I feel reasonably well-informed about the recent Hachette-Amazon fracas, as I should be—my sales through Amazon represent a substantial portion of my income as a writer and any event that might adversely affect the ‘Zon affects me. I peruse the Gaughrans, Howeys, and Konraths of the indie world with enthusiasm and often break into a rendition of “Do You Hear the People Sing” while sitting at my desk after reading one of their blog posts.
On the other hand, as much as the hypocrisy of Big Five publishers irritates me and the cluelessness of Amazon-haters wearies me, I’m not as invested in exposing every wrinkle of the current war that’s being waged primarily by a (legally required) silent Amazon and a very vocal (through its media outlets and authors) Hachette. I get tired of hearing about it.
What I’d really like to do is ignore the situation and continue to write and promote my books, meet readers, and get lost in stories from my favorite authors.
Unfortunately, having an opinion on the issue is a kind of a requirement of being a person. That could be said about many things, but on this issue in particular, if you don’t make up your own mind, someone will do it for you.
If you are a writer of any kind, the stakes should be fairly obvious. No matter what you think of Amazon personally, you’d be simply denying reality if you didn’t credit the Seattle book seller for pioneering and refining digital publishing.
You may not want to, but you should also recognize Amazon has challenged traditional publishers on their attitudes towards higher royalty rates, timely reporting, consistent pay, the publication of backlists, and the possibilities of Print On Demand. If Hachette (and the rest of the Big Five to follow) undermines Amazon, many of these advances may be lost as publishers return to business as usual.
If you are a traditionally published writer, you might think you’re going to want to dance with who brung you and it would be prudent of you to blow raspberries in Amazon’s direction. But as Joe Konrath and David Gaughran have proven time and again, the kind of agency model that Hachette is demanding would ultimately result in less money for publishers and a corresponding dip in revenue for their writers. If publishers set prices and Amazon can’t discount, what do you think is going to happen to your sales volume?
If you are an indie writer, I probably don’t have to convince you to side with Amazon, but I might have to convince you to care. What’s it to you if a faceless NYC publisher wins a contract war on behalf of writers you’ll never meet?
A lot. If Hachette gets to set prices and Amazon starts losing money, how long do you think 70% royalties for you are going to last? Or free publishing through KDP? And, while the evidence is in that indies account for a healthy chunk of book sales today (and therefore might buffer Amazon from reduced sales from the Big Five), what if the company decides one day that books just aren’t worth it? That the endless negotiations and restrictive agency model that they had to sign onto in 2014 just makes the book business a non-starter? Amazon makes plenty of money on movies, music, and razor blades. Maybe they don’t need books in 2020.
If you are a reader, you should, perhaps, be the most offended of all. Hachette is essentially lobbying for the right to keep the prices you pay for books as high as possible. If you like the lowest book prices on the planet, the choice is clear. Hachette would like to charge you $30 for a hardback and $14.99 for the ebook. Amazon would like to discount those prices heavily—which, by the way, doesn’t change the money that the author sees by a dime. That decision is determined long before Amazon enters the picture.
If you are a consumer of news and media of any kind (i.e., do you have a pulse?), you should still care. When the likes of Stephen Colbert, Lee Child, and Anne Applebaum swallow the Hachette story hook-line-and-sinker, you should take notice. First, you should look askance at anyone you turn to for an opinion when they have a direct conflict of interest (i.e., they are all Hachette-published authors).
Second, how disappointing—and alarming—that these writers, regardless of their personal stake, can’t be counted on to ask simple questions that would unpack the whole story about the dispute. Millions of people turn to writers and personalities like these to give them the unvarnished truth—or should I say the “truthiness”, Stephen?—about complex situations and events that have been intentionally obfuscated. These authors have taken the easiest way out of the debate, embraced their confirmation bias until it hurts, and cheerfully ignored any responsibility to find out what’s actually happening.
Perhaps most important, don’t forget that the Big Five publishers are, for the most part, small entities of much larger global media groups (scroll down to “Who Owns the Media?”) that almost certainly control some portion of your daily world. Newscorp, CBS, and Lagardère Group are some of the parent companies of these poor, downtrodden publishers…which is to say, they have a collective net worth in the tens of billions of dollars and control most of the modern media world. Do you like having your world view shaped and your opinions influenced by large corporate conglomerates under the guise of TV shows, news reports, and op-ed pieces by writers you (thought you could) trust?
You don’t have to memorize the contract differences between the agency model vs. the wholesale model, or read every blog on the subject, or track the negotiation proceedings between Hachette and Amazon like it’s the World Cup.
But get educated and form your own opinions. Or be prepared to have someone else do it for you.