A Brief List of Standard Answers For the Amazon/Hachette Thing

Because it will be useful to do this, to refer people to later: Various complaints/comments/questions about the Amazon/Hachette negotiations and my commentary on it, that I’ve seen online, or have been sent to me via e-mail/social media are below, paraphrased, with my responses. Ready? Here we go.

Why do you hate Amazon?

I don’t hate Amazon. I’m in business with Amazon. They publish many of my audiobooks via their Audible subsidiary, and they sell a lot of my electronic and printed books. I’ve also been an Amazon Prime user since the program started and buy tons of stuff from them.

Then you’re a hypocrite for saying terrible things about Amazon!

If by “a hypocrite” you mean “someone publicly noting the company’s increasingly odd public tactics in its negotiations with Hachette,” then yes. Otherwise, no. I’ve been very clear what my position on Amazon is, to wit: It’s a self-interested corporation, doing what self-interested corporations do. This is in itself neither good nor evil. Its particular public actions are open for comment and criticism.

Why do you love Hachette? 

I don’t love Hachette. I’m in business with Hachette through its UK imprint Gollancz; it’s published two of my books in the UK. Gollancz has done well enough for me. I don’t feel anything that could be construed as “loyalty” to Hachette therein, any more than I feel “loyalty” to Amazon for publishing my audiobooks.

But you’re not criticizing Hachette like you’re criticizing Amazon.

Hachette appears (wisely) not to be offering up as many public opportunities for criticism, as regards this particular negotiation with Amazon. If that changes I might comment on their actions, too.

I still think you’re a hypocrite.

That’s fine.

I also think you’re just a tool of big publishing!

As someone who self-published his first two novels online in an era where if people wanted to send you money they had to physically mail it to you, and then later was the president of a writers organization that frequently went toe-to-toe with publishers to defend the rights of writers and to make sure they were fairly compensated for their work, and who has worked with several small and indie publishers over the years, I find your assertion amusing.

Prove me wrong! Say something negative about big publishing!

I’ll say two things: One, its general continued reliance on digital rights management is stupid and insulting to people who buy electronic books; I’m happy Tor and Subterranean Press, who publish the bulk of my North American fiction, don’t use it, and note its lack has done nothing negative regarding my sales. Two, the standard 25% net eBook royalties are too low, everyone knows it, and I suspect in the very near future if large publishers don’t move off of that as a hard line, they’re going to start losing authors — as they should.

I still think you’re a tool of big publishing.

That’s fine.

Why can’t you see that big publishing is doomed?

Probably because I work directly with big publishing on a daily basis and the part of it I work with is full of smart people who are actively figuring out how to make all this stuff work for them. The fact that one my books — The Human Division, which we initially serialized electronically — was formally a research project, from which data was obtained, crunched and studied intensively, suggests to me that the outside-looking-in image of these publishers as cartoon dinosaurs, flailing chaotically, is, in my corner of this world at least, somewhat uninformed.

But [insert Author name here] worked with a big publisher and says they are doomed!

Okay, and? His or her experience may have been different than mine. Bear in mind that authors are not usually perfect reporters — they carry over grudges, loyalties, slights, personal experiences both positive and negative, etc — and that in general, in my experience, and intentionally or otherwise, they tend to universalize their own individual situation.

Are you calling [insert Author name here] a liar?

Only as much as I’m calling myself a liar, since it works that way with me, too. The point to take away here is that maybe you might want to consider the idea that not any one author should be considered the last word on these sorts of things. This is especially true if the author is nursing a grudge, or has an explicit economic interest in a particular publishing model.

But [insert Author name here] sells lots of books!

So do I. Is there a point you have here? (Also, somewhat related, does anyone else see the irony of criticizing certain traditionally published authors — me among them, I will note — as being part of “the 1%” and thus being somewhat clueless to the real world of working authors, while lauding certain self-published authors whose earnings would also put them into the 1%, in terms of author earnings? Seems sketchy logic to me.)

You feel threatened by this new wave of self publishing and that’s why you hate it!

One, it’s not new — please see my notation of having self-published my own novels, the first one 15 years ago now — and two, I don’t particularly feel threatened by it or hate it, no. Why should I?

Because it will doom the way you get published!

You know, at this point I gotta say I’m not exactly concerned that I won’t be able to sell work, regardless of the publishing environment.

New writers are nipping at your heels!

Excellent — I always need new things to read.

Look, here’s the thing: You can construct in your mind a world where there are the tough and scrappy self-published authors on one side of a battle and the posh and pampered traditionally published authors on the other, and pretend to set them against one another, like flabby, middle-aged Pokemon. But I think that’s kind of stupid and I’m not obliged to live in that particular fantasy world. Nor do I believe that the successes of other writers take away from my own. It’s not actually a zero-sum game where only one publishing model (and the authors who use it) will survive and the rest are eaten by weasels, or whatever. The world is large enough to have authors publishing one way, or another, or by some combination of various methods.

And none of that, mind you, has anything to do with Amazon and Hachette negotiating with each other. Trying to conflate the two suggests you’re not actually paying attention.

You’re smug and obnoxious and condescending.

I’m fine with you thinking that.

I will never buy your work!

Oh, well.

This whole conversation is just you using strawmen to make your own points for yourself!

Hush.

I WILL NOT BE SILENCED.

Fine.

Seriously, though, what do you want out of this?

Me? I want Amazon and Hachette to figure out something that allows both of them to be happy with the outcome — or at least happy enough that they can continue to do business with each other — and for Hachette’s authors to have the same access to Amazon as other authors currently have. I would like for both Amazon and Hachette to have economic models that work nicely for authors, so that everyone makes money and everyone is happy. And as I’ve repeatedly said, I would like authors and everyone else to stop thinking this negotiation is about an epic clash of cultures, and see it for what it is: Two companies trying to maneuver for their own economic advantage.

But it is an epic clash of cultures!

Maybe you need to get out more.

I have a complaint not addressed in this entry!

That’s what the comment thread is for.

168 thoughts on “A Brief List of Standard Answers For the Amazon/Hachette Thing

  1. Oh, John, with your facts and reason and logic. How do you ever expect to make something of yourself?

  2. What? Reason, proportion, and nuance? Don’t you realize you’re on the INTERNET?
    Keep up the good work. Someone has to.

  3. I’m sure some people will want to know your stance on physical bookstores boycotting print books from Amazon’s publishing imprints, to the extent that that is true, and I think it’s a valid question myself. Mind you, I’m not sure a simple answer of, say, ‘to the extent that it’s true and not just not stocking specific books it’s self-defeating’ will satisfy some of them.

    Not me though, I need to know where you stand regarding the optimum placement for a publisher’s offices. Clearly Manhattan is out, but which of the five boroughs might be acceptable?

  4. It is good sometimes, to answer the questions they (a) should have asked or (b) really asked but talked around it. Sometimes they even listen to the answers. A valiant effort nonetheless.

  5. I want to rant like a rabid weasel!

    And, yes, I will accept a malleting for this post. I just couldn’t help myself after reading the other thread all weekend long.

  6. You mentioned Amazon Prime in the post and I had a thought: is Amazon’s system of loaning books back and forth among prime members more of a problem than people think? After all, lending books doesn’t appear to create royalties. If I was an author or publisher trying to move to ebooks, I would not really want them being tossed around on prime, I’d want to sell more ebooks.

    It wouldn’t be surprising to see Hatchette asking for some additional revenue from that and I think it’s not an unfair request, all things considered. Having said that, I’m going to do the only rational thing which can be done: sit back and see how it unfolds.

  7. Only issue I have with your stance is that you aren’t taking Hatchette to task. Inaction and or no response can be just as big of a problem as what Amazon has been doing. Instead Hatchette has been letting certain authors speak for them and those have been typically amazingly inaccurate. Amazon wouldn’t need to send these questionable emails out, if Hatchette was actually negotiating but from everything we can tell, that is not the case.

    Amazon has many faults and it is good to have someone point these out.

  8. John,

    A few things to note.

    First, to the best of my recollection, Subterranean Press has never placed DRM on our ebooks, and I would be in a position to know.

    Second, there are projects that larger NY houses have wanted that have ended up with us precisely because our Ebook royalty rate is double theirs.

    To be sure, we’re used most frequently by authors for side projects, or in conjunction with authors’ primary publishers, which we’re fine with.

    Best,

    Bill

  9. @ Cadeyrn Do you really think people lend books via prime more often than they might lend a paperback, for example?

  10. William Schafer:

    Indeed, and for the record, SubPress has always been eminently fair to me as a publisher. Which is why it’s the go to publisher for so many of my works.

  11. Only issue I have with your stance is that you aren’t taking Hatchette to task.

    You’re going to feel somewhat foolish when you go back and actually read the original post.

    I’m sure some people will want to know your stance on physical bookstores boycotting print books from Amazon’s publishing imprints

    Someone in the other thread mentioned that Amazon’s imprints are POD (Publish On Demand), and physical bookstores rarely stock those regardless of who the publisher is, in which case it’s not really a boycott.

  12. Caderyn

    Since Amazon Prime members are limited to ‘borrowing’ one book a month I doubt it’s financially significant; equally, a quick flip through Amazon UK’s ‘lending library’ shows a fair number of books already priced at zero. Anyone dumb enough to ‘borrow’ a free book from Amazon is unlikely to be applying rigorous standards to their purchases.

    Sean

    John doesn’t have to take sides; he’s calling it as he sees it, and one of the things he’s called is ebook royalties payable by the big publishers. All of the big publishers, including Hatchette; it is, therefore, inaccurate to suggest that he’s refraining from criticising them.

    Incidentally, many of the authors who paid for the NYT advertisement don’t publish with Hachette; they are motivated by a general concern.

    JS

    Amazon is picking so many fights with suppliers, diverting attention from what should have been a huge PR push for its hugely expensive smartphone, that it begins to look as if Amazon is so strapped for cash that it’s desperate. Losing $8000000 is all very well if the investors are prepared to pour yet more money into the company, but I do wonder if Hachette have smelled the blood in the water and are reacting as any business would.

    Books will, of course, survive regardless of Amazon’s fate, but there would be short term disruption. I’m glad that you have diversified into tv…

  13. I think people like Marko Kloos and Chuck Wendig would be very surprised to read that all of Amazon imprint published books are POD.

  14. Nuance. I love it.

    I have been wondering if Amazon’s appeal for support isn’t really a PR push aimed directly at the investors who have been hurt by Amazon’s latest stock price drop. “See, we have the support of our customer base who are standing with us in this dispute so we will eventually win.” The same is true of the NYT ad on behalf of Hachette. We aren’t the real audience, Wall Street is.

  15. @Dave Branson, there’s *plenty* to do for a horde with pitchforks and torches. Wall Street still exists.

    If I see such a horde I will give them directions. Hell, I’ll give them bus fare.

  16. Sean:

    Hatchette has been letting certain authors speak for them and those have been typically amazingly inaccurate.

    (a) [CITATION NEEDED] (b) “Letting”? I doubt Hachette could stop them. “letting” seems to imply control or collusion. If I’m reading this right, that’s simply incorrect.

    Amazon wouldn’t need to send these questionable emails out, if Hatchette was actually negotiating but from everything we can tell, that is not the case.

    There’s no reading of this that’s not incorrect. Amazon has no reason to send those emails *and* they do more harm than good. They make Amazon look terrible.

    Also, how do you know Hachette isn’t negotiating?

    Also also, it’s Hachette, not “Hatchette”

  17. @mythago

    Someone in the other thread mentioned that Amazon’s imprints are POD (Publish On Demand), and physical bookstores rarely stock those regardless of who the publisher is, in which case it’s not really a boycott.

    If that’s the case I would totally agree, although this old NYT article which I guess may be the source of much of it doesn’t mention POD. Mind you, it doesn’t really say if it was an actual boycott or a disinclination to stock specific titles or even just to not promote them, so who knows. In any event, it was just something I thought might be a (semi-)frequently asked question of our host, even if only as a case of whataboutery.

  18. Amazon’s Imprints are not PoD, or at least their initial runs of those books aren’t; the ones we have in the store are off-set. CreateSpace *is* PoD. The boycott written about in the media was about the Imprints (North47 – I don’t remember the names of the others off the top of my head). I believe B&N started this by saying: we will carry the books only *if* we are also given access to the ebooks.

