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.
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.”
*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.
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.
I 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”
My letter to Amazon this morning is below. I did get an acknowledgment and thanks for it. I’d like to see more of that from Amazon. Stuff that speaks to things I as an author want or feel I need.
In regard to, is there more than a question of prices going on, I sure think so.
It’d be silly for me to think, when a company like Hachette owns or controls the IP on popular content either at or heading toward being movies, music, even toys, that a company like Amazon, who’s building ($100 million dollars this year) original content, and wanting to stream enough attractive content to acquire more Prime members, that there is NOT more than prices going on.
Maybe even a future option to bundle KU and Prime.
Not bad, not evil, just..more. (smiles)
My reply to Amazon :
Thank you so much for including me in your nicely comprehensive email
regarding your current very public issues negotiating with Hatchette and
possibly other big publishers.
I obviously would not even be publishing if Amazon or Apple or even Barnes
& Noble, and now Scribd and Oyster, had not developed as they have. I gave
up submitting to big publishers back in the 80s (smiles).
And I, in principle, agree with Amazon’s price ideas. They fit how I myself
But those are my preferences.
And I cannot in good conscience say you (Amazon) or Hachette or any other
business entity HAVE to do something a certain way, just because it’s
better for me. That’s presuming all is legal.
Fair? That’s another question. What’s fair to Amazon or Hachette may or may
not be fair to readers or authors. Like subsidies to banks or oil companies
or who knows who else. There’s always an argument going both ways.
And yet, eventually, decisions have to be made.
The only decision in my power, is to say, “I” prefer lower prices (and act
accordingly, as per my review of Patterson’s Zoo indicates).
But in equally good conscience, I also cannot say that without very
sincerely stating, Amazon’s exclusive policy for me to participate in
Kindle Unlimited, also harms reader availability and discovery.
And, in my opinion, is unfairly enforced.
Too many other classes or levels or groups or individual instances of
authors NOT having to be exclusive, feels wrong to me. It’s not what I
associate with everything else I do regarding Amazon: buy books, music,
list gift items, sell books in the regular store, use the Amazon cc, etc.
All those activities, the sales reporting, consistency of payments, ease of
returns, and I can’t forget MayDay on my Fire – are my “view” of Amazon.
Yes. I want and (usually) only act on lower prices.
But no, I don’t like having to be exclusive to participate.
So I think that’s best, to be honest. I’m not a favored author with special
non-exclusive privileges, but I still think the world of Amazon. Yet won’t
say it’s all it could be, yet… (smiles)
Best wishes, sincerely,
I read this, and I start looking around for Rod Serling. Because in the world I live in, a company the size of Amazon asking self-published authors to defend it against the EVIL NEW YORK PUBLISHING EMPIRE — oh, wait, only one publisher, whose sales are lower than Amazon’s….
… I could go on, but surely this is an episode of The Twilight Zone.
And I think I saw this one. At the end, we break our glasses and nobody gets to read anymore at all.
Wrote a blog post a week ago about Amazon’s equally bullshit post on the Kindle forum, and got an earful from pro-Amazon authors, I thought I was alone in my thinking. Landed here today and I feel like I finally got a popsicle for my troubles:
“Why would any intelligent indie author support such a scheme? Why would any intelligent indie author encourage our competitors to lower their prices? Do you think Walmart actively encourage the likes of Macy’s or J.C. Penny to lower their prices? Of course not. That would be corporate suicide. Yet this is exactly what Amazon are asking indie authors to do, to put on a suicide vest so Amazon can win their war with Hachette. Which should tell you just how little regard Amazon have for indie authors: we are expendable.
And while a suicide bomber is promised 72 virgins and an eternal erection for his sacrifice, what is Amazon promising us for ours? Bugger all.”
Chuck, we do have a couple of dogs in this fight. I actually read the whole 160-page judgment against Apple and the publishers. KDP authors were used as a pawn in that battle, and now Amazon are trying to use us as pawns here, too. And all the fucking crusaders like David Gaughrin are just too happy to march to their own death. Noticed he got a special mention in the email. No surprise. His head is so far up Jeff Bezo’s ass they eat the same lunch every day.
(as it relates to your last paragraph, these are my thoughts.)
It seems there is a little divide and conquer going on among the indies/knaves/foot soldiers. Special treatment for those up in the front where they may not even be a line. And that is how it is done.
Little posts here and there, where the indie chosen ones put on their own particular spin with special sauce and let-me-tell-you-how-it-is interpretation. I’ve noticed it more and more. KU, anyone? How is it that most are shackled with exclusivity and yet a few get their books featured on the KU front page and can still offer their stuff on B&N, Apple, & Kobo?
Divide and conquer.That’s how it done. Amazon is not a fool, but I’m beginning to think they think we are.
Never doubt there was a reason this email was sent on a Friday night Pacific time in Seattle (Saturday morning in the other half of the world). There be “reasons” for doing so. Interesting, do note. The ones who normally “post” about these machinations are strangely absent all weekend. Gaughran resuscitates a blog post from 2012 as if anything about history applies to the now. “Let me teach you.” Hugh going off on some convoluted–dare I say? nonsensical–bullet points on kboards on the “thread” of the weekend while Konrath is strangely quiet. Interesting.
And Chuck is the only raison d’etre this time around with this post. Interesting times these be.
In any case, I followed your name to your blog and you, my dear, have a very good handle on the state of affairs. I remember you. I bought your book a few years ago. Love what you have to say and the bravery with which you’ve said it. 🙂
I see your points…but top sellers will ALWAYS get different treatment than the mid-list. It’s just the way things work…Sites want to promote books that sell well so they get more exposure. The fact that top-sellers like Hugh, Bella Andre, and Colleen Hoover can be in KU and be non-exclusive doesn’t both me. They have the sales number for special treatment so god speed to them. What bothers me is that the midlists are not treated equally. Self (and small presses that use KDP) have to be exclusive to get into KU but midlist authors from traditional houses don’t have to have such exclusivity…that’s what really sucks.
Exclusivity is VERY dangerous, and Amazon just keeps making it more and more attractive. I can see why they are doing it…I can even see why authors sign up for it. I am concerned that in the future it will change the landscape in ways that will eventually hurt authors.
Very good points. I think right now we have a (relatively) good eco-system for books. Indies are hugely successful, often by enticing readers with a free or very low priced book(s) to lower the barrier to entry an let readers give them a try…if they like what they find…they come back for more. Meanwhile, the publishers have higher priced books and they have their own successes at that price point. Yes the writer makes less per book, but they also get some things they can’t with self (bookstores, libraries, bigger/more foreign deals).
