An Augean stable-letter

Before anyone accuses me of being an Amazon Fanboi, I am very keen on finding the dear fellow on Createspace who set the word templates… and did NOT set the picture inserts to retain their DPI… Meaning I will probably have to start all over again. He’d better keep his distance or I might be be very tempted to introduce his head to the famous Discworld town of Slice* I was hoping to announce that Stardogs

was now available in paper too and not just as an e-book, but instead I will say I am pulling my beard out by the roots…

Still, when it comes down to the league of very silly people I have to point to something Cedar referred to a few days ago – SFWA came out with putting its support very firmly behind Hachette and encouraging authors to get their readers to bombard Jeff Bezos with ‘Amazon Evul’ letters. But I wonder how many of you actually read that letter – the one authors are rushing to put their names to? This letter

Ok, you can catch your jaws again. Pick them up off the floor. Lets have an interesting time dissecting some of it… because really, it deserves a little cold, dispassionate thought.

“A letter to our readers: Amazon is involved in a commercial
dispute with the book publisher Hachette, which
owns Little Brown, Grand Central Publishing, and other familiar imprints.
These sorts of disputes happen all the time between companies and they are usually resolved in a
corporate back room. But in this case, Amazon has done something unusual. It has directly
targeted Hachette’s authors in an effort to force their publisher to agree to its terms”

Well, is this true? Firstly it’s only ‘something unusual’ if you have a very short memory. If you think it accurate, may I suggest Alzheimers disease would be something bigger for you to worry about? This is the _third_ time recently authors have been affected by publisher/ distributor/ Amazon fights. It’s not exactly new or unusual. Secondly Amazon has offered to put up a fund to help compensate authors, to stop them suffering from this commercial dispute. They did precisely this in the MacMillan dispute. Hachette HAVE REFUSED. Hachette, NOT Amazon, are quite happy to have their authors suffer hardship as a result of the dispute. Thirdly, authors are affected, yes, but in large part by their publisher’s actions (I will go into this somewhat later). In short, this is spin, and it is a deliberate attempt to manipulate customer sentiment against Amazon. They claim Amazon is attacking Hachette authors – they’re attacking Amazon’s customers.

“For the past month, Amazon has been:

Boycotting Hachette authors,refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette’s authors’ books, claiming they are “unavailable.”

Er. That’s NOT a boycott. Not selling them is a boycott. I can’t get pre-orders on my books either. And no, I’m not stupid enough to claim I’m being boycotted. Two things here: This is a privilege, and advantage never given to self-publishers — some of whom outsell the authors on this list. Secondly, taking pre-orders from a company that you may not be doing business with when the book is released (in which case the book will not be available) puts Amazon in an unpleasant position. Either they issue a lot of refunds to angry customers, or they buy the books at whatever the market want to charge, and sell them at the contracted (pre-ordered) price. Hey, it’s nice work if you can get it!

“Refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette’s authors’ books.”

Oh. My. Word. Did I REALLY just read that priceless gem? Blink. ROFL. Yes, I did. I’ll just read it again so I can savor it. Hmmm wonderful. It reminds me of that creamy fresh warm cow-poo in the dairy in the early morning. And it smells much the same and oozes between your cold toes the same way. So: now, getting your books discounted is every author’s right? And every publisher’s right? Anyone who doesn’t discount from the cover price is a bad man! Much is explained. That’s why the little independent bookstores are bad. Oh they’re not? Well yes the chorus has been Amazon is bad for discounting so they can’t compete. Of course nothing to stop Hachette, and other publishers lowering their cover price, or giving the indie bookstores the same deal they B&N and Books a Million, and Amazon enjoyed. But let’s just run through the ‘discount’ racket in case you hadn’t figured it out. The publishers put a vastly inflated cover price on the book -especially if it is by an author who is going to sell well. Let’s say an e-book at 12.99. Amazon discounts it to 9.99, because that is their price breakpoint. They pay the publisher at 70% of the cover price. Amazon makes 90 cents on the deal, or less than 7%. The book sells much better than it would at 12.99, the publisher makes exactly what they would at 12.99. The author gets his 25% of the publisher’s nett. They’ve both (but principally the publisher) benefited a bit from the retailer’s share. The author got $2.27, the publisher got 6.82,and the retailer discounted and got 90 cents. Of course there is nothing to stop the publisher putting a lower cover price on the book, and giving the author a better percentage – but I guess then it wouldn’t be Amazon’s fault.
A discount is NOT a right. Not for authors or publishers. Or readers. A fair cover price, now — I could argue about that.

Slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette’s authors’ books to Amazon customers, indicating that delivery will take as long as
several weeks on most titles.

Heh. This one is possibly the best piece of spin since the top. It’s a classic. 78 rpm I’d guess. Let’s try that real novelty, rational thought (putting aside the testimony from several Amazon supply centers, which we, and Hugh Howey and Konrath cited before) It’s a HUGE logistical task, Amazon supplying goods. There’s a distribution system with a massively complex computer algorithm orchestrating it, vast warehouses fulfilling it. Do you have any idea how hard it is to mess with that sort of system, so Amazon really HAVE the book but just sit on the order? Ask any programmer, what you’re talking about is slightly madder than an ostrich that’s lived in a mercury mine and has just read War and Peace after dropping acid. What this reflects is a reality: Amazon have simply not ordered the books for their warehouses. That’s the only way the system can not be compromised to the point that fixing it would cost a mint. Orders are filled when the publisher supplies the goods. Hachette – a wholesaler – COULD step up to the plate and spend real money making sure that every _retail_ order from Amazon was filled within minutes. It’d cost. Authors would not be hurt, but Hachette would bleed, because that kind of distribution system (as in what Amazon has, and Hachette does not -they’re a wholesaler)would actually cost a lot. Probably their profits. To protect their authors? Don’t be silly, there are lots more meat-heads. Next thing you’ll want them to contribute to fund for authors.

“As writers some but not all published by Hachette we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of
books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want.”

I guess they missed the recommendations for other sellers on the Amazon listing. But it’s the sort of logic I think Walter Breen and Bradley would have cheered for too. How dare any bookseller not have their favorite guide on how to use kiddies for neo-pagan gay sex rituals? No bookseller can just decide what they want to sell, after all. Booksellers do this and always have, and always will. I’ve been on the receiving end when Barnes and Noble decided they wouldn’t carry Rats Bats and Vats in Hardcover, and again with Dragon’s Ring. Amazon did.

“It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation.”

Let’s try and follow this one to logical end. It’s not right to single out a group… for selective retaliation – so therefore it would be fine if they punished ALL authors, even those whose publishers aren’t gaming the ‘discount’ system. That would be ‘right’? I suppose by Stockholm-syndrome logic it is. All traditional publishers shaft all authors with royalty rates at around 1/6 of Amazon does, but at least they’re not being unfair and selective… except of course they are, and you’ll find many of the big names signing this piece of drekk do get better deals. But yes, at least new authors and midlisters are equally shafted. Funny, that doesn’t make feel me any less like it needs more vaseline. A LOT more.

“Moreover, by inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery”

What? Oh you mean Amazon is ‘inconveniencing’ by giving them links to other sellers. Yes of course. That’s very inconsiderate. Like offering to pay the authors who lose sales. Unfair pricing? Huh? Oh you mean SELLING AT THE COVER PRICE. Very very very unfair. How could they… Oh oh. My Sarcometer just snapped. I shoulda bought a Bothas-batter-proof one, but I’ve been flat out like a lizard drinking making a living, and they’re too pricy for yer workin’ author.

My snorkel is too short for any more of this bullshit.

Look, here is a better perspective. I’ve signed it.

*where the sun don’t shine.

38 thoughts on “An Augean stable-letter

  1. It simply amazes me that Hachette seems to be spinning this, and its working with some people, that Amazon is wrong because they’re choosing not to give Hachette things they’re not actually required to give them.


