When my brain could no longer DELETE, COMPRESS, EXPAND, or REPLACE another paragraph, I looked over my edits, left Scrivener, and went browsing through the online news headlines. “Hachette Versus Amazon” popped up.
James Patterson, a marquee-level Hachette author, had plenty to say about Amazon at BookExpo America last week. "Amazon seems to be out to control shopping in this country," he warned. "Amazon also, as you know, wants to control book selling, book buying and even book publishing, and that is a national tragedy." (1)
This was new and unwelcome information for an ambitious writer like myself. Tragedies abound in the world of writing and reading: Death of reading, death of the neighborhood bookstore, death of publishing opportunities for any book that doesn't fit the blockbuster profile, and now the threat of death to publishing as we know it.
Seeking further information, or perhaps avoiding the small deaths required in my revision, I dug deeper into the conflict. Hachette Books, a gigantic publishing conglomerate that includes the imprints Little, Brown, Hyperion, Orbit and Grand Central, is in a feud with Amazon. Since the negotiations are in process, neither side is disclosing specifics, but the assumption is that Amazon wants the power to discount Hachette e-books at will, and Hachette—understandably—doesn’t want to grant Amazon that power.
During the negotiations, Amazon has engaged in what Hachette has called "bullying tactics": canceling discounts on Hachette books, shipping them at a snail's pace, and even listing them as out of stock and unavailable. Hachette is airing its grievances in the press, and authors are speaking out against Amazon.
Malcolm Gladwell, another Hachette writer, told The New York Times, "It's sort of heartbreaking when your partner turns on you. . . . I have made millions of dollars for Amazon. . . . This seems an odd way to treat someone who has made you millions of dollars." (2)
On Monday, a non-Hachette author, John Green, whose novel, The Fault in Our Stars is the current top seller at Amazon, said, "What's ultimately at stake is whether Amazon is going to be able to freely and permanently bully publishers into eventual nonexistence." (3)
So there you have it. A behemoth—Amazon—is accused of bullying a giant—Hachette. Amazon has been throwing its considerable weight around, true, but the Hachette conglomerate is not without blame in its own business practices. Along with three other companies, Hachette was recently found guilty of colluding with Apple to fix prices on e-books in an attempt to break Amazon's stranglehold on the market. (4)
Hachette and Amazon are jockeying for money and power. Welcome to capitalism. Satisfied with my research, I was willing to let the courts decide whose greed is more destructive to the public good. I vaguely hoped Hachette would prevail, thereby keeping more publishers viable and ready to publish my novel when I make it through my final revision and find an agent.
Before returning to my sullen art, I decided to finish reading, Amazon and Hachette: The dispute in 13 easy steps. In step 12, Caroline Kellogg asks, “What is to be done?” In answer, she reports (suggests? recommends? urges?), “Some people are walking away from Amazon as a retailer because of its dispute with Hachette." (5)
A trumpet call to action! The knee-jerk liberal lurking in the rag-and-bone shop of my heart jerked to attention and pricked up her ears.
Was this a modern equivalent of the grape boycott of the 60's? Caesar Chavez rallied us, we eschewed table grapes, and growers were forced to recognize the United Farmworkers Union and pay the grape pickers minimum wage. Power to the people!
Now must we--especially we who love writing and reading--boycott Amazon?
Just a doggone minute here. I don't like grapes. Boycotting them was one of the most satisfying sacrifices imaginable. On the other hand, I am very, very fond of amazon.com. In fact, at the risk of revealing too much, I'm just going to put it out there: I'm a member of Amazon Prime. Yes, I'm a writer, but I’m also a master on-line shopper. Two-day free shipping is Shoppers' Heaven. Between the desire and the delivery falls no shadow. I’m talking everything from triple-strength ginseng to size medium/short Prana Yoga pants. Am I going to give up Paradise so James Patterson, Malcolm Gladwell, J.K. Rowling, Donna Tartt, and the estate of David Foster Wallace can avoid further loss of revenue on their e-books?
My first response was a resounding no. Going deeper, however, I found that under certain conditions, the answer could conceivably be affirmative. It is possible that I would walk away from Amazon if:
1. I see convincing evidence that my participation in a boycott of Amazon will substantially help all authors, myself included
2. I see convincing evidence that my participation in the boycott will save publishing
3. I get a lucrative book deal with Hachette
Until these conditions are met, I'm sticking with Jeff Bezos and his Amazons.
Have you read tonight's news? Amazon’s stock rose 5.6 percent today when the company asked the FAA for permission to fly drones as part of its plan to deliver packages to customers in thirty minutes or less. (6)
I can’t help it—I love these guys. When I was a child, I had to wait seven weeks for my order of Dale Evans and her horse Buttermilk to arrive at our post office box in rural Idaho. These days, Jeff gets me my extra-wide New Balance Walkers in just two days. In a few years, his drones will be bringing me things before I even know I want them!
Make me a better deal than that, Hachette!
1. Kellogg, Carolyn. “Amazon and Hatchette: The dispute in 13 easy steps.” Los Angeles
Times. June 3, 2014.
4. Cueto, Emma. “Everything You Need to Know about This Feud.” www.Bustle.com
6. Earthlink, Inc. Associated Press. July 11, 2014
Giant Versus Behemoth