If the trad publishers come down to the price of the indies…well this is going to screw up a lot. Authors who already are getting a small amount of the traditional pie earn less…and indies no longer have a price advantage. When James Patterson costs $9.99 and an indie costs $2.99. A good number of people will read 3 indies for the price of one Patterson. But if Patterson is at $2.99…why would they try an indie?
I’m not one to price gouge consumers. And yes, I wish my publisher would lower the price of some of my back list titles. But if there is no price differential between trad and indie, all authors will suffer (at least that’s my prediction).
I love your blog posts, Chuck, I really and truly do! As far as I can see in this whole thing, there is one truth that Amazon have forgotten (or are hoping that we authors have forgotten) –
They need us. We don’t need them.
It is actually possible (through the miracle of Payhip, for example) to cut out the middle man and sell our books from our own sites. We can “Choose Our Own Adventure” and decide to publish through D2D or Smashwords. Or Google Play, Kobo, I-Tunes… we are not actually completely dependent upon Amazon.
If we choose to publish through Amazon, then we can choose not to – it is as simple as that.
PS: I feel your pain with Blarp O’Clock – I have a 7 mth old baby and I frequently watch the sun come up from the wrong side…
Unfortunately some of us are dependent on Amazon because many of the other websites require you to have a US bank account. I’ve tried registering with them and always get stumped with the ‘insert zip code’. If you don’t have a US zip code you can’t register. I can’t sell from my own website because in SA we can’t accept Paypal unless we have a savings account with a particular bank (which I don’t) and then they only accept payments from certain countries.
What about an aggregator like Draft2Digital or Smashwords?
Jan, you can distribute to the other retailers via Smashwords or Draft2Digital. That’s how us Aussies do it :).
Thanks. I tried Smashwords some time ago. I think that was the one that asked you to choose a country from a drop down menu – but then wouldn’t let you go any further if you didn’t enter a US zip code! I entered my aunt’s zip code just to see what would happen and got as far as them asking for my US bank account details. They seem to forget about the rest of the world, as do most of the other sites. I gave up in disgust and have put all my books in KDP Select. I’m happy to stay with Amazon
Smashwords has become more accommodating since it began (at least from my perspective – I’m an American living in the UK who does not have a bank account in the US). However, you may be better off sticking with Amazon depending on your sales. Most Americans selling on Smashwords may not realise this, but non US citizens have their profits taxed at 30% by the US government. It was a pain in the butt, but I finally proved I was a citizen and I did get the withheld taxes back, but I can understand how the tax alone would put off some writers.
Not being able to sell through your own website without being with a specific bank – that’s harsh! Sounds like someone got a back hander somewhere. How economically short sighted and how frustrating!
I’m in the UK – one of the reasons I publish through Smashwords is that it gets me into all the other websites…
I’ve found my work on e-books sites in Japan, India, SA, Austrailia – and all without my having to play with the formatting over and over again.
I don’t have a US bank account – I could probably get my dad to open me one (he lives over there), but I don’t see the point when there are other ways to do it.
The point I was trying to make is that they need us more than we need them.
A 7 month old?
*hands over a cup of coffee and a shot of whiskey*
You need one or both of these.
Thanks… *chugs both gratefully*
Amazon is still where most authors…especially indies…get the bulk of their income. I do think that selling direct is VERY important. Only then are you truly independent. But sales from my site are just a trickle. But it is also disjointed. Readers don’t want to hunt around 30 different author’s websites to find books they want one site that has all the books. The problem of course is any site will want their “taste” and then you are back into the problem of vulnerability. I’m toying with the concept of creating a site for ‘direct buys” where 5% of the money will be held back for admin costs (hosting, paying the accounting people and technical support) and 95% will go back to the author. I think readers would gladly buy from there as they want the most money in the hands of the people who write the books.
P.S. Please excuse my typos and grammatical errors. Clearly, I need a good editor.
As a reader and collector, I spend quite a bit of money on books. I agree with you that I will not go website-hopping to purchase books. If authors won’t make their books easily available, if I have to go to a special spot to find their stuff, I simply don’t read them. An exception would be an author who is completely distinctive and favoured by me — Murakami, for example — in which case, I will go anywhere to find the books, including hunting down rare editions. Most authors are not at this level of power over the public sensibilities that they have us waiting with bated breath for their next work (though I understand George RR Martin fans are like this, too). You have to be quite far ahead in your career, and distinctly brilliant, to be in that realm, and to afford that level of hard-to-get. Most authors have to work hard to stay in the public mind at all, let alone have readers panting after them.
I still prefer books as artifacts to my Kindle, but I do buy a lot of ebooks. I buy ebooks for three reasons: they are cheaper; I can read in bed without disturbing my husband; they are easily portable when traveling. However, I limit my ebook purchases to lighter reads, because I find that I track the information differently on my Kindle than I do when I read a physical book. (There has been some research done on this, and papers written to explain why this happens, and I have found that it is true for me that the physical terrain I travel when reading a physical book settles in my brain more differently from the virtual landscape of ebooks, and that the latter has less staying-power.) So, I read only popular fiction or nonfiction on my Kindle, and avoid lengthy literary works in ebook form for this reason — meaning, Tolstoy and others, which require a deeper level of concentration and re-readings of certain passages as one goes, which means needing to easily locate them.
Amazon has a point about pricing. It is very unusual for me to pay more than ten USD for an ebook. I have skipped Hachette books in the past because of their pricing. If I am going to pay fifteen dollars, I will look for a paperback instead.
Thanks for this article. It was very funny, besides being well-argued and informative. I agree that people should vote with their dollars, and thought I’d throw in my two cents.
“As a reader and collector, I spend quite a bit of money on books. I agree with you that I will not go website-hopping to purchase books.”
And this is exactly why I make sure I am available on as many different websites as possible. I am also in the process of making my books available in print so that those who don’t possess an e-reader (or refuse to use them, can’t afford one, prefer print etc) can buy them.
The reason I have book pages on my website is to make it easy to find my books – the links there take you to all the regular distributors as well as to Payhip where you can buy direct. Of course, if you prefer to buy from Amazon or Nook or itunes etc you can also just search for my name there.
It’s all about choice.
And that’s a whole different story.
As far as I could see, the email I received this morning went something like this — dear second class citizen, who is KDP but not select enough to be in KU, whose book prices and distribution we may change at our discretion, we are currently looking for cannon fodder in a fight that, should you even survive it, will set your career back years by forcing traditional publishers into what has been, until now, a place where you have been able to gain traction. When all books are cheaper, you’ll just have that many more to compete with! Hurray! So sigh up today…and while you are at it, since the future’s set in stone, scuttle a career in whatever the publishing industry turns into!
