Home » Amazon, Big Publishing » Malcolm Gladwell ‘Surprised’ to Become an Amazon Bargaining Chip

Malcolm Gladwell ‘Surprised’ to Become an Amazon Bargaining Chip

31 May 2014

From The New York Times Bits blog:

In the dispute between Amazon and Hachette, neither side is blinking.

Amazon has been discouraging sales of books published by Hachette in an effort to make the publisher come to terms on a new contract for e-books. The confrontation has dominated publishing and bookselling circles. Amazon has been heavily criticized for using writers as pawns, although it also has its defenders.

. . . .

Many Hachette authors have weighed in. James Patterson was vehement in his criticism of Amazon, which he repeated at the booksellers’ convention in New York this week.

But there was one voice that was notably absent: that of Malcolm Gladwell, author of “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants,” “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” and other extremely popular social science books. Amazon has trimmed or eliminated the discount on most of his books or added weeks to the shipping time, or both.

. . . .

Mr. Gladwell did not quite say he felt betrayed by Amazon, but said he was “surprised and puzzled” by its actions.

Here’s a lightly edited account of the conversation:


You’ve been silent since this story broke.


I was initially asked by Hachette to give them some time to negotiate. It’s easier when things are not being hashed out in the press. But several weeks have passed, so maybe it is appropriate for me to say something.


Let’s hear it.


It’s sort of heartbreaking when your partner turns on you. Over the past 15 years, I have sold millions of dollars’ worth of books on Amazon, which means I have made millions of dollars for Amazon. I would have thought I was one of their best assets. I thought we were partners in a business that has done well. This seems an odd way to treat someone who has made you millions of dollars.


What is happening to your sales?


They have been profoundly affected. Where Amazon used to sell two copies, now it sells one. It’s a pretty big decline.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

PG would note that if Gladwell really wanted to partner with Amazon, he’d use KDP to self-publish his books. Among other things, self-publishing would allow him to know exactly how many books he’s selling on Amazon instead of relying on Hachette to pass on whatever information it wants him to have about his sales.

Perhaps PG is in a particularly cynical mood today, but he wonders if Gladwell is in the company of other bestselling authors in receiving an advance so large that his books are never expected to earn out. If that is the case, it doesn’t make any financial difference to him how many of his books Amazon sells.

Amazon, Big Publishing

44 Comments to “Malcolm Gladwell ‘Surprised’ to Become an Amazon Bargaining Chip”

  1. Looking at the numbers he is throwing out there (millions of dollars) is a scare tactic for the uninformed. The average book buyer will never see that much money in one place in their lifetime. The capacity to comprehend how meaningless that sum is when compared to billions of dollars is near impossible to grasp.

    They are playing down to their audience instead of sharing the big picture or SSDF.

  2. I wonder if he realizes that Amazon makes far less from selling his books than he does, even if he has earned out. I know legacy pub royalties are low, but Amazon’s net is far lower.

  3. I suggested they correct the title to “Malcolm Gladwell ‘Surprised’ to Become an Hachette Bargaining Chip”, but I’m not holding my breath…

  4. I don’t get where Gladwell got such a silly notion. Hachette is Amazon’s business partner, not Gladwell, since there’s no written contract between Amazon and Gladwell. If Gladwell wants to be Amazon’s business partner, then he has to ditch the middleman Hachette, duh.

    • Thank you, Elka! Who the h*** did Gladwell sign a contract with? Because it sure wasn’t Amazon. Is he yet another writer who didn’t bother to read it before he signed? Is he that ignorant of who he’s really partnered with?

      Sorry for the rant. I’m on my second can of Pepsi Max. Maybe I should switch to Diet Coke, the official drink of TPV.

  5. 1. My writing career is being harmed. That is unfair.
    2. Amazon should do whatever it has to o get my cash flowing again.
    3. Nothing else matters but me.

  6. Anyone else find irony in the author of “little guy vs. big guy” books is surprised that his “millions” are being usurped by an upstart book distributor? Just me? Okay.

    I’m inclined now to think that maybe Gladwell isn’t the expert on David and Goliath stories that his publishing company thinks he is. Just saying.

  7. Among other things, self-publishing would allow him to know exactly how many books he’s selling on Amazon instead of relying on Hachette to pass on whatever information it wants him to have about his sales.

    That was my thought, too. How on earth does Gladwell know how profoundly his sales are being affected? He won’t get his royalty statement for this quarter until October. So obviously he’s relying on whatever Hachette tells him about how his books are performing.

    Come on, dude. Allegedly you’re smarter than that.

    • You mean what Hachette tells his agent? And how could he not trust his agent, the person who is his friend, his advocate, problem solver and accountant, all rolled in one.

      • You mean the one who makes their money by taking a commission out of his checks he gets from Hatchette? They’re completely trustworthy and have no motive to try to influence any of this. Trust them.

  8. He, he…I think the PG commentary kind of says it all on this one.

  9. This could be the tipping point.

  10. Am I the only one who read “It’s sort of heartbreaking when your partner turns on you,” and thought he was talking about Hachette? Because Hachette isn’t doing this for the authors. (Neither is Amazon, but Amazon is better for authors than Hachette is, which makes it easy to pick who to root for.)