    Since, at the time (and possibly still), the ebooks were to be Amazon.com *only*, and I do not believe at the time they were willing to allow the ebooks to go to any other vendor, B&N said they would not shelve or stock Amazon’s actual publishing imprints.

    B&N removed the DC graphic novels from its shelves when DC did an exclusive to kindle push, as well.

  19. Amazons rant against Hachette would have more weight if it did not have such a shocking record of low pay and tax avoidance worldwide. Companies that don’t have to pay tax, or even make a profit, are obviously in a far better competitive position than those that have to bother about such petty issues.

    Yes, everything Amazon do is “legal” in the narrow definition of the word, but in terms of impact on the world, I just wish Amazon acted a bit more morally, as well as legally

  20. Yeah, that E-mail stank of some form of desperation and a poorly-thought through idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon stock sank just because no investor likes to see their target company acting hastily and with poorly thought out promotional ideas that will alienate some of their content providers en masse.

    Not that I’m pro-Hachette, but I think that Amazon needs to backpeddle like a mad thing, because doubling down and pursuing this road does not go good places.

  21. Just curious: do you plan to write a post explaining to the authors who paid $100,000 to put an ad in the New York Times that Hachette is not their friend anymore than Amazon is anyone else’s? Perhaps addressing the fact they leave out that plenty of bookstores are “boycotting” Amazon-imprint-published authors by actually not carrying their works at all, rather than simply not making pre-orders unavailable?

    (It’s certainly the bookstores’ right not to stock books by anyone they want, particularly ones published by someone they feel is a threat to their business…but then, it’s Amazon’s right to do the same thing, so it ought to be just as scold-worthy on their part as Amazon’s.)

  22. Alexvdl: Amazon’s imprints (like 47North, their SF imprint and the publisher of my MilSF series) are indeed POD. The physical books get printed to order, I imagine by something like a literary Keurig. B&N or the indies will happily order them for you, but they won’t stock them because of their POD nature.

  23. (Whoops, double negative. Wish there was an edit button. When I say “unavailable” I mean “available”.)

  24. “Just curious: do you plan to write a post explaining to the authors who paid $100,000 to put an ad in the New York Times that Hachette is not their friend anymore than Amazon is anyone else’s? ”

    Go back and read John’s earlier posts on this dispute. He’s quite clearly made the point that both Hachette and Amazon are self-interested and that neither is the author’s friend. It’s a business relationship.

    I’m continually puzzled by people (not you Robotech) who take clear statements like These businesses and corporations are not your friends. They will seek to extract the maximum benefit from you that they can, and from others with whom they engage in business, consistent with their current set of business goals. This does not make them evil — it makes them business entities (they might also be evil, or might not be, but that’s a different thing). If you’re treating these businesses as friends, you’re likely to get screwed. (Ref:http://whatever.scalzi.com/2014/07/03/amazon-hachette-etc-its-not-a-football-game-people/) and utterly distort them or ignore them.

  25. Wonderfully moderate and sensible, I feel a desperate need to make the conversation silly:

    I DEMAND PANCAKES.

    That is an unusual request, as I live in Ohio and you live in California.

    BUT PANCAKES ARE DELICIOUS.

    Yes, they are.

    PLEASE SEND ME SOME PANCAKES AND I CAN SPELL OUT “I HATE AMAZON” WITH SYRUP AND THEN WE CAN BOTH BE HAPPY.

  26. My complaint which in epic, meta fashion could not possibly be addressed in this list is that the list is too short. Sure, I’m going to milk that Pokemon comment for a few more giggles later, but seriously, if this list had just been longer, I could still be rolling in first contact laughter rather than writing this complaint.

  27. Well, frankly I have not purchased a book from JS for a long time now although the reason is not related to publishing. But his insights to the book biz is very interesting. But keeping books the cheapest for me is my.main concern.

  28. I always figured that bookstores wouldn’t stock Amazon’s POD books because of the tacky little app Amazon came up with that allowed people to go to a bookstore ; scan the ISBN of a book they wanted and then order it from Amazon right there.

  29. Robotech_Master: What do the choices of booksellers (other than Amazon) have to do with the contract negotiations between Amazon and Hachette, a publisher? Those are entirely separate issues, are they not? It’s also an indication that Amazon, by virtue of their inability/unwillingness to make the compromises ot needs to get those books into stores, doesn’t exactly have authors’ best interests at heart, is it not?

    Also, how many times does Scalzi have to write “Neither is Hachette.” to satisfy?

  30. Dear RM,

    “Just curious: do you plan to write a post explaining to the authors who paid $100,000 to put an ad in the New York Times that Hachette is not their friend anymore than Amazon is anyone else’s?”

    Oh, you mean OTHER than the umpty zillion times John has said that since this whole mess started?

    Just curious: do you plan to read what John has posted before commenting?

    ~~~~

    Dear John,

    Tossing in a bit more nuance– that whole “big publishing is doomed” thing is supremely nor relevant until someone puts a timetable on it. Mebbe big publishing is gonna die (I doubt it, but I can’t prove that). But then, so am I and so are you (and the statistics there are more convincing).

    Just. Not. Today.

    Very likely not tomorrow… or even next year. Maybe not for decades yet.

    Until someone presents and convincing and compelling argument for the imminent death of paper publishing, it’s not germane. Me, I’m happy to conceded the point that it *might* happen someday… because it doesn’t matter to the issue at hand.

    pax / Ctein

  31. Great post. Everyone’s right — from their own perspective and worldview.

    That said, both Hachette and Amazon are wrong, and annoying, because they’re not getting this fixed. Hachette I understand, because big publishing operates at the speed glacial ice moves. Amazon I don’t understand, because I thought Amazon was smarter than this.

    Like most readers, I just want to find good books, and read them. I don’t care who publishes them.

    As a writer, I wish both companies would focus publishing and promoting books.

  32. Robotech_M

    One of the authors who paid for the advertisement is Michael Lewis, who was a bonds salesman for Salomon Brothers in London when I first moved into the City; he really doesn’t need John to explain the way businesses work, and John isn’t foolish enough to imagine that he does.

    Incidentally, Michael’s first book ‘Liar’s Poker’, about his experiences in the global financial markets, has been in print continuously since then; I always recommend it to people if I can’t spare the time explaining the global financial markets myself, with the added bonus that he’s funnier than I am.

    Amazon is, to quote one commenter on Bloomberg, dancing on the edge of the cliff; it’s haemorrhaging money and there are a number of indications that it’s up against its borrowing limits. Amazon UK has traditionally provided free shipping on everything; at the beginning of the year it changed that to free shipping on purchases above £10, and the reduction in sales resulting from that was enough to put a sizeable dent into the income of Royal Mail, the quoted company it used to ship the vast majority of its sales.

    That isn’t a company privileging its customers; the customers suddenly had a massive increase in real prices and cut back on buying stuff from them; Amazon is no longer able to sustain expansion at all costs in the UK, and recent developments, like Google partnering with Barnes and Noble on delivery, suggest that Amazon’s competitors have seen their chance and have realised that Amazon is vulnerable. I thing Hachette have reached the same conclusion, hence my earlier reference to them sensing blood in the water…

  33. Maybe they both just need to Sit down together and have some pie. Warm blueberry pie with homemade vanilla ice cream. My kitchen table is available for negotiations.

  34. Amazon’s taking on Disney now, halting some DVD pre-orders. If they rile up the mouse, they could lose all the cheese. Walt’s little company is a bit bigger than Hachette — and Amazon.

  35. Jon

    Picking a fight with Disney is so bizarre that the possilities are limited:

    Amazon has lost all contact with reality, and/or

    They are so desperate for money that they will do just about anything in pursuit of money.

    Analysts don’t like either of these 2 possibilities…

  36. @Jon

    Walt’s little company is a bit bigger than Hachette — and Amazon.

    Well, based on recent figures Amazon and Disney both have a similar market cap, just south of $150 billion, Amazon gets more in revenues but Disney makes more profit – or would it be better to say that Disney cares about making profits, since working out what Amazon would have made in profits if it wasn’t all about the bread, man, is a bit of a task. I’d say Disney and Amazon are roughly equal.

  37. And now we have the letter from Hachette responding to Amazon spamming authors; this a wonderful example of the ‘more in sorrow than anger’ response, and it will drop into the media on Monday when it is far more likely to get massive play.

    This is fun…

  38. To all those who say their goal is to keep books cheap I have to say that cheap means more than one thing. I’m glad there is someone around to ensure low quality.

  39. What I find odd as an increasingly puzzled bystander is that Amazon recommends books to me and then refuses to sell them to me because they are published by Hachette. It’s like one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. Note they will also recommend books to me that they then refuse to sell to me on the grounds that I don’t live in the U.S.

  40. Five years ago, I figured that the publishers wouldn’t be able to adapt. Now? It looks like some of them are still having problems, but others like Tor and Baen are doing fairly well.

    Where will we be in ten years? Who knows. Apple went from nearly dead, to owning two markets in ten years. Nokia went from owning a market, to dead in less than five.

    That’s life.

    Wayne

  41. Cadeyrn:

    “You mentioned Amazon Prime in the post and I had a thought: is Amazon’s system of loaning books back and forth among prime members more of a problem than people think? After all, lending books doesn’t appear to create royalties. If I was an author or publisher trying to move to ebooks, I would not really want them being tossed around on prime, I’d want to sell more ebooks.”

    Part of this probably has to do with the structure of e-distribution. Anyone who read the comments in John’s previous post will see that I’m a huge proponent of digital distribution, but this is one area where I’m a bit wary.

    Many people don’t realize this, but you don’t own the eBook that you buy from Amazon, or the MP3 that you download from iTunes. Almost all of this digital content operates under a license agreement. Basically, you are paying a fee for the right to have them loan you the work, which they can revoke at any time. This has rarely come into play, with the most infamous example being Amazon’s ironic deletion of 1984.

    On the one hand, I understand that this is a way to prevent copyright infringement. In the days of physical books, it was unlikely that someone would unbind a hardcover and run it through the photocopying machine. In the digital age, making a copy is sometimes a matter of Ctrl +C and Ctrl + V.

    On the other hand, it’s also a way to circumvent the First Sale Doctrine, which distributors of content have never really liked. The idea (in U.S. law) is that you are allowed to loan or resell the work that you purchased without it constituting copyright infringement. Why? Because you’re not actually making a copy, you’re loaning or reselling the physical product that you already purchased.

    But technically speaking, anytime a file goes from one system to another, a copy is being created. So how do you “sell” or “loan” digital content within the context of the First Sale Doctrine? Amazon, Apple, et. al. seek to avoid the question altogether by saying the First Sale Doctrine doesn’t apply to their sales of digital content, because they are not “sales” at all but merely a license.

    This will be an interesting legal question if it’s ever adjudicated by the courts. In the U.S. system, courts can’t offer advisory opinions so there needs to be an actual controversy for a ruling to occur that has binding precedent. I imagine at some point we’ll see one and the application of the First Sale Doctrine in the digital age will be addressed.

    Amazon’s lending program is probably trying to appease readers on this issue. I don’t imagine authors would mind that people lend ebooks anymore than they would physical books being loaned. What they probably would mind is those works being illegally copied and pirated.

  42. We need to form a new readership organization and start a pledge urging amazon to reduce book prices to 1 penny. If they do that we will buy every book that comes out by SFWA members every year. Who is with me?

    Why is amazon going after this publisher? I understand the goal, but why this one and not another one? Is done contract up?

  43. As, Marko Kloos pointed out, I was wrong, and 47North does POD. My apologies for misrepresenting Chuck and Marko.

    To be fair, the copies I have from 47North seem to suffer nothing in terms of quality.

  44. Personally, I like Stephen Colbert’s take on it. He’s been encouraging viewers to buy Hachette books at other vendors and it was a big boost to Edan Lepucki’s debut novel California. It landed her on the New York Time’s Bestseller list which was highly unlikely for a first-time author. Good read buy the way, I really enjoyed it. It’s set in post-apocolyptic California and I found her style of writing refreshing. It’s different from what I would normally pick up and I am really glad I did. She in turn is promoting Stephan Eirik Clar’s debut novel Sweetness #9. I pre-ordered that through Powells too.

    If you aren’t a fan of what Amazon is doing, vote with your wallet and buy books elsewhere. You are getting money to Hachette and their authors, not giving money to Amazon, and most importantly you get to buy and read books!