Excellent summary! I’d very much be interested to see an erotica author or two reply to this email, offering to get in line in exchange for being visible in Kindle searches again. Perhaps a recognition that they don’t have much motivation to move to the front lines, since Amazon’s actively worked to push them back into the shadows?
I have no idea what the Groot is going on, but it seems they’re trying to appeal to our sentiments by name-dropping Orwell and Dubya Dubya Two, and asking us to “copy them”. They don’t want authors to unite but they want us to unite for their cheerleading cause?
Tell me: where do I ‘1-Click’ to buy Amazon Crack?
[…] Wendig picks apart the letter with his usual acerbic wit, starting with: Listen, I don’t know what the fuck is going on, […]
Yeah, I got that email too. I was both flabber and gast. My main response was something along the lines of: REALLY, Amazon? Who thought this was a good idea? Please fire them. Repeatedly.
I’m still waffling on the issue of pants.
WAFFLEPANTS! Now those, I’m on board with. Can somebody get those going, please, and where do we queue up?
I think we can all agree that pants are evil. There. We have consensus. Now I’m going back to sleep. Sans pants. Solidarity, baybeee!
“Maybe it’s like SkyNet, but instead of destroying the world it just wants to rant about e-books.”
Oh my god. We thought we had it figured it before, but this is it. This is horse_ebooks’ final form.
“This is horse_ebooks’ final form.”
Bonafide LOL over that.
Aaaand make that two bonafide LOL. Nicely done.
Bloody hilarious! Love it. I agree with everything you said and can’t believe a lot of authors are taking one side or the other. At the end of the day, I don’t give a crap what Hachette sells their books at, that’s what market forces are for. Amazon wants to price fix, gain a monopoly then tell us what to price our books at. I thought price fixing was illegal – that’s the only issue here that I can see. Amazon needs to get over itself.
A few points of order: Price-fixing is not per se illegal. That being said, Hachette was in a conspiracy to illegally fix prices. Hachette (and the other big TPH) have said publicly that they think publishers, authors and readers are best served by fixing prices, and that they intend to do it in every circumstance in which it is allowed.
Of course, they call it “agency pricing,” not “price fixing,” but they are the same thing.
Amazon wants two things, near as I can tell. In my opinion, one of them is reasonable and the other is not. Neither is illegal.
1) They want the ability to discount to whatever level they deem appropriate. In other words, they want to be able to sell the goods they purchase from Hachette et al at whatever price they want, including a very low margin or even at a loss. This is perfectly legal, perfectly reasonable, and retailers and distributors do it every day. If it is done in such as way as to harm consumers, then it is illegal, and the US DOJ and/or state LEA can and will fall on it like a ton of rectangular building elements.
Remember, while the DOJ did go after Apple and the TPH, it was because they blatantly broke the law, and the DOJ felt, correctly as it turned out, that they had a winning case. Amazon has made no friends in many states with their refusal to pay sales taxes (and cutting off Affiliates so they wouldn’t have to) and it pays little or no taxes in the US or any of the states. I do not believe for a minute that the DOJ and the state LEA are all somehow in Amazon’s pockets, nor that they would refrain from prosecuting Amazon if they thought they had a good case. Amazon has, thus far, managed to avoid giving them a good case.
2) The other thing they want, I think, is to somehow impose something like the KDP commission rate structure on TPH – in other words, they want a progressive discount scale such that if the publisher’s price is at a level where Amazon would normally sell the ebook at >$9.99, they would pay a lower wholesale price for it even if the book ends up selling >$9.99.
In one sense, I’m not sure I even follow the logic of this allegation. It seems mathematically absurd, in a certain way. In another, I think I understand the basic gist of the argument, and despite the recursive pricing/selling issue, I can see how it could theoretically work. If Amazon is in fact arguing for this – and I’m much less sure they are than I am about #1 – this isn’t reasonable. It’s basically taking with one hand what you gave with another. While this is pretty common in IP contracts, it’s a slimy thing to do, and it should be addressed directly not through multilevel pricing calculation.
That being said, “slimy” is not the same thing as “unlawful.” So if they are asking for this, while I hope Hachette gives them the bird with both hands, it’s within their rights, and I don’t think it indicates that Amazon is somehow a Threat to Civilization.
How is “the agency model” the same as price fixing? The agency model is a system of selling ebooks in which a publisher sets the price, and Amazon takes a 30% cut. It is in contrast to the wholesale model, which is the same model used for print books- Amazon buys the book at a wholesale price, and then resells them at whatever price they want. (Amazon bought and sold ebooks at a loss for years before the publishers got them to accept the agency model.) Essentially, what the publishers are fighting for is very similar to what KDP authors get.
Price fixing, by contrast, is a conspiracy between sellers or buyers to set prices. Amazon successfully argued that the publishers colluded with Apple to set prices, but what they really colluded on was getting Amazon to accept the agency model by recruiting a powerful retailer who was willing to accept that model. However, once the agency model has been set up, the various publishers are free to set different prices for their books according to what they feel the market will bear.
Since the agency model is very similar to what KDP authors get, please explain to me how it is price fixing.
Because it takes the decision as to the ultimate price of the goods out of the hands of the entity which has purchased it for resale. In US antitrust law, that’s called “vertical price fixing.” It used to be per se illegal: it’s not any more, but it is still looked upon with great suspicion by courts, and any attempt to collude with other suppliers to coordinate a vertical price fixing scheme is going to be viewed as highly questionable. In fact, that’s exactly what Apple was found to have done in concert with the Price Fix Six.
And it’s entirely UNLIKE the KDP commission model in the one way that matters: Amazon doesn’t have to use your suggested price. They can and will discount as they please. However, unless they are price matching, they will still pay you your commission on cover price. If I have a novel listed at $4.99, at 30% commission I get $3.49 every time Amazon sells a copy. If they decide to discount it to $1.99, I get… $3.49 every time they sell a copy. Which is exactly how they want to treat every other publisher – they’ll pay your asking price, but they’ll set their own selling price.
That’s it. I am SOOOO unfriending Hatchette and Amazon. This whole thing reads a lot like “if you are friends with her, you can’t be friends with me.” High school? More like sixth grade where in Amazon tries to get all the KDP authors to “mean girl up”. /flounce
Coffee and no pants since 2011. The tears of my readers have sustained me, as well. I opened my email last night, read something, something, WW II, and had a Scott Pilgrim moment. “This is…this is…boring.” Delete.
To those who say that we don’t need Amazon – they need us, because we can go elsewhere – have you looked at your sales figures lately? How is elsewhere working out for you? What if that was all you had?
To those who complain that we don’t get the same perks and benefits that they give Hugh Howey and others in his class, have you looked at your sales figures lately?
