I receive quite a bit of email on any given day, half of which are various email newsletters I don’t particularly recall signing up for. I delete the majority of these without doing more than scanning the headlines. One of these is from Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing group and usually details how such and such author is now making so much money, not only are they making enough writing to replace their full-time job, their significant other is also leading a life of luxury.
I was surprised then to find that this week’s message was instead a call to action against publisher Hachette as part of their ongoing dispute regarding e-book pricing.
To summarize, Hachette wants to get a return on their investment by controlling the price of the books they publish, they believe their books are worth more because they are of higher quality than say, a book published without their help. They argue that unlike retailers, publishers invest heavily in individual books, often for years, before seeing any revenue. This investment includes: invest in advances against royalties, editing, design, production, marketing, warehousing, shipping, piracy protection, and more. All of this additional overhead is critical to their business and should be valued accordingly. You can see their full response here.
Amazon believes they would be able to sell more of Hachette’s books if only Hachette would agree to make less money on the books they (Amazon) sells. Amazon listed out several of their arguments in their email, two of which are:
- “With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive”
- “They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more.”
If Hachette compromises, unless they accept a lower return on their investment (a sure shareholder crowd pleaser), they will be forced to reduce staff or otherwise cut overhead, lowering either their selection or their quality standards.
If Amazon compromises, then this same fight will play out with all the other large publishers. Prices will stay where they are currently, or could even rise, making books less accessible to readers on a budget.
Which brings me back to the email. At the end, there is a call to action begging authors such as myself to write to Hachette’s CEO and carbon copy Amazon. The email even provided his email address and talking points. You can read the full letter at www.readersunited.com.
Amazon has been great to me. Without them I would not have sold half the books I’ve sold to date, and I love that they have a platform allowing a person such as myself the ability to compete with major players in the industry. I also wouldn’t have been able to do the majority of my shopping without them. As with any retailer, I believe they have the right to refuse to promote or sell goods which do not conform to their corporate strategy/image. However, and please don’t block me Amazon for saying this, I won’t be writing Hachette. Hachette has the right to charge what they believe is fair market price. If they believe that their e-books are worth $14+ then so be it. As a reader, I don’t buy their argument that there aren’t other cheaper alternatives which are just as worthwhile to read, but other readers might view this differently. As a writer, their pricing practices actually make my book easier to sell. I am not going to complain about a competitive advantage that comes my way.
This whole incident is like fighting parents bringing their children into an argument. It’s not in anyone’s benefit and should be avoided at all costs. It’s going to get ugly, things are going to get said that can never be unsaid, and no matter who wins the child is stuck with expensive therapy bills later.
Authors who have signed with Hachette’s companies might be suffering. If I was one of them, I might be upset that there were negotiations out of my control affecting my livelihood. However I am not one of them. I’d love to have their worst day’s sales. Nor am I an Amazon exclusive author. Amazon and Hachette, thank you both for enlightening me on your relative positions, but I hope you can settle this without my further involvement. Until then, I think I will continuing to support indie publishers and authors whenever possible.
- Amazon Gets Increasingly Nervous (whatever.scalzi.com)
- Opinion: Hachette and Amazon fight, who loses? (electronista.com)
- Amazon vs. Hachette – and YOU! (thestoryreadingapeblog.com)
- Amazon wants readers to join ongoing dispute with publisher Hachette (theverge.com)