There are times . . .
When I wonder if I’ve been transported to an alternate universe where common sense and the ability to think and reason for oneself no longer exists. That’s especially true when it comes to what is happening in the publishing industry right now. Or maybe I’m just tired of the attacks on people I respect and care about simply because they dare to speak out against the “company” line. Whatever it is, I’m ready to wake up and find out that those with a clue are in charge (and no, I’m not foolish enough to think that will happen in the political arena. I’m talking publishing here). Unfortunately, it isn’t going to happen any time soon.
For those of you who saw my post over at According to Hoyt yesterday, this is a sort-of follow on. You can check out that post here. Maybe I’m overly cranky because of personal demands that have kept me away from the house too much each day and have left me emotionally drained. Maybe it’s because there are folks out there who are calling all of MGC, as well as others I care about fascists just because we don’t kowtow to the idea that men are evil and glitter is good. Or maybe I’m just tired of authors who ought to know better attacking Amazon, saying it is purposefully hurting them in its “heavy handed” tactics in its negotiations with Hatchette.
So, what is the first piece of insanity to drive me up a wall? This article from Salon is as good of a place to start as any. In it, the author suggests that we ought to nationalize both Amazon and Google because 1) they’re large, 2) they’re ruthless and 3) they touch every aspect of our lives. He’d really like it if we treated these two corporations like public utilities. Oookay, that’s worked sooo well and is why, at least here in Texas, we can now choose what electric company to go with. Sorry, when folks start saying we ought to nationalize a company because it is successful makes me squirm and I look around to see if Wesley Mooch or Dr. Ferris or Jim Taggart are anywhere around. If they are, I am most definitely going out and looking for John Galt.
This comment says so much: “Amazon’s war on publishers like Hachette is another sign of Big Tech arrogance.”
First of all, where is the war? Oh, could it be when the publishers decided they didn’t like Amazon paying them for e-books and then selling said e-books at a loss? Why would the publishers dislike that? They still got paid. That wasn’t good enough. The publishers said the $9.99 price point devalued the e-books. Funny, those same publishers didn’t have any qualms double-dipping against their authors, claiming at one time that a book that had already been edited, copy edited, proofed, etc., had to have it done again when converting to digital format. They convinced authors that it cost them soooo much more to make their e-books available. That’s why royalties couldn’t be any higher. Finally, e-book royalties increased some but are still heavily weighted to the publisher’s benefit. Yet, Amazon is the enemy.
Or maybe the opening salvo of the war came with agency pricing. But wait, Amazon didn’t do that. Apple and five of the big six publishers did. Funny thing, even though the collusian at the heart of that action violated state and federal law and yet the Amazon haters have no problem with it. In fact, they embrace it and attack the Department of Justice for actually doing its job. Because, duh, Amazon is evil.
Perhaps the battle didn’t start until now, with the Hatchette negotiations. Let’s see, Amazon is playing hard ball and hurting authors by taking away the pre-order buttons. Hmm. Okay, I’ll admit that authors are the ultimate victims with that but that isn’t by Amazon’s choice. They aren’t buying the books from the authors. They are buying them from Hatchette. They can do so because they have, or had, a contract with Hatchette that allowed them to dos. But all contracts, if they are legally binding, have an end date. That includes this particular contract. When that contract is no longer in effect, Amazon has no legal right to continue selling Hatchette’s books. Sure, as long as Hatchette doesn’t mind, it can do so but why would it?
The more important question is why would it risk the ire of its customers by allowing pre-orders of books that it might not have the right to sell, or the ability to fulfill the pre-orders for, by the time said books are released? Unfortunately, that sort of logic seems to elude the Amazon haters, just as they see nothing wrong with Hatchette turning down at least two proposals by Amazon to set up funds, to be equally funded by Amazon and Hatchette, to assist authors who are being impacted by the continuing negotiations. I guess that, because Amazon suggested it, it must be evil.
So, instead of looking at what sort of business practices a publisher engages in — and does anyone really believe the sales numbers they report via BookScan? — we must wage war on Amazon. Now, before you go saying that I’m being naive, I know Amazon isn’t angelic. But it also isn’t nearly as bad as its detractors would have us believe. Remember, it isn’t the only online seller to remove buy buttons. But no one is talking about when Barnes & Noble did so. Hmmmm. Also, if we are here to protect the author, why aren’t there cries of outrage because Barnes & Noble and other stores refuse to stock books distributed by Amazon’s imprints? Oh, I know, those authors are turncoats and mustn’t be rewarded for staying in the enemy camp. Funny, am I the only one to see a double standard here?