To the statement that “Amazon is a monster” – you could also phrase that as, “Amazon is hugely successful.” And their “tactics of desperation” are defined as what – insisting on reasonable ebook prices? Oh, shame on them.
It is weird that the entire world is in on a contract negotiation, and I’m really glad that cable TV providers don’t do this – much, but Hachette made it public. Since I get to pick sides, which is about as meaningful as picking a sports team (which exists solely to make money for wealthy people and has little or nothing to do with my city) to win, I side with Amazon on this. They’re giving a lot of us a shot at our dream of being authors without having to beg outside the gates of publishers like Hachette to have a shot at that dream, with much less of the royalties, if they let us in.
And if they redefine our terms so unfavorably in the future, we can always go elsewhere, right? But the funny thing is, those who side with Hachette aren’t pulling their titles from Amazon, are they? That reminds me of people who picket their employers as being heartless, soul-crushing corporate monsters, from whom they want better terms, rather than walking away and having nothing to do with such evil.
As an author, I side with Amazon. They let me publish my books and reach more people than I ever could have otherwise. As a reader, I side with Amazon. Readers and writers benefit from lower prices.
“To those who complain that we don’t get the same perks and benefits that they give Hugh Howey and others in his class, have you looked at your sales figures lately?”
Why do I need to be a best-selling author to get fair treatment? Amazon treats you like a second-class citizen and you smile and beg for scraps.
Isn’t that kind of like saying you don’t get wholesale prices at Sam’s Club, and that’s unfair treatment? Amazon made a couple thousand off me this year. I don’t expect them to negotiate with me the way they negotiate with someone who made them hundreds of thousands.
I lack a sense of entitlement, I guess. I also don’t know what other people at my company make, and it’s not my concern. If I’m not happy with my own situation, I can go elsewhere. If Amazon is treating you like a second-class citizen, have you moved on, or are you still eating the scaps sans begging?
“Isn’t that kind of like saying you don’t get wholesale prices at Sam’s Club, and that’s unfair treatment?”
Only if Sam’s Club is selling my product and giving me a crappier deal than they’re giving another supplier.
“Amazon made a couple thousand off me this year. I don’t expect them to negotiate with me the way they negotiate with someone who made them hundreds of thousands.”
Exactly—begging for scraps. It’s not a sense of entitlement, it’s a sense of fair treatment. Clearly you don’t value your work enough to feel it deserves the same treatment as traditionally-published books.
There’s the error in your “thinking.” If you sold Percival Cola at Sam’s and they made $50 a month from it, and you said, “I noticed that Pespi has a much better deal with you. I’d like the same terms, or I’m taking my $50/month business and I’m walking.”
Sam’s would say, buh-bye, and maybe with you luck. It’s no loss to them.
If I tell Amazon I’m taking my books elsewhere, it would mean nothing to them. If Hugh Howey said he was taking his elsewhere, Amazon would say, “Slow down. Have a seat. Let’s see if we can come to an agreement.”
This has nothing to do with perception of self-worth. I’m a damned good author. But until I demonstrate my ability to back that up with huge sales, I have no bargaining power.
Recognizing that Amazon is a business and accepting the terms is not even close to begging for scraps. I appreciate the opportunity they’ve given me. Business isn’t about fairness. It’s about making money. That may suck, but that’s reality, and I’m not going to operate from a place of feelings, instead of logic and reality.
And not that it’s any of your business, but yes, I sell my books on Amazon, because it’d be stupid not to sell them there. That doesn’t mean I harbor any delusions about them being my best friend. I begrudgingly accept their terms, but I refuse to take part in their anti-competitive practices like Select and KU.
There’s something inherently disingenuous when Amazon tells me one month that I’m not good enough to get the sweetheart deals they give traditional authors and then the next they come running to me and asking me to stand up for them against those same publishers they felt were better than me. So yeah, I take offense to that. Anyone who values their dignity should.
So the only difference between us is that you don’t smile when you beg for your scraps.
You’d be on the moral highground if you said you refuse to sell there because you object to their predatory, unfair, monopolistic practices and you won’t tarnish your soul by being a part of any company that operates that way.
Instead, you take the same deal I do precisely because you have no bargaining power. But I smile every month when Amazon deposits my scraps.
What you fail to see is this situation DOES give you bargaining power. Amazon has just come to indies and said “we may have treated you like second-class citizens, but now we need your help to fight the people we’ve been giving sweetheart deals to.” Indies as a group should say, “sure, but only if you give us the same things you give them, which are also things your competitors give us.”
Instead, you’re willing to just fall in line behind them, no strings attached. That’s begging for scraps.
Those who bring in more income will always get better treatment then those who bring in less. I don’t have a problem with the difference terms that Hugh gets over a mid-list. What I have problems with is when we compare mid-list to mid-list. In the recent roll out of KU trad mid-lists don’t need to be exclusive but KDP mid-lists do. THIS is the second-class aspect I object to.
“But the funny thing is, those who side with Hachette aren’t pulling their titles from Amazon, are they?”
If Hachette is your publisher, only they can withdraw their books from Amazon. Their authors couldn’t do it even if they wanted to.
I said those who side with Hachette. Not those who are published by Hachette.
I just think it’s interesting for people to bash Amazon, call them evil, monstrous, rapacious, monopolistic, and a whole list of other repugnant adjectives. But when it comes to cash, those same people are shaking hands with Amazon (or bending over, or lying down, whichever metaphor works best) and forsaking their morals, their moral high-ground, and their principles in exchange for the mighty dollar. And sadly, in many cases, it’s not even that many dollars, but it’s apparently significantly more than they’re getting elsewhere – enough to be whorish about the whole thing.
And these same people are also the ones who keep repeating that the readers will decide with their dollars. Can’t it also be said that these same anti-Amazon authors are deciding with their books when they publish via Amazon?
I’m one of those authors, but I am not “Amazon bashing”. I am stating my opinion on what I think is going on. What other company posts loss after loss each year? What is their motivation? They want to create a monopoly or as close to one as they can get. And why don’t I pull my books? Because I’m not going to cut my nose off to spite my face. Amazon hasn’t forced me to charge a certain price, yet, and we all know that authors who aren’t with Amazon lose sales. They are in a strong position. If they tell me that I have to charge 99 cents for my books, I will pull them. I recently gave iBooks a one month exclusive on my new release because they have supported me. I refuse to sign up to Kindle Select.
I haven’t heard anyone here call Amazon evil—you are sensationalising it. I am not forsaking my morals by being with Amazon—I am trying to earn a living as an author. Don’t kid yourself that they are all for the good of the reader/author or whoever – they are a company trying to make money. Where I sell my books is a business decision, and right now, it makes sense to sell with Amazon, but if the situation is such that they are dictating what price I should sell at, I will pull my books.