  45. Is Amazon really incapable of understanding that there are other places to order books/DVDs/etc?

    No, but I suspect they’re relying on the death of competitors like Borders, as well as being the Everything Store and people using Prime.

  46. Amazon is relying on the fact that a lot of the formerly-extant independents were killed off by the rise of the chain mall stores like B. Dalton; that many if not most of the indies who survived that were killed off by the rise of the big-box megastores like Borders; and the confidence that Borders is dead and B&N is not long for this Earth.

    Meanwhile, the same clueless folks who default to the Big Name use Amazon in some cases because they literally don’t know of anybody else to order from; and in some cases because they can also order shorts, chairs and soap there, and don’t know or care what happens to our little industry if it becomes a monopoly.

    I will also point out that the real, Buffett-style value of Disney (brush up on your Graham and Dodd) is so much more than that of Amazon as to make Amazon shareholders VERY, VERY nervous indeed.

  47. Its a matter of time before we see scalzi on a horse with his face painted blue,riding in front of a group of writers yelling “they may take our amazon rankings, but they will never take our right to charge more money”! Then he yells simething unitelligible in klingon. The authora scream hysterically. Then they all turn around and moon jeff bezos.

    Just a matter of time…. The insurrection is coming

  48. The difference with Disney, compared to Amazon, Hatchette, and whatever is that they have fans that will scare anyone in terms of intensity and commitment.

    Go to Disneyworld in August and see exactly what I am talking about. Hatchette and it’s supporters are trying to peel off readers to go to other sites on the internet. Literally nothing at all to do except.. you know.. a few keystrokes and a new registration to do. Disney motivates people to pay thousand of dollars, travel to Florida, wait in lines, and see short attractions. Every year, year after year, until they die.

    Basically, Disney has brand loyalty that no one else can match. Maybe in the entire world. Apple, maybe, but probably not.

    If Disney and Amazon ever really tangle, Disney can just make Frozen 2, make the enemy Bezos, and stop the film 30 minutes in, and ask everyone to please take out their phones, and call Amazon to demand Bezos kill himself.

    Prediction: my 7&9 year old will take him out before he gets the chance to do it himself.

  49. Seriously though, depending on the analyst, Amazon’s overvalued by 3-10 times based on actual potential future value, and 10-100 times based on actual performance. Investors see the sky for Amazon, but less so every quarter. Disney has a wide portfolio, which all make money. ESPN is the crown jewel of money making, followed by the other divisions who make a nice profit as well.

  50. I had a reference book published in 1991 and its still in print after over 23 years It had set a new standard in it’s field.. Amazon sells copies of the hard copy for which my publisher pays me a royalty. I also found, by accident, that Amazon made a digital copy of my book for their Kindle. The problem being that I own the copyright and was NOT asked for permission to make a digital copy.

    I spent 23 years of research in order to produce the book and that was all pre-Internet time. I travelled all over the U.S. to gather the material for the book at my expense. That represents a great deal of my life and I feel I should be paid for it.

    Amazon sells the Kindle version of my book for $233 which represents very large profit to them and I don’t receive any royalties from it and I own the copyright. I brought this to their attention and rec’d an e-mail with a phone number on it along with the name of a lawyer that represents them. I am a handicap, old man (with 10 great-grandchildren) and I live only on Social Security and cannot afford to heir a lawyer to represent me. I wonder what percentage of their Kindle books are actually illegal (done without written permission from the copyright owner) and Amazon cashes in on the fact that most people will not do anything about it because either they feel its to much trouble to go through or just cannot afford to take them on as is my problem. I am working on three new reference books – are they going to do that to them so that my sales for hard copies will not be there for me?

    Thus, am I for e-books? Because of Amazon and their illegal ways, I am no longer for e-books. Because of Amazon, I have found two other websites with the same digital copy of my book on it for their members to download, one for free and the other for a charge. They got their copy from Amazon. They get paid for my hard work and I don’t get anything.

  51. @Miles Archer: It’s news to someone when a child sneezes on the street. Read the news that interests you, skip over the rest.

    @John Scalzi: I can’t disagree with any of your points here. but you still manage to come across as more on Hachette’s side in this situation. Perhaps Hachette isn’t making any press releases or conducting any media circuses (and that’s probably a good thing), but you could certainly address Preston’s crowd who throw around a goodly amount of terrible press, at the same time as you address Amazon’s terrible press.

  52. @William Chamberlin – Amazon has a copyright infringement page which explains how to notify them of a problem; it doesn’t say that your lawyer has to contact them, just that they have a specified procedure for who at Amazon you tell about the problem, and what information they need.

  53. MrTroy….

    the problem with your request is that calling out Hachette for Preston’s statement isn’t the same as calling out Amazon for Amazon’s statement since Preston doesn’t represent Hachette.

  54. Make of this what you will. Amazon emailed me to say that my pre order for Dead Pig Collector, a Hachette piece by Warren Ellis, has been canceled because of “unexpected delays.” The problem here is that I bought that and downloaded it last June. So far, it is still in my Kindle library. I think I’m going to spend some time baking up my library on a flash drive.

  55. @William Chamberlin –

    If you don’t think you’re getting proper royalties due, I’d suggest you take it up with Greenwood Press — it may well be there’s a clause in your publishing contract that allows a digital edition. From looking at Amazon’s listing, it seems that Greenwood has set a suggested retail price of ~$300, which is higher than the hardcover prices, but Amazon has (depending on their contract w/Greenwood) decided to discount it at their own cost.

    The real villains are the ones a few links down (below the pictures) in these searches (cut and paste if the links don’t work):

    https://www.google.com/#q=%22William+J+Chamberlin%22

    and

    https://www.google.com/#q=William+J+Chamberlin

    That is, bookzz and dynamicdirections. They’re not charging anything at all, so I guarantee they’re not sending anything to your publisher. Amazon, OTOH, likely has an agreement with your publisher; and they’ll at least listen to you (see mythago above) to work something out.

    Most businesses are quite cutthroat in their operations, be they Amazon, Hachette, Greenwood, Alcoa, ATT, or Standard Oil. However, most of them tend to (more or less) abide by the more obvious rules; they simply take advantage of the subtle ones, and the certainly play for keeps in any grey area they can find. But they honor the black and white (but not the grey) in any contract signed.

    If you’re missing royalties, ask your publisher about it. Maybe there aren’t any digital sales; I’d guess that your core audience prefers dead trees over electrons. Or perhaps there are a few digital sales, but they weren’t broken out in the royalty listing. Or your publisher “forgot” them (hence the “more or less” abiding by the rules). Or, in my opinion least likely, Amazon really is selling copies on Kindle without paying anything to your publisher; your publisher does have the money for a lawyer, and while it may not be worth it in one particular instance to sue, their staff lawyer can certainly send an annoyed letter on behalf of you and any other authors in such a situation.

    Regardless, I expect that Amazon is strictly abiding by some contract with your publisher; whether or not you like said contract is in the air.

  56. @Rick Gregory, that would depend on what you consider representing Hachette. Preston is under contract to them. His statements claim to be not taking sides but his rhetoric is clearly doing just that. And he somehow managed to get Hachette to send him detailed current sales figures when less than a week earlier he claimed to have not been in contact with Hachette at all. Pretty neat trick right there and more than a little fishy, or at the very least deserving of some how/why questions. I’d be interested in seeing some other Hachette authors ask them for sales figures, too, and what their response would be. Recall the author a few months ago who asked Hachette for info on their book shipments when there was some question that they may not be promptly shipping said books and got a response saying “we’re not sharing that info with third parties.”

  57. Also, what’s wrong with calling Preston out for what Preston is saying? Seriously, it’s pretty whack stuff.

  58. @MrTroy – I’m not sure if what Douglas Preston has been saying is meant to be calloutworthy whack in the sense of blatantly obvious factual mistakes, like adding 2 + 2 to make 3 because 5 would be too high and you’re ignoring the existence of 4 or quoting famous dead authors way the hell out of context; or in the sense of ‘doesn’t he realise it’s all Hachette’s fault, Amazon had to do this to get them to negotiate and I know that because that’s what Amazon said.’ I apologise if this has been done to death elsewhere.

    But I do know one reason why challenging him in the sense of calling him a stupid lying shill (or, y’know, whatever he is being accused of, not trying to put words in anybody’s mouth) when he says he’s not taking sides would be wrong: it might give Hugh Howey the sads:

    We chatted today, and as I suspected, Douglas and I agree on far more than we disagree. We both want what’s best for writers. The confusion is on how to achieve that. I don’t know that I have any better answers than I did before. We would both probably write similar pleas a second time around. But we’d probably do even more to assume that the other side is seeing the world differently but with the same generous spirit. The only thing this solves is my cognitive dissonance when people I admire have differing opinions.

    I don’t think it makes any more sense to see this as a battle of authors who are speaking publically that people must take sides on because it’s part of the Kulturkampf/Singularity/Occupy Flatiron Building any more than it makes to see the same thing happening when two companies negotiate. But I think that whereas with companies you can assume the worst of them, with human beings you should assume the best.

  59. Then you’re a hypocrite for saying terrible things about Amazon!

    Here’s a modest proposition, you can like a lot of things about X. and still call ‘em out when they’re showing their arseholes in ways people really shouldn’t do except in private among consenting adults who like that kind of thing. In my book, that’s being a real friend not a hater.

  60. August 11, 2014. 8:36 A.M. Oxford, Michigan. We’ve barricaded ourselves in the house. We’re stocked with SPAM, bottled water and cold pizza. We are well-armed, but have limited ammunition. The weasels have surrounded the house. This could be our last stand.

  61. Jon Skalsi you are ebil and Amazon is the body of Christ on this earth. Beware the power of the new redeemer you heathen!!!!11!!eleven!!

  62. I’m coming at this as a supporter of Amazon in this spat, but I appreciate your POV. I think now is the time for authors to unite against publishers and the royalty issue. I get the feeling that the 900 are expecting a quid pro quo from their publishers for taking the lead in this fight against the great Satan that is Amazon. It ain’t gonna happen. In fact, you may see the publishers double down if Amazon is successfully beaten back and feel no pressure to address the low royalty rates.

    You stated yesterday that Amazon doesn’t care about the consumer, that this a move in the name of profit, and I agree. I think it’s naive to believe otherwise. However, I will say that having worked for an Amazon.com company, I’ve seen firsthand the customer centric policies put into place, and it’s often done so at a short term financial loss. Why? Because the result is customer loyalty, and WOM support that results in a long term financial gain. So Amazon is customer centric for the self-serving reason that it’s more profitable. Publishers are as equally self-serving. They care little about the authors because they are a product. If the product doesn’t sell, there’s no altruistic move to keep the author around and invest money into their fledgling career. Nor should there be. My point is that neither player here is looking out for anything other than what they deem to be the most profitable solution.

    I would much prefer to see Authors United take this fight to the publishers and make some lasting changes to the industry that truly benefit authors.

    JMHO – I’ll always be a Scalzi fan.

  63. @William Chamberlin – to add to JoeT’s comments:

    1. If your publisher is the Greenwood that is owned by Houghton Mifflin, then they do indeed have lawyers who would, for HM’s sake if not your own, want to act about bookzz and that ilk..They “should” leap at the opportunity to shut them down.
    2. If HM has decided not to solve that problem, contact me offline and my little firm will be happy to jump in pro bono. Maybe I’ll write a book about the experience.
    3. Your reference book might make you more money by conversion into a more modern format – not merely digitization but conversion into a format that links the various data items (Bible printings/translations) with each other and other resources (e.g. reprints of those editions) How you would make your fair bit of money from this I’m not sure but people more clever than me can. Even with mere onsite advertising: there are a whole lot of people into the general subject matter of Bible study and attracting even 1/10th of 1 percent of them into giving you a penny could add up. Perhaps you could find a smart young family member who could help you with this – it could be fun and profitable!

  64. RIchard Ridley – well said. As some have already stated, authors are the same as the publishers which are the same as amazon. It is all about money and trying to get the most of mine and how they will split it.
    I want to pay the least amount possible. If I was concerned about Amazon, publisher, author well being then I could just send them money. I am one who has used the Amazon app to scan items at the bookstore, bestbuy etcm and see if amazon is cheaper. If so, then guess what? I buy it on amazon. It really is pretty simple. Of those who want to pay more then they can certainly send money to JS or hatchette.

