Home » Amazon, Big Publishing, Joe Konrath » Nonsense United

Nonsense United

15 September 2014

From Joe Konrath:

And Authors United confirms that a group can indeed be less than the sum of its parts when it acts in such a blatantly stupid way. But, like any group of likeminded people bonded together by mutual ignorance, they can persuade the legacy media tools at the NYT and The Bookseller to run their biased propaganda without any counterpoints.

Fails all around.

Their recent letter almost isn’t worth fisking. Really. It’s so poorly done, such a flimsy, whiny argument, that a child could deconstruct it.

But I didn’t have a child available, so I did it.

. . . .

Dear [name],

We are writing to you in your capacity as a director of Amazon.com, Inc. As we all know, Amazon is involved in contract negotiations with several media and publishing companies, including Hachette. About six months ago, to enhance its bargaining position, Amazon began sanctioning Hachette authors’ books. These sanctions included refusing preorders, delaying shipping, reducing discounting, and using pop-up windows to cover authors’ pages and redirect buyers to non-Hachette books.

Didn’t take long for the BS to begin.

This began in January, not six months ago, because Hachette refused to negotiate with Amazon prior to their contract with Amazon expiring.

Amazon has had no contract with Hachette for several months. And yet it still sells Hachette titles, while under no obligation to do so.

Refusing preorders – Why should Amazon sell advanced copies of work when they might not be selling any Hachette titles in the future if an agreement can’t be reached?

Delaying shipping – Amazon has said they aren’t delaying shipping, they simply aren’t stocking Hachette titles. If Hachette wants faster shipping, they should get their titles to Amazon faster.

Reducing discounting – Oh noes! Amazon is selling books for the prices that Hachette sets!

Using pop-up windows – First I’ve heard of this, and the few minutes I took clicking on Hachette titles on Amazon failed to produce any results. But if it is true, let’s look at the big picture:

1. Should Amazon be allowed to do whatever it wants to on its own website? Sell what it wants to, for prices it wants to? Sell ad space if it wants to? Stock what it wants to? Ship how it wants to?

2. If a retailer isn’t behaving like the supplier wants it to behave, should the supplier fight for better terms? Leave? Negotiate in good faith? Capitulate?

For some reason, Authors United believes that publishers have the right to tell Amazon, Bezos, and the board of directors, how to run their store.

Now, the US has a history of third parties trying to intimidate retailers. But at least the mob did it effectively. Authors United seems to be using the intimidation tool of shame.

Shame doesn’t work. I know this for a fact, because I’ve repeatedly shamed Authors United signatories to stop their nonsense, and they haven’t.

But I’ll keep trying. And I won’t have to try very hard. Seriously, read on, it gets extremely humiliating.

. . . .

This is an obvious fact. We all have choices. Amazon chose to involve 2,500 Hachette authors and their books. It could end these sanctions tomorrow while continuing to negotiate. Amazon is undermining the ability of authors to support their families, pay their mortgages, and provide for their kids’ college educations. We’d like to emphasize that most of us are not Hachette authors, and our concern is founded on principle, rather than self-interest.

So now Amazon owes authors a living?

I’m amazed by the permeating sense of entitlement in this letter. These authors believe the system owes them. And I say this as someone who was at the mercy of legacy publishers for a decade. I know what it’s like to have my dreams, hopes, and finances screwed by the whims of a giant corporation.

But here’s the thing: I signed those one-sided, unconscionable publishing contracts. I went into them willingly. And when something better came along, I got the hell out.

Authors United, your gripe isn’t with Amazon. You didn’t sign a deal with Amazon. You can self-publish with Amazon right now and get preorders and fast shipping and price your books as you wish.

Your problem should be with Hachette. Hachette, who wants to keep ebook prices high, even as you lament Amazon’s lack of discounting. Hachette, who cares more about its part of the paper distribution oligopoly than it does about its authors. Hachette, who you HAVEN’T CONTACTED YET.

