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Coalition of authors blames 'thuggish' Amazon for Hachette dispute

updated 10:01 am EDT, Sat July 26, 2014

Amazon fires back, continues to claim to be looking out for consumers

Some authors have begun to side with publisher Hachette in its struggle against Amazon. A letter, signed by almost 900 authors, is objecting to the way that Amazon is handling Hachette, saying that the fight is "harming authors who have nothing to do with this dispute to gain leverage." Amazon claims to be "looking out for the customer" in the dispute, and has already responded to the unpublished letter, calling the spearhead of the campaign "entitled" and an "opportunist."

The mouthpiece of the authors, horror and thriller writer Douglas Preston hasn't made the letter public yet, but it should appear in a full-page ad in the New York Times. In an interview with the UK newspaper The Guardian, he says that "we're not against Amazon as a company -- we would like to see it sell books, be profitable and successful." However, he calls Amazon's behavior in the dispute "thuggish."

Amazon has publicly admitted to disrupting sales of books from publishing group Hachette, via its Kindle forum. The retailer revealed it is not actively buying stock from the publisher in anticipation of sales to customers, and claims the entire escalating feud between the two companies relates to the pricing of books, along with other supply-related terms.

Authors attached to the letter include Stephen King, Donna Tartt, Paul Auster, James Patterson, John Grisham, Jennifer Egan, Joshua Ferris, Karen Joy Fowler, Siri Hustvedt, Joseph O'Neill, Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, Barbara Kingsolver, Clive Cussler, Anita Shreve and Philip Pullman. "I have never seen in my entire life authors coming together like this," Preston said of the letter supporting Hachette. "Ever. For any reason."

"Amazon has been throwing its weight around for quite some time in a bullying fashion, and I think authors are fed up. We feel betrayed, because we helped Amazon become one of the largest corporations in the world," continues Preston. "We supported it from the beginning, we contributed free blogs, reviews and all kinds of stuff that Amazon asked us to do for nothing."

Amazon claims its actions do not affect 989 out of 1,000 items sold, while also suggesting those requiring Hachette books quickly to "purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors." Amazon states that the issues with negotiations is on the "behalf of customers," with the term negotiations being an "essential business practice" critical to "keeping service and value high for customers in the medium and long term."

Critics accuse Amazon of hiding behind the "fight for customers" label and in fact is pursing unsustainably low market rates for books and e-books that would force most publishers out. Amazon has already announced plans to publish some authors directly, and may have designs on becoming a publisher itself.

Amazon is taking an aggressive stance to the still-unpublished letter. In a harshly-worded statement, attempting to discredit Preston as a spokesperson for the movement, Amazon says that customers have "clearly expressed a preference for e-books priced less than $10. Even four years ago, when readers expressed such a preference, Mr. Preston responded by saying publicly, 'The sense of entitlement of the American consumer is absolutely astonishing.' It's pretty clear it's Mr. Preston who feels entitled. And what's 'astonishing' is that he thinks readers won't recognize an opportunist who seeks readers' support while actively working against their interests."

In the eyes of Amazon, Hachette is the one to blame for the dispute. It claims that Hachette was contacted to discuss terms in January, but in a letter offering to pay the authors directly, Amazon says that it "heard nothing from them for three full months."

Hachette refused the offer, which Amazon says would have returned "normal levels of on-hand print inventory, return to normal pricing in all formats, and for books that haven't gone on sale yet, reinstate pre-orders." Apple and others are taking advantage of Amazon's stand-off by wooing customers who want Hatchette authors' works to order them from the iBookstore and other e-book outlets.

"Honestly, we are hoping Jeff Bezos will come to his senses and settle this problem with Hachette without hurting authors." Preston told The Guardian. "Let these two corporations duke it out ... just don't hurt us. If he does, we can all go [back] to writing books, but if Jeff wants to take the long hard road with us, we will walk that road with him."



By Electronista Staff
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  1. Gazoobee

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 02-27-09

    The thing I find surprising about this, is the blindness of the authors who keep insisting that Amazon is basically a fine company that cares about books, customers, publishers, or anything to do with the book industry. It is clearly not.

    Amazon is a "thuggish" organisation through and through. They don't give a rat's behind about their customers, their suppliers, their workers, or literally anything at all but money and total market domination. Don Corleone would be proud to run such a company. Amazon is a soul-less, hateful organisation that has demonstrated time and time again that why care for no one, and adhere to no rules.

