Who’s Who In the Amazon-Hachette Debate

painting by Rembrandt
painting by Rembrandt

Overview In the very near future a group of writers, calling themselves Authors United, will place an ad in the NY Times addressing the dispute between Amazon and Hachette, Beware folks, for this little episode is about to get a whole bunch bigger. I’m not quite sure when the ad will appear, but you can bet your bottom dollar, that when it does, stakes will be raised dramatically on both sides. In the mean time here’s a short list of literary personalities and author organizations that are sounding off on the issue in question.

Amazon

Amazon is the giant online retailer that sells anything from computers and cell phones to baby dolls. Currently, they are locked in a debate with Hachette over the prices of ebooks that are published by Hachette and sold by Amazon. Basically, Amazon wants lower retail prices, while Hachette doesn’t.

Hatchette headquarters in Paris, France  from wiki commons, photo by Tangopaso
Hachette headquarters in Paris, France from wiki commons, photo by Tangopaso

Hachette

Hachette is a French book publisher, headquartered in Paris, France. Recently, they entered the American market (2006) with the purchase of Time-Warner books. Their dispute with Amazon revolves around the pricing and profit-sharing of ebooks.

Douglas Preston

Douglas Preston is a popular horror and techno-thriller author, who has organized writers in support of Hachette in their feud with Amazon.

Stephen Colbert Stephen Colbert is the host of the Colbert Report, a popular program of political satire on Comedy Central (and successful Hachette author). Stephen has also been selected by CBS to replace Dave Letterman as host of the Late Show, when David retires next year. Colbert jumped into this debate big time,  (aided by Native American author Sherman Alexie) by symbolically giving Amazon the finger, not once, but twice on the Colbert Report.

Authors United

Authors United is an offshoot from an effort by Douglas Preston to get Amazon.com to help out authors during Amazon’s dispute with Hachette. In June (2014) Preston circulated a letter that was signed by several hundred writers that demanded that Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) stop hurting authors during the company’s economic feud with the Big Five Publisher. Literary luminaries who have signed on with this group include James Patterson, Stephen King, Sandra Cisneros, J.K. Rowling and Lee Child. About 80 of these writers have come together and purchased a NY Times full page ad, supporting their position. The ad will probably appear in late July or early August of 2014. Just a run-through of the signees will show who is making big bucks in today’s literary world.

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, may be the one author, who has been most damaged by the literary stand-off. That is because her new Hachette release, Silkworm, has fallen right in the middle of this debate, causing a serious decline in online sales and orders.

Authors Guild

The Authors Guild is a literary organization with 18,000 members that tends to support Big Five or Legacy published authors. This group along with SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), The Tony Hillerman’s Writers Conference and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust have supported the Hatchette position.

JA Konrath

Not everyone in the writing community supports the Big Five publisher, Hachette. In fact, most writers, who have had any kind of online success with ebooks tend to favor Amazon. That’s because Amazon sell ebooks (lots of them in fact) and pays its authors a high royalty. Highly visible among this group is JA Konrath a mystery and crime writer, who has seen his sales soar, as an ebook writer. Interested parties can follow the debate through Joe’s eyes at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.

Hugh Howey If you haven’t heard of Hugh Howey, then the best way to describe this writer might be as the James Patterson of electronic authorship. And not surprisingly he has been a staunch defender of self-publishing ebooks with Amazon or other online venues. Recently, Hugh wrote and self-published a short story called Wool. This sci-fi tale has morphed into a successful screenplay, online book and series, making the writer a very wealthy man in the process.

Chuck Wendig

For a slightly satiric digression from the self-published view, you might want to check out the irascible efforts of Chuck Wendig, a highly visible novelist, screenwriter and game designer on the internet. His blog, Terrible Minds, is always worth a visit. Be sure to check out his opinion of the Amazon-Hatchette controversy and the coming Kindle Unlimited experiment.

Another Storm On the Horizon

If you think the financially affluent writing community is really sticking it to the struggling, under-published author (like I do), you might want to hang onto your horses for a minute or two. For Amazon has just released another publishing bombshell on the literary world. This juggernaut is called Kindle Unlimited and though it’s a bit too soon to know for sure, this Amazon project could turn into the “Netflix” for ebooks…….not a great scenario for mid-list and low-list authors.