  65. “pretend to set them against one another, like flabby, middle-aged Pokemon”

    THIS is how we make Scalzi and Wil Wheaton fight each other for our childrens’ amusement! D’ya suppose we could borrow animators from Stephen Colbert or the Rifftrax guys?

  66. I’m just writing to say thank you for the cup of sanity in the morning. Almost as valuable as coffee… and before people go bashing me as a coffee hater, I did say -almost-.

  67. NB: It’s a long a meaty (red meat, and very entertaining, in the New Yorker manner) article, and what it mainly illustrates is just how Amazon is SO not your friend….

  68. When I was spammed by Amazon regarding this, I sent them a warning that I may be forced to block or unfriend them. They reminded me of people who have meltdowns on your wall on Facebook or cc you with diatribes about a political figure or corporation. I eventually have to tell them to please leave me out of it.

    Having said that – why do they care what price anyone charges? If they miscalculate, the market will punish them. Then hopefully they will catch on and make the appropriate adjustment. Sure, give them some advice – which they should be free to ignore. I don’t understand all the chest beating.

    As an occasional author and even app developer who has written games for Kindle, I worry about the way they seem to like to throw their weight around. I think next time I’m just going to sell a PDF from my Web site through a service like Fastspring or Payloadz. Sure I might use Amazon to bring in some sales – but who knows if they might start to bully me on price and profits too.

    BTW, in case they haven’t noticed – a lot of computer programming eBooks are a more than $9.99 – but I don’t see them complaining about that.

  69. Maybe I missed something early on but my first awareness of this giant pissing contest happened when Amazon decided to screw with Hachette & its authors. When people whine that you are harder on Amazon than on Hachette perhaps they missed that tidbit. I would assume had Hachette refused to let Amazon deal in its works you would have been at least as hard on them. But thats not what happened so I am a bit surprised that anyone would whine about your treatment of the two.

    Unless, of course, they really just want to whine about you – but NOBODY would do that, right?

  70. Dan Meadows: Preston does not represent Hachette. The fact that he’s under contract to them is utterly irrelevant and the fact that you think that any author who has a contract with a publisher is thus able to speak for the publisher officially is adorable but it shows a rather weak grasp of logic.

    Mr Troy – there’s not a thing wrong with calling out Preston (or Scalzi, or any other author). Conflating the author’s stance with the publisher’s is disingenuous at best and illogical.

  71. Nobody seems to have mentioned that manga publisher Yen Press, which is technically a Hachette imprint, doesn’t seem to be affected by this whole wrestling match, as Yen titles like Soul Eater and Is This a Zombie? continue to show up on my Amazon recommendations list. In case my pointing out the Yen-Hachette relationship causes this to change, I apologize in advance, just to be on the safe side.

  72. The one thing I fail to grasp in this whole thing is why the retailer is controlling the suppliers price.

    Supplier says “Item A costs x”, Retailer then says, “Ok, I will buy it to resell, or I will not it is to expensive” Retailer then chooses to sell said item for whatever they want (unless MSRP or some other agreement prevents them). If Amazon feels so high and mighty they could just not sell Hatchette books. Why the huge kerfuffle?

    Amazon either accepts the price the supplier is willing to sell to them or they do not.

    Anyways, the price of an item is not always based on the material cost to make it. Why is that so hard for people to grasp? I can by used books cheaper than ebooks, but the convenience adds value to me.

  73. @Frankly

    Agreed. Correct me if I’m wrong, but my impression was that the chain of events came about something like this:

    1. Amazon wished to negotiate new contract terms lowering the price of ebooks.
    2. Hachette believed that these terms would not be to their benefit. They refused.
    3. Amazon started delaying shipments, deleting pre-orders, writing their letters to the public, authors, etc.

    Which outcome you’d prefer is one thing (it’s totally fair to want cheaper e-books), but personally, I find it difficult to sympathize with Amazon when as far as we know (and I suspect they would have told us by now) they haven’t offered anything to Hachette would want, and instead resorted to hampering their own services.

    Sure, they have the right to do that, but it’s not as though Amazon is getting a worse deal than anyone else on ebooks, and if the revenue isn’t enough, they _could_ always stop discounting as heavily (they wouldn’t, but it’s not like they don’t have the option).

    Obviously, I get the desire to have cheaper ebooks, but if Hachette doesn’t think it’ll make money that way, why on earth should they have an obligation to listen to Amazon’s demands?

    Amazon’s PR has fallen back a couple times on implying that Hachette is at fault for not negotiating, but what is Amazon actually offering? Amazon has also presented some numbers indicating that lower prices will actually increase revenue due to sales volume, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that’s not 100% accurate, or at least that Hachette isn’t convinced to take on the risk–and there, isn’t the burden of proof on Amazon again?

    If Amazon made the initial request and did all the escalation thereafter, could it be that the facts, rather than bias on John’s part, are painting Amazon in a less charitable light?

  74. Amazon reminds me of every other industry-owning behemoth that started trying to dictate terms to its partners, customers, suppliers, etc. because they were the only game in town.

    History is often not kind to companies that do that. Remember when we were terribly concerned that Microsoft had a stranglehold on the web browser marketplace? How about when Kodak controlled film standards, Blockbuster controlled video rentals, B&N could decide what books became bestsellers, all supercomputers were Crays, Tower Records were music kingmakers or even when Ford cars only came in black?

    Unlike its expertise and infrastructure that make it so hard to compete with in selling and shipping physical goods, Amazon does not have some unique capability to deliver ebooks to consumers beyond the limited reach and benefits of the Kindle ecosystem. When your existing/potential competitors are cutthroats like Google and Apple, it might make long-term sense to act a bit less like the only game in town and more to create a sustainable value proposition that works for not only you and your customers but also your suppliers and partners.

  75. @guess:
    Why is amazon going after this publisher? I understand the goal, but why this one and not another one? Is done contract up?

    Yep. “Susan from 29″ spelled it out in the other thread.
    Hachette is the first publisher to renew with Amazon after the 2012 settlement. Amazon is trying to negotiate the best possible terms since that’s what will inform the other contract renewals.
    So they’re throwing all their weight into this. They can buy good PR later, once Hatchette is done and the terms are set.

  76. @Ozzie Isaac:

    If Amazon feels so high and mighty they could just not sell Hatchette books. Why the huge kerfuffle?

    Very basically, because Amazon’s whole brand is “we sell everything, cheap” (YMMV, whether that’s actually true) and if Hachette successfully tells Amazon to fuck off other suppliers might get ideas. And that’s not good for Amazon.

    @maspower:

    Amazon’s PR has fallen back a couple times on implying that Hachette is at fault for not negotiating, but what is Amazon actually offering? Amazon has also presented some numbers indicating that lower prices will actually increase revenue due to sales volume, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that’s not 100% accurate, or at least that Hachette isn’t convinced to take on the risk–and there, isn’t the burden of proof on Amazon again?

    One might think — as out host has said repeatedly (and correctly) Amazon is looking out for its own interested, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone. What surprises me is Amazon’s melodramatic pearl-clutching at the very thought that Hachette (which has its own shareholders, creditors and suppliers to pay) isn’t terribly keen to bend over and take a dry finger up the butt for Team Amazon.

    And while I’m no expert on the economic of bookselling (adjust your bullshit filters accordingly) those numbers Amazon have been throwing around sure look to me like they’re based on assumptions that have little, if any, relationship to reality.

  77. maspower:

    In Scalzi’s earlier entry on Amazon’s letter to authors, the Amazon’s analysis about sales volume was addressed, and found lacking. Essentially, Amazon’s claim appears to hinge on either a) the price of a $14.99 ebook never changing, or b) that extra 74% of buyers vanishing into the aether the moment the book is listed at $14.99. There analysis seems to be 1.74 x ($9.99) > 1.00 x ($14.99) which is true. But the (more realistic) counter-claim is {1.00 x ($14.99)} + {0.74 x ($9.99)} > 1.74 x ($9.99). Or to put it in non-math terms, when Amazon says “If you have 100 buyers at $14.99, you have 174 buyers at $9.99″, they’re not explaining why you shouldn’t read that as “You have 100 buyers at $14.99, and you have another 74 buyers at $9.99″. Applying the math just shows that the second reading is worth more.

    I suppose it’s possible that Amazon accounted for that in their analysis. It’s possible that when they said, “You can sell 74% more books at $9.99 than at $14.99″, what they meant was “You can sell 74% more books if you start at $9.99, then if you start at $14.99.” But, AKAIK (I can’t recall the wording of the letter), that’s not what they said. But it’s such an obvious flaw in their analysis, one that authors who were reasonably astute book consumers could have caught, that I don’t know why they wouldn’t be more clear.

  78. docrocketscience:

    Thanks! The math breakdown definitely helps, not to mention the phrasing dissection.

    I would be very curious to hear what Hachette has to say about the numbers (various customers vanishing into or appearing from the ether notwithstanding). If it actually were a clear and blatant truth that increased sales would make for an increase in revenue all around the table, I’d be a lot more sympathetic towards Amazon and skeptical about what Hachette’s thinking. With the number of assumptions in play, it looks like the outcome is substantially less clear.

    At this point, I’m a pretty firm believer in John’s ideas about corporate self-interest, so Hachette tanking all the losses from Amazon to avoid an _increase_ in revenue? Nah, not buying it.

  79. I wonder if Amazon’s stats can be inverted somewhat. Rather than framing it as how many books readers bought, but as price points authors sell at. Then the stat becomes, there are 74% more authors which can sell a book at $9.99 than at $14.99.

    This falls in better to how I frame book pricing, with well-known authors having a higher price than new authors. Would be interesting to see if this was true though; if only Amazon would release all the data.

  80. I wonder what you think the ultimate outcome will be? Where this started I assumed some comprise would soon be reached, but as it drags on I now think Amazon may just drop Hachette books altogether.

  81. Bookworm1398

    Amazon can’t afford to drop Hachette altogether; it makes substantial sums of money from them.

    Amazon’s investors really are not going to take kindly to Amazon refusing to take money from a provenly profitable revenue source, particularly when Amazon is losing money hand over fist, and yet shows no signs of Bezos even realising that there is not a bottomless pool of money to call upon.

    I’m fairly sure that the suits are rapidly approaching the point where Bezos himself is beginning to look like a liability…

  82. tough and scrappy self-published authors on one side of a battle and the posh and pampered traditionally published authors on the other

    Meanwhile, tough and scrappy me will be visiting with my posh British friend later this year, and we will go buy yarn, beads, and books together, and I will reassure her that when her traditionally-published books are finally out, they will sell wonderfully and I will make her sign my copies.

    Even more heretical, I crochet and she knits, and we simply agree that these are both different styles of yarn-bending.

    We’re a buddy movie. >_>

  83. My apologies for double posting but it just occurred to me that ‘suits’ may be unfamiliar to some; it’s the generic name for the people who really run things, usually money people…

  84. @xxx: Conflating the author’s stance with the publisher’s is disingenuous at best and illogical.
    I don’t think I conflated those, I simply pointed out that calling out Amazon’s self-interested press but not Preston (et al)’s self-interested press might be seen as evidence of bias. Hugh Howey aside, Preston’s behaviour is not congruent with supporting mid-list authors in trying to survive in the middle of this fight.

    @CS Clark: Well, I’m not taking sides either, but I think Preston is wrong (see what I did there?). And probably lying. It may be entirely possible that he really truly wants the best for authors, but it would be more convincing if he acted in a way that worked towards that end, rather than what is best for himself and the rest of the 1% (and coincidentally, the big publishers).

    @Frankly: Maybe I missed something early on but my first awareness of this giant pissing contest happened when Amazon decided to screw with Hachette & its authors.

    Amazon may have decided to screw with Hachette, but has gone above and beyond in trying to keep authors out of the fight. See http://jakonrath.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/amazon-hachette-sounds-of-silence-guest.html for a timeline. Amazon started the contract renegotiation in January, then unilaterally extended the old contract that was expiring in March. Hachette didn’t even respond to the contract situation until the original contract had already expired. The extended contract has now also expired.

    So we have a retailer still offering books to its customers, when it has no contract with the only (non-retail?) supplier of those books. Frankly, it’s a sign of how patient Amazon is being with Hachette (and/or more greedy for the profits than wary of the risk*) that it’s willing to list Hachette titles for sale at all, since Hachette could completely screw Amazon over on any orders it tries to fulfil.

    * I think the greedy option is less likely, considering that Amazon offered to give the affected book profits directly to the authors or charity.