Then there’s this video being passed around, almost as if it’s gospel. The problem is, it isn’t anything more than a spoof, at best, to demonstrate how poorly Hatchette authors are being treated by Amazon. Frankly, all it did for me was impact my respect for Dick Cavette and not in a positive manner. From the opening comments, and visuals, it is clear this is an attack on Amazon. The only thing they get right in the half of the video I watched before I had to turn it off or toss the laptop across the room is that Amazon isn’t really talking about the contract negotiations. Well, guess what, all you Amazon haters, neither is Hatchette. Why? Because it is a contract negotiation. Those aren’t usually played out in public. Oh, sure, Hatchette “insiders” who are called “people close to the source” and other fun euphemisms tell us what they want us to know — and isn’t it odd that all they tell us is how evil Amazon is and not what they are asking for in return?
Something else we aren’t hearing from Hatchette is the fact that this negotiation has come about for two reasons: it was the first of the publishers to push through an agency model pricing contract with Amazon and that contract was voided as part of the agreement not to go to trial with the Justice Department. So, if Amazon is playing hard ball after their assertions that the agency pricing model as it existed came about through illegal means, can you really blame them? Or do you believe the publishers would take the high road if their roles were reversed?
I’m not a big fan of the Author’s Guild, as anyone familiar with this blog knows. That wasn’t helped when I saw an article where the president of the Guild told Amazon that the Guild would not support Amazon’s offer ” to immediately begin offering the delayed books again and give its share of Hachette digital book sales to the authors for the duration of the dispute — if the publisher would also forgo its share of the revenue.” However, I do understand part of the Guild’s concerns. As Guild president Roxana Robinson said, the offer would require the authors to take Amazon’s side against their publisher. The text between the lines is that, by agreeing to the offer, the authors face retaliation from Hatchette in the form of no more contracts. For those authors who still believe traditional publishing is the only real way to publish, that would be a death sentence.
My issue with the statement is that there is really no push back against Hatchette. Worse, there is at least some language from Robinson that indicates she wouldn’t be too terribly upset if the government were to step in and do something to make sure Amazon no longer ruled the market. When folks start talking about government intervention into a successful company just because it’s successful, I start wondering just how far that person is willing to go to protect their dying company/industry to the detriment of others.
Finally, Amazon has broken at least some of its silence and has reached out to Hatchette authors. You can see its letter and Joe Konrath’s response here. Note a few things, according to Amazon and — to my knowledge — Hatchette hasn’t denied:
1. Amazon reached out to Hatchette in January about the contract that would soon be expiring and Hatchette didn’t respond.
2. When the contract expired in March, Amazon extended the terms and once again reached out to Hatchette. Once again, Hatchette didn’t respond.
3. It was only when Amazon finally removed the pre-order buttons and stopped keeping large stock of Hatchette titles on hand in April that Hatchette responded and most of that was whining in public to the media and its authors about how mean and evil Amazon is.
I’ll let you read the rest of Konrath’s post but I agree with him on one thing — Hatchette is trying to drag the negotiations out until September when it can try to reimpose agency pricing on Amazon. This has nothing to do with taking care of its authors and everything to do with maximizing Hatchette’s profits. But that’s okay, at least in the eyes of some folks, because everyone but Amazon can make profits and step on the little guy. In this case, the little guy are all the authors who are getting screwed, not by Amazon but by Hatchette because it is Hatchette that continues to refuse to agree to any deal to help recompense their authors while contract negotiations continue.
And folks wonder why I’m tired of most traditional publishing and those who parrot the stance of the Big Five without stopping to consider just what the impact will be if their publishers get what they want.
Now I’m going to find a cup of coffee, breakfast and get to work on everything that has piled up over the last month of emergency followed by obligation followed by emergency.
Edited to add the following:
There is now a “new player” that is being touted as having struck a blow against Amazon. HarperCollins has now launched its own webstore. You read that right, how many years after Amazon began and B&N started selling online, a major publisher has launched a webstore. Wow, how revolutionary — not. Worse, when you go to the site, you are presented with promises of certain books offering 15% off the title plus free shipping and 20% off the ebook. Sounds good. But when you follow the link to the product page you are presented the title at what looks like full price (Stephanie Evanovich’s book comes in at $26.99) and UPS ground shipping of $7.99 and there is nothing on the buy page about the e-book. Now, maybe if I’d taken time to fill out all my particulars, including payment information, I’d have seen the discount, but sorry, that ain’t gonna happen. Unless I know I’m buying something, a site isn’t getting my address and credit card number.
Scrolling down to see the other dozen or so books featured on the home page I notice something else — there are no prices listed. Not a single one. Yeah, that’s really going to be a winning point in the battle against Amazon.
Maybe if the publishers would get a clue and actually analyze what it is that people like about Amazon, including layout and design, maybe they’d come closer to actually being able to imitate what Amazon is doing.