For months now, we've been hearing stories about how evil Amazon is because they took away the pre-order buttons from upcoming Hachette titles and allegedly slowed shipment on some paperbacks. The truth, according to Amazon, is that shipments got slower on Hachette titles because Amazon quit stocking so many, which is understandable because they're in the midst of a very long and unpredictable contract negotiation with Hachette, which could end with Amazon no longer carrying Hachette's titles. Due to this situation, Amazon also pulled the pre-order buttons for unreleased Hachette titles because Amazon has no way of knowing that they'll even stock those titles in the future.
Is this a strong-arm negotiating tactic or a reasonable response to a situation they can't possibly control? Either way, any business has the right to get tough when they negotiate. The important thing is that each negotiator follows the law, and plays his or her cards close to the vest. Too many details floating around can cause all sorts of hard feelings and fuel rumors that can damage the future of those negotiations.
I guess Hachette didn't get the memo.
First, they got busted colluding to fix prices on e-books. Now, Hachette has been leaking details of their negotiations, like those I mentioned above, to the press. And yet they never release all of the details. Just enough to make themselves look like victims and to make Amazon look like the neighborhood bully. However, when Amazon offered to help Hachette pay their authors for loss of income during these negotiations, Hachette rejected them. Instead they took their complaints public, leaking cherry-picked information to the press.
Amazon released this statement in a mass email to their writers over the weekend:
"We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle."
In the meanwhile, a few millionaire (and billionaire) authors like James Patterson, John Grisham, and Stephen King have taken it upon themselves to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars taking out ads in the New York Times under the banner of Authors United. Did they do this to fight for better contract terms? Did they do it to increase shriveling royalty rates, unreasonable loss of authors' copyrights, or to protect midlist authors whose careers have been sidelined to make way for literary greats like Snookie and Kardashian?
Nah. They spent the cash equivalent of a three bedroom house in the suburbs to tell us all that Amazon is evil. 'Cause that's what billionaire authors do, I guess? I can't sum it up any better than this article in the Huffington Post:
"Authors United Have Picked the Wrong Fight:
...Firstly, several big name authors could negotiate contracts to help foster a different royalty culture throughout the industry. They should demand a higher royalty and/or get paid on gross rather than net revenues. If big names are keen to fight for mid-list authors, as they seem to be, then this would help them as much as any advert in the New York Times. The cartel-like fix of setting a low royalty must be opened up more to competition. In the spirit of fairness that Authors United are keen to tap into a 25% net royalty just isn't good enough - especially when Amazon of all people will pay out 70% of cover price should writers publish direct with them. Ironically Amazon has been pro author in light of the royalty split between publisher and writer and is keen for the latter to earn more."
Yeah. Amazon pays much better, with almost no contractual obligations, and lets authors keep the rights to their books. Are we really supposed to believe Hachette is the victim here? Based on the facts, which are few because for some reason Hachette won't release the full details of their impasse, I can only assume Hachette really is the bad guy; that they do want to keep the price of e-books high, and the royalty payments to authors low.
Unfortunately, the ones who are suffering here are the authors. Their sales have already taken a hit. Anyone care to guess what will happen when Amazon takes the next (obvious) step of removing all Hachette titles? My heart goes out to those writers. Even the ones who still believe their publisher is somehow trying to protect them with its overreaching rights grabs that last forever, disappearing advances (along with the expectation that midlist authors pay for all their own promotion and marketing), and ridiculous royalty rates on e-books, which have turned out to be extremely lucrative for big publishers.
Frankly, those authors are the only reason I care about this at all. The truth is, if Hachette wants to jack up their e-book prices to $15, they're just making my life easier. A lot of readers will see that price and then pick up a book (or five) by a low-priced Indie author like me. But I do hate what will happen to so many of those writers. At the moment, it looks like this thing is just going to get more ugly over the next few weeks. If ever there was an obvious warning to stay away from legacy publishers, this is it.