In Which Amazon Calls You To Defend The Realm


Listen, I don’t know what the fuck is going on, because our toddler was awake until approximately blarp o’clock last night and I can barely see through the sleep still desperately clinging to my eyeballs, but I’m pretty sure — though it may be a hallucination! — that last night Amazon wrote me, a KDP author-publisher, to get me to… I think ding-dong-ditch Hachette? Maybe prank phone call them? Pull down Hachette authors’ pants? Give them a swirly?

They have posted this at readersunited.com.

We’re at a point in this struggle where things just got really goofy.

Okay, more seriously, what Amazon is basically saying is, “We think e-book prices are crummy at $14.99 and make money at $9.99, and we’re probably not going to show you all our data like how well books sell at $10.39 or $11.99 or $12.49 or any of that, and big publishers are enemies of e-books and hey! You’re a self-published author, so you have e-books for sale, so this concerns you, so we’re gonna ask you to email the Hachette CEO and oh, also copy us on the email. P.S. Something-something WWII and out-of-context George Orwell.”

Then they set up that Readers United page.

I continue to want to believe this is a joke.

Like maybe they got hacked?

Because this feels particularly cuckoo bananapants.

No. You know what? I’m gonna upgrade this to ludicrous coyote-pants.

That’s how bewildered I am by this mail.

Okay, so.

First and most importantly, is anybody else tired of this? The Amazon-Hachette shit-show? It’s like watching two trucks crash into each other from in the middle of the collision. It’s like a game of chicken where nobody wins. (If anybody thinks I don’t have enough ‘balance’ here, I also think the NYT “900 Authors Are Standing Sadly By Their Sad Shacks Because Amazon Keeps Stealing Their Juice Boxes” article is half-a-bag-of-nonsense, too. It reads like an advertisement written for or at least paid for by Authors United, which is a group that I’m pretty sure hasn’t united for most authors and hasn’t yet fought for anything — far as I can tell — that affects me, an author. Amazon has every right to not sell their books, just as bookstores have every right to not sell my Amazon imprint books. It’s unfortunate, and I hate that authors are ever used as leverage, but it’s not a boycott, not illegal, not bullying. It’s a giant company being a giant company. And taking out big giant anti-Amazon ads? GOD PLEASE STOP. End of rant.)

The bigger issue here is, for Amazon, this looks embarrassing. It’s a cheapy tactic meant to drum up support from a group of people who don’t really have a huge dog in this fight — this is a fight with traditional publishing about traditional publishing. The only thing KDP authors know is that they’re artificially wrangled into a price box ($2.99 to $9.99) and don’t have access to a whole lot of levers and buttons and data inside Amazon. And yet, King Amazon is asking the serfs to pick up sharpened shovels and become knights for the realm. Which is weird, right? Am I wrongheaded in thinking that’s weird? I’m happy to hear your thoughts.

God, maybe the Amazon Books Team is a sentient AI.

Maybe it’s like SkyNet, but instead of destroying the world it just wants to rant about e-books.

I think I’d rather SkyNet as long as our destruction means we can stop talking about this.

I mean, emailing a CEO and then… copying them? That’s a tactic your crummy middle manager boss would use when trying to bully a supplier. “Okay, okay. You email Dave over at Office World, and you tell him we have noticed your illegal collusion on paper clips, Daaaaave, and tell him we don’t care for it one bit, no sir. You know what? You copy me on that email. Yeah, yeah, copy me. He’ll know. He’ll know what he did when he sees you copied me.”

Ugh.

So.

*blink blink blink*

I haven’t even had my coffee yet, Amazon, jeez.

Some individual point-by-point, poke-by-poke:

We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market — e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Okay. Great. I’m half with you. But really, let’s see all the data. And let’s also remember that there are still costs sunk into e-books. They’re not made of unicorn dreams. Further, can somebody confirm that there’s really nothing else on the table here besides e-book pricing? Nothing about POD out-of-print? Nothing about other services?

If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

This already happens with KDP. Amazon seems to continue to think KDP authors are lesser, because it’s basically ignoring their presence in the marketplace while at the same time asking them to turn plowshares to swords against Hachette.

KDP author-publishers are filling that low-cost paperback realm.

They should get a parade, not propaganda to hand out at Book Prom.

For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

We already talked about this. Go read Scalzi.

Also, let me echo: I wanna see data across all the price points.

I want to make an informed decision, not one based on cherry-picked data.

Then, I will price my own books accordingly, and not care one whit how Hachette prices theirs.

Again: this is an email to KDP authors. So how does this help them?

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.

Fine! So stop selling them, already. Just shut up about it and pull the trigger. Be mercenary.

Don’t ask me to be your mercenary. It covers me in an oily uncomfortable film.

(Though that may just be my body’s natural morning unguent.)

Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle.

Translation: we have made three separate offers that entrenched Hachette authors right in the uncomfortable middle. Here’s an offer: “If you pay me fifty dollars, I will give this puppy a popsicle. If you don’t pay me the fifty dollars, I will punch this puppy and eat the popsicle noisily in front of it.” The offers were basically — dear publishers, cut your own hamstrings and your authors will be happy. But you can’t, so they won’t, so now they’ll hate you MOO HOO HA HA.” *strokes hairless cat in a sinister fashion*

If Amazon wants to make friendy-friends with Hachette authors: return their books to sale.

