The Big Woman and the Small Ax: Some Implications of the Amazon-Hachette Book Stand Off

English: Logistic Center Amazon in Bad Hersfel...

Logistic Center Amazon in Bad Hersfeld industrial park “Blaue Liede” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amazon’s truly living up to her name. She’s a Big Badass Woman in the jungle. She thinks she’s learned a lot watching Walmart beat the crap out of their suppliers so she’s doing the same thing.

If you pay attention even a little to the publishing world, you probably know that I’m talking about Amazon’s harsh tactics directed at publishing conglomerate Hachette. Hachette doesn’t want to use the pricing and marketing scheme Amazon is offering. Amazon wants to have ultimate control over how they price products. There’s some really great journalism on this issue like the following resources:

Radio Times: “Amazon’s feud with book publishers”

The New York Times: “Why Is Amazon Squeezing Hachette? Maybe It Really Needs Money”

Forbes: “The Real Story Behind the Amazon v Hachette Fight”

Digital Book World: “Competitors Use Hachette to Fight Amazon”

Basically, Amazon’s strong-arm tactics include delays in promotions for Hachette new releases, slow-downs on book shipments, and all sorts of nifty little obfuscations that render Hachette products hard to discover at the Amazon
website. The impact is being felt by publishers and authors in all sorts of ways. None of it’s much good. Amazon controls about 70% of online book commerce. According to Digital Book World, JK Rowling’s new pseudonymous (Robert Galbraith) release The Silkworm has missed out being on the Ebook best-seller list this week because Amazon won’t activate their pre-order system for Hachette products. They also delayed the book release several hours on the Amazon site.

Poor JK. Does Amazon really want to fuck with one of the major Big Woman writers in the world? — who also happens to be a badass.

What’s important here, though, is the funny reality of market economics. Amazon is facing off against Hachette because Hachette’s the first Big 5 publishing company in line to renegotiate a contract with the behemoth. They’re (both) looking to set a precedent.

Publishers really want the deal that Apple struck with the music industry where the iTunes store takes a 30% cut of every sale. Apple had enough humility to see itself as a consumer resale outlet. Amazon, as I’ve already pointed out, clearly wants to be the Walmart of the Internet. The thing is, if Walmart all of a sudden stopped selling Sony products or Kraft foods or Hanes underclothing they would lose customers, especially if their efforts had made the national news. I mean, imagine Walmart just deep-sixing all that Michael Jordan underwear. Sheesh. Gotta have my Hanes! (I’m not joking! I’m wearing Walmart Hanes right now and I feel good…).

There are, of course, other online bookstores for consumers to turn to. Barnes & Noble, the iBook Store, Kobo, Smashwords, Tomely, Scribd, NoiseTradeBooks, and many, many more.

Amazon, it seems, is betting that their customers are too stupid or lazy to set up alternative accounts with their competitors. They’re betting, too, that Hachette and the other publishers won’t tell them to screw themselves and just do business with those competitors.

Note: I need to be careful here. All three of my books can be purchased at Amazon. I wouldn’t put it past them to have some kind of spy crawler looking for blog posts like this. You may want to look out, too, if you’re reading this.

But my advice to all book buyers and authors is to understand this situation for what it is: Amazon is out of control. There’s no telling what they can do to independent authors and small presses. I think they’re an awesome Internet innovation, a revolutionary company in fact, but not for their pricing. They’re amazing for their selection — of books and pretty much anything else (that you can buy at Walmart).

I’m not going to comment here on how all of this is happening just a year after the Department of Justice decided that Apple and the Big 5 publishers were guilty of colluding against Amazon. I am, though, going to reiterate my caution for all authors to stop thinking of Amazon, or any of their competitors, as the main reason that online publishing and book sales is so successful. These companies are just stores. If you were a grapefruit juice manufacturer, you wouldn’t be running around proclaiming the virtues of Albertson’s over Whole Foods (at least you shouldn’t be). And you wouldn’t limit yourself to one chain if you can help it.

My books can be found at about 20 different websites globally. Amazon’s the biggest, but they’re no more supportive of me than Apple or Kobo. In the early days, they were a great company to publish with because they offered their authors the right to promote themselves by offering free copies of their Ebooks through signing on to the Amazon KDP arrangement. You got five whole days to offer each of your works for free (along with thousands of others doing the same thing). Five Days! Woo Hoo! Five days, as long as you were willing to sign an exclusive publishing agreement with them.

I’ve been offering my psychedelic novel, Beyond the Will of God, for free from NoiseTrade.com now for about two weeks (you can get free music there, too). And they don’t require one shred of exclusivity. They also have a system that allows downloaders to leave authors tips. NoiseTradeBooks simply asks those who download books to provide their email address so that authors can add to their special mailing lists (they do this with their free music, too). Seems fair — I give you my book at no cost, you give me your email address, and, maybe, a small token of your appreciation. That deal’s open right now, but it will close shortly. Go check out the page for Beyond the Will of God here.

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of innovations going on in the book distribution and Internet publishing world every day. Amazon is a massive piece of the puzzle, but their book division won’t last if they’re going to piss off authors and publishers. Don’t think about a timeframe that includes the next couple of years, think the next decade or more.

Google is hard at work trying to digitize every book already published. Why they aren’t making themselves available as a venue for new books by indie authors is beyond me. Apple still seems to be stumbling around in the dark with their iBook Store, but if they decide to get smart and think different, there’s no telling what they will do. And for indie publishing authors and small presses, Smashwords and Scribd are probably the best, most dedicated systems to offer new work for readers of all stripes.

In the end, Amazon’s strangle hold on the publishing world actually depends on lazy consumers acting like sheep. That needs to change. I’m going to guess it all just comes down to who you have an account with. Get ballsy. Go set up an account with Barnes & Noble or Kobo. And, for goodness sake, wake up, you already have an account at iTunes. Apple’s really stupid about this, but you can buy Ebooks right there through them today. I just checked. JK’s The Silkworm is offered for $9.99 as an Ebook there. Yes, it’s $8.99 with Amazon, but after reading this whole essay are you really going to give the behemoth your business? I hope not.

About davidbiddle

David Biddle is the author of the psychedelic novel, "Beyond the Will of God," and two collections of short stories, "Implosions of America" & "Trying to Care." He has been writing professionally for over 30 years and is a columnist with both TalkingWriting.com and KotoriMagazine.com.

He is currently at work on the a new novel, "Beautiful Morning Blues," the first in a connected series of three books about sex, love, and family in the fringe suburbs of a large eastern city called Philadelphia.

Comments

  1. Joan Harris (Albuquerque, NM) says:

    Hola! I am sure that WalMart never noticed my defection, but a decade ago I shopped there every week. Then they stopped carrying the brand of deoderant I use. So I went to WalGreen to buy deoderant. And discovered that I can park less than half a mile from the front door, and there is usually not more than one person in line ahead of me to check out. And I decided that it is a much nicer experience to shop at other stores. For instance Target is clean and bright and much less crowded. These days I only go to WalMart about once a month.

    But I admit to being a lazy book buyer…..I will think about what you have written. Thanks!

  2. An almost perfect proof of my theory…although the “about once a month” statement makes me worry. And if you admit to being a lazy book buyer, I’m guessing Amazon’s still gotcha hooked. Check out Kobo. For that matter, I did not mention WattPad. If you’re into YA WattPad has tons of great indie work (really great, seriously) and there’s no charge. Just saying.

    I loved this comment!

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