    I mean, Amazon is a business, and anyone who thinks they’re not in it for profit is deluding themselves. Same as Hachette. The difference is, Amazon isn’t the one complaining about how someone else isn’t giving them exactly what they want.

    Anyone else want more proof that publishing is run by the special snowflakes?

    1. But, but, but WE’RE Special! Not like you smelly peasants that get chosen by readers. We got chosen by HACHETTE. We deserve more!

      That anyone is swallowing this bull is amazing… but they are.

      1. They are the Chosen Ones (TM).

        What’s amusing is how James Patterson is complaining about how Amazon is hurting authors. Um…you mean they’re taking a bite out of your $94 million per year salary? STFU, James, and go back to outlining your novels so someone else can write them.

        Meanwhile, there are a lot of us who are just going to keep writing our own books and try to earn a living without Hachette taking a huge chunk of the money.

    2. That’s because Amazon is a corporation, therefore evil, while Hachette is a corporation, therefore . . . er . . . noble? 😉

      1. Exactly.

        I’m trying to remember who pointed it out, but someone noted that it’s funny how Hachette, a French company, is accusing Amazon, an American company, of being un-American. Wha??? O.o

  2. I’ve had an issue with Hachette for a few years now. I have a few favourite authors there that I just don’t buy their books. It’s because I go to buy it on Amazon, and the paper book is CHEAPER

    1. Oops, hit an enter. I can’t understand why they believe that I’m going to pay more for a ebook that I can’t hold, can’t lend and can’t give away.

      To learn from this that Hachette doesn’t care about it’s authors doesn’t surprise me. I sent an email over a year ago asking them to explain how an ebook can cost more then a paper back. Never got a reply. Boo to Hatchette!

      1. Yes indeed. I ‘ve noticed that too.

        Classic examples are the continuations of Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion series. For sale from amazon uk at 6 pounds or there about in paperback with free shipping and for sale as an ebook anywhere at US$12.99 or more.

        The one thing I note here is that Hachette clearly have no leverage at all in this dispute which is why they are going public with their whine. I do wonder what the reduction in Amazon revenues is doing to their sales though, I can’t imagine that it’s nice and that this loss of revenue will eventually force them back to the table to sign whatever deal Amazon thinks they should sign.

        Amazon OTOH has absolutely no incentive to settle yet and so won’t. In fact from the persepctive of encouraging other publishers to agree to Amazon’s proposed terms Amazon has a significant incentive to make Hachette bleed and then grovel publicly

          1. Right that’s the original triology. She has sinec written 4? sequels that are not Baen books but published by orbit (I think – anyway definitely a Hachette imprint). Those are the ones that are cheaper to buy as UK paperbacks

      2. There was some guy who gave a presentation a few months ago about how publishers should be able to charge more for e-books than paper books because of the “convenience.” Yeah, ’cause it’s still 1999 and buying stuff off the internet is such novel experience that people are willing to pay extra just to say: “Hey! Look at what I bought off the internet!!!”

        Of course, Hachette’s not charging more for their e-books because of “convenience;” they’re charging more to force you to buy the paper book instead of the e-book. They still think that if they keep digging in their heels, the genie will go back in the bottle where it belongs..

  3. I’ve mentioned this before – but it is worth repeating.
    Amazon has a supply model. It doesn’t matter if you are selling socks or kitchen knives or… books. They need suppliers who can forward product quickly. They are not going to set aside space to store four skids of your best seller for you. They have razor thin margins and use their distribution system a certain way. If you can’t supply promptly and play their game why should they want you or lose money on you?
    I’d also ask the SFWA when they are going to EVENLY apply all those complaints to Barnes and Noble and other physical book sellers? Hmmm?

    1. SFWA have never ever voiced more than a murmur at the conduct of publishers, distributors and all other retailers but Amazon. As to why:it’s rather like why the raging feminists will attack the fellow who calls her a lady, but is silent when the Islamic fanatic calls her a whore for not covering her hair. There are consequences for attacking the rest. In fact there are consequences for not supporting their attack on Amazon, or at least crumbs for doing so.

