“Bored tonght? I know, let’s go Amazon bashing!”
Hachette – who to put it clearly, are a massive, multinational corporation, part of group of publishers who were involved in DoJ case –where they and Apple colluded to rip off customers (yes, let’s be blunt. That was why they had to pay damages to the customers), a group which controls 85% of the print market, who operate as a de facto cartel (the prices, working conditions, payment to suppliers is effectively the same. This is as close to a monopoly and monopsony as you get without them being the same company.) From customer and supplier’s point of view it is indistinguishable and just bad news. There is no positive side for either suppliers or customers in any way. For a brilliantly inaccurate spin and revisionist history on it you could see here- or not waste your time. Hachette is no different from any of the other big 5 publishers – they pay a tiny fraction of the e-book cover price to the author – probably 12-15% (25% of net. They have learned well from the movie industry). Moreover they outweigh the authors in any negotiation many, many, many more times than Amazon out-weighs them, and the terms of any agreement between authors and them reflect this. Their accounting is unjustifiably opaque (so you may… or may not get your 12-15%. You will never know. You just have to trust them. And why wouldn’t you?), and their payments ridiculously slow. The contracts are labyrinthine and certainly not what anyone could consider ‘fair’. Oh and if you as an author complained publically, or said something they didn’t like, they can and will destroy your career – not just with them but with the cartel, and with the cartel’s co-operative affiliates, the distributors and big box retailers. Just ask John Norman. Notice the lengths that their authors go to, to avoid apportioning blame where it obviously belongs – the post about Hugo nominee’s e-copies by Charles Stross is a good example, as is the post JA Konrath fisks here.
All-in-all, if you were writing one of the ever-so-predictable novels about the evil multinational corporation, this probably provides a better model than the normal oil company (oddly this never happens). In short… very nice guys! (If you happen to be published by them. Or want to be traditionally published at all.)
Now these very nice guys are having a fight with Amazon about… well, it appears to be about their way of gaming the system. Some of it you can see here The Hachette technique appears to be something like this – Amazon pays say 70% on our cover price. Amazon discounts e-book prices to bring them under $9.99. We price our bestsellers new e-books at considerably more. Say $15. We offer a discount – say $8.00 to our ‘friends’ elsewhere – say at B&N (I don’t know, but I can’t see how this can work otherwise. B&N would be up in arms too otherwise. And this is nothing new to publishers. Ask ANY small bookseller about the terms they get, as opposed to one of the chains.). Amazon discounts the e-book to 9.99 to keep its market share. They pay us $10.50 (our 70%) for that sale. Amazon eats a loss of $0.51. The other sellers can match the Amazon price, and make a profit. Even if Hachette drops the cover price to where it isn’t a loss – unless that cover price is $9.99 or less, Hachette gets bigger share of the sale price than 70%.
So Amazon are apparently arguing about who eats the cost of the discount. No doubt they want to make profit. After all, like Hatchette, they are giant-evul-multinational-corp tm and are probably saving hard for their volcanic island lair. And evul henchmen don’t come cheap.
And as part of the fight, Amazon have taken down pre-order buttons (which if you might not be in business together, or might have far worse terms than you can afford…is wise). There have also been sales delays. These it appears are a result of Amazon not pre-ordering a lot of stock, but waiting on resupply. Hachette claims to have been really quick about filling these orders, just as they claim the authors get all that is due to them. You’ll just have to trust them, as they’re not providing proof (meanwhile there is evidence that this is not the case. These people must be liars. When did giant-evul-multinational-corp ever tell anything but the truth!) Now, as these authors point out, Hachette’s various subsidiaries editors make their pitches to buy future books on the basis of these figures. Hachette knows the proportion sold by Amazon so actually their editors and those they pitch to… should have no trouble whatsoever in correcting the figures. But then, perhaps they’re so used to blaming authors and treating them as replaceable, disposable widgets, they’d rather just do that.
Authors however… are livid – well some of them, Joe had one above, and there are bunch more doing the same, apparently. They’re losing sales to bad Amazon, who are just victimizing those poor good nice guys at Hachette. They’re going to punish them by taking down those Amazon buy buttons on their sites. Going to recommend readers get their books elsewhere. Authors – by-in-large—are not wealthy. This is of course a direct result of the way the retail cost of that book is divided. The publishers make a far larger net profit (let alone gross income), than most authors make gross income. And that gross-to-net, well they run a lot expenses that add no value to the author, or to the buyer. The publishing industry has made some dramatic saving and found a lot of extra cash – getting authors to pay for slush reading (the agent system) electronic typesetting (much cheaper) and rapidly diminishing returns – and no returns at all on e-books. None of this found its way back to the author. None. Zero. Very nice guys. So generous.