WHAT WONDERFUL SORCERY THAT WOULD BE.

Their final points, from the letter, below:

We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.

OKAY, ROBOCOP. How many seconds do we have to comply?

Lowering e-book prices will help — not hurt — the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.

Great. Probably? Let Hachette price itself out of existence, then. Let the market find the proper e-book price. This is all pretty new, you’ll remember — maybe it’s not $9.99. Maybe it’s $10.99. Or $7.99, like the old paperbacks. We’ll figure it out. The e-book snakes are way, way, way out of the can. They ain’t going back in. Relax. (And again: can we confirm that this is 100% about prices? And that there’s nothing else going on here?)

Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.

Says Amazon as it loads KDP authors into the catapult and flings them against the walls of NYC publishing. Casually wiping their greasy stains off the battlements, hoping nobody will notice.

Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Authors aren’t united on anything. Why would they be? We work from home. Alone. We can maaaaaybe agree that pants are a tool of the oppressors and that we subsist on various liquids (tea, coffee, whiskey, the tears of our readers). Why do we have to be united? Can’t we all just be ronin ninja without clan? (“Will there be meetings?” “No meetings.) I’m not your army, okay? What’s with the agitprop? I’m not your proselyte. I’m not your soldier.

Listen.

I like cheaper e-books.

I think Amazon has done awesome things.

I think publishers have done awesome things.

I think Amazon and publishers have done shitty, exploitative, or sometimes just silly things.

I do not think that self-published authors have a dog in this fight (outside the fact that maybe they should start asking when they as a force get to start petitioning Amazon for changes).

I think if you want cheaper e-books you should vote with your dollar.

don’t think that emailing the CEO of a huge publisher involved in a dispute with a titanic retailer/distributor is a good way to do anything but scream noise and gibberish into the world — sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I don’t really appreciate the email KDP just sent me. I think it’s tacky. If they keep trying to involve me in this — and if they can’t be quiet about it — I’m going to take my KDP books off of Amazon and sell them through other avenues. I don’t want to do that because I make okay money there. And I got a kid to feed. But we’re swiftly approaching bridge too far territory. I honestly don’t know which dog or which pony is leading this wagon train — if all the blog posts lauding Amazon were urged by Amazon in the first place, or if Amazon has seen those and has figured out it can capitalize on that adoration, but really, it’s growing tiresome. It looks cheap and weak.

Amazon: you’re not weak.

You’re the world’s biggest retailer.

And hey! You deserve it. You owned that space.

So maybe start acting like it.

Leave your business to your business.

Stop spilling it into the laps of readers, customers, and now, KDP authors.

Meanwhile, the phrase that keeps going through my head is:

Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy.

“Not my circus. Not my monkeys.”


217 responses to “In Which Amazon Calls You To Defend The Realm”

  1. I emailed KDP to say that I do not appreciate being used as pawn in a fight that I don’t give a shit about.

    We do not owe Amazon anything. Even if you’ve sold well, you’ve paid them 30% of your sales. End.Of.

  2. I was really pissed to get this email.

    Just last month, Amazon told me that I was a second-class citizen. They told me that because I’m not traditionally published or because I’m not special like Hugh Howey, then I can only be in Kindle Unlimited if I go Amazon-exclusive. And even then, I don’t get the 60% of the list price those special people are getting per borrow. Instead, I’m only getting a fraction of an arbitrary fund decided on by Amazon.

    Now they want me to go to bat for them?

    Yeah, no. Offer me the same deal you’ve offered traditional publishers, then I’ll consider it. Until then, fight your own battles. I’m not going to hold your dick while you engage in a pissing match with Hachette.

  3. I’d venture that to most folks – readers and writers – this whole situation is supremely confusing. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on it, it’s time to move forward to another trench, based on minimal visible information.

    I don’t even know which side I’m supposed to be on.

    Come the last day (“A sword day, a red day”) it’s starting to feel like it’ll be like any number of political situations: whatever happens will be decided by the muckety-mucks at the top of the towers regardless of all the calls to arms and rallying cries echoing down to we mere plebs.

    • “I don’t even know which side I’m supposed to be on.”

      Yours.

      Your own.

      Maaaaaaybe other authors, but that gets into weird territory. Because, as noted, authors are not united, or something. WHO RULES PUBLISHTOWN. MASTER AMAZON RULES PUBLISHTOWN.

      I dunno. I’m tired. DON’T LOOK AT ME.

      Point is —

      Any big company asking for your allegiance without paying big for it is seriously fucking weird.

      — c.

  4. There is only one place for an email like this. Delete button, circular file, flush, and flush again. You are right, it is so much corporate bulls**t. Some poor middle manager call a call in the middle of the night from CEO, or CFO, or someone else who traded in his physical “O’s” for a seven figure income and an “O” at the end of their title. He was treated to a rain of threats of hell and nine different types of demons coming at him while the poor guy was half asleep. After losing the contents of his bowels, he got up, while his wife complained about him turning on the light and the smell in the bed, and wrote the stupidest email ever. Unfortunately, he hit the send button. He needn’t report to work on Monday after the other “O”‘s sees this this cluster you know what.