  85. I don’t think I conflated those, I simply pointed out that calling out Amazon’s self-interested press but not Preston (et al)’s self-interested press might be seen as evidence of bias.

    /headdesk. How many times do we have to point out that Preston does not speak for Hachette in any official capacity?? What do you not get about that? Whereas John and others are dissecting the official communications from Amazon.

    Frankly, your bias is showing. You simply cannot miss the fact as to not understand that Preston is simply one of Hachette’s authors and that his statements are not Hachette’s.

    As for why Amazon would continue to sell the books from Hachette even with out a contract… $$$. For both sides. Surely that’s easy enough to understand?

  86. @nihilinitio:

    I, for one, welcome Scalzi’s strawman Overlords.

    This needs to be a bumper sticker.

    Seconding that these are Very Good Points you are making, Scalzi.

  87. @rickg, I have no idea why you think you have to point out that Preston isn’t speaking for Hachette, in any capacity official or otherwise? I was under the obviously mistaken impression that John wanted to comment on misleading press releases and point out where the statements are trying to hide self-interest, but you seem to think he’s only interested in official missives.

    Do you disagree that John is (perhaps unintentionally) showing bias in this matter by only covering one side of the story? As for my own bias, I happen to think that Amazon is behaving “less evil” than Hachette in this situation, but if you read my other comments that clearly doesn’t extend to thinking that Amazon is “clearly not evil” or even that Hachette is “clearly evil” (“evil” being used purely as a relative barometer of morality, please don’t read too much into it).

    tl;dr: I agree with much of what John is saying, I just wish he’d cover more than one side of the story (the story has more than two sides).

  88. MrTroy

    You appear highly motivated to reduce this to ‘sides'; it does not appear to have occurred to you that ‘sides’ isn’t a useful concept in analysing anything more complex than schoolroom brawls. Sure, you may have two or twenty sides in a schoolroom brawl but for anything more intellectually demanding you need more sophisticated concepts.

    John writes what John chooses to write; you are choosing to suggest that John is biased, directly or subconsciously against Amazon. John has already answered that one but you are pretending that he hasn’t; this isn’t helpful if you want to persuade people that you are writing in good faith…

  89. One thing I appreciate about the “Big Idea” pieces is the links to multiple book-selling sources. I am reminded that Amazon is not the only supplier of books to be found on the Interwebs.

  90. Chris Crawford, that’s a tad over dramatic, don’t you think? The possible fallout from this (assuming things don’t just stay as they are) would be: 1) you can’t buy some books from one particular retailer; or b) you may be asked to shell out an extra couple of bucks for your books.

  91. What a sane and reasoned take on the Amazon/Hatchett business. Amazon does seem to be going out of its way to say, “Kick me!” to authors and even readers, most recently with its distortion of George Orwell’s take on the original introduction of paperback books. Hatchett (like the rest of traditional publishing) is hardly a saint. They’re both behaving like three-year-olds.

  92. Me, I just enjoy all the rhetoric and euphemisms and ever-so-sly remarks from Amazon fans. especially the elitist overtone ones like “gatekeepers” and “the 900″.
    I also think it’s time to drop the “traditional publishers” line when talking about Hechette and the others. They’re all part of corporations now that, like Amazon, see books as widgets to move. The real “traditional” publishers are the small presses.
    Amazon plays chess–if they’re still selling books for Hechette (like the store who keeps some stock in the back and will get it for you if you really really ask for it.) then it’s because it’s part of their plan.
    Also, I did read Barry Eisler’s rambling blogpost. Which makes me think that maybe the dispute among the readers/writers/etc. over this is between those who see books as special and those who see what they read or write as just popcorn filler. No different than Angry Birds or Halo.

  93. John:

    I’m a big fan of yours, my wife and I both loved “Red Shirts”, and I’m generally appreciative of the point of view you’ve brought to the discussion. I’m a bit disappointed with a few of your comments, assertions, and assumptions, though.

    In an earlier post you were pretty dismissive of Amazon’s analysis of the economics of book buying, and said that you trusted Hachette’s take on the market more. Why? Because Hachette has been at it longer. That’s pretty shaky reasoning. I’d understand if Amazon was only a few years old or new to the book market, but they’ve been in this for about 15+ years now and have a lot of data on how book buyers behave. If Hachette actually has a better grasp of the market, I’ve yet to see it. A lot of the turmoil in the legacy entertainment industries over the last 15 years has occurred precisely because the big players DIDN’T actually understand (or didn’t want to understand, or didn’t care) what the consumers wanted or how they behaved.

    Second, you were similarly dismissive of the idea that books are effectively commodity entertainment, something that can be easily replaced with other forms of entertainment. I’d argue that that line of thinking is dangerous in that you can trick yourself into thinking that because your field is somehow special, it can get away with doing certain things because readers will understand and support that. You’ve been on the forefront of innovation in the book market for a long time now, and it’s disappointing to see you toss a lot of that aside and fall back on the “books are different” trope.

    Thirdly, the types of tactics Amazon are using here — making Hachette and Disney titles less available, delaying shipments, etc — aren’t that different from brick-and-mortar stores choosing which titles to stock, which titles to put cover-out on the shelves, and which titles to place at the end of rows. Amazon’s big sins here are (a) doing this in a ham-fisted way, and (b) being in the public eye while doing so. It’s still hardball, but to pretend it’s something other than the electronic version of what’s been happening for a long time now is similarly disingenuous. It’s just happening in public view and is easier for someone in their living room to verify.

    And finally, in general I’m disappointed by some of the comments here arguing that Amazon basically doesn’t do anything except send bits out over the wire, while the author and publisher do the bulk of the heavy lifting. Sending those bits out involves building large datacenters in geographically diverse regions with reliable and low-latency networking links, which must be staffed, monitored, and maintained 24/7. Claiming that Amazon is just pushing bits around is just as disingenuous and short-sighted as claiming that all the publishers do is run spell check on the author’s draft and send it along.

    [ Disclaimer: I don’t work for Amazon or have any business or financial relationship to them, but I do work in the tech field. ]

  94. Mrtroy – I think it should be obvious that I don’t agree with you at all especially since you seem top be one of those people who ignores things right in front of his face. I point out that Preston isn’t speaking for Hachette because you repeatedly equate his position with Hachette’s. You say John isn’t criticizing Hachette as much and offer this as evidence of bias, ignoring the fact that he address this *in this very entry*.

    You are, in short, one of those people I don’t usually engage with – someone who ignores what’s said, cherry picks excerpts from long passages, imputes motives to others even if they’ve stated contrary motives and, in general, continually tries to hold to their imaginary narrative vs engage in actual discussion. So, we’re done here.

  95. Wow. “The 900.” “Quid pro quo.” Double wow.

    Speaking as one of the authors who chose to sign onto Preston’s letter, I don’t have any publishers to expect “quid pro quo” from. I’m not a midlist author. I’m not even on a list at all. I’m just a small, occasionally published short story author who is sick of watching Amazon repeatedly pursue hostage-taking business tactics.

    See also: Amazon removing BUY buttons from all Macmillan-published books in order to pressure Macmillan into more Amazon-favorable business terms, and Amazon doing the same thing to Hachette some years before; and Amazon cancelling all Colorado-based Amazon Associates accounts to pressure the state of Colorado out of passing a tax law they didn’t like. (Obligatory disclosure: I was a Colorado-located Amazon Associates account holder. Thankfully, I did not rely on my account for significant side-income. But I know people who did.)

    I will cheerfully cop to being anti-Amazon. I have a lot of reasons for it. The hostage-taking crap is just the one currently under discussion, is all.

    Now, reasonable people of good will can debate whether Amazon or Macmillan had the right of it in those negotiations, or whether Colorado’s tax laws are fair and just. And Amazon has every right to choose not to sell a vendor’s products or do business in a certain state. Or to choose not to sell books with GBLT content in them in their search results, if you remember that incident. But if that’s the decision they want to make, they need to own it as their decision, and not a thing that they would Rather Not Have Done, except the business currently in negotiations with them Forced Their Hand. This crap — “Give us everything we want, or the puppy gets it… Oh, see what you made us do? You can stop the hurting at any time, you know…” — that’s not OK, and it was refreshing to see Preston call them out on it.

    I suppose it makes a better story to say that the letter’s co-signers are all bigtime 1% corporate shills. I understand the attraction of a well-told story. But it’s important to distinguish reality from fantasy sometimes.

  96. “Second, you were similarly dismissive of the idea that books are effectively commodity entertainment, something that can be easily replaced with other forms of entertainment. I’d argue that that line of thinking is dangerous in that you can trick yourself into thinking that because your field is somehow special, it can get away with doing certain things because readers will understand and support that. You’ve been on the forefront of innovation in the book market for a long time now, and it’s disappointing to see you toss a lot of that aside and fall back on the “books are different” trope.”

    Just so we are clear. Are you saying that books can be easily replaced with other forms of entertainment? One book is no different from another?

    I view books as entertainment, just like any other art form. All movies, games, and paintings are not the same. There are some authors I will pay a premium to read immediately, while others I can wait. Just like there are some movies I will view at the theater and others I will wait until they are on Netflix. All books are not equal. They aren’t crockpots, for Godess’s sake. It’s not elitist to say these things, it is the truth.

    All one need do is look at the NYT ebook bestseller list. While Amazon is saying they know best, the majority sell for over 9.99. Maybe, just maybe, a company that has survived multiple changes in the book buying market knows what they are doing.

  97. It would be great if Hachette authors weren’t stuck in the middle of these negotiations. But retailers usually stop selling products from companies they have disputes with. Hachette writers are lucky their books are still being sold on Amazon at all, at least for the moment.

    I doubt you’re going to change the minds of die hards but YMMV. And you do seem to be only telling indies not to pick sides but not Preston et al. (Not saying you actually are just that that’s what it seems like.)

    Finally, if I was making big bucks from Hatchette then they would be my BFF. Likewise, if I was making big bucks from Amazon then they would be my BFF. If circumstances changed then no more BFF. Problem easily solved. Unless I had some crappy contract that locked me in with my former BFF for eternity :(

  98. If Hachette is lucky to have Amazon, then why doesn’t Amazon simply stop selling Hachette titles? Seems pretty simple, right.

    Seems like Amazon knows they need Hachette just as much as Hachette needs Amazon. Otherwise, why send out a spam email to “KDP” authors? (I say this as a customer who also received this email. I’m not a publisher, author, or seller on Amazon).

  99. @Stevie, would you prefer I use the term “viewpoint”? Obviously I’m not among comrades here, but that’s because I’m genuinely interested in seeking more points of view, and given that I find John’s views on Amazon’s comments insightful even if I don’t agree with them I’d just like to know his thoughts on what Preston, Turow, King et al are saying.

    @rickg, your accusations seem like projection. You claim that I repeatedly equate Preston’s opinion with Hachette’s, without pointing to a single instance in which I do that and despite my explanations as to why I don’t think I’m doing that. You have an opportunity to show me what mistakes I’m making in my reasoning, and then I can walk away from this a better person for learning that… but you banging your head against the desk and telling me I’m wrong unfortunately doesn’t give me enough feedback to actually learn the lesson. I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re trying to say, but thank you for your time.

    @Jennifer: Just so we are clear. Are you saying that books can be easily replaced with other forms of entertainment? One book is no different from another?

    I think that your first sentence is basically what is being argued, and nobody is suggesting the second. But we don’t need to go that far in the analogy to have a point. There are multiple avenues for buying a book: planned buying (this book that I want to get is coming out, can I afford it now or do I need to save for it or wait for the price to come down?) and opportunistic buying (I feel like reading a book. I have $10 to spend, what looks good?) at least. Obviously nothing can substitute for that particular book that you’ve been waiting for, but if you’re not after a specific book then there are a staggering quantity of books available that may (or may not) entertain to a similar degree, if not in a similar way.

    And the books competing with other forms of entertainment is true, but in a sense of habit forming over time rather than in a single decision point in time. If we accept that in the $5-10 range there are a close to infinite number of books available on Amazon, computer games available on Steam and movies (to rent) available on iTunes (plus many more options), then someone who habitually only buys and plays computer games might one day buy a book instead of a game – perhaps on a recommendation by a friend. They might enjoy that book more than they expected, and find that they enjoy the concept of narrative arc, and realises that computer games don’t scratch that itch quite as well, so they split their time more between books and computer games. The book market has grown (at the expense of the computer game market) specifically because the entertainment markets are naturally interchangeable in terms of choosing to spend time with one product instead of another.