  4. If I were an Amazon shareholder, and the board decided to give Hachette, S&S, McMillan, and the other big publishers everything they claim to need, I’d be demanding an explanation why the board is not doing it’s job for me, the shareholder, by trying to minimize costs and maximize income. Just like me, the indie author, looking at prices and distribution methods and trying to decide what price range and sales platform (Amazon, Gumroad, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N) will bring the best returns.

  5. The argument between Hachette and Amazon is BS, and so is much of Dave’s reply IMO.
    Amazon’s not the only publisher of books; if Hachette doesn’t like their model, don’t sell or market through Amazon. Simple.
    No author is forced to market their work through Hachette, or for that matter Amazon. We all have the option to pay for publication and then sell what we write; or set up a website and sell our writing in e-format ourselves.
    From this it follows that what’s really being argued, despite the soaring rhetoric, is a corporate tiff that really doesn’t affect us scribblers unless we choose to let it.
    I sell through Amazon because they have a huge market I can access, at a price. I’ve tried others, Apple, B&N, Kobo, and got nowhere because none of those publishers offers the tools to get my books noticed BEFORE I become ‘successful’, assuming I do.
    My arguments aren’t theoretical; one of my friends self-published his book and sold it through friends and local outlets. I suspect he lost money. I know of another fellow who’s written probably 20 books and markets them through Amazon but also through his own web site. I could do that too, if I chose to put in the work and invest a small amount of money.
    That’s really what it comes down to; as authors, we have choices.
    Hachette shouldn’t be able to control what you publish, unless you signed a contract giving them that right. More fool you. Amazon can’t control what you publish or where you publish it.
    For my part, let the corporate types fight it out. I’ll just keep scribblin’ and if I don’t like what happens when the dust settles, I’ll always have the option of self-publishing through my own web site.
    Cheap insurance for all of you: go start your own web site, have it ready ‘just-in-case’. I had a free site for a while, now I purchase the .com tag on my site for about $20 a year; for $99, I could get a different, presumably better, site with marketing tools from WordPress.
    You could too, and I’m sure there are other companies that will do the same for you, give you that outlet that you control. And for a few thousand, you could buy the servers and start your own company and sell the same product WordPress does.
    And all without worrying about how two corporate giants eventually settle their differences.

    1. I think self-pub through your own site only becomes a real option once you have a dedicated site following – you’d need about a thousand loyalists IMO, to concur with Peter grant on this. That said, a group site with a relatively small following – could still make a reasonable sales platform. Not lucrative, but survivable.

  6. “Botes-batter-proof” . . . Oh, MAN! Dave, you brought back memories I’d forgotten I had! 🙂

    For those of you who don’t get the South African reference, fear not. Thanks to the magic of YouTube:

    1. Ah, the humor of yester-year… On other totally unrelated topics – the jungle noise of the early Tarzan movies… is a recording of a kookaburra.

  7. Kristine Katherine Rusch has a ruuning theme in her The Business Rusch series opining the need (dare I say desperate need?) for authors to learn to think like businessmen. To pull their head out their artistic — cloudbank and understand the business they are engaged in.

    Watching the H/A showdown and seeing the authorial responses from the trad-pub crowd, you can see where she’s coming from. So very-very few understand the business models of publishers, distributors or retailers much less have any idea of how to formulate their own.

    The most important point I see? Authors, and now the SFWA, have made themselves publicly complicit in the public attempt to manipulate readers. Their customer, whether or not they’re smart enough to realize it. Folks don’t take kindly to such.

    As a reader and a wannabe author I find the authors and organizations coming out in support of Hachette to be silly nits at best, more likely disingenuous asses. Those feeling held over a barrel and forced to support their poor beleaguered publisher, for them I can feel some pity. But no more respect.

    As to Patterson, I’m with Tom, sit down and STFU. Your opinion in this boondoggle is offensive, particularly as you take such blatant steps to manipulate the readership. Arrogant ass.