    The only reason to care is that it give authors a good heads up as to how the corporate types lose their cookies, thereby supplying valuable intel on when someone else might wedge their way into the expanding and lucrative e-book market.

    • Interesting that this email landed on Friday night — someone on Twitter reminded me that this is classic “dead news cycle” time. Hrm. Probably smart, actually — bloggers and forumites can hover over it before the news talks it up come Monday?

      • Chuck, having worked in the print news industry, I can nearly guarantee, by the timing of the email that it will not see the light of day in traditional news. Not that the online community won’t have its say. News outlets are still focusing on U.S. bombings in Iraq, so they won’t be talking about the stink bomb Amazon dropped.

        If anything, an email this stupid would adversely affect the stock price of Amazon. Investors hate it when a company acts jittery.

  5. LOL! When I forwarded you my copy, I’d forgotten you were also KDP published. EVEN THOUGH I’D PURCHASED SOME OF THOSE VERY BOOKS. I blame lack of caffeine.

    And totally agree with you.

  6. Hang on. I read somewhere that this whole dispute arose because Amazon wanted 50% commission instead of 30. If that is the case, then their accusations of greed ring hollow, especially based on the numbers in that letter. A 9.99 ebook at 50% actually makes them more than a 14.99 ebook at 30%. The ONLY people making a loss at that point are Hachette. In that scenario Amazon haven’t altruistically saved people money by being the good guy, they’ve just used their clout to bully Hatchette into making less.

    As you say, the market should be deciding if Hachette need to lower their prices. This is just Amazon wanting to make more money faster. They don’t give the first shite about the consumer.*

    *This is based on the assumption that the commission thing is true. If it isn’t then… what exactly is it that Amazon want that Hachette aren’t willing to give?

    • You may have read one of my commentaries, written when this hoo-rah first started. I suggested that, since 50/50 was the split before the agency model, Amazon might be trying to go back to that instead of the 70/30. Since then, Amazon has repeated several times data based on the 70/30 model, but I will await the outcome before I take that at face value. However, I’ll now add that what seems to be peering through the lines now is that Hachette wants to continue the part of the agency model that denies Amazon the right to discount cover prices.

      It’s nice to say we small publishers and DIYers don’t have a dog in this hunt, but we do. It’s a given that if the revenue split is still one of the talking points, whatever is finally decided is going to flow down to us. Which is, in my opinion, another reason why I constrain myself to discussing only what I know about the ebook business and how Amazon has dealt with it.

  7. I thought this was very tacky, to the point I thought it was a joke. But it appears to be real.

    If it’s real, and I’m not 100% on that yet, then we should be pissed. We little slaves who have to do whatever Amazon says without any negotiation power, are asked to help them against Hachette.

    I understand what Amazon is doing with regard to Hachette, and I agree with them, but in the end it affects me not one twit. It’s two 800 pound gorillas fighting it out on behalf of their shareholders. It’s not about authors, it’s about two giant corporations trying to make as much money as they can.

    I read the article in the NY Times you referenced, and read Preston’s whining. But doesn’t he understand it’s not about him? I suggested in a comment to that article that the authors at Hachette were no different that laborers at a factory when it comes layoff time. He asked if there was no loyalty anymore. No! If Hachette thought they could add five cents to their bottom line by ditching him, they would.

    So, here comes Amazon asking the serfs to complain to one of the kings with respect to a war that doesn’t affect them. Maybe they should send an email to all their customers. Those are the people affected, not us lowly KDP slaves. That’s one reason I think it may be a hoax.

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind being a KDP slave. Where else am I going to sell my ebooks? (although their algorithm has buried my book). On my website that is buried by Google’s algorithm? No, I’ll stick with Amazon no matter what (more or less), but I’m not going to embarrass myself by getting in the middle of this. I have no stake in it. I wouldn’t buy a $14.99 ebook anyway.

    • I am a lowly, used book store, library using, reader. (ahem). Poor and lowly though, I was considering e – books for the first time to experience writers my library won’t carry and used book store doesn’t have. (Thanks to Chuck W, who has intrigued me on this subject.) And how did I find him? Comments he made on Twitter about something else entirely! All this poor (monetarily) person wishes to add here is, I have been educated, now, somewhat, and I want to make sure I pay what your hard work is worth! After all I cannot own your work (ebook) and put it lovingly on my shelf. What, then, am I willing to pay to “take you for a test spin” and see if it’s love? Or not? Hm. I cannot answer that. Not yet. But thanks and do keep educating me because I am interested in helping YOU!

  8. You did an excellent job at dissecting that pathetic attempt to mind-meld Amazon’s database of self publishing authors into being their attack dogs. I read it this morning (half asleep) and wondered at first if it was some sort of scam e-mail (that somehow by opening it I’d be signing away to Amazon the right to sell all my reusable parts including my eyes though clearly not my brain because it’s dead). It is a sick joke. I think it’s a scary symptom that the company might actually be too big for it’s own good (too big as in common sense is no longer recognised and is ignored by the all knowing ones at the top).

    • Sadly, judging by the response on KBoards, I think there are a lot of self-published authors more than willing to be Amazon’s attack dogs. Ironically enough, these are the same people who accused traditionally-published authors of being victims of Stockholm syndrome.