    Obviously there will be people who will always prefer books, or some specific authors, or only one genre, or always watch films by a particular director, or buy every iteration of a particular game. But when looking at the markets as a whole, they seem to act interchangeably. Maybe I just want them to look like that because I happen to flit between books and games, with the odd TV series and movie thrown in, and I understand if you remain unconvinced.

    But consider… All books are not equal. They aren’t crockpots, for Godess’s sake. It’s not elitist to say these things, it is the truth.

    To a chef, not all crockpots are equal. Doesn’t mean that crockpots aren’t interchangeable for some people, who don’t care which particular crockpot they use.

    @shoeshineman: It would be great if Hachette authors weren’t stuck in the middle of these negotiations.

    Hopefully this, we can all agree on.

  100. Unlike goods such as pasta or t-shirts, which really are broadly interchangeable, it’s notorious that books (like films, and for that matter weblogs) follow a power-law rather than an even distribution in terms of popularity; that’s why we talk about bestsellers and blockbusters in the first place.

  101. @MrTroy:
    “I’m genuinely interested in seeking more points of view, and given that I find John’s views on Amazon’s comments insightful even if I don’t agree with them I’d just like to know his thoughts on what Preston, Turow, King et al are saying.”

    What do the comments of Hachette’s authors have to do with a thread about our host’s thoughts on the official actions of the corporation Amazon? Are they official statements from the Hachette publishing corporation? If not, then they don’t belong here because it would just be one author’s thoughts on another author’s statements. I see no equivalency here.

    Official Amazon statements and actions ≠ The thoughts and opinions of a contract partner of another corporation in conflict with Amazon.

    Here’s our host’s own statement about Hachette:

    “Hachette appears (wisely) not to be offering up as many public opportunities for criticism, as regards this particular negotiation with Amazon. If that changes I might comment on their actions, too.”

    My advice is to drop it until Hachette makes it’s own statements and takes official actions.

    Just to make it clear, this thread is about our host’s thoughts on the official actions and statements of a corporation, not the statements of another author.

  102. I’m sorry, I misinterpreted the title referring to “the Amazon/Hachette thing” as encompassing more than just two companies’ official PR (or lack thereof). To try to talk about a “thing” without looking at other analyses of the same thing just feel incomplete. Imagine if everyone talked about SOPA in isolation, purely referring to the official PR, independently from their own point of view… and no, I do not think the Amazon/Hachette thing is in any way similar to SOPA, in content or in scale.

    Of course, John is under absolutely no obligation to comment on anything other than what he wants to comment on. In the absence of a comment though, readers are left to fill the void. Either he agrees with what Preston is saying so there’s no need for comment, or he hasn’t read what Preston is saying so commenting wouldn’t make sense, or he disagrees with Preston but doesn’t want to risk upsetting his relationship with Gollancz, or he just doesn’t feel like it’s worth his time commenting on what Preston has to say, or any number of other scenarios. Most likely it’s the latter, but inquiring minds will inquire.

    I didn’t think asking for thoughts on a matter was so contentious, but there you go. I’d prefer to have kept it to asking once and either getting or not getting an answer from John, but I have a failing in that I try to defend myself when called out – if I can’t, then I have learned something and can move forward as a better person. If I can, then perhaps someone else has gained insight into another point of view (whether they agree with it or not).

    John, I’m sorry if I’m clogging up your comments with contrarianism.

  103. @MrTroy: I’d just like to know his thoughts on what Preston, Turow, King et al are saying.

    I think… I would not. Unless one of those authors starts addressing Scalzi directly, I think I would rather not have one author dissecting another’s views in what would likely turn into Moar Internet Drama Llama Stampedes.

    I mean, if he chooses to do so, hey, well and good, his blog! But if he declines to address another author’s viewpoint beyond His or her experience may have been different than mine. Bear in mind that authors are not usually perfect reporters — they carry over grudges, loyalties, slights, personal experiences both positive and negative, etc — and that in general, in my experience, and intentionally or otherwise, they tend to universalize their own individual situation. …Well, I think that reply is also a logical answer to: But [other author] said something about this situation as well!

    As Chuck Wendig says at his blog: “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).”

    And, really, I quite like comfortable pants, so we’re left with subsisting on tears of the readers — which leaves lots of room to disagree.

  104. Thank you. Because of your post, this whole thing is finally beginning to make sense to me.I’ve not been paying much attention, mainly because I’ve been busy writing.

  105. In the absence of a comment though, readers are left to fill the void.

    Other than your desire to see a literary feud on this issue: why? Seriously, what ‘void’ is left by somebody saying, here are my opinions, other people have different opinions that you may or may not wish to consider?

  106. @Elizabeth McCoy: Well, I think that reply is also a logical answer to: But [other author] said something about this situation as well!

    That’s fair, and I hadn’t really considered the feud scenario, which would have pointed back to http://wp.me/p5Fv-6uT

    @mythago: Other than your desire to see a literary feud on this issue: why?

    It was purely for the selfish reason to try to learn more about the situation and get some varied insight into the possible motives of the players. I hadn’t considered the feud scenario, which I guess is a big oversight.

    There isn’t much coverage of “the Amazon/Hachette thing” that isn’t obviously biased. John here comes across as one of the more reasonable voices, so I thought he’d be a good candidate to ask his opinion on some of the other players in the drama (and yes, I know this isn’t a play put on for my benefit).

    I just wanted more insight into a guy who started his own group (www.authorsunited.net) and organised a full-page ad in the New York Times specifically about the Amazon/Hachette negotiation. Even if he isn’t one of the two central parties, he certainly seems to be trying hard to inject himself into the situation.

  107. MrTroy

    If you are seeking insight into Preston there are a number of efficient ways of setting about it; you could start with Preston’s website and work on from there.

    Repeatedly asking a totally different writer at that writer’s web site to do the work for you suggests that you have completely ignored everything John has already said on the subject, and expect him to set aside his writing, and his time with his family before he departs on a killer book tour, to provide you with what you want.

    At this point Neil Gaiman’s comment about George R R Martin comes to mind: Scalzi is not your bitch.

  108. @Jennifer

    “Just so we are clear. Are you saying that books can be easily replaced with other forms of entertainment? One book is no different from another?”

    More the former than the latter.

    Let’s say I have $15 to spend and I want to figure out how to entertain myself in the evenings over the next week or two. On one hand there’s the latest novel by Alice Q. Author that I’ve been looking forward to reading, and on the other hand there’s Season 1 of Breaking Bad on DVD. I have a set amount of money, I have a set amount of time, and there are two options which appeal to me. Both will give me about 5-10 hours of entertainment.

    If Alice’s book is priced at $20, I won’t buy it. It’s beyond my price point, even if I really do want it. If Alice’s book is priced at $15, it’ll be a toss-up. If the book is priced at $10, that’s a no-brainer; I’ll get the book.

    Obviously there are other factors that come into play (e.g., is this for my commute where reading is okay on the subway but watching on a tablet is not?) but I’m willing to bet a huge number of people make their casual entertainment choices along this time/money/value axis, even if it’s just subconscious.

    The MUST-HAVE/SEE purchases are probably less frequent. I’ll drop $25+ on the next Song of Ice and Fire novel when it comes out, just like I’ll drop $14 on a ticket for Guardians of the Galaxy in the theater, but for my day-to-day evening watching/reading, it’s much more cost-sensitive.

  109. and yes, I know this isn’t a play put on for my benefit

    Really? Because Scalzi specifically addressed those “but author X is saying such-and-such” questions in his original post. Yet here you are completely ignoring that and jumping up and down wanting him to get into a snipe fight with specific authors, because Inquiring Minds Want to Know – with an insinuation that if he doesn’t answer your questions, then you’ll be forced to speculate. Uh, so?

    Perhaps I’m being unfair, and what you’re after is not a public slap fight of words between Scalzi and, I dunno, Hugh Howrey, but you’re looking to defend Amazon by summoning up an author in Scalzi’s weight class to attack him in your stead. Self-Publishing Maven, I choose you!

    I’d note also, Mr. Troy, that you continue to use the authorial “1%” with a straight face despite that also being pointed out in the original post (and reiterated by, you know, actual authors).

    Your issue seems less to be a reflexive need to defend yourself and more that you are not really listening to what other people are saying before rushing to make your points – as evinced by having completely ignored much of the main post to answer questions already addressed therein. That is just going to lead to people *headdesking*, and not because they disagree with your well-considered arguments. If all you want is a puppet show, I guess that’s OK.

  110. @MrTroy

    What is your opinion on Preston et al? On the opposite end, Hugh Howey has written many pieces defending Amazon. Those are pretty much the leaders of the opposite ends of the spectrum. Part of these posts isn’t to say which side is better, but to figure out when something doesn’t align with your best interests.

    For me, the timeline went like this. Amazon and Hachette are in contract negotiations and both want the best deal. Hachette says Amazon needs them since they have many best selling authors and Amazon’s backbone is still books. Amazon says Hachette needs them more and they can show them what happens to their sales when there’s a minor disruption.

    So Amazon futzes with Hachette authors pre-sales, prices and supply (maybe these are the sticking points for the negotiations and they want hard data). Hachette authors themselves notice and also notice that Hachette and Amazon are in contract negotiations; this makes them think something sketchy is going on. The Hachette authors call out Amazon on what they are doing, since the authors don’t want their livelihood threatened because Amazon wants to flex its muscles. Now Amazon has been caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

    Amazon has to put out PRs showing they have both the consumer and the authors best interests at heart. Some people believe Amazon and some don’t. Then people start picking sides and now Amazon is evil, big publishers are evil, authors are greedy, etc.

    I think Amazon was wrong in messing with Hachette authors as leverage and am very skeptical of their released analysis since they seem to want to take over the world. On the other hand, the way the authors called out Amazon was ham handed which resulted in a pitchforks and angry mobs.

  111. @ J.D. August 12, 2014 at 2:45 pm –

    Thank you for your clearly written counter-points to some of the issues brought up.

    At the end of it all, I see two companies trying to get the upper hand. Neither of which should be expected to have readers best interests in mind.

    It is unfortunate that authors are caught in the middle. Luckily, as readers we have multiple places to buy books from. Pick the one that supports your goals and world view the most.

  112. I am wondering and trying to model, but it has become evident that one aspect of this may be that Amazon is trying to destroy the hardcover books model, as they may not make more money off them in the long term (as opposed to the publishers, who clearly do, and authors).

    The handling costs are not much more, but the shipping costs are probably significantly more, the shelving costs, the invested cost of money (for inventory they have to pay for, in those cases that they can’t get them in their catalog via some consignment method).

    I am not sure, but … it’s making me wonder.

  113. @Stevie: Repeatedly asking a totally different writer at that writer’s web site … At this point Neil Gaiman’s comment about George R R Martin comes to mind: Scalzi is not your bitch.

    In fairness, I only asked John once. Subsequent mentions have been responding to other commenters claiming that what I’m asking for is unreasonable or nonsensical. Which leads to the next point…

    and expect him to set aside his writing, and his time with his family before he departs on a killer book tour, to provide you with what you want.

    Ok, I read through my comments in this thread, and I do come across as pretty entitled and demanding. Apologies to all, I still had it in my mind that I was making a “would you consider” request… I think I phrased it that way in a previous thread, but that certainly doesn’t come out in this thread.

    @mythago: wanting him to get into a snipe fight with specific authors

    It occurred to me after my last post… if people expect that John commenting on Preston’s public actions would lead to a fight or fued, does that mean that you think that John will naturally disagree with Preston’s actions? Anyway, if I just wanted Preston sniping, there’s already many sites and voices to choose from with that kind of coverage.

    In terms of any fight breaking out between Preston and anyone else… I’ve yet to see Preston respond to any criticism so far, and he doesn’t seem to change his talking points in the face of criticism, so I didn’t consider any kind of feud or fight at all likely regardless of what John (or anyone else) has to say.

    I’d note also, Mr. Troy, that you continue to use the authorial “1%” with a straight face despite that also being pointed out in the original post (and reiterated by, you know, actual authors).

    That’s actually a fair point. A phrase like “the 1%” isn’t much more than flamebait, and I’ll stop using it. It’s worth mentioning though that I picked up the phrase and its usage from … actual authors.