    There is a reason their inner financial workings are kept completely secret. Years from now when the whole thing collapses and books are written about what "really went on" inside Amazon, we will see the truth. For now, authors and publishers are as guilty as Amazon and complicit in maintaining the illusion that Amazon is just another company that is only out for it's customers and "good" for the book business.

  1. sunman42

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-09-11

    I suspect the respect the authors are paying Amazon is lip service, because they don't want to irritate what is fast becoming if not the only, then at least the principal way most readers purchase their works. The egregious attack on Preston is indicative of how Amazon regards the creators of the work on which it laid the foundation of its commercial empire.

  1. chimaera

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 04-08-07

    Originally Posted by GazoobeeView Post

    Amazon is a "thuggish" organisation through and through. They don't give a rat's behind about their customers, their suppliers, their workers, or literally anything at all but money and total market domination.



    My experience with Amazon customer service has always been excellent. Whenever there was a problem, customer service took care of it.

  1. Inkling

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 07-25-06

    Amazon cares about customers? Hardly, when I lived in Seattle, an Amazon software developer warned me, "Never trust Amazon search results." I saw that a few weeks ago when I search for a particular model of Bluetooth headset. Every result came up in the $120 range. Applying a few tricks to get around the loaded-in-favor-of-pricey search engine, I soon found that the company that made the headset and others selling it ON AMAZON for about $80. That's Amazon trying to rip me off for $40 more than I needed to pay.

  1. writerwrites8

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-26-14

    Amazon says that customers have "clearly expressed a preference for e-books priced less than $10. ..." —¬†Well, let me tell you, I would like to by my new car for 10$ as well. The stupidity of Amazon's argument is only topped by the greed of those on top of this company.

  1. climacs

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 09-06-01

    books will be written someday about the collapse of the Amazon empire as well as its stock. A P/E of over 500 for a company with no sign of being able to turn a profit? Bubblicious.

  1. macmediausa

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 02-23-05

    Amazon should not be a one-size-fits-all shopping experience. In the end it does hurt the consumer. Why? Not all books should be under $10. Of course as a consumer, we'd like everything for free or close to it. However as a writer why should we be demanded to price our books below what is fair for the amount of work that goes into it? If they can sell 5 million copies of an e-book - fine, the writer can afford to have pricing of less than $10 bucks. But if they price a book at $10 and the hardcover book is $35 - they are going to cannibalize the hardcover book (it wouldn't even be a fair fight). What if they only sold 1000 e-books? Is it fair for a writer to sell below it's real value?

    Fine - a store can technically do what it wants - pick and choose what they want to sell. However just because Amazon is the 900 lb gorilla and is holding the majority selling in many categories they are forcing everyone out of business until eventually it's just only the big ones calling all the shots. All the small writers will be held hostage to their pricing strategies.... Look at Comcast, Walmart, Google, etc. When they become so big that they can dictate an entire industry, it's dangerous....

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    If only we had a DOJ that cares about the harm caused by extended loss-leader pricing, predatory anti-competitive moves and abuse of monopoly power.

    Ah well, perhaps the DOJ can sue Apple over this somehow. I'm sure that would make them happy.

  1. chimaera

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 04-08-07

    Originally Posted by macmediausaView Post

    However as a writer why should we be demanded to price our books below what is fair for the amount of work that goes into it? ... Is it fair for a writer to sell below it's real value?



    This is a marketing error. Products are not worth what goes into them, they are worth what someone will pay for them. The cost of materials + labor is important for making a profit. But if people will only buy at a lower price, then the product is overpriced.

    Many products do not exist because their creation cost exceeds what they are worth to customers. Examples: beef with 0% fat, or errata-free CPUs. Both could be done, but would require ridiculous up-front costs. In those examples, people will pay for "good enough" at a decent price, but not for ideal at 3-10x the cost.

  1. aardman

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-18-09

    This is Amazon's books and ebooks business plan: Kill off the competition in retailing by charging prices below cost. Kill off the publishers by extracting onerous wholesale terms and disrupting book sales in an effort to get authors to abandon their publishers and deal directly with Amazon. Once Amazon becomes the sole retailer and publisher of books and ebooks, guess what will happen to book prices and authors' royalties. Amazon must be stopped.

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