. . . .

Books are not toasters or televisions. Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on that book finding readers. This is the process Amazon is obstructing.

We, at Authors United, are better than people working in China. We’re better than people who make toasters and televisions.

We’re special snowflakes, unique and quirky, and the lonely, intense struggle we endure for the sake of ART is much more difficult than coal mining or waitressing or mechanical engineering or brain surgery or conservationism or rocket science.

If I ever reach this level of self-importance, I want someone to slap the shit out of me.

Seriously. Slap me until I shit all over myself. It would be less embarrassing than agreeing with the above Authors United paragraph.

When all you have to do to humiliate someone is hold up a mirror, it’s time to stop making public statements.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books


Amazon, Big Publishing, Joe Konrath

77 Comments to “Nonsense United”

  1. My favourite part of this letter is how they not so subtly knock down indie copy editors but manage to make a typo in their first sentence.

    Such special snowflakes.

  2. “Books are not toasters or televisions. Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on that book finding readers. This is the process Amazon is obstructing.”

    Yeah. Writing books is hard. So is working on an assembly line. However, being an author is usually a career choice, whereas working on an assembly line isn’t.

    Have to agree that paragraph is painfully self-important–but as I see more and more of the NY publishing world, I realize it is very self-congratulatory–more so than any other industry I’ve ever seen in action (and that includes fashion and beauty, so that’s saying something).

  3. That original letter and shill pieces are just so precious, self-important and…well, distasteful…that I’m pretty sure they’ll alienate more people than they impress. Just reading it leaves a film of slime.

    • Totally feeling “the film of slime.” (Great phrase!) Even though I’ve learned to read only the headline, if it involves Mr. Preston. Mixing elitist Preston with man-of-the-people Konrath helped cut the slime. I’d not dare take Preston straight. 😉

  4. Sales of your books are down because your publisher has failed to negotiate a contract with their biggest retailer.

    Do you:

    a) Talk to your publisher to find out what they’re doing to resolve the conflict. Their business dealings are having an adverse effect on your career, and you’re keen to know what they’re doing to improve the situation.

    b) Talk to your people (lawyer, agent, etc) to find out what alternative options you have, should your publisher be unable to resolve the conflict in a timely matter.

    c) Write a series of rambling, self-important open letters complaining about the retailer, because… well, why not? Something about Chinese razor blades?

    • Sales of your books are down because your publisher has failed to negotiate a contract with their biggest retailer.

      Maybe the sales are not only down because their has failed to negotiate a contract, but because they used Stephen Colbert to call for boycott on Amazon on behalf of Hachette authors. You can’t ask from your readers to boycott retailer and then be surprised when your readers don’t buy your books there.

      But yeah, choosing c is stupid.

    • Maybe their sales are down because readers are sick of their attitude and refuse to buy any book from Hachette. That’s the stance I have taken. Hachette wants to over charge customers, then I’m not going to be a customer of theirs. Another publisher wants to try that, they get on my list.

      There are plenty of really good independently published books out there for me to waste my money supporting a bully like Hachette.

      • You read my mind, Mike. I was thinking that too about their attitudes detracting readers. If these writers are hammering their readers over the head with this BS, I can imagine the whispers of revolution that the writers don’t hear from high up in their ivory towers.

      • You read my mind, Mike, about the authors detracting their readers. I’m sure more than a few readers have been turned off of their books. That’s likely more than a small part of their drop in sales.

      • Sales are probably down for little reasons. $14.99 for this ebook? pass. Won’t receive paper book for 2-3 weeks (as would be the case, more or less, with a physical bookstore)? pass.

        Retailing (which is what selling books is) is a difficult business. It doesn’t take much to send your business down the tubes.

      • My position exactly. Tons of good books from other publishers. The Entitled 1000 (or is it 1100 now?) can wait at the end of my backlist 😛

      • I doubt that more than a few percent of readers know about this, and even fewer care.