  9. Didn’t like that email either. It was embarrasing. The kind of thing a self-published author who didn’t know better would write, (says the self-published author.) Yo amazon, I’m not your huckleberry.

  10. “pants are a tool of the oppressors and that we subsist on various liquids (tea, coffee, whiskey, the tears of our readers)”

    This. I’m still in the writing, want to someday be published somehow stage. I am so freaking confused. Thanks for your posts!

  11. As ever, appreciate your thoughts. For me, the money graf was this “I do not think that self-published authors have a dog in this fight (outside the fact that maybe they should start asking when they as a force get to start petitioning Amazon for changes).” – If the one thing that comes out of all these tumults and wrangling is the emergence of an authors association that is worthy of the name, this whole mess will have been worthwhile. It’s an idea whose time has come, IMO.

  12. I’m tired of corporations with big pockets telling me how they are going to help out the little guy. I haven’t seen much of that on either side. Show me the money.

    Props for showcasing one of the best movies ever, Chuck.

  13. Chuck,

    I agree with most of your thoughts. However, I think Amazon should NOT return Hatchettes titles to normal on sale status. I think they should grow a pair and drop them from the website altogether. Enough of all this posturing bull shit. Do something drastic. That would send a clear enough message to Hatchette and the remaining big publishers who are waiting in line to do the same thing. Think Hatchett could ignore that move?

    Or do return them to their normal for sale status and just not forward Hatchette their cut. When they come looking just remind them they don’t have a current contract in place that tells them where, when, or how much they are to pay Hatchette so until they do, they are just going to hold onto it. That would at least be an entertaining development to this story.

    • The problem with that is the only people who really lose out there are the authors caught in the middle. Just like they lost out a couple of years ago when Simon and Schuster had a pissing match with Barnes and Noble, and a couple of years before that when it was Macmillan against Amazon. Trust me, I saw quite a few authors’ careers absolutely ruined when their books weren’t available for sale. Amazon and the Big 5 can all shrug off the losses from these disputes, but the authors can’t. And they are the ones who aren’t to blame in any way.

      • A note here: Hachette has laid people off due to this dispute, so I’m not sure they’re exactly shrugging it off.

      • That’s very true but it seems they are suffering anyway. Maybe if some drastic measures were taken, by one side or the other, the dispute would end faster and stop the suffering instead of drawing it out.

        • The assumption is that both sides have something to lose, because otherwise: they’d do exactly that. Presumably a compromise is in the middle. Hopefully they find it. Otherwise, this is gonna be a long winter.

  14. I don’t have a big dog in this fight. I don’t have a little dog in this fight. I don’t have any dog in this fight.

    But if Amazon wanted me to click my heels and start saluting jawohl, they would give me more of my teeny tiny profits instead of “holding them back, just in case, you know, like you’re one of those people who doesn’t want to pay your taxes. So here’s 6c profit on your $1 ebook. Maybe when you price higher, we’ll hold back less. Or more. We won’t know until then.” So fuck Amazon. They have no moral high ground here. They think they do, and they’re thumping it hard, but they don’t.

    Also, graphics. I don’t so much as roll over in bed for Courier 10pt. You want me out of my chair, Amazon? I need better propaganda than this. That email was just lazy and minimal effort.

  15. You nailed every sentiment and thought I had about this email from the Zon. The fact that I’m disappointed as well as appalled doesn’t begin to cover it; however, it does serve as a huge wake-up call for me. I’ve gotten a little too enamored with the Zon, and this correspondence turned that right around because I don’t work for the “man” anymore; I work for me, and me, alone.

    I had a PR director who would say, ‘it’s not our horse,’ usually during one of my rants about some f*ck-up that one of our coworkers had committed. ‘It’s not our horse’ always brought me back down to reality and provided considerable focus.

    “No dog in this fight.”
    “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.”
    “Not our horse.”

    All of these work providing much-needed clarity. Thank you for your post. Nicely done!

  16. Thank you for posting this, chuck. I literally threw up in my mouth when I read my email and succinctly upchucked my coffee ( I got more now) after giving it some thought. I’ve been considering some of my material on KDP, even forgoing traditional publishing on my series I’m querying, but now. Fuck that. No way am I going to show any kind of support for a company who is going to act like a baby who just found out that the tits have no more milk and is still very hungry and also has diaper rash and all we do is make goo goo noises at it. I’m sorry but I haven’t even published with them and I’m supposed to support you in a piss and shit game? They haven’t even tried to prove that their facts are right and threw context less data and history in our face like ninja smoke. I feel harrassed, and sorta mind raped, and I doubt I’ll be casting amazon a second look unless its to buy stuff. Like Chuck Wendig books! I wouldn’t care if I had to buy those from the Nazis.

  17. I’ve said it before, I’ve said it again. Amazon needs to act like a fucking business, let Hachette act like a fucking business, and just let Hachette touch the stove. Hachette will learn that we don’t like higher e-book prices and adjust accordingly. We don’t need Amazon “protecting” us. Right now, Amazon just went from looking like the rational one, to reinforcing alllll of Hachette (and other trad pubs’) claims that they’re the evil empire.

    FFS, Amazon AND Hachette, ACT LIKE BUSINESSES. Quit acting like high schoolers who are in desperate need of getting laid. UGH. I’m sick of BOTH of them now.

