Round Four: the fight between Amazon and Hachette spills over and gets bitter

hachette vs amazon image

In a previous post (Round Three - Hachette vs Amazon) I covered the developing stoush between Amazon and Hachette which at that time, although threatening to affect both writers and readers, really seemed only to affect the companies concerned. But as the 'negotiations' continue to drag on the fight is starting to get bitter with writers now taking sides.

The petition

The taking of sides started with “letter to our readers” spearheaded by bestselling writer Douglas Preston and signed by 69 of Hachette's authors.  However the reaction to this 'letter' by many smaller authors can be best characterised by Amy Eyrie's response on the Bookseller's blog: "... the reaction of these rich writers protecting the status quo is deeply disappointing. A little more time acting as mentors to fledgling writers and a little less time guarding their monopoly is what I expect from artists. What I see is a bunch of shallow, cynical business people.

In response, as Barry Eisler explains (see Barry's blog or his specific post) Hugh Howey created an alternate petition to Hachette's CEO that as at 13 July had obtained 7,110 signatures. The petition reads: 

To: Hachette, Michael Pietsch, HBG CEO
Please help put an end to these negotiations. Accept Amazon's offer to create a 50/50 joint fund to support your authors. And then work on a resolution that keeps e-book prices reasonable and pays authors a fair wage.

Sincerely,

Now certainly the situation isn't as cut and dried as Hugh Howey makes out (see Chuck Wendig's post on "The Petition To Paint Amazon As Underdog"), but when emotion becomes involved that reasonableness tends to fly out the window. And when you we start talking about those very few authors who make significant income trying to protect that income at what appears to be the expense of those who are supporting their families on significantly less via Amazon then the situation ripe to become very bitter. As has been demonstrated by the recent taking of sides at the  Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers  of America (SFWA), one of the industry's most prominent professional writers' organizations.

In early July the Daily Dot came into possession of an email from the president of the SFWA praising a letter that member Douglas Preston had been circulating privately for about a week. Gould stated that the SFWA board has decided to endorse Preston's letter and invites other members to join him in co-signing it.

SFWA copy of letter

Independent self-published author Don Sakers made the astute connection on his website between SFWA's stance now and its recent debate about whether to allow successful self-published authors to join the organization:

For years, SFWA has been castigated in the self-publishing community, particularly by authors who support themselves and their families entirely on income from their self-publishing efforts, yet are unable to join an organization of professional writers. The public acknowledgment that SFWA was considering a change helped to smooth some feathers.

So what does SFWA do? It publicly and officially takes the side of traditional publishing, thereby signaling to independent and self-published writers that SFWA doesn't understand or care to understand their concerns. it's about as clear a message of "You don't belong and aren't welcome" as I've ever seen.

Personally, I haven't signed the petition because I am concerned that if Amazon does successfully negotiate a 50% discount then Hague Publishing might be next. At the moment we receive 70% of the list price for our books sold on Amazon. Admittedly if we tried pricing our books at the same unrealistically high prices the big five try we would only get 30% because the 70% fee cuts out for books priced more than $9.99. But what would happen next ... So in the meantime I'm prepared to firmly remain on the fence.

Amazon's offer to authors

In a bid to wedge Hachette and its authors, last week Amazon offered to pay Hachette's authors 100% of ebook earnings. Amazon argued that if neither Amazon nor Hachette were getting any earnings the two companies would be forced to the negotiating table. In addition Amazon indicated it would resume normal selling practices for Hachette title, ie allowing pre-orders and keeping print copies in stock.

Hachette called Amazon’s proposal 'suicidal'. Indeed, Hachette gets 60% of its ebook revenue from Amazon in the U.S. and 79% in the UK. And with ebook sales making up about a quarter of all Hachette revenue this would put a significant dent in its income (Forbes.com).

And one more matter

One matter I am unable to confirm is that in addition to negotiations over the size of the discount offered to Amazon from the list price (currently 30%), Amazon are also pushing to be able to use its POD facilities when books are temporarily out-of-stock. Publishers would understandably be incensed at this as there is significant variation in stock produced by various printers used by Amazon. In one of our own books we have have variations of 10gm between books, which can means postages rises from $3 to over $10. In this case I most certainly on not on the fence, being firmly in the anti-Amazon camp.

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