Advice for writers

Amazon vs Hachette – Hypocrisy & Arrogance

Truth in Publishing

You are probably familiar with the ongoing contractual row between Hachette and Amazon.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a contract between these two corporate giant was due to expire in March. Apparently Amazon contacted Hachette at the start of January to discuss terms for this contract.

“We heard nothing from them for three full months,” Amazon has reported. This is typical of big publishers. They live in a Victorian world where keeping authors and book sellers waiting, as they are the dictators of key terms, is the standard way to do business. Arrogance is what I call it. But the tide may be turning. A letter in support of Hachette by James Patterson and other top tier authors has been countered by an opposing letter organised by Hugh Howey.

While not wanting to add to the fire, I wish simply to point out that arrogance and hypocrisy are not attractive qualities.

This dispute is a moment of change for our industry. The main people who benefit from the publishing industry, apart from publishers and their shareholder, whose profits are going up, are the top selling authors, such as James Patterson, who has created an industry based on a brand and books which he does not himself write. Meanwhile mid tier authors, whose ebooks are priced high do not sell nearly as well.

How badly most authors do out of the current, mainly traditional publishing model, is reflected in the 29% drop in average UK author incomes since 2005, as reported in the Guardian recently. To say traditional publishers are defenders of authors seems to reflect a victim culture and willingness to accept the crumbs from the publishers table with gratitude, as authors have had to do for a very long time.

In that open letter to readers by top authors Amazon is accused that it “directly targeted Hachette’s authors in an effort to force their publisher to agree to its terms.”

This is willfully misleading. Amazon has in fact offered to compensate authors for any damage they suffer. They most recently offered to give these authors 100% of the revenue from their ebooks. However, this offer looks to me like a distraction. Few are likely to take it up, but it does illustrate the deep nature of this dispute and the entrenchment on both sides.

The elite authors also accuse Amazon of “Boycotting Hachette authors, by refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette’s authors’ books, claiming they are “unavailable.”

It seems they do not understand the word boycott. All books by all Hachette authors are available on the Amazon store. Amazon have simply stopped including a pre-order button for Hachette titles. Amazon are a retailer. They have a right to decide how they sell books.

So how are these authors hypocrites?

These fat-cat authors also claim that “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.”

This is 100% pure self-serving hypocrisy. There is no boycott, simply a lack of pre-order buttons. And no self published author gets a pre-order button, yet I have never heard a fat cat author complain about that. And Amazon-published titles – self published titles in paperback – are actually boycotted by Barnes & Noble and by many book shops.

Thousands of self-published authors face this real boycott. A total boycott, a refusal to stock books written by self published authors, because the book shop buyer doesn’t like that they are published by Amazon, not a traditional publisher and they also face a refusal by Amazon to place pre-order buttons on their books. Many of these self published titles are popular and of a high quality.

We have never heard these top tier authors complain about these real boycotts. But now, as the industry which selected them is under financial pressure, they seek to complain about the lack of a pre-order button on their own titles? Poor things!

I am traditionally published by Harper Collins and I have self published too. And I cannot abide hypocrisy, especially of the self serving kind. I think all authors should be asked to stand up and support the right of Amazon to set prices as it wishes and for the wealthy mega author brands to look into their hearts and accept that fear of change is no reason to loose their moral compass.

I also call on Amazon to install pre-order buttons for all indie authors who have previously published a book on Amazon, which has been delivered successfully to over 100 readers.

Now that would level the playing field a little. But I doubt if the top tier of authors will send a letter to Amazon about that.



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