    • “Seems to back up what Amazon has been saying on eBook price points.”

      It’s not really relevant, though, is it? Let publishers publish at whatever price they like. If we don’t like the price, we’ll buy something else. There are authors I’d pay 19.99 for and others I wouldn’t pay 1.99 for. Different books have different value, and those aren’t really related to how much they cost to produce. They’re related to how great the book is.

      • This! The value of the story, of the writing. Amazon can talk about “unjustifiable” pricing, and I think, “Wow, have they never read a really great book?”

        There are reasonable prices and unreasonable ones based on market conditions, consumers’s willingness and ability to pay, and a whole bunch of complicated things that I considered when setting my book’s prices and then happily flushed from my mind. And as you said, production cost had little to do with the ebook equation. Merchant & distributor percentages, yes, and implied quality/value were the main factors.

    • I think it’s interesting and suggestive of some things we’ve suspected, and I also think it’s data limited by scope and gathered in a secondary manner which is to say, imperfect and obfuscatory. I think publishers probably have their own data, and so do Amazon and B&N and Smashwords and few of them are actually sharing the complete picture. I agree that $9.99 is probably the sweet spot, and just the same, I wish Amazon would stop trying to shove everyone into the $9.99-and-under price point artificially.

  18. Yeah I got one of these too at like 1 AM and first thought it was spam, but noticed it had an actual Amazon address. I immediately demanded to be taken off their list. Honestly, I didn’t know that publishing a book on Amazon made me eligible for the draft in their war against Hatchette, which I care nothing about in the least.

  19. Thank you for this, Chuck! As a KDP author, I got the note this morning too–and you have put words to exactly what I felt! Geez!!

  20. While I wasn’t angered by the email, I did balk at the call to arms and quickly decided not to write that letter. I am tried of this. I do think the NY Times ad was just as tacky and special, and I do think that charging 14.99 and up for an ebook takes giant, godzilla sized cajones. I also think it’s difficult to negotiate with someone who just doesn’t answer your emails (Hatchette) and I think it’s probably, yes, not entirely about low prices (Amazon.)
    I’m giving you both my “Mom face.”
    However, what I applaud 100% is your choice in video clips, Chuck. Well done. Made my morning coffee much more fun. I’ve been shooting at the walls chanting, “no meetings,” for months now. (sadly no one in my family has scene the flick, and I may be committed soon)
    Also, I do want a parade. Great idea.

  21. Thanks, Chuck, for saying what I was thinking about this email. One thing I get tired of hearing is that ebooks should be so cheap because of the lower production costs. Yes, I agree they should be cheaper than paper books, but this argument consistently and totally ignores one thing: MY TIME WRITING THE BOOK. It still took me 2 years or 1 year or however long it took, and cheapening ebook prices beyond a certain point DOES devalue all my work. So I don’t like it when someone else TELLS me how my book should be priced. Let me figure it out for myself. Both sides need to take this dispute back behind closed doors and get it done.

    • A lot of the pricing comments very specifically treat e-books like PRODUCT, not content driven by art and design. I think seeing e-books as product has some value in terms of understanding them, but I think it’s really hard to land on a dollar value and say, TA-DA HERE IT IS. My book is not another book is not a third book. Not by size, not by content, not by quality, not by the time it took to write, not by the time it’ll take to read.

      • Doesn’t apply as much to our neck of the woods as fiction writers (or, Great Cthulhu, I hope not) but there are hundreds and thousands of “authors” who not only treat ebooks as a product, they outsource the content as well (you sign up for one “how to market” newsletter, and it’s like telling one cockroach about the baloney sandwich that fell underneath the fridge–suddenly, they’re not just telling you how to use keywords, they’re telling you how to *not write your damn books!*). Granted, many of them are non-fiction, general-interest, but still–I’d keep more sanity staring an Elder God in the face. My point is that these content-farmers are making Amazon and themselves a tidy sum with cheap and plentiful “product.” Even if that “product” makes Spam (the actual canned meat) look like rack of lamb.

  22. Oh god, I saw this email before my coffee this morning. Saw it referenced WW2, closed it, forgot about it. Until now. Urgh. I feel like Mommy and Daddy are fighting and are now appealing to the kids to tell the other parent why they suck….

    Besides everything else, the email just seems so whiny and unprofessional. I’ve been kind of neutral on this topic, mostly waiting to see how this is going to play out (so many other more personally-demanding things) but amazon, congrats, you just tipped me toward the other side.

  23. “Dear Amazon,
    Thank you for your letter. I am happy to write to Hachette as you suggest, but I wonder if I might ask a small favor in return. For some time now I have been concerned about the way Durex prices its condoms. Since I am a regular user of their products, I have contacted them several times to explain that, if they cut their prices by 33%, because of the elastic demand [sic] for prophylactics, their sales would increase by 75%, resulting in more happy endings for everyone. They have, to date, refused to listen. Would you be happy to email the CEO of Durex mentioning this impeccable economic argument? I’m sure many of us would be grateful for your support in this matter. It’s about time that people who have protected sex with lots of different partners got a fair deal.
    Yours,
    Percival Shaftalot.”