I’m not referring exclusively to comments made here. I’ve been reading this in many places all day.
I do not kid myself that they’re motivated by good-hearted intentions for authors. They are indeed a company and are trying to make money. That’s what companies do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that line: “They’re just doing what’s in their best interest!” As if that was somehow unique and dastardly of a company to try to increase their profits. 🙂
I consider that it may also be true that Bezos does care about a book-reading culture. I don’t assume automatically that he’s been lying about that since the beginning of Amazon. But then, today, companies try to put on a good face, and we never know what’s really true.
There was a time when Amazon almost didn’t make it because if their early losses and failure to turn a profit. I think when they finally had a chance to get solvent, Bezos sold the shareholders on another big expansion that would be even more profitable once it succeeded. And I think that “model” has been perpetuated. “Okay, I proved this would work, now here’s my next idea you’re gonna love.” And because of his successes, they keep allowing him to do the next big thing, like Amazon Prime and now Fire phones.
It appears to me without extensive examination that the ongoing losses are more the result of this continued lenience with company funds, rather than a conspiracy to achieve a monopoly, that would only end up getting knocked down by the feds if it was ever achieved.
As for where you sell your books, that’s fine to make business decisions. I’m just expressing the opinion that some people will state publicly how reprehensible a company is, and yet continue to do business with them, which supports that business.
Percival Constantine says I’m “begging for scraps” somehow by accepting Amazon’s terms. And yet, he is also accepting Amazon’s terms, but isn’t begging for scraps. See the hypocrisy? He also thinks that Amazon asking us to send an email on their behalf suddenly endows us with bargaining power for better terms. (For some reason, I can’t reply to his last post, so I’m killing two birds with one stone here.) We both work with Amazon. He doesn’t like them, but I do, and therefore, I’m the one with a weak moral position. That’s just funny.
Those who just don’t like some of what Amazon is doing and would like to see changes – it’s perfectly fine to talk about it. But those who think of Amazon as villainous ought to put their books where their mouth is. It’s a bit of an ethical quandary for them. They don’t want to give up their sales. They just want to bite the hand that feeds them. I can just imagine the uproar if Amazon stopped selling the books of its detractors.
Actually, yes, I have looked at my sales figures – Amazon accounts for around 10%, and that is all overseas. Amazon is not the only, or even the best game in town for many indies. What it is is the easiest, but I learned decades ago the you seldom get both easy and best.
“To those who say that we don’t need Amazon – they need us, because we can go elsewhere – have you looked at your sales figures lately? How is elsewhere working out for you? What if that was all you had?”
Increasingly, we do need Amazon. Which is probably what Amazon really wants. They have worked incredibly hard to create an ecosystem for this — it’s a rock solid ecosystem and deserves kudos. But we should all be a little concerned when it becomes the only ecosystem. Competition is good for all environments — a lack of competition or invasiveness tips the scales and harms everybody.
As a sidenote, “elsewhere” is working out pretty okay for me and a lot of other people. I sell fairly robustly through terribleminds directly — I’ve had some months recently where my direct sales matched my Amazon sales. Which is nice. Others have been reporting strong sales through B&N, Kobo, iBooks. (I don’t sell very well through B&N, to be clear.)
“To the statement that “Amazon is a monster” – you could also phrase that as, “Amazon is hugely successful.” And their “tactics of desperation” are defined as what – insisting on reasonable ebook prices? Oh, shame on them.”
You may be responding to another comment, but I figure it’s worth stating that I am not saying here in this post — nor do I believe — that Amazon is a monster. (Well, I guess I have referred to them as a big stompy monster and/or robot, but not to indicate malevolence so much as EPIC KAIJU INDIFFERENCE). Amazon *is* hugely successful, and they did not gain that success unfairly.
I don’t think anybody’s position — including Hachette’s — is trying to create UNreasonable e-book prices. The question — in fact, the defining question, most likely — is trying to figure out just what the fuck “reasonable” actually means in this context. Amazon says it’s $2.99 to $9.99. Others report differently. Every book, every author, every publisher, is going to find different experience and value here. The idea in this case is to let it shake out rather than artificially hamstring anybody’s attempts to set price outside Amazon’s preferred window. If that hurts publishers? So be it.
“As an author, I side with Amazon. They let me publish my books and reach more people than I ever could have otherwise. As a reader, I side with Amazon. Readers and writers benefit from lower prices.”
The naiveté comes in thinking you need to “side” with any one company here over another. The fact that they “let you” publish with them and reach people isn’t a blessing. It’s not a favor. That’s their business value, and you prove that business value to them by publishing there and giving them the cut they ask for — and, further, giving yourself over to the rules that they put in place to govern KDP.
Anything beyond that drifts too close to adulation for my comfort.
“The naiveté comes in thinking you need to “side” with any one company here over another. The fact that they “let you” publish with them and reach people isn’t a blessing. It’s not a favor. That’s their business value, and you prove that business value to them by publishing there and giving them the cut they ask for — and, further, giving yourself over to the rules that they put in place to govern KDP.
Anything beyond that drifts too close to adulation for my comfort.”
The adulation for Amazon becomes stifling. I wonder if employees hold this kind of adulation for the company who hands them a pay cheque every month.
If Amazon were depositing money in my account for me doing absolutely nothing, perhaps then I would put them on a pedestal. However, I work my butt off to put out good books, books readers purchase. Amazon, like Apple, B&N, Kobo and Google Plus are convenient means I get those books out to readers.
They don’t get my first born or my blind loyalty.
A general observation:
Some people are going to see worrying about Amazon’s power (it is not a monopoly, nor close to one, and if someone calls it that, I will automatically discount their opinion accordingly) and arguing for it to be curtailed or controlled as a prudent protection for less powerful competitors to maintain variety in the marketplace.
Other people are going to see it as punishing Amazon for being successful by taking huge risks and having them pay off. Given that Amazon benefits consumers and authors alike, and doesn’t have the history of screwing authors and readers without lube that TPH have, they don’t understand why people prioritize stopping it from doing something it hasn’t done and hasn’t indicated it wants to do over addressing the ginormous actual problems in the traditional publishing industry, including but not limited to its illegal actions and apparent lack of remorse for same.
This is a pretty basic philosophical dichotomy and I’ve rarely seen it successfully addressed. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen it successfully addressed. On any given issue, one can apply reason to arrive at a preferred outcome, but it seems like the basic “Team Amazon”/”Team TPH” decision is a philosophical one and not often well-examined in the person’s own mind. And, as the saying goes, you cannot reason a person out of a position they did not reason themselves into.