        What’s really rocking their boat is that you can find perfectly acceptable genre fiction without having to pay what Hachette wants you to pay. Never mind people like Konrath, who has written books that were acceptable to New York publishing (I haven’t read his works lately, hence my hesitation.) I picked up one of Russell Blake’s books, and it was indistinguishable from a legacy product.

        And there are plenty of indy writers who are churning out acceptable work at a price people are willing to pay. (Which sounds like damning with faint praise, but let’s face it: there are people who like Hershey’s chocolate just fine. Nothing wrong with that.)

        It’s inevitable, if it hasn’t already happened, that I’ll find an indy author who will write up to the standard of a Preston or a Child, and they’ll be just fine with going their own way, because word of mouth will make them much more successful sooner, and with less risk of being dumped after one book by a legacy publisher.

  5. I hate to be negative here …. yes that was sarcasm… but I am really wondering if these people know how a corporation works. The CEO is a manager – he runs the company from a operations standpoint. Unless Amazon is a very odd company, the BOD does not involve itself in the day to day management of the company. Bezos is free to run the company as he sees fit within the terms of the bylaws of the corp.

    Nobody is going to call him “into my office” and chew is a** because James Patterson or Preston had his shorts in a wad.

    If the folks at AU don’t get this, Amazon prolly has a non-hatchette basic corporate organization text that they can preorder or get a discount on and it will prolly ship free knowing the price of textbooks…

    Whaddya know? That was sarcasm too!

    To think I managed it without an editor, an agent and a office in Manhattan writing me checks…

    • I think the point in addressing the BOD which Bezos no doubt makes his many reports to, is more likely a carom shot to the shareholders of which there are many many. Hachette too, and their parent company, as well as Randy Penguin and the others all have their CEO’s, their CFO’s and their COOs. This whole hachette, and prior kerluffles w MM, and an apparently looming one with a third big pub, are not likely to give all shareholders confidence re keeping their money in, esp if there are more rumors of lawsuits. AMZ already has its huge bills for legal battles in states re sales tax, and continues to shut out affiliates in those states. AMZ has also reduced hugely the royalties on indie audio. I’m just waiting to see how the BOD will respond. And to see what else more might come down the pike in terms of reducing authors’ /artists compensations. I dont think the issue is solely with Hachette. I think it may be a trend. If walls had ears.

  6. Amazon is undermining the ability of authors to support their families, pay their mortgages, and provide for their kids’ college educations. We’d like to emphasize that most of us are not Hachette authors, and our concern is founded on principle, rather than self-interest.

    And yet, they won’t pull their titles from Amazon. This is just silly.

  7. The bottom line AU is not getting is that Amazon is not obligated by law to sell any book. There is no law that forces Amazon to discount, allow pre-orders or maintain advance stock in a warehouse. Amazon did all those things to benefit Amazon’s customers. If Amazon determines that someone is acting against what they want to provide their customers (i.e. over pricing ebooks) they have the legal right to stop providing those perks.

    Selling your book on Amazon is not a right, it is a privilege!

    If you don’t like Amazon controlling the book industry, then make a better mouse trap (or website in this case) and provide a better service that will bring customers to your product. If not, then you have to play by Amazon’s rules.

    Isn’t freedom great?

  8. There’s another level of comprehension failure here — while it is true a book (as a creation by an author) is not the same as a toaster (as an object of mass production), the *original* toaster is. Some engineer had to design the toaster for functionality, style, safety, economy of production, etc. *That* is the level of equivalence. Original Toaster Design=Original Book Manuscript. One toaster ordered from Amazon is not the original toaster, it is a copy. Same thing with the book on Amazon. It is a *copy*.

    Usually a toaster designer has to work for a manufacturing company to get all the toaster copies out to the customers wanting toasters (although the 3-D printing revolution might well change that system). It used to be that an author could not get copies of their books to the reading public without a publisher with a press. Amazon is still, and always, a retailer.