  24. I’d like to point out this from the letter in question:

    “With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns…”

    Wait. What? Full stop. Authors everywhere have been horrified by the Amazon ebook policy for ages. You can absolutely return an ebook. They made it possible. There are entire SHELVES of books on Goodreads marked “read and returned.” And who pays the cost for the return? Not Amazon. You can’t return movies or music, but read a book and decide for whatever reason (didn’t like the ending, didn’t bother to read the sample, flat out stealing… whatever) that you want your money back? No problem.

    And yet, they still think KDP authors will go to bat for them? Uh… what? Are they gonna put my books on the super-fast-train-to-NYT-Bestseller’s-List? Pay for ads on Goodreads? Give me extra promotion opportunities or even a preorder option?

    No? Well, that’s a bummer.

    The whole thing just makes me ill, and I can’t think of a single author I know that would actually cow to this bull.

    • “Wait. What? Full stop. Authors everywhere have been horrified by the Amazon ebook policy for ages. You can absolutely return an ebook.”

      I assume they mean the onerous physical returns process that comes out of the bookstore space. In which case, they’re right — though you’re also correct that the ability for someone to actually *return* an e-book is an issue worth looking at.

      • Yep, this. On my (relatively small) list of things Amazon does that I Really Do Not Like is their ebook return policy – and I say that even as a fairly heavy consumer of ebooks.

        AFAIK you should only be able to return ebooks if you didn’t get a chance to read a sample of the book before you bought it, and even then it should be pretty tight.

        While it happens to all authors, erotica authors are probably the poster children for this issue, as it’s not uncommon for an erotica author to see 20% returns in a given month. (I usually run at around 5%, but I am just that awesome. Also I don’t sell that many books.) Allowing returns on erotica is like allowing returns on sex toys. “Was there a problem with it?” “No, I’m just done with it now and I want my money back so I can get a different one.” “Yeah… no.”

        Although to extend the analogy, many good adult toy stores have return policies for defective merchandise, which they have worked out with the manufacturers, and it is a given for merchandise of a certain price and quality. I’d be okay with this general approach, but I really can’t stand the “no questions asked, no real limits until we finally get tired of it” policy that Amazon has.

  25. You would think all you self published authors would rally to Amazon and their crusade since no one else wants you. Keep in mind, if they stop wanting you, you no longer get to play “author”, and it’s back to the real world for the lot of you.

  26. As an author-publisher, I find Amazon’s email increasingly weird the more I think about it. Somebody on Twitter said it’s like they’re drunk-dialing an ex in the middle of the night. I’m thinking they’re drunk-dialing all of their customers asking us to TP their ex’s house.”No, they CHEATED ON US, PRECIOUS! Nasssssty Hachette hobbitses! Now you helps us bites off their fingerses, precious, YES.”

    It just makes me feel kinda squicky. 😛

  27. This propaganda-palooza is turning into one of those schoolyard fights from junior high where neither kid has really learned to throw a proper punch yet. I still contend that Jeff Bezos and Michael Pietsch should wrestle each other in a kiddie pool filled with Jell-o. More dignified that way.

  28. This is how I understand amazon: they’ve been in the loss leader business for years in order to gain market share. They operated at a loss for years because they had a very long term strategy and it’s paid off. I don’t doubt their 9.99 strategy because they know exactly where a price triggers a slowdown in volume sales. And their business isn’t books, it’s everything. But book business is unique because they have authors in the mix. Hon, authors are the monkeys. Authors are sweating this because they are being crushed between two market/sales models. I think authors should be totally silent, pick no sides and don’t do anything. For them to be fighting this out means there’s a shitload of money to be made. I say stay out. Not even be neutral parties. Give either of them nothing except what you are contractually obligated to do. Don’t respond to these emails. Don’t post blogs. Don’t esplane their business to others. Don’t play.

  29. The lawyer in my next novel is going to be named Ludicrous Coyotepants. It’s that kind of story.

  30. Certainly you’ve heard of the “AuthorsUnited” effort by Preston, Peterson and others and their idiotic petition and the full page NYT ad they are taking out the week? Right?

    Part of the Amazon Hatchet dispute is a giant PR battle and the Hatchet shills have access to as much media attention as they seem to want.
    My best guess is that Amazon is attempting through “readers untied” to try to get some of its own airtime.

    The Big 5 want a return to the Agency Model. They are prohibited from that until later this fall. Hatchet is delaying until they can legally enforce the Agency Model on Amazon. This isn’t hard to understand. Traditional Publisher want high eBook prices to protect the position of their paper sales. Amazon wants lower eBook prices to maximize its own revenue.

  31. The irony is that Amazon was a defendant in the lawsuit against collusion.
    While they may be the largest, Amazon isn’t the only game in town (Barnes&Noble, Kobo). I don’t do the “exclusive” thing for my book (and therefore get a lower royalty). I have had better sales on Barnes&Noble than Amazon over the past quarter, and B&N gives a bigger royalty. I do agree that ebooks should be priced lower due to less in production costs, but this tactic is extremely unprofessional.