Well, that’s some of the weirdness intrinsic to this discussion as a whole — the fact that it has been taken out of the realm of the practical and into the philosophical or even religious. We are encouraged to have faith in a company, which is a strange thing to be asked.
“Increasingly, we do need Amazon. Which is probably what Amazon really wants. They have worked incredibly hard to create an ecosystem for this — it’s a rock solid ecosystem and deserves kudos. But we should all be a little concerned when it becomes the only ecosystem. Competition is good for all environments — a lack of competition or invasiveness tips the scales and harms everybody.”
Couldn’t agree more. They keep sweetening the perks of Select, and do really well by their imprint authors (who also have exclusivity). It is working well for a lot of people now…but there is reason for concern in the future.
Thank you for this post – it aligns with a lot of my thinking. Superstar author ARE going to get special treatment…get your sales to that level and you can be special too. And yes, Amazon sells the bulk of our books so we do need them and our income would be a fraction without them…so yeah it does make us vulnerable. All in all Amazon has a pretty good track record of opening opportunities for authors at all levels. They are good at what they do and we benefit from that.
Best analysis of the tacky letter I’ve seen today. Thank you for a modicum of sanity in this insane business.
I responded to the email with the “Not my monkeys” phrase.
And, hey, it gave me a blog post for Monday. And Friday, I review Empyrean. So Chuck, what should I blog about on Wednesday? I need one more post for the week. You seem to be supplying me with fodder for next week.
Just checked my email. I have the same letter. All my mind thinks is WTF.
[…] Passive Voice, The New York Times, John Scalzi, Chuck Wendig (with bonus Grosse Pointe Blank clip – must rewatch that movie) and Deirdre Saoirse Moen have […]
I recently realized that Amazon’d made themselves a “throwaway” account, and put someone else’s email address on the web, to be spammed to death. How… classy.
(I got creeped out by the “copy us” part. So, like, if I don’t write this email, are my books going to be de-listed? Talk about Orwell and Big Brother is Watching.)
The copy us part was especially unseemly. WT*?
That was literally the scariest part of the email. It really tells you something about the way they run things. Which is downright scary.
I read the email and rubbed my eyes. Wow. Is Amazon really telling writers not only what to think but what to WRITE? Seriously? Including suggested small paragraphs to send to the CEO of Hachette? They’ve gone bat sh*t.
[…] IN WHICH AMAZON CALLS YOU TO DEFEND THE REALM by Chuck Wendig: I have to warn you about this one first, because the “F word” shows up right away. That’s always an interesting choice: while it may more accurately reflect the way you speak and feel, it considerably limits your audience. That said, I thought this was a hilarious take on the Amazon e-mail, and the Hachazon War generally […]
Chuck, I”m with you on so many points, but I still have a big problem with this one:
ebooks cannot be resold. Ever. They can’t be given away. You buy it, it’s yours forever. For that one simple reason, I do not believe ebooks should ever be valued in the same neighborhood as the print versions. If Hachette or Amazon or any other publisher or reseller wishes to find a way for me to trade or gift my ebooks to someone else… then feel free to charge me the same price. Otherwise, I’m not siding with Hachette here.
“ebooks cannot be resold. Ever. They can’t be given away. You buy it, it’s yours forever. For that one simple reason, I do not believe ebooks should ever be valued in the same neighborhood as the print versions. If Hachette or Amazon or any other publisher or reseller wishes to find a way for me to trade or gift my ebooks to someone else… then feel free to charge me the same price. Otherwise, I’m not siding with Hachette here.”
This remains a bit dubious — first, Amazon was the one who patented the ability to resell e-books. Second, many e-books procured through Amazon have DRM (this is the fault of the publishers more than it is Amazon) and as such, you don’t buy them and own them forever. You lease them and own them for as long as that lease is available. Finally, e-books can be lent out, similar to giving a book to someone to read.
Whether this increases or decreases the value proposition is for you and every other buyer to make, but it’s worth a mention.
“Finally, e-books can be lent out, similar to giving a book to someone to read.” <<depends which country you're from, this one. I'm pretty sure this feature isn't available to those signed up via Amazon UK (or it wasn't for a very long time, anyway).
That aside, I agree with what you've said throughout. ☺
I’m not even published yet and I got this email as well. I am going to send an email to Hachette asking them to hold their ground. As much as I like Amazon, I don’t see how them winning this battle is good for authors, especially those that are author-publishers.
Thanks for the handy emails, Amazon.
It’s like Amazon got drunk and is calling us all (writers) at 3am, sounding stupider and stupider as the one-sided conversation goes on. They seem to consider that the writers they built themselves on are idiots. It’s cynical, and it’s insulting. Are they forgetting, in this ‘conversation’ that writers will be called out to express themselves succinctly and effectively, while they just sound Amazanier…? And this is hilarious: They are calling this movement Readers United! Yet another corporation posing as a human, if they tack ‘united’ onto a campaign we’ll assume we’re comrades in arms? And is Hachette is no better. In my personal experience with Micheal Peitsch in 2003, he took two minutes out of his day to set back my career by years, insisting my novel The Ice Chorus go out with a unsellable jacket design despite my vehement protest. After all, I was just the writer. One thing is clear, for either of these giant entities, writers’ careers, well-being and financial gain are NOT the priority.
Great article. I decided to publish independently due to the changing climate of the industry, but this fight is like watching two politicians throw rhetoric at one another while ignoring the destruction around them. Like the scene at the end of Man of Steel when Superman essentially destroys NYC by getting in that Krptonian phallic challeng with General Zod.
I was gobsmacked to read the email and I am also gobsmacked at how many authors buy the propaganda. Amazon treat me like a second class citizen unless I publish through them alone. As a multi national, however well intentioned they may be, I do not intend to put myself at their mercy. I am at their mercy because heaven knows I can’t shift my books anywhere else but I believe in a free market and I intend to try. This behaviour is very, very weird and if anything, like you, Chuck, I’d rather pull away from them than move closer under their… ‘Protection’
This is a terrific piece of writing by Chuck. Makes me want to buy (or sell) his books.
Being an independent bookstore owner in Seattle for over thirty years I find this is one of the more
interesting chapters in a very long story of Amazon’s quest for dominance. I, too, think Amazon
has done some good things and some really stupid things. And ditto the publishers.
There is nothing new here. Amazon has been playing this game and has had these narrow goals
since day one. Publishers and authors have woken up to it, auto parts dealers, the fashion
industry, and hundreds of others still sleep.
And I agree that detachment and tending to one’s own garden my be the best policy
going forward. It makes me sad how much big businesses tend to dominate our lives
and how many small very important and beautiful stories get lost.
Pay attention to that kid on your lap and smile at the old lady on the bus.
Don’t worry about the asteroids.
