Across the Great Divide – Update On the Amazon-Hachette Feud

“Fine! So stop selling them (Hachette books), already. Just shut up about it and pull the trigger. Be mercenary.” Chuck Wendig, commenting on the Amazon-Hachette feud

220px-AcrosstheGreatDivide1976

Across the Great Divide is a 1976 film that stars Robert Logan, Heather Rattray, and George Buck Flower. Perhaps, the title is also symbolic as to what a small group of well-financed writers headquartered in the Northeast has done to the American writing community.

Authors Purchase Big Time Add In NY Times

“Authors aren’t united on anything. Why would they be? We work from home. Alone. We can maaaaaybe agree that pants are a tool of the oppressors and that we subsist on various liquids (tea, coffee, whiskey, the tears of our readers). Why do we have to be united?” Chuck Wendig

On Sunday August 10 a group of authors, calling themselves Authors United ran a full page add in the Sunday NY Times defending the Hachette Corporation of France in its economic loggerhead with Amazon. Around 900 names appeared on the ad, which cost in thelow  six figure range and was financed by 72 of the 900. Basically, the letter accused the Amazon Corp. of organizing a boycott of Hachette products, refusing to discount Hachette products, slowing the delivery of Hachette books and suggesting to readers that they purchase different (non-Hachette) titles.

This debate has dragged on for several months and at this point in time, a settlement seems far off. In the meantime, growing discontent among pro-Hachette and pro-Amazon writers has turned the feud into a bit of a soap opera, especially on the Social Media, where everybody who’s anybody is sounding off on the issue. Though this may make for great entertainment, the situation does not encourage ebook sales, which is essentially the heart of the debate.

My Turn To Rant

Ok, it’s my turn to rant. And by the way, I’m not exactly neutral in this debate since I sell low-priced ebooks through both Amazon and Smashwords. Also, I do sell a story or two to online journals, but this is a rather rare event. Moreover, I have not found a way to break into the print market, except P.O.D., a pathway, which I have not even remotely considered.

My basic complaint with Amazon is that they have too nice to Hachette. They were a primary player in the development of the ebook market and their opinion that ebooks sell best in the three digit range seems valid. And I don’t consider them a monopoly (just a Giant corporation) either for they have lots of competition with businesses like Google, Apple, Kobo and B & N.

On the other hand Hachette’s main line are books in print, so why are they wasting so much time in energy in this fight. It might hurt their print sales and if things go really bad, their French holder, Legardere, might dump them completely. I guess I don’t the understand French business karma very well at all, but it does seem like they are shooting themselves in the foot.

Writers Gone Goofy 

To me the strangest thing of all is the way that millionaire genre writers, such as Stephen King, JK Rowling, Douglas Preston, James Patterson, John Grisham and Heather Graham, have taken on Amazon like it was the devil incarnate. They seem to have all jumped in bed with Big Five publishing (at the same time) without any concerns for their own well-being. Have these people forgotten that once they were unpublished writers?

Things have changed over the last ten years and breaking into print has become much more difficult than it used to be. True this is a slowly developing situation that goes back to the  post WWII years, when there weren’t so many authors pining for a book contract. But today’s Indie ebook market helps newbie authors find a platform. (So do small presses and university publishers). Overall, the old maxim that good writing will find its audience still holds true, but the rules have definitely changed quite a bit……And maybe not so much for the better.

2001 Sourdough Raft Race, passing beneath the High Level Bridge's Great Divide waterfall. (Edmonton, Alberta)
2001 Sourdough Raft Race, passing beneath the High Level Bridge’s Great Divide waterfall. (Edmonton, Alberta) from Wikipedia
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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.