  32. Okay, I’ve been relatively quiet on this whole thing because:

    1) I’m a new indie author, only self-published for 1 year now, so what the fuck do I know.
    2) I’m more worried about surviving financially so I can continue writing full time (than spending my time on disputes).
    3) I don’t fully understand the dispute nor do I have the time to research it to have an opinion.
    4) I tried acting all smart (and that’s a bad idea) and blindly signed that petition thingy Hugh Howey was talking about because I love his books and him and all that great glittery stuff and I just went for it because so many others went for it.
    5) I don’t really have a high opinion about my opinion, because, well, I have excuses. English not 1st language, abusive childhood, I’m stupid, bla-bla-bla (yeah, I know, give me that bucket, I’ll cry into it and pity myself).

    So. The reason I’m writing this now is, I’VE BEEN POKED ENOUGH TIMES THAT IT GOT MY ATTENTION. And I really don’t appreciate being poked, as right now I have a blog post to write and instead I got a lovely message from Amazon to do something for them which I’m not even sure about. Like, hey, CEO of a company, let me tell you something I don’t know shit about because some big guys on the other side of the street told me to run over and shake my fist at you.

    Now, sorry for going on a rant here, and I suppose to will have to blog about it, but the only thing writers can be united about is WRITING. That’s all I want to do. I understand now why people support Amazon. Those are exclusive KDP folks who got great stuff from them because they got these promotions and bla-bla-bla. I’m not on it. I give away my ebooks for free. Hell, I’m going completely against the grain because I make money from people’s donations and will open a Patreon to let people subscribe to me and pay me this way. I don’t care where my books are sold AS LONG AS MY READERS CAN FIND THEM. I sell my books from my site and I would’ve printed them in my basement if I knew how. So darling big companies, please stop poking me and trying to involve me in your fight when you don’t even know shit about me (like, why did you think I would care?).

    Ugh. See what you make me do, Chuck, it’s all your fault. You owe me a cookie now, because I’ve been traumatized for life.

    Anyway. I need to end this rant and start writing. The biggest thing I hate about this is the amount of anger I see. Like, let’s stop throwing rocks at each other, please? Thanks. Much love to everyone, as always, and I’d hug both Hachette and Amazon CEO’s, if I knew where they lived. XOXO

  33. Exactly!!!!!! When I got that email this morning, I was like “You really need my help aiming the magnifying glass at the ant hill? Because you’re doing quite a good job at making those ants burn by yourself.”

  34. To be entirely honest, I don’t give a rat’s ass about Amazon contractual issue. They don’t pay me $130K/Yr to deal with it.

    If their business model is not handling the relationship with another publishing company, they should hire some more newly-minted MBAs from Harvard to help them through that morass.

    Personally, I don’t have to make a living through my writings, so I just put them on my website in html. I don’t even have a donation button on my site. My email, cell phone, and home address are on my site and if people want to send me money, it’s very simple to go to the post office, get a(n international) money order, and mail if off.

    I did put a short story of mine on KDP, and 150 people downloaded it while I had the free promo for a week. No comments, no ratings, and one sale in the UK for 1.50 pounds (which I assume Amazon is holding faithfully until such time as I reach their arbitrary threshold.) I got better feedback posting it to my facebook page.

    But, I digress. I like physical books. Amazon is great for that, especially if you already know the name and author of the book. I like to order, wait 1/2 days, then get the book, go to the park or my sofa, and sit and read without worrying about network connectivity, battery life or glare issues.

    • “But, I digress. I like physical books…” Me too, still. I feel like I “have” a physical book more than an ebook. We always make it an outing for books; coffee, browsing, sitting in an old fireside chair to read. Sadly, our local bookstore just shut down. It felt like losing a good friend. Now, it’s the local B&N. Now, more than ever, I think I will stay as much as I can to print books.

  35. I totally agree with this, Chuck. It’s weird. And I don’t like that Amazon put me in the middle, which is what they accused Hachette of doing with their authors. And as an indie, I have no dog in the fight.

    I also don’t like that I can’t sell a book for more than $9.99. I mean, I think e-book prices should be lower. I pass on buying a lot of premium author books because they are priced above the threshold of what I think an e-book should be priced. So I have to decide to either buy the print book or not buy the book at all. Most of the time, I don’t buy the book. Instead, I find an indie author I can read for less.

    But what if I wanted to sell for more than $9.99? What if I wrote a kick-ass epic and wanted $14.99 for my 250,000-word retelling of the Iliad? In that case, I’d be screwed.

    Personally, I believe the time will come soon when $2.99 will no longer be the preferred price point for indie authors. I could see e-book prices meeting in the middle if the publishers, including Amazon, just got out of the way and let the market run its course. Mark Coker has said some Smashwords books are actually doing better at the $3.99 and $4.99 price points.

    So, while I’m mostly on Amazon’s side on this, I’m not a loyal knave. I was perfectly happy sitting on the sidelines and eating popcorn.

  36. Like a lot of IT types the Beast of Bezos basically thinks content creators should work for nothing; also that we’re stupid and think he won’t shaft us once he’s destroyed the publishing companies.

    Traditional publishers, with all their faults, don’t think that.

    The Beast is nobody’s friend, and most especially no author’s friend, and already has too much market power in our industry. The government should drag him off and put him in an iron cage.

    • I don’t believe Bezos is that way — he routinely hands out books as instructional tools, and his wife is a novelist. I don’t think he’s evil or this is the act of an evil empire (though their PR wing is certainly looking inept). I do believe that indie authors are already a bit squeezed and may want to take a long look at that. Mostly, I just want Amazon to stop making these appeals.

