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

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.