    … more that you are not really listening to what other people are saying before rushing to make your points

    I’m sorry I come across this way. I’m here to try to widen my viewpoint, so I am reading and trying to understand what other people are saying. Keeping in mind my response to Stevie above, I can probably do better in how I’m reflecting this back.

    @Andrew S: Hachette authors themselves notice and also notice that Hachette and Amazon are in contract negotiations

    I think you’re missing a key event in your timeline which suggests a different interpretation of the following events:
    23 May 2014: Hachette finally reaches out to its authors with a letter from Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette Book Group (HBG).
    (source: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/amazon-hachette-sounds-of-silence-guest.html)

    Hachette authors would probably have noticed by themselves anyway, or via David Stretfeld’s coverage, but Michael Pietsch’s letter gives Hachette the chance to set many authors’ first impression of the situation, which may be difficult to change.

    What is your opinion on Preston et al?

    Specifically on Preston… At this point, I think that he is engaging in double-speak or cognitive dissonance, depending on whether he believes what he is saying…
    * He says that he isn’t taking sides, but he specifically calls on Amazon to accept Hachette’s offer.
    * He makes pains to point out that he’s not in discussion with Hachette – not even to push them to negotiate with Amazon?
    * Despite not being in discussion with Hachette, he demonstrates his privileged position with Hachette by getting access to recent sales figures promptly (?) from request.
    * He rejects Amazon’s offers to try to lessen the impact of the negotiations on authors, seemingly ignoring calls from authors who aren’t as well off as he is and who are hurting from the reduction in sales.

    As mentioned above, he doesn’t seem interested in responding to anyone else’s criticism either, so he’s either being wilfully ignorant (there’s absolutely no way that he can be unaware of dissenting views), or he’s using the extremely effective tactic of not responding to comments and relying on the 24/7 news cycle to distract people from the fact that anyone disagrees with him. (https://www.techdirt.com/blog/casestudies/articles/20130424/16513222825/how-eas-silent-treatment-pushed-simcity-story-into-background.shtml)

    On et al… I can understand why best sellers would want to preserve the status quo, and push back on anything that might upset the cart… since they are able to negotiate better terms from publishers and don’t tend to care about royalty payments because they’re basically paid out for their books in an advance that they’ll never earn out [citation required].

    I can also understand a new author wanting the support of a publisher to share the risk in the relatively large upfront costs in publishing a book – editing, proofreading, covers and quotes, layout, marketing (although anecdotally, new authors don’t seem to get a lot of this. I’m sure publishers vary wildly here). Certainly all of that can be sourced independently, but it’s an up-front cost before the author knows if they’ll even sell.

    Then again, this is exactly the kind of author that will benefit from having their digital book priced in impulse-buy ranges to try to build that readership base that will review, promote by word of mouth and hopefully buy any future books released by the author… so I’m obviously missing something here why this class of author would side with Hachette over Amazon in this negotiation, unless they are worried that Hachette might drop them if they publicly side with Amazon?

    For “mid-list” authors, who have a small back catalog, perhaps a cadre of loyal readers and the occasional royalty cheque from their back list… this seems to be the class of author that is in the best position to jettison from their old publishers and shift to direct publishing, or a growing number of co-op publishers. I may very well be wrong on this though, since I recognise that both confirmation bias and survivor bias skew my view here, and I don’t know how to correct for that since there isn’t really any way to gather stats on “all authors who have left their publisher and tried to keep writing/publishing”.

    Obviously splitting authors up into nice neat “classes” is a simplification, but hopefully not an over-simplification for the purpose of the discussion.

    If you’re still around, @Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little, you mentioned being anti-Amazon (and Amazon is certainly not a “do no evil” company) but was there more behind your decision to sign Preston’s letter?

    For what it’s worth, the base Amazon/Hachette thing is just another day at the office – two companies with conflicting business models are having trouble coming to agreement in a business contract. No matter which way the decision goes, each company will continue doing business much the same as before, you’ll still be able to buy books from Hachette and books from non-Hachette authors in a variety of venues around the world… really, the only remarkable thing about these negotiations is the media circus. In that, I agree with John 100%.

  114. you know, Mr. Troy, the big name authors could be siding with other authors because they don’t need Amazon or Hachette. They’re, as they say, “comfortably well off”. Maybe they just believe in supporting authors without an ulterior motive.

    “if people expect that John commenting on Preston’s public actions would lead to a fight or fued, does that mean that you think that John will naturally disagree with Preston’s actions?” Nice re-framing–You’re just not going to be happy until you get the answer you want, are you?

  115. @Harold Osler: “Maybe they just believe in supporting authors without an ulterior motive.”

    That’s certainly possible. They may even believe that that’s what they’re doing.

    “Nice re-framing–You’re just not going to be happy until you get the answer you want, are you?”

    That comment was a dig, based on other commenters interpreting my (badly phrased) request as trying to start a feud, rather than giving me the benefit of the doubt and considering that I might respect what John has had to say on the matter so far and I’m (badly) asking for some more insight on a different part of the matter, which John could abstain from doing for any reason including, but not limited to, not having the time or the inclination.

    Sure, I haven’t made any friends here, but why assume the worst?

    For the record, I don’t know what answer it is that I want, but I’m happy whenever someone gives me something to consider – thankyou Stevie, mythago, Elizabeth, Nicole, ctein and others.

  116. MrTroy

    I’m not sure that friendships are built on blogs; there may be a cyber equivalent, but it’s easy to be misled. For what it’s worth, however, agreeing with our host is not a requirement for a long and happy sojourn on Whatever.

    We are a pretty motley bunch, which is just as well since a chorus of approval to every utterance is pretty tedious, and John has a low boredom threshold.

    So do I, and since I live in England, where Amazon UK alienated a very hefty chunk of its customer base by imposing shipping charges on purchases below £10 (around $17), I am unimpressed by claims that Amazon is committed to its customers getting a great deal. From my perspective Amazon has demonstrated that it seeks a monopoly which it can then use to gouge the customers, secure in the knowledge that they’ve got no place else to go.

    In reality, of course, Amazon customers here did have other places to go, and went; at some stage we may go back but only a few of us harbour any illusions about Amazon championing the oppressed, whether they be writers or readers.

    The belief system which Amazon has tried to foster really does depend on no-one seeing what’s behind the curtain; John’s post on Amazon author ranking may be of interest to you:

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/10/10/amazon-author-rankings-and-who-they-actually-benefit/#comment-749158

  117. @MrTroy

    Thanks for the link, that’s a better timeline than mine, although it ends with some one-sided conclusions. I hadn’t realized the Hachette CEO sent out a letter, I had only heard of the Amazon fight through author blogs and twitter. The letter seems to be sent only to the Hachette authors to explain what’s going on and not a call to arms, link if you haven’t seen it.

    https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1173408-hbg-ceo-pietsch-writes-authors.html

    I agree with you on Preston, how he’s gone about this is…confusing and counter-productive, though we’re way beyond what was the perfect way to have gone about this.

    I don’t know how to correct for that since there isn’t really any way to gather stats on “all authors who have left their publisher and tried to keep writing/publishing”.

    Ah, ok, it looks like you’re thinking in terms of exclusivity (correct me if I’m wrong, don’t want to put words in your mouth). Authors aren’t locked in to a publisher once they sign a contract, they can sign with multiple publishers (with different books) and even self-publish in the same universe while signed to a publisher. Brian McClellan had a great post on Chuck Wendig’s blog about this. (Note: Chuck is also a self-publisher and a traditional publisher and has many fantastic posts about the pros and cons of both).

    http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/06/25/brian-mcclellan-how-i-came-to-create-my-own-expanded-universe/

    why this class of author would side with Hachette over Amazon in this negotiation, unless they are worried that Hachette might drop them if they publicly side with Amazon?

    This builds on my point above, but authors write because they want to write and make money doing so. Publishers sign authors because they want to put out quality books. Amazon as a whole is not a publisher, but a distributor that sells other people’s stuff. Amazon beating Hachette would reduce an avenue to sell books.

  118. Andrew S

    Nicely put; I would perhaps add that the terms of Amazon’s contracts with authors are a lot more restrictive than those commonly used by the major publishers.

    It has been pointed out on a number of occasions that Amazon has the right to unilaterally change the terms of contract with writers, and that people averring that it wouldn’t hold up in Court are deluding themselves.

    I think you might enjoy Lee Child’s comments on why he signed the letter:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-_iM4qSedl8

    He’s an immensely successful commercial author, who knows a lot about publishing, and how the world works; he was particularly spot on with the Kindle being so 2012…

  119. Thank you for posting the Lee Child interview, Stevie. He was particularly clear in pointing out that the Kindle succeeds as a niche product, which any business should be happy with, but fails as a market domination product, which is clearly what Amazon wants.

    MrTroy: I do not intend to engage with you substantively. I just wanted to refute the idea that all those who signed Preston’s letter are Hachette authors attempting to toady up to their publisher, and this I have done. It does not require you agreeing with my reason to have signed, for one to demonstrate that authors are signing for other reasons than this laughable idea of “quid pro quo”. Do watch the video Stevie linked.

  120. @J.D.

    “The MUST-HAVE/SEE purchases are probably less frequent. I’ll drop $25+ on the next Song of Ice and Fire novel when it comes out, just like I’ll drop $14 on a ticket for Guardians of the Galaxy in the theater, but for my day-to-day evening watching/reading, it’s much more cost-sensitive.”

    Well, there ya go. You have just proven Hachette’s point. They are refusing to agree to Amazon’s terms because they know that there are authors that people will pay a premium to read immediately.

    Hachette has said that 80% of their titles are priced at or below 9.99. The titles above that price are usually the “must have” new releases or in genres that command higher prices (and even then, they are usually below 14.99). Amazon seems to have convinced people that publishers price all of their books at 14.99 or above, when that simply isn’t the case. There are some ebooks I can purchase on release day well below 9.99.

    To use your example, go take a look at G.R.R. Martin’s books. All of his Kindle titles in The Song of Ice and Fire trilogy, with the exception of the box set, are well below 9.99.

    Honestly, anyone who shops for books regularly understands how the pricing works. I don’t have to be an author or publishing professional to understand it.

  121. @Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little, that’s all I was after, thanks for responding. I’m at work now, but will watch the interview later.

    @Stevie: “I am unimpressed by claims that Amazon is committed to its customers getting a great deal.” (and other comments)

    I come from the tech side, so have exactly zero illusions about Amazon having anyone’s interest at heart but Amazon’s (http://www.google.com/patents/US5960411, http://www.google.com/patents/US8676045).

    Amazon’s KDP contract doesn’t look quite as bad if you look at it as a distribution contract (since it’s not a publishing contract, as has been pointed out here)… you get better terms if you offer exclusivity, although that can be set up by worsening the terms if you don’t offer exclusivity… KDP authors typically aren’t big enough to be able to individually negotiate their own terms, so Amazon offers a take-it-or-leave-it group contract with terms it can change unilaterally (which has parallels all over the place, and a personal bugbear of mine)… and authors can walk away with their book any time they like because they’re only signing a distribution deal, but that’s of course assuming that there’s somewhere else they can take their book. Presumably there is, or Amazon wouldn’t be bothering to push for distribution exclusivity?

    @Andrew S: “Ah, ok, it looks like you’re thinking in terms of exclusivity (correct me if I’m wrong, don’t want to put words in your mouth).”
    I think you’re right. As I said, “Obviously splitting authors up into nice neat “classes” is a simplification, but hopefully not an over-simplification for the purpose of the discussion.”… I wasn’t specifically focusing on publisher exclusivity, but I did end up oversimplifying too much, probably because of unfamiliarity. The multitude of other scenarios that peacefully coexist makes my conclusion naive at best. Still, I think I’ve learned from it, even if it’s just figuring out what I don’t know… but that’s why I’m here asking (sometimes annoying) questions.

    “Amazon beating Hachette would reduce an avenue to sell books.”
    I’m not sure I follow, unless you mean Amazon beating Hachette to the point where they stop trading? I wouldn’t have thought that Amazon would have the power to do that.

    Then again, without knowing the actual negotiating points, I have no idea what Amazon “winning” the negotiation would actually mean for Hachette. But that’s what negotiations are for isn’t it? To win? :-)

  122. @Jennifer

    ===
    J.D.: “The MUST-HAVE/SEE purchases are probably less frequent. I’ll drop $25+ on the next Song of Ice and Fire novel when it comes out, just like I’ll drop $14 on a ticket for Guardians of the Galaxy in the theater, but for my day-to-day evening watching/reading, it’s much more cost-sensitive.”