      If Amazon is going to make strides here, it’s going to be by taking action. If they want KDP authors on their side, they need to make some changes in favor of KDP authors. If they want Hachette authors on their side, they need to make appeals to *just* the authors, not to them via Hachette. If Amazon wants Hachette to bend, then they need to kick their books out of the store — or, Hachette needs to pull ’em. But what I don’t wanna see anymore are empty agitprop appeals. It grows tiresome. Take action, whether it’s compromise or razing the castle. (Compromise is obviously preferable). That goes for both of the Stompy Robots punching each other as the authors scrabble underneath.

      — c.

      • Their PR wing has always been inept. I don’t know if it’s because the powers that be at Amazon are afraid they’ll be sued if they actually explain something (which is ironic because they’ve been sued for NOT explaining sufficiently) or because they’re afraid somebody else will steal their idea, but they are so afraid of providing real facts it becomes ludicrous.

        It goes back to when they were sued by Booklocker for “forcing” everyone to sign a contract with Booksurge/Createspace (2004?). Would it really have killed them to say “Hey, we’re going to be installing printing equipment in our major distribution centers and printing the POD orders as they come in instead of stocking the books. But to do that, we need to have a printing contract with y’all, and if you sign up you may find you’re making more money than with the other process”?

        Granted, there was the issue of some people short-discounting and only giving 10-15% instead of the standard 40%, which meant Amazon was losing big whenever they discounted those books, which is why they had a fixed revenue split will in their favor. On the other hand, the printing cost came out of THEIR share, which isn’t the case elsewhere.

        But did they EXPLAIN any of this? Nope.

  37. Amazon claim that authors deserve a bigger share of the proceeds from their book sales. It also says that ebook sales are price-elastic. So why, then, does it still insist on taking 65% of the proceeds on self-published titles below a certain price point? This relentless downward pressure on prices isn’t done to benefit the reader: ultimately it’s for Amazon’s benefit and theirs alone, and they don’t care how many publishers go to the wall as a result.

    It makes me furious that I am forever reading about Amazon “paying 70%” to authors, when in most cases nowadays (thanks to that price elasticity) they’re actually pocketing TWO THIRDS of the sale price for doing – let’s just remind ourselves – ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Acquiring? No. Paying advances? No. Structural editing? No. Copyediting, proofreading, cover design? No. Marketing & publicity? No.

    And the unit cost of selling an ebook? Practically zero, I would have thought. All this talk of how publishers benefit from lower overheads with ebooks compared to physical, it’s nowhere near as much of a saving for them (because of all the services listed above) as it is for the retailer, whose overheads drop to nothing, effectively.

    All these deluded “indies”, as they like to call themselves, don’t seem to appreciate that if and when Amazon has got its way with the big publishers, they’ll be reassessing the KDP scheme and announcing that the royalty paid to authors will go down to 20%, or 10%… and when that happens, what will the Konrathites do? How will Hugh’s disciples respond and fight back? Who’s gonna bet on their chances of getting Amazon to improve their terms, if even a mighty publishing conglomerate has been beaten down into submission?

    The self-pubbers are, pitifully, flinging themselves into the arms of a grizzly bear because it’s promised to protect them from a snarling dog. Yeah, and when it’s dealt with the dog, the bear’s next meal is going to be a ridiculously easy kill…

    For all their many faults, Hachette and the other big publishers have to be supported on this one. Amazon is a monster, and its tactics now are a sign of clear desperation. The Ponzi scheme of growth instead of profit is starting to attract unwelcome attention – forcing Amazon to pursue a scorched earth policy against all of its suppliers in order to start generating some profit. Far better that it fails, because an Amazon that has to operate on a level playing field becomes just another retailer, against which other retailers can fairly compete – and all true capitalists have to agree that competition is a good thing.

    • I agree. I’m a self-published author, and I find Amazon’s strong-arm tactics to be very unsettling. I don’t think it’s at all ludicrous to imagine a future where Amazon tells indies, “you know what, from now on you only get that 70% royalty if you’re enrolled in Select, otherwise you only get 35%.” They already do that with their stores in Japan, Mexico, Brazil, India, and other places.

    • The dog has been gnawing on author’s legs (and occasionally foraging higher) for decades. So far the grizzly bear has done nothing more offensive than occasionally pooping a little too close to the house, and it’s put a right scare into that fucking dog, to the point where it’s starting to chew a little less savagely. Also, if the bear fucks up bad, the government can declare bear season open. Frankly at this point I’ll take my chances with the bear.

      Yes, bears are scary, but more people are mauled every year by dogs than by bears. It’s rarely as simple as absolute destructive power.

  38. you had me at SKYNET, but when you asked Robocop how many seconds you had to comply I dissolved in giddy laughter and spontaneous tears… so much fun… so little sense in this fight…

  39. Glad to see I’m not the only one who was completely baffled by that email. I knew your response would be spot on, and it certainly is. My response is linked (I resisted the urge to CC Hachette’s CEO on it), but the short version is that while I’ve benefited from my partnership with Amazon I refuse to be Astroturf for them to walk on.

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