But, but…but! Amazon are just robbing the poor authors. Action!
I wonder how many of them know that Amazon – not Hachette, has offered to put up a fund – matched dollar for dollar, with Hachette, to see that the authors don’t suffer financially from this. For Amazon, that would be a total loss, for Hachette it would be looking after their authors.
Hachette have refused. Maybe later. In the meanwhile, authors can do without. Really very nice guys. Amazon uncaring Evul! Burn them!
And it’s not the first time Amazon has done this. They did it in the MacMillan dispute too.
Oddly I’ve never heard a MacMillan author mention it. I suppose it is bad form, not going to be popular with your editor. Amazon are supposed to be untrammeled evul. Or maybe MacMillan just omitted to mention where it came from or pass it on. But agents are supposed to scrutinize payments. If I was a MacMillan author, and I didn’t get it, I’d be asking my agent, and my publisher awkward questions. If I was a Hachette author suffering losses… I’d be asking why they would rather have me suffer hardship than take the money and stop hurting me.
Except… they dare not.
It’s a little like the pogroms of the 19th early 20th century. The peasant mobs beating, killing and raping the Jews (and later other nationalities) were not going to take on the nobles who really were the reason for their poverty. And the nobles had reasons for wanting to drive out the victims too, and always got the best loot. A win-win… except the peasant were worse off after, and the victims were a lot worse off, and the society lost tradesmen and skills. But the nobles did well, temporarily, out of it. Very nice guys, as any peasant would have hastily told you.
The big difference is that Amazon not a small weak group who are powerless to resist. It is more difficult for a retailer. They have to stay popular with their customers, who do not have to call them very nice guys. Publishers have no such worries. It’s therefore massively unlikely Amazon is going to engage in the sort of actions that Hachette hands to its authors every day. It’s rather like the current favorite kicking scapegoat – old white men. Preferably heterosexual, married, Christian and conservative in politics and behavior, probably a redneck from the sticks who works for big oil. They’re the current favorite villain. I know. It makes slightly less sense than an emu on LSD. Like Amazon they’re perfectly capable of resisting, they just don’t. When it comes down to reality, and if your daughter had her car break down and had to run away from some thugs who stopped to attack her, the chances that the attackers will be those ‘villains’ is miniscule compared to almost any other group, and her chances of protection and safety are highest with those nasty old white conservative men, closely followed by nasty old tea-bagger white women who are armed and can shoot. That’s actually the ‘message’ that would be in the best interests of the victims… but Heaven help you if you say so in your book. The SJW will be out to crucify you, and, in a publishing world ruled by our dear friends Hachette, and the others who controlled 85% of print publishing, would have destroyed your career forever.
And, friends, therein lies the truth. The problem in publishing… isn’t Amazon (as this small publisher points out) Yes, they’re a big corporation, doing business the way big corporations do, but they have real reason to keep authors and readers sweet. Publishers don’t, even though authors dare not complain. Just as the problem in society isn’t the old white farmer on his way to a church picnic with his wife and kids. Their ‘sexism’ and ‘racism’ are barely even visible compared to the fanatical Somali Jihadi living next door and beating the hell out of his wife for being late with the supper. But the former will shrug and let a vegan feminist from NY tell him how evil he is because 1) He knows it is irrelevant BS. 2) He knows it’s not worth arguing right now. 3) He’s a decent man who won’t hit a woman, or anyone weaker than himself, and she sure is. The latter – well, if he doesn’t kill you for doing so, the SJW will surely lead an internet crusade to make your life a misery. Guess which one the vegan feminist is going to have a ball badmouthing?
Rather like those old white conservative heterosexual men, the fact that everyone dares demonize Amazon says that rather than a threat… they’re not. They may well, finally, get tired of it all. They could destroy Hachette. Take down their product… or just wait them out (the big publishers are proving what happens to a cartel – when it faces competition). Or the forces marshalled against them may finally get too much, and the old order may put authors back in their place, uppity little peasants, and the great unwashed customers can be grateful for what they get. We’re educating them!
But I hope not. I’m sick of eating apple peelings every third Thursday which I know our very good guys thought was spoiling us. I’m kind of fond of getting 70% of the income, and writing what I want to write. This IS a big fight… for readers and writers. And no matter what the various Lord Haw Haws say… follow the freedom and the best deal for authors and readers.
Yes, I know. One of those injured darlings Hachette authors said all independents need was a penis and lots of typos… I’m IN. So, guys: which cover appeals more? – the book is nearly ready to go. (on Amazon).
– I see this new development. Good luck with it. (and I mean this earnestly. It probably won’t help the big 5 uh 4 uh 3… because it is probably deck chair shuffling. But it’ll give Amazon reason to support indies more. And if they want to survive, BaM will probably have to do the same.