  11. What I honestly can’t figure out is what the publishers think they’ll get out of this massive and expensive P.R. effort. I’ve seen author friends posting the Atlantic story on Facebook, prompting their friends to curse the hated “monopoly” and take the opportunity to get things wrong as publicly as possible.

    OK, so they succeed in getting a few misinformed writers to share via social media and pull in a few of those writers’ book-loving friends. Then what? If I really want Gladwell’s latest in print and can’t get it from Amazon, I’m only angry if I’m already a loyal Amazon customer and am used to buying from there. If that’s the case, I’ll get the print version somewhere else and then continue to buy the non-Hachette books from Amazon. I’m not going to boycott it. And if I’m not a loyal Amazon customer, Amazon hasn’t lost anything by irritating me. I wasn’t shopping there. Never mind that if I have a Kindle, I can get the ebook right now and won’t be affected.

    How many people are genuinely stirred up by this, and how many will do anything measurable that will change Amazon’s stance and force it to give up a thing? What, they’re going to start a petition? Picket? Even the ones who say they’ll boycott couldn’t make a dent if they tried, and they’ll keep ordering Prime when their friends aren’t looking.

    When you tell people the speed of their Internet access is threatened because of changing rules, they notice. (Whether they can make a difference has yet to be seen.) But when you tell them a big publisher might have a weak quarter? I don’t see anyone greasing the guillotine.

    • I finally figured this out. This whole misinformation campaign is aimed squarely at Hachette authors. If they knew what was really going on, they would be up in arms against Hachette.

      • +1

      • O-o-o-h! Now that makes some sense. Do you think that is indeed the motive, William? To keep the Hachette authors spinning and submissive?

      • Not that I’m saying this is true, so no one should send lawyers at me for this,

        But in a book, the villain publisher and/or agents would be using this brouhaha to mask shady practices. Who would know if a few extra hundred, thousand, million dollars went into their pockets rather than the authors? Everyone knows, after all, that the evil internet giant disrupted the flow of money. None of their authors would be surprised at all when they got their royalty statements and found them anemic.

    • Terrence OBrien

      I ordered a camping knife from Amazon yesterday at a great price. No tax. No shipping charge. They said it would be delivered Tuesday. This morning I got a text saying they managed to expedite it and it would arrive today. It did. Multiply that consumer experience by a few million. Think Hachette has any chance in a PR war?

      • Exactly. Years ago, $80 worth of books from Amazon were delivered to the wrong company in my then-office building and disappeared. I contacted customer service, and they immediately sent another box out. When the first one turned up, I contacted them again to send it back. (Fair is fair, right?) They told me not to bother.

        I’ve had a Prime account and a box at the local UPS store for some time now. They’d have to screw me pretty badly in order for me to change that.

      • 1,000% this.

  12. Maybe Gladwell has read the Amazon author contract and so knows that Amazon reserves the right to change any provision of its agreement with any author at any time for any reason.

    • I did a book for Alpha Penguin. They gave me 10 weeks to do it and I said okay. About 3 weeks in the editor has decided she needs not 20 but 100 projects. I go nuts. I have 10 weeks and there’s nothing in the contract about 100 projects. But my agent is saying “Go forward, you’ll make $40,000 on this.” Then about 6 weeks in the editor came back to me and said what about the photos? I said what photos? The ones we need. There’s nothing in the contract about photos. Well, we need them. So I start arranging that. About 2 weeks later, the editor comes back to me and says Those illustrations need to be really black and white. What illustrations I ask. The ones we need. There’s nothing in the contract about illustrations. Well, we need them. I spend $4000 hiring two illustrators. The editor takes a powder. The book is delayed by 18 months, missing the release date and peak of interest in the topic.

      I still owe Penguin 95% of the advance.

      Funnily enough, Amazon has never done this to me.

      • i’ve a similar story with huge amt of work fr me then demands and demands by editor. Ms held ransom til i can pay back 100% of advance. have been saving for years. hang in there Barbara. That is just atrocious what happened to you. I know many who this has happened to, but mostly long long ago. I find appalling that it still goes on. Negligence by everyone conerned except the writer, who is often looked at as scab labor, filling in you know, till they can find a gliterati instead. lol

      • I’m sorry that happened to you. It would be good if you told this story more often, since I noticed that some people believe that when authors receive advance, publishers can’t/never demand it back.

      • This is horrible. I’m no lawyer, but it seems like you could sue them for breach if they’re trying to get their advance back. Might be worth asking PG.

  13. So I guess Amazon’s book sales must be way down. They’re not?
    You mean readers are still buying books?
    Just not as many “Hachette” books, oh, okay.
    So other authors at other publishing houses (or not) are making those sales and making the royalties/commissions and Amazon is still getting their percentage from them.

    Too bad Hatchette can’t sell their books on Amazon.

    But Hachette books are still being sold on Amazon, you say? You mean a reader can go to Amazon, click on Gladwell’s book, and still buy it? Huh.

  14. Who is Malcolm Gladwell?

  15. To me the odd thing is Gladwell, who writers about such things, can’t see the inverse. If he’s done so well with Amazon over the years, then why isn’t he bitching about his publisher screwing that arrangement up?

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