    1. Authors are being used as cannon-fodder to try and stir sentiment against Amazon. And yes, that’s what Patterson comes across as. Poor garret-starving thing.

  8. Hang on a tick. Wasn’t part of what kicked off this whole thing because Hatchette couldn’t fulfil orders put in through Amazon reliably? I don’t blame the distributor when they can’t fill an order; it’s the supplier’s fault. (Case in point: I pre-ordered a signed special edition each of Jim Butcher’s Skin Game; and Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter Nemesis from Book Depository (coz, free shipping to Australia is good, I don’t pay the ‘wrong side of the world, suckers!’ insane shipping if I order through Amazon, and there are some books I like having in physical print) – both of which are supposedly released by Barnes and Noble, another distributor… well, I got Nemesis, but BD refunded me on Skin Game. I figured they ran out stateside of the signed edition, sighed and ordered the normal hardback for two or three AUD cheaper.)

    Also, I’ve noticed lately that Amazon’s been putting “This price is set by the publisher” next to really high prices, so it’s not as if the point is quietly being made as well!

    1. IIRC Amazon started that after the Big Five & Apple forced Amazon to use their prices not the price Amazon would prefer to use.

    2. I noticed the ‘this price is set by the publisher too. Methinks Amazon are letting the publisher get hoist by their own petard. Yeah, BD is pretty neat. Oz retail book prices have IMO near destroyed reading, even in a fairly affluent country. When a paperback costs more than a beer and a pie – you’re too expensive.

      1. Yeah, which… sucks, honestly. I ran into a bundle of 3 books by an Aussie author named Greig Beck (Beneath The Dark Ice, This Green Hell, Valkeryn) in Target’s bargain bin for 5 AUD, and I had fun with his books in the same way I enjoy Matthew Reilly’s – though he has more of a horror bent than Reilly’s heart-pumping race of action. I couldn’t find any of Beck’s books though, till Book Depository brought them out … at 20 AUD or so for a trade paperback; his publisher is Pan Australia. I remember when the trade paperback size cost like $13-$17, and every time I go into a bookstore and see prices like those, I hesitate because “Hmmm. I could buy that, or buy a nice big roast to feed my family for two meals.”

        BD’s free shipping gets me more customer time than Amazon because I still prefer physical books over ebooks most of the time, but I think the US tax and export laws keep that from happening.

        But geez, the publisher’s cost per book… yeah, we end up buying BD over brick and mortar most of the time because of the price tag.

        I’d heard from a local self publisher who was offered a book deal by one of those trad publishers with a bird for a name (It wasn’t Bantam though) and that person, if he took the deal, was going to lose copyright of the work and characters, especially if they land movie or tv deals, be paid ‘fsck all percent’, for the privilege of having the books on shelves. Unsurprisingly, ‘no.’

  9. And in today’s WashPost, here’s Amazon’s latest offer to authors affected by the fight with Hachette:

    “If Hachette agrees, for as long as this dispute lasts, Hachette authors would get 100 percent of the sales price of every Hachette e-book we sell,” Amazon said in a letter sent to authors and literary agents. “Both Amazon and Hachette would forego all revenue and profit from the sale of every e-book until an agreement is reached.”

    1. I think that Amazon knows just as well as you and I that Hachette will never agree to that.

    2. heh. Boy that’s a cleft stick and a half. And a tactical win for Amazon. It’s hard to say Amazon is being mean to Authors. Impossible for the publishers to accept, as they really really really really do NOT want authors to get a handle on how much money they the publishers are making from each book, and they probably don’t want authors to see real sales numbers either. If they did I think it’d be if not game over for Hachette – and all the others like Dominos, it would force a major re-organization of who got what in terms of royalties, or a lot of authors would walk.. And the authors are in a hard place too, because if they accept, well their publisher is unlikely to be forgiving. And if the authors don’t accept – it’s very hard for them to claim they’re collateral damage being hurt financially…

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