This was the letter I sent to Hatchette and ReadersUnited:
Dear Mr Pietsch,
I received an overly long letter from Amazon today asking me to write you a letter expressing my displeasure.
I felt this letter was manipulative, one-sided and unprofessional.
I have no interest in being part of a pissing contest that I am not competing in.
Amazon- you do what you need to do, if that means treating books as if they are milk, eggs or another loss leader to get people to the website to buy socks or a phone, so you can yet again NOT give a return to your investors, so be it.
Mr Pietsch and Hatchette- you do what you need to do to earn a profit.
If I wanted to sign a petition against Amazon, I would have.
If I wanted to sign one against Hatchette, I would have.
Leave me the hell out of your negotiations. They have NOTHING to do with me.
I am not a Hatchette author.
While I appreciate the forum Amazon offers to allow me to publish my own material (as long as Amazon does not deem it unsuitable), I do not appreciate being asked to sway negotiations in favor of any side and so far, Amazon, you are the only ones who have done this.
Amazon, let Hatchette charge what they want. If it’s too expensive, the market won’t bear the high price and they will have to come up with a more acceptable one.
Hey guys, this is unrelated to eBooks but only adds to the recent weirdness from amazon. Check out the end of this job posting from in my area from amazon and well….weird…. Harrisburg.craigslist.org/lab/4611325602.html
Why is that a weird advertisement, Ralph? Am I missing something?
[…] Chuck Wendig is likewise severely unimpressed, and calls this maneuver on Amazon’s part tacky. […]
Amazon should let Hachette sell books at whatever damn price it wants, and let the free market decide. If Hachette sets its price too high, it won’t sell books. If it sets its price too low, it will end up with no authors. Hachette will try and maximise its profits, and Amazon should stop telling them how to run their company.
That approach would be the most sensible in other book stores, but trying to do that with Amazon makes as little sense as saying suppliers should be able to sell their products for any price they want at the Dollar Tree store.
Call me naive, but I really don’t see what’s so terrible about the Authors United letter (other than the fact that authors aren’t exactly united on this issue) and the NY Times article covering such. Yes, taking out an ad is more than a little goofy and will just feed into the story Amazon is pushing that the only authors upset with them are out-of-touch elitists, but otherwise it’s a group of Hachette authors and their supporters expressing their displeasure at Amazon effectively holding a large percentage of their book sales hostage. That seems reasonable to me. No, it’s not illegal to not sell Hachette books, or even “bullying” – and nothing in that article suggested it was – but it still sucks, for the authors and their readers both. And the fact that Amazon is currently shirking responsibility for removing the books with a “Why are you hitting yourself? Stop hitting yourself!” defense turns the frustration dial up to eleven.
I mean, yes, the best defense against these sorts of tactics is diversifying your publishing and selling methods, promoting indie bookstores of both the online and brick-and-mortar variety, etc. etc. And yes, referring to Amazon as the “Evil Empire” and proclaiming that you’ll never ever purchase anything from them ever again and neither should anyone else if they’re your “ally” is a really great way to alienate your readers who use and like Amazon. But histrionics aside: I’m willing to let authors get a little goofy with this one. They have a valid complaint.
(And sorry Chuck, but the argument that Amazon not listing a book for sale is the same thing as an individual bookstore not stocking a book is some false equivalency bullshit. The exposure and sales lost from the latter doesn’t even *begin* to compare to the former. And the mechanics of choice in each example are very, very different. Much of Amazon’s domination in the market comes from selling books as loss leaders and undercutting prices in traditional b&m stores, helping to put many of them – including big chains like Borders and Waldenbooks – out of business, and making the rest ever more inconsequential in the market. Shutting down your competition, consolidating book sales and forcing authors to rely more and more on you as a vendor – only to refuse to fulfill that function for certain authors – is a power play, pure and simple. Last time I checked, my local indie wasn’t running the other bookstores out of town so that any author who wanted to sell books in this city would have to be stocked by them.
I’m not saying Amazon doesn’t have the right, as a retail business, to make decisions about what merchandise to sell. I don’t see anyone objecting to that. What I do see is people upset because Amazon has spent the past decade trying to be the only game in town, and now it’s refusing to let people play.)
Also: “900 Authors Are Standing Sadly By Their Sad Shacks Because Amazon Keeps Stealing Their Juice Boxes”? The 60% of both paperback and e-book sales Preston allegedly lost due to Amazon’s shenanigans ain’t exactly juice box money.
The concept behind the Authors United letter is sound — “We feel that Amazon is hurting us, the author, and you, the reader. Please let them know.” Great. The problem is that they got facts wrong and inflated the problem — “boycotting books,” “bullying,” etc. Further, Authors United would feel a lot more relevant if they had been fighting for other relevant author issues, not just the ones that affect their bottom lines today instead of yesterday. (I’ll admit it’s possible they were already fighting for these things, but if they did so, they did so outside the public eye. Most authors I know had no idea Authors United existed until this whole thing started up.)
As for Amazon not being a bookstore — they are, just at a large level. Listen, I think it’s shitty they’re playing games with the books in terms of pre-order buttons and delayed shipments. I think it’s a petty game. But keep in mind most bookstores won’t carry my Amazon imprint books, and some won’t even order them for customers.
It’s not the same thing in terms of size, but it is the same thing in concept.
[…] one side or another.) Trying to co-opt uninvolved writers, uninvolved clients and customers – as Chuck Wendig put it, ‘asking the serfs to pick up sharpened shovels and become knights for the realm’ […]
This whole thing is just – urgh. We’re almost getting back to school yard tactics now. ‘We think it should be done this way, and you have to as well.’
[…] http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/08/09/in-which-amazon-calls-you-to-defend-the-realm/ […]
[…] * Dispute Between Amazon and Hachette Takes an Orwellian Turn. Amazon Gets Increasingly Nervous. In which Amazon calls you to defend the realm. […]
Isn’t the ability to change prices at will one of the benefits of a digital store front? If so, this causes me to question Amazon’s elasticity argument. From a pure business standpoint, if I can get 100 people to buy a book at 14.99 and then drop the price to 9.99 to pick up another 74, I’m going to do that. After which I’ll drop it to 4.99 and see what I can get there. Granted this assumes that the additional 74 are going to sit and wait for the price to hit the specific point they are willing to pay, but Amazon is also making the assumption that aggregate/summary data applies equally across the board for the underlying data (Scalzi’s argument).
Yes, this nuance is lost in the argument. It neglects to examine overall pricing strategies in favor of a ONE SIZE FITS ALL declaration.
That’s absolutely true, but I don’t think that Amazon is making that assumption. They know perfectly well that pricing flexibility is a huge advantage the sales of individual books. They just don’t actually care about the sales of individual books.
