While this year’s Fourth of July fireworks displays around the country were bold and beautiful, the fireworks between online retail giant Amazon.com and long-standing book publisher Hachette were anything but. Over the holiday weekend, support for Authors Guild Council Member Douglas Preston’s open letter to Amazon hit 300 signatures, with big names like Stephen King, Scott Turow, Nora Roberts, and James Patterson as signers. The open letter calls on Amazon “to resolve its dispute with Hachette without hurting authors and without blocking or otherwise delaying the sale of books to its customers,” among other things. “No bookseller,” Preston writes, “should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want. It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation.”
The letter lists three main issues that he and other authors have with Amazon:
- Boycotting Hachette authors, claiming their titles are “unavailable.”
- Refusing to discount many of Hachette’s books.
- Slowing the delivery to “several weeks” on many of Hachette’s titles.
According to a July 4, 2014, article in The Guardian, the “negotiations became public knowledge after Amazon began raising estimated delivery times for what Hachette claims are thousands of its titles. Amazon said earlier this week that its stance was ‘in the long-term interest of our customers’; Hachette has said that it is looking for ‘terms that value appropriately for the years ahead the author’s unique role in creating books, and the publisher’s role in editing, marketing, and distributing them.’”
Amazon’s response was short and sweet: “We take seriously and regret the impact it has when, however infrequently, a terms dispute with a publisher affects authors,” the statement continued. “We look forward to resolving this issue with Hachette as soon as possible.”
Not all authors support Hachette in this dispute, though. Self-published authors have created their own petition, with more than 7,000 signatures, asking Hachette for better royalty rates for authors—in essence, asking for a living wage. The last few decades have seen the reworking of creative industries, usually to the detriment of the artist. Record companies are squeezing the life-blood out of musicians for a higher production rate, galleries rarely take chances on new artists anymore because of the current state of the economy, and the movie industry has been creatively bankrupt for years. It’s become almost impossible to get noticed through traditional channels of promotion. The possibility for self-promotion in publishing is one of the only ways some authors can get in the game, and many self-published authors will continue to support Amazon during their tug-o-war with Hachette.
How much would Hachette lose if Amazon remains unmoved? Conversely, how much does Amazon stand to lose if giants like King, Roberts and Patterson decide to pull their works from the site? At the end of the day, there are no real winners in this dispute. It’s safe to say that authors—and readers—are the ones most likely to lose.