Advertisements

And the Thot Plickens – Updates on the Amazon-Hachette Dispute

God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900 from wikipedia
God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900 from wikipedia

Bad News For Amazon

Currently, the Amazon-Hachette dispute seems to be leaning in Amazon’s favor (my opinion), despite the fact that a whole bunch of literary heavyweights have taken up the cause of the Big Five publisher. For those of you not familiar with the situation, Amazon and Hachette are currently locked in a monetary dispute that, as time goes on, seems to favor Amazon coming away from the disagreement in the best shape. However, all is not hunky dory in the Amazon camp. Here are a few recent news story to illustrate some of the problems the giant online retailer may be facing in the near future, not to mention their growing competition for the ebook market.

Another Federal Lawsuit

Currently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is suing Amazon over its children’s in-app purchases. According to the Feds, Amazon has made it way too easy for minors to make online purchase through a variety of mobile and non-mobile apps. The Feds want to make it impossible for children to purchase online without their parent’s permission. Amazon does not deny the situation, but responds by saying that they are already improving the situation.

The gardens at the Luxembourg palace in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which is the official name for this tiny land-locked European nation. from wikipedia commons, photo by Benh Lieu Song
The gardens at the Luxembourg palace in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which is the official name for this tiny land-locked European nation. from wikipedia commons, photo by Benh Lieu Song

Children’s Book Author Turns Down Amazon-backed Award

Just about the same time as news of the Federal lawsuit was released, Allan Ahlberg, a UK children’s author, turned down a lifetime achievement award, because Booktrust, the giver of the award, has used Amazon funds to award the recipient. Ahlberg cites Amazon’s use of Luxembourg as a tax dodge, while selling a large volume of books in Great Britain, as the main reasoning behind his refusal. Reportedly, Amazon has avoided millions in British taxes by claiming to be a Luxemborg-based business,

My View

Despite the Hachette thing, all the hoopla from successful authors and the FTC lawsuit, Amazon’s biggest problem may be competition from other ebook retailers. Although Amazon my have dominated this new bookselling phenomena in the past, I expect other ebook publishers to make inroads on the market in the years to come. Competition is a good thing, really.

The Rude Boys Are Back In Town

 

Boxing Match, painting by James Pollard
Boxing Match, painting by James Pollard

The Issue

The issue is not exactly a new one, for the debate between Amazon and Hachette has been around for a while. There was even a Department of Justice settlement recently awarded to Amazon, after they determined that Apple, along with four book publishers (including Hatchette) were found guilty of colluding with Apple to set ebook prices. Incidentally, this was one of the biggest anti-trust lawsuits ever brought by US federal authorities. Since that decision, Amazon and Hatchetet are now undergoing negotiations to work out ebook prices for books sold by Amazon. At issue here is who determines the price of the ebook, Hatchette, Amazon or some combination of the two. During negotiations Amazon has removed pre-order buttons from all soon-to-be-released Hatchette books and is reportedly delaying shipment of  all hard copy books published by Hatchette.

Sound Off

Everybody who’s anybody in the publishing world has been sounding off on this feud, which may be destined to determine how much readers will pay for ebooks at Amazon.com. James Patterson, a Hatchette author and one of the most most successful authors in the world, is down on Amazon, as is Steve Colbert, another large-selling Hatchette author, who also stars in the Comedy Central hit, the Colbert report. On a recent episode of the award-winning show, Colbert joined forces with Sherman Alexie to totally trash Amazon’s dispute with Hatchette. Mr. Colbert even goes as far as to call for a boycott of Amazon. Others supporting Hatchette include John Green, JK Rowling and the AAR (Association of Author’s Representatives).

