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In Amazon and Hachette’s ongoing battle over a new contract, Amazon has received most of the blame — and that’s probably not surprising since it’s the party cutting off pre-orders, messing with search and shipping Hachette books with multiweek delays. Authors, in particular, have come out on Hachette’s side — John Green, J. K. Rowling, James Patterson and Malcolm Gladwell (who shall henceforth be known as Explaino the Clown). So nobody’s on Amazon’s side, right?
Well, actually… To every backlash there is a counter-backlash, and in recent days some pro-Amazon sentiment has trickled out — or if it’s not fully pro-Amazon, exactly, it’s at least … conflicted. So who’s saying what? Here are the general themes:
Hachette is a big company, too
Amazon isn’t the monopoly we have to worry about, Hugh Howey, the author of the bestselling self-published Wool trilogy (which Simon & Schuster publishes in print), wrote at the Huffington Post. “The real monopoly, once you start examining business practices and attitudes, is Big Publishing itself,” he said, citing low digital royalties (17.5 percent on most titles, compared to the 70 percent that KDP authors [though not Amazon Publishing authors] receive) and the recent Random House-Penguin merger as evidence that “not only do the major publishers collude and act as one, they are slowly becoming one as well.”
From this perspective, Amazon is a savior: “The culture of the Big 5, which was built by gobbling up successful small presses and rolling them into imprints, left the door wide open for Amazon, a company that dared to sell direct to consumers, innovate the way we read, and pay authors a living wage. You know, the first company to actually compete.”
If authors hate Amazon so much, they should pull their books from it
“How can someone condemn a company’s evil, monopolistic, culture- and livelihood-destroying ways … while continuing to make millions of dollars working with that company?” author Barry Eisler — who has self-published, traditionally published and published with Amazon Publishing — wrote at the Guardian.
It’s a good question. (Digital Book World also suggested that Hachette pull all of its books from Amazon.) In the past, I have asked a couple of big publishers if they’d ever pull their books from Amazon and received responses along the lines of “are you insane?” It would hurt the publishers and readers far more than it would hurt Amazon, these people said. Perhaps more to the point, it’s not actually possible for publishers to remove print books from Amazon: As consultant Mike Shatzkin explained recently:
“Hachette, and all other publishers, sell both directly to retailers and through wholesalers. The wholesalers sell to whomever they want. So Amazon could always get James Patterson books, even at a slightly higher price, by ordering them from Ingram or Baker & Taylor. It is not in the power of any publisher to actually withhold their product from any retailer the way your [milk] producer could from Walmart.”
Ebooks are also complicated: I’ve heard some publishers’ contracts with Amazon prohibit them from pulling their ebook files from the site.
“Amazon wants to make money. Publishers want to make money. You want things more cheaply,” author Chuck Wendig — who, like Eisner, has published with Amazon — wrote on his blog. And, he said, “it’s vital to resist” good vs. evil categorization:
“I’ve seen what indie authors call Amazon Derangement Syndrome, which is when folks in the traditional system decry anything Amazon does as being some kind of Lovecraftian Evil — any change in the way they do business is just them building a throne out of the bones of innocent children. But I’ve seen the opposite, too — where indie authors cannot abide criticism of Amazon, as if Amazon is like, a pal they hang out with at a bar somewhere. ‘Amazon will never betray me,’ the indie author says, even as Amazon breaks a bar glass and quietly cuts off the indie writer’s fingers because it hungers for fingers.”
The answer, he suggested, is to diversify both book buying and book publishing: “Do not be married to a single ecosystem.” Buy your books from multiple sources, and publish them through multiple outlets.
This post was updated Friday evening with additional information about the difficulties of removing ebook files from Amazon.