    Jennifer: “Well, there ya go. You have just proven Hachette’s point. They are refusing to agree to Amazon’s terms because they know that there are authors that people will pay a premium to read immediately.”
    ===

    Uhm, no. My point is that Amazon is arguing that Hachette is placing too many books in the >$9.99 price point, and that by doing so they’re depressing sales. If Hachette would lower the costs on books they would move more titles, which would result in more money for everyone. Now *obviously* Amazon is looking out for themselves first and foremost, but they’re using the “a rising tide lifts all boats” argument, and they have some data to support that argument.

    “Hachette has said that 80% of their titles are priced at or below 9.99. The titles above that price are usually the “must have” new releases or in genres that command higher prices (and even then, they are usually below 14.99). Amazon seems to have convinced people that publishers price all of their books at 14.99 or above, when that simply isn’t the case. There are some ebooks I can purchase on release day well below 9.99.”

    80% of their *titles* are at or below $10, but how many of their sales? For example, if they’re selling five different titles, and four of those cost $10, and one costs $11, they are truthfully saying that 80% of their titles are at the $10 price point. But if the four that cost $10 are reprints of some obscure Latin textbooks, and the one that costs $11 is some recent-ish Malcolm Gladwell title, then I’d guess that most of their sales are for that $11 title. Amazon is arguing that the $11 is overpriced and everyone would benefit from lowering that price.

    “To use your example, go take a look at G.R.R. Martin’s books. All of his Kindle titles in The Song of Ice and Fire trilogy, with the exception of the box set, are well below 9.99.”

    So books which came out between three and EIGHTEEN years ago are priced competitively? I’m shocked. :-)

    Looking at another big-name author — Malcolm Gladwell — most of his recent-ish (i.e., within the last 10 years) Kindle books are priced $9.99 and up. James Patterson? Most of them are priced almost exactly the same as the paperback (within $0.20 to $1.20), or are priced $4-$5 cheaper than the hardcover version.

    “Honestly, anyone who shops for books regularly understands how the pricing works. I don’t have to be an author or publishing professional to understand it.”

    There’s a difference between understanding how the current pricing works and understanding how to improve it. There’s also a difference between “some people are willing to pay the high prices” and “more people would be willing to pay for lower prices, resulting in overall more money for everyone.” Hachette is arguing the former, and Amazon is arguing the latter (and has some data to support that position).

    The bottom line is:

    1) Amazon is working in their own self-interest.
    2) Hachette is working in their own self-interest.
    3) Amazon’s self-interest happens to align more with that of readers.
    4) If Hachette were willing to revise their position and contracts (i.e.., budge on negotiations with Amazon *and* offer a larger percentage to authors) both Hachette and the authors would make more money, but
    5) That would result in Hachette losing some degree of flexibility, which they don’t want to do.

  123. J.D. 80% of their *titles* are at or below $10, but how many of their sales? For example, if they’re selling five different titles, and four of those cost $10, and one costs $11, they are truthfully saying that 80% of their titles are at the $10 price point. But if the four that cost $10 are reprints of some obscure Latin textbooks, and the one that costs $11 is some recent-ish Malcolm Gladwell title, then I’d guess that most of their sales are for that $11 title. Amazon is arguing that the $11 is overpriced and everyone would benefit from lowering that price.

    In your hypothetical, the fact that the one book, although priced higher than the others, is also selling more, shows that books are NOT, in fact, interchangeable widgets, and that people WILL pay different prices for different perceived values, including the value of getting that particular book by that particular author right now before my sister has a chance to spoil it for me. Even though as a reader I’d love it if all books were always priced at a buck, clearly it’s not in the authors’ (who are regrettably fond of eating) and the publishers’ (ditto) interest. And I’d really rather my favorite writers kept writing, and didn’t have to take up three jobs at McDonalds just to keep a roof over their heads.

  124. @MrTroy

    My turn to be overly simplistic. “Winning” meant Amazon gets what its PRs say, $9.99 max price point and five percent higher author royalties. As Jennifer (and others) mentions above, the above $9.99 books are the best-selling new releases, which would lop off a good chunk of income for both themselves and authors. The higher author royalties would cut 5% off their profit margin. Since most successful business have something like a 10% margin, this may not cause Hachette to go out of business, but would necessitate some change in response; not to mention the effect on smaller publishers.

    Of course Hachette winning negotiations may actually shut down Amazon since they’ve never turned a profit and investors are getting antsy.

    I’m hoping neither side wins, but both remain/become profitable. There’s the idea that a good compromise leaves both sides unhappy, which is doubly true in contract negotiations between two big companies.

    @J.D.
    There’s also a difference between “some people are willing to pay the high prices” and “more people would be willing to pay for lower prices, resulting in overall more money for everyone. Hachette is arguing the former, and Amazon is arguing the latter (and has some data to support that position).”

    I’m pretty sure no one is arguing that in general you will sell more volume at cheaper prices. Hachette knows this too, this is why rookie authors tend to be cheaper so they can build an audience. However, price as a differentiator also helps consumers in the inherent value of the product and their appreciation levels. Amazon knows this too, which is why all their prices not only have an original price and a discount percentage. This way we think we’re getting great product at a cheap price, rather than a mediocre product at a decent price.

    There are hundreds of thousands of ebooks for 0.99 or less in the KDP, of varying quality, though I’m guessing it’s mostly poor quality. If all one cares about is cheap, you could spend lifetimes reading them. Hachette provides a value to consumer by brand plus the author themselves add value, the price for the books reflect that. Amazon’s artificial max cap may be a ploy to make their preferred KDP program more attractive to authors and consumers.

    So, I agree with you on 1 and 2. Disagree with 3, if Amazon wanted to convince me they care about the consumer and not dominate market share, they should lower the max price in their preferred KDP program as well (also, if Amazon wanted to convince me they cared about authors, they could give the authors one or two of their percentage points). Strongly disagree with 4 and 5, see first paragraph.

  125. Whoops, just re-read my comment and realized it sounded like I cared more about Hachette than authors. I want authors to get the largest royalty possible from publishers that the publishers can afford. Just don’t trust one company dictating terms to another company without knowing their financials or assuming any risk.

  126. JD

    It would help if you did some research; Hachette does have a strong presence in the educational market but it isn’t publishing vast numbers of ebooks of cheap and obscure Latin textbooks, not least because few people learn Latin nowadays:

    “Hachette UK is the second largest British publishing group, publishing over 5,000 new books annually under over forty different imprints, making it the most diverse publishing company in the UK. It is a market leading publisher of fiction and non-fiction in both print and ebooks, winning many prizes and awards in 2013 including the Specsavers National Book of the Year 2013. In 2013,112 of the Group’s titles made the Sunday Times’ published bestseller list, including 19 at number one. In the schools sector Hachette UK, via Hodder Education, is one of the leading publishers of educational books and digital learning materials. Hachette Children’s Books covers literature for all ages of young readers. In this market, where over 20% of trade books are sold as ebooks and digital learning is embedded in all schools, the Hachette UK teams have firmly embraced digital technologies to meet consumer demand and make the most of the latest marketing trends. Hachette UK has subsidiaries in Ireland, Australia and India. It has sales offices in Asia (Hong Kong) and in the Middle East (Dubai).”

    Reducing the price of e-textbooks isn’t going to magically increase the sales: schools buy materials for the number of children they teach. Amazon is pitching its arguments at people who want cheap fiction and are ignorant of the fact that fiction is only a small part of the publishing market; in the real world of interactive education e-texts are only a part of the package and it doesn’t work on a Kindle:

    http://www.hoddereducation.co.uk/

    Incidentally, I had never heard of Malcolm Gladwell before your reference to him; having taken my own advice and done some research I note that he has published 5 books aimed at a peculiarly American market, and having read excerpts I wouldn’t buy his books at any price. Clearly some people immensely enjoy believing that the plural of anecdotes is data but I’m not one of them…

  127. @Cally

    “In your hypothetical, the fact that the one book, although priced higher than the others, is also selling more, shows that books are NOT, in fact, interchangeable widgets, and that people WILL pay different prices for different perceived values”

    ::sigh:: Could you please point out where I said any book is equivalent to any other book? I’d really like to see that, because I’d yell at myself for writing something that stupid.

    I didn’t, so please don’t argue with things I didn’t say.

    I said that books are in the same general category of “leisure entertainment” as many other products, including TV, movies, sports, music, and random hobbies. If books become too expensive relative to NOT JUST OTHER BOOKS, BUT THOSE OTHER FORMS OF ENTERTAINMENT, readership will go down. That’s my point.

    @Andrew S

    “Of course Hachette winning negotiations may actually shut down Amazon since they’ve never turned a profit[…]”

    Investors are antsy, but that’s both hyperbolic and factually incorrect.

    ” I want authors to get the largest royalty possible from publishers that the publishers can afford.”

    Here we are in complete agreement.

    @Stevie

    “It would help if you did some research; Hachette does have a strong presence in the educational market but it isn’t publishing vast numbers of ebooks of cheap and obscure Latin textbooks, not least because few people learn Latin nowadays”

    It was a hypothetical. It would help if you weren’t absolutely literal and took my hypothetical example as a thought experiment, not a literal examination of the scope of Hachette’s businesses.

    “Clearly some people immensely enjoy believing that the plural of anecdotes is data”

    Many of those people seem to be arguing against Amazon’s numbers and in favor of Hachette’s hand-waving. I know; it confuses me, too.

  128. I said that books are in the same general category of “leisure entertainment” as many other products, including TV, movies, sports, music, and random hobbies. If books become too expensive relative to NOT JUST OTHER BOOKS, BUT THOSE OTHER FORMS OF ENTERTAINMENT, readership will go down. That’s my point.

    But clearly we’re not anywhere near that point, because people, even in your own hypothetical, seem perfectly willing to pay more than ten bucks for some books. Sure, if books cost ten thousand bucks apiece, that would mean few people would buy them. But people are willing to buy a LOT of books at 12 to 15 bucks each, and, indeed, 50 bucks or more in some cases.

  129. @Cally: “But clearly we’re not anywhere near that point, because people, even in your own hypothetical, seem perfectly willing to pay more than ten bucks for some books.”

    But we are at that point. The fact that fans are willing to pay for a specific book does not mean that authors aren’t losing out on extra sales from non-fans because of high prices relative to everything else. Keeping in mind a few sweet spots and reducing returns at the bottom, nearly every study released shows that total net income increases as you decrease the list price, all else being the same.

    That probably sounds like a great argument for best-selling authors entering the market high for their biggest fans, then picking off the sales all the way down to the bargain bin, but the concept still leaves me cold. It feels like a millionaire deciding that they want to earn an extra $3million this year instead of $2million, and not particularly caring that the extra million is taken from the pockets of other creators. I’m probably wrong for a whole host of reasons, but that’s my emotional response, and logic isn’t likely to change that.

  130. If logic won’t change your mind, then there’s no point in arguing. Enjoy the last of the summer (or winter, if you’re antipodean).

  131. J.D.

    When dealing with real businesses in the real world one examines what is actually happening.

    Someone who believes that the way to do this is by a ‘hypothetical example as a thought experiment’ has obviously never been required to grapple with real businesses in the real world, because if you came out with that one in, say, an analysts’ meeting people would laugh at you and, if they were feeling polite, tell you to go fetch some coffee.

    Numbers are numbers, and people who spend their lives crunching them know very well that someone who thinks that you can substitute a ‘hypothetical example as a thought experiment’ for numbers doesn’t understand even the first principles.

    I appreciate that you think it sounds impressive but all it does is underline your ignorance…

  132. I do know that many of Terry Pratchett’s books have been published in different bindings or with different supplemental material for different booksellers. In the UK, Waterstones and WH Smith had different versions of Dodger. Those are both physical booksellers (though I imagine they also sell online).

    So Amazon as a bookseller/publisher hybrid is not unique.

    (I never buy online: it’s so inconvenient. I’m never at home when the post comes, so anything too large to fit through the letterbox has to be collected from the Post Office, which is a pain. I look books up on Amazon and then buy them from my local independent bookshop, who order them* and send me a text message when they’re available for collection.)

    TRiG.

    * Half the time, they order them from Amazon, mind you.

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