 

JK Rowling, a millionaire writer, has sided with her publisher, Hatchette, in its dispute with Amazon
JK Rowling, a millionaire writer of Harry Potter fame, has sided with her publisher, Hatchette, in its dispute with Amazon

The Battle of Fingers

When I first read about the ensuing conflict on JA Konrath’s popular blog ( A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing) I was a bit dismayed by his visual display of his middle finger. At the time it just seemed like a lot of arrogance, displayed by a successful Amazon author, who makes over a thousand dollars a day. That was until I viewed an online video of the Colbert Report, where a distraught Mr. Colbert uses the middle appendage of his right hand to stick it to Amazon. I guess dueling it out with middle fingers is a lot better than using pistols at twenty paces, but still, there seems to be a lot of room for improving how one expresses themselve.

Other Viewpoints

Not everybody is jumping to the defense of Hatchette. One of the most adamant Amazon supporters is JA Konrath. You can read his rant and check out his middle finger to Colbert, here. Other interesting opinions have been expressed at the  Huffington Post, the Washington Post (also owned by Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos,) and the Slate.

In 2015 the host spot for the Tonight Show will go to Steve Colbert
In 2015 the host spot for the Late Show will go to Steve Colbert

Not Yet Ready For Prime Time

One of the most surprising and disgusting outcomes of this whole episode is the veracity with which Steve Colbert has defended his own publisher. It is hard for me to believe that soon this guy will have be hosting one of the major night talk shows at CBS. This not bode well for the health of our national TV industry or our political discourse.

My Take

Unfortunately, most of Hatchette’s biggest defenders have been those who make the most money with their writing. Sometimes it seems like the 1% analogy that permeates our current political discussion has trickled down to the literary world. In recent years, breaking into paper publishing has gotten more difficult, even though the Big Five are finding it more difficult to make money or just survive. For mid-list and low-list writers who depend on ebook sales for this livelihood this dispute is most unwelcome. Despite its size and aggressive business practices, Amazon provides much-needed income to writers, who would receive next to nil, if ebook sales didn’t exist. Presently, I see the various ebook markets as a way in which unrecognized writers can find a voice in the world.

P.S.

One much-needed beneficiary of this running debate are the independent booksellers, who are presently seeing a surge in their tree book sales.

The Growing Popularity of Self-publishing

Soul_Nebula
The Soul Nebula from Wikipedia

What’s Up With Kindle’s Direct Publishing Select Program?

Kindle’s Direct Publishing Select seems to be gaining popularity with a growing number of authors and more importantly…..also with readers. However, it should be noted that various publishing companies and some literary agents do not share the same opinions.  Following is a quick glimpse at a few writers who have opted for participation in the Amazon e-book program and how they have done with their literary titles.

DutchMasters-adjusted

 

Submitting to Curtis Brown

As a literary agent for Curtis Brown LTD, Nathan Bransford developed one of the most widely read literary blogs around. Large numbers of prospective authors followed followed his timely remarks and comments, hoping to obtain the right piece of advice that would propel them into the fast lane of literary success. I was one of those people and I even went as far as to submit a query letter concerning a completed manuscript. All I got was a “Not For Me” rejection, but the general insight on the submission process that he provided was most helpful.  This was information published on his blog that could be read by everybody.

SF_From_Marin_Highlands3
San Francisco as viewed from the Marin Headlands, from wikipedia, photo by Paul.h

From Literary Agent To Sub-published Author

While a literary agent, Nathan began  publishing his Jacob Wonderbar series of sci-fi space travels aimed for younger readers. Not long after Mr. Bransford left the West Coast agency and took a job writing for CNET. He still writes the Wonderbar books and blogs as an author instead of an literary agent. As a result his posts are less frequent but still very informative. The development that has caught my eye was a recent announcement that he is writing a novel which will be self-published in the near future. This is a most interesting turn of events that illustrates how quickly digital self-publishing is making inroads into the mainstream publishing world. This is just one example, but I think it shows how important digital e-publishing is becoming to authors.

The Tree Book Ain’t Dead Yet

Redwood_National_Park,_fog_in_the_forest
Redwood trees in fog, Redwood NP, from Wikipedia, photo by Michael Schweppe

Is This A Golden Age For Writers?