[…] Another comment on that Amazon letter, this time from Chuck Wendig: In Which Amazon Calls You To Defend the Realm […]
This. THIS is why I feel like authors are ravening hounds on either side of the divide, and Amazon has just released their packs-badly. Some members have now reacted by barrelling off as expected without thinking, others are milling about, probably sniffing each other crotches or having a pee.
Authors have choices now, and last I checked, we can think for ourselves. Publishers are not our masters, whether the publisher be Hatchett, or Amazon, or anyone else for that matter. In the court of public of opinion, the email was unneccessary, and just plain silly. I mean, WTF? It’s not like Firefly got cancelled, and Browncoats ‘cross the ‘Verse revolted. This is…baffling, to say the least.
The pack of hounds metaphor is hilarious, brilliant, and accurate. Nice one.
Well said. Enough already. Let me write books, buy books, let authors make enough money that they can keep writing books for me to read. I’ll decide what I pay, and it makes total sense for authors to judge the market (with or without the help of a major publisher) and price books accordingly.
See, I think we’ve forgotten about the one thing that has gotten Amazon and Apple in trouble: The price fixing lawsuit.
I believe this isn’t a message to KDP authors, readers, or even Hatchette. This is an act of contrition due to the lawsuit. They are doing this here to say “Look at how awesome we are at policing ourselves. We make sure the other publishers don’t get deadified because we are like a mother hen protecting their whatever those things are…eggs? Are they eggs?”
As far as getting all the data points: You don’t want the data points. You THINK you want the data points and you believe it will help you make an informed decision, but science has proven that you cannot handle it. If you had all the information, you would not be satisfied because the data points might or might not apply to you and your experience.
There is the Synthetic Happiness talk on TED that susses this out a little bit. Great information on a subject like this, and key for marketing purposes (tying it into the other post).
[…] I won’t even bother to talk about the absurdity of trying to rope indie and self-publishers into your argument with a publisher they have NOTHING TO DO WITH. Smarter people than I have already done that. […]
I think the best description I saw above for this Amazon letter was “tacky”. I was a bit amazed – it was a bit like someone forgot the “let it sit 24 hours before pressing ‘send’” rule. I like Amazon. They sell my books, I make money, I can pay my internet bill and upload more books.
But publishers and distributors alike keep trying to turn eBooks into a “crusade” as another poster mentioned when, really, they are both simply diverting attention from the fact that they are becoming increasingly less relevant.
eBooks don’t need distribution chains. All of Amazon’s massive automated warehouses and drone delivery systems are pointless. All of the big publishers volume discounts and huge print factories mean exactly jack and shit. What eBooks need are marketing platforms and internet distribution systems you could setup in a single afternoon. That’s the real struggle and honestly, it isn’t my fight. They can sort that out themselves and self-pubbers like myself will go about business as usual without losing any sleep regardless the outcome.
[…] Chuck Wendig […]
[…] Chuck Wendig […]
I just bought an e-textbook for $88.00 online. For a class. The worst part is that it’s a ‘rental’ so I don’t even get to KEEP the book for future use or need (and there was no option to do so). I can’t even FIND a copy of the book in print–assuming it was ever in print to begin with–and by this point has undergone so many different revisions and editions since the first, that if I found one, it wouldn’t be anything like the current edition. Anyway, limiting the price at which one can sell an e-book, or, well, anything for that matter, kind of refutes capitalism and letting the supply and demand work. As soon as they start limiting prices, soon they’ll be limiting genres, word counts, et cetera. There is no way where caving into such a ridiculous demand is going to win anyone over to their side. And even if they win–then what? (That’s a rhetorical question by the way.)
I loved your post. It was informative and at the same time enlightening. I think more people need to stop worrying about what the mass majority of people around them are doing, and focus a little more on themselves–and whether they’re giving off the impression they want to be giving off. Doubtless making e-books “affordable by all” only works if the person on the other side has a computer AND internet, or an e-reader.
They already limit genres, word counts, etc. If the book’s too short, they’ll boot it. If the book is in a banned genre or includes forbidden content (e.g. incest, unless you’re V.E. Andrews) they’ll boot it.
And the weird thing is, both parties want to limit ebook prices, so if you’re saying that’s a bad thing, it’s a wash.
Wow there are a lot of comments on here. I just want to congratulate Chuck on solving the whole argument:
“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.”
I’ve skipped most of the articles I’ve seen on this topic (here and elsewhere) because this is what is going to happen in the long-run anyway.
[…] Chuck Wendig and Matt Wallace did a great job dissecting the email in their posts. You should go have a read. It was also covered by Time, Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, and fifty trillion other online word pukers. (I include myself in the “word puker” category, so nobody get offended, alright? We’ve all had too much prose and ended up getting sick all over our stack of unread New Yorkers. No shame there.) […]
Didn’t anybody else see this for the Epic Troll it is? Or is it just me who saw the similarities between this and the “plucky group of millionaire underdog authors who are NOT AT ALL being coached into a coordinated effort to all start mysteriously talking about the same thing that a series of media puff pieces just suddenly bring up at the same time and may or may not appear right next to a pricey paid ad in a major media market–we even made a petition about it.”
Didn’t anybody else think that Amazon’s letter about being the guardians of mom, apple pie, and book culture dripped with irony? Is that irony on my shirt? Or is it the slavering drool of the two 800-lb, exceedingly unhygienic gorillas flinging poo at each other above my head and all over my living room? I thought it was irony. It smelled like irony. Because mass-market, commercial ebooks saving something as rarefied as “book culture” makes as much sense as fighting to keep ebook prices high while dragging your feet about paying more than 40 cents a copy to the very person who MADE THE STORY.
(Why are you hurting Book Culture? Don’t you know how it loves you? Didn’t it follow you home, bestow its blessing upon your fridge by eating everything in it, and hold court on your couch to bring a little class to your shabby-ass life? It did all that for YOU, and this is how you repay it? By buying and reading cheap ebooks instead of hardbacks so you can have more with those two-bit one-night-stand books?)
Make no mistake–this isn’t about a serious crusade to get Hachette to change its mind. This is absolutely about nothing more than reminding Hachette that while they can *eventually* prod a dozen or so authors to get a handful each of smaller authors, students, and attended-a-workshop-once-withs to sign on to a petition, Amazon can send out a single email blast *on a Friday night* and if they get even three to five percent of readers to respond (which is the average newsletter click-through on a good day), they will STILL have an order of magnitude more people responding to their media effort than what took weeks or maybe months to put together on Hachette’s part.
THIS…is a viral dick-waving. And yes, that sounds like something that needs some type of cream, and maybe a short note to everyone you’ve been with for the past few months, just in case.