantee more indie bookstores will spring up and fill the gap (maybe. Maybe not). And it takes one big buyer out of the equation which gives Amazon much more influence. In the long run, a book industry one single mega-buyer and lots of indies is not in anyone’s interest.
So I don’t think I’ll be signing the letter.


Filed under Personal, Writing

2 responses to “A clash of titans or something like that! (#SFWApro)

  1. Both letters seem a bit, er, biased to me. Two business hack out a deal–of course, neither is going to be thinking of what’s best for the authors caught in the middle, except to goad public interest and sympathy in a hope to strengthen their own negotiations. We know Amazon isn’t above slashing royalties when they have a monopoly (audiobooks, anyone?) and therefore is more a champion of their own wallets than of authors, just as we know Hachette isn’t raked over the goals for money, nor even suffering for the team so much as protecting their profit. There’s no “true villain” in this battle, and there’s no hero, either.

  2. Pingback: Amazons and Hechettes, again (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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