Just recently, Stephen Marche, in his Thousand Words About Our Culture column for Esquire, raised this exact question. To back up his assertion, he put forth numerous graphs and figures, showing that adult readership and book sales are up. Some of the facts are quite convincing; such as increase in both hardcover and ebook sales. For the first half of 2012, adult hardcover sales rose over 8 %, while ebook sales jumped by a whopping 34 %. Also on the increase are the percentage of adult Americans who read literature and the average number of books (of any kind) that are read by individual readers. This is definitely encouraging news.

480px-BarackObamaportrait
Barrack Obama portrait in front of the Capitol building, from Wikipedia, photo source U.S. Senate

A Writer In the White House

Now serving in his second term as U.S. President is Barrack Obama from Illinois, a successful politician, who helped further his political career by writing two widely read books, Dreams From My Father (1995) and The Audacity of Hope (2006). Though most presidents, now publish after they leave office, it is less common to find presidents that used the written word to enhance their political career. John Kennedy and Richard Nixon are two past presidents, who have made it to the White House aided by a successful book publication.

A Good Time To Be A Successful Writer?

Maybe what Stephen Marche should have said is that it is a great time to be a successful writer. Breaking in is still difficult, and perhaps complicated by the huge number of competing writers, all trying for a slice of that same pie that is not nearly big enough to accommodate all those who wish to enjoy some of the sweet rewards.

A Silver Lining For Marginal Writers

One positive development for the struggling  writer is the ebook market, which seems to lend itself admirably to the unknown wordsmith. The ebook does not guarantee success for the upcoming writer, it just levels the playing field a little bit. It still takes a lot of skill and perseverance and perhaps a little luck to breakthrough.

New Shoes

cover image for New Shoes
Cover image for my newly, self-published e-book, New Shoes

The Cover

Today, I self-published a new 3,000 word short story at Smashwords. Tomorrow, I will probably add the ebook to Amazon. The story was easy to write, but coming up with a decent cover was a challenge. I can’t say I’m really excited about this one, but it will have to do for now. I used a couple of free images I found at Morguefile to create this undersea collage.

The Story

The story revolves around a young Louisiana fisherman named Jacque LeBeaux and a bunch of trouble he has gotten himself into with some not-so-nice mobsters. I don’t want to say too much, because it will spoil the sea adventure tale….. But I will say that there is a lot of banter and dialogue that goes on between the main character and his captors. You’ll just have to download it and read it to find out how things turn out.

I Am A Jelly Doughnut

Cover image for ebook, I Am A Jelly Doughnut
Cover image for ebook, I Am A Jelly Doughnut, by Henri Bauholz

What’s It All About

This is the ebook cover for a small (11,000) word collection of essays that I have just self-published at Smashwords.com. There are about 10 essays all total, covering such diverse topics as Icelandic yogurt and the Vienna Opera. It is not all original writing for some of the writing has appeared online at various journals and general interest websites. The title comes from John Kennedy’s speech in Berlin of 1963, when he reassured West Germans and warned Russians that the US supported the small enclave in East Germany 100 per cent. Later, the story circulated that JFK’s famous words, (Ich bin ein Berliner) really implied that he was a jelly doughnut. Since the news item broke (it was reported at such prestigious places as CNN, the BBC, MSNBC and the NY Times), this viewpoint has been pretty much relegated to the realm of urban fiction. Still, the life of the story makes for a good tale.

Besides JFK’s remarks made in Berlin, the text includes travel stories about Iceland, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Italy and France. The material is a result of two month long voyages, I made in 2003 and 2006. For a link to the book you can click on the image.

Putting the Cover Together

I had fun putting the cover together. I started with a NASA photo of distant space, then I added the jelly doughnut on a plate. I picked this image up on Wikipedia and I believe the image comes from Berlin, which is the geographical locale of the Jelly Doughnut story. Finally, the text was added. Everything was done in an old Photoshop Elements software program, which I paid 25 dollars for years ago. Photoshop was necessary to isolate the dish and also to get curved text. To be honest I am quite pleased with the way everything came out. Having a good cover is very important to promoting an Ebook, for most interest come from curious individuals, who see the image online and then become intrigued by the text. That’s kind of how it works at least for me.