    (Oh, and Amazon is getting into the 3-D printing business too, heh heh heh. I await the wails of the toaster manufacturers….)

    • (Oh, and Amazon is getting into the 3-D printing business too, heh heh heh. I await the wails of the toaster manufacturers….)

      Hoo boy! I’m worn out by merely Hachette vs. Amazon. Definitely not ready for the wails from other to-be-disrupted industries. Yah!

  9. PG: Thanks for posting Joe’s entire fisk and comments. Made my day.

  10. This letter will make a great case study in a Media Relations class. Call it “Start with every possible advantage and squander them all with an exercise in public bellybutton lint-picking”.

    Could this letter be any more self-absorbed? Did anyone spend 30 minutes finding out who these people are? That “publishers are venture capitalists” may work on your NYC friends, but there are real VCs on the Amazon board. Good luck with them. And there are several current and former tech execs on the board. Do you really think your neo-Luddism will play well with them? Whatever you think of Jamie Gorelick, she will know about the ebook antitrust suit, so ignoring it won’t help you.

    But my fondest hope would be for John Seely Brown to write back to you. I am sure he has better things to do, but that would be fun. Because you aren’t expecting any response. This is all just a cathartic exercise for you. It gives you a feeling of empowerment to “do something”, even if that something is an embarrassing display of ignorance. But the board of directors of Amazon is made up of real people who have worked hard to get where they are. They would make my list of favorite people, but they aren’t idiots.

  11. Anyone know if each of the signatories actually agreed to have their name on this?

    • I’d be curious to know how many signed because “it’s my publisher” and not because they feel passionate about the issue. Also how many are aware of what’s actually going on.

  12. re the windows if it hasn’t been noted yet, this happens on indie books, too. For example, if you absently mouse across the upper(ish) right side of the Amazon bar where it says Hello , Your Account. You’ll get a drop down with a book recommendation taking up half of one side and your account options on the other half. I’ve also had it happen on my books while absently mousing over other sections (and having it be just a book ad, not the menu options alongside it).

    The people writing these letters of complaint are unfamiliar with pretty much everything – what their publishers are doing, what it’s like to shop on Amazon, etc.

    Also, since their publisher no longer has a contract with Amazon, they’ll (most likely) never see their books on the drop down because these are paid for ads.

    • Christa, are those drop-downs paid ads? Because I just saw one for an indie author I like to read. I assumed she popped up because I’ve bought several of her books.

      • I got one of those for James Patterson’s books. It was probably co-written by an author whose book I’d bought. I haven’t read Patterson’s books and I prefer fantasy. It was funny though since I remember him best from the AU mess.

        Needless to say I didn’t buy it.

  13. I keep telling myself NOT to read anything else about Amazon/ Hachette. And then I do, of course.

    I still can’t see why the heck Authors United feels that it has a gripe with Amazon. Amazon is the innocent party, running its business. The authors aren’t contracted to Amazon.

    The Hachette authors signed with Hachette. Why don’t they scream and pout at Hachette?

    Love Joe Konrath. He knows how to put the boot in. Not that it will do any good, of course.

    (Snicker) This: “We all have choices. Amazon chose to involve 2,500 Hachette authors and their books.”

    The sheer idiocy of that statement is mind-boggling. Amazon “chose” to involve authors? How, precisely?

    I should look at the list of authors involved with Authors United so that I’ll never ever buy one of those authors’ books. Their idiocy might be catching.

    • I looked at the list of authors who signed. Didn’t recognize most. Thankfully, my two favorites weren’t on there. Hopefully, they never will be.

    • I’m at the point where I see the headlines and look away.

      There is no pleasure in reading something so full of nonsense, inaccuracy and out-right lies.

      It’s a propaganda train-wreck.

  14. I followed the link from Joe’s fisk back to the original letter. I stopped reading when I got to “But books are not consumer goods.”

  15. I think it’s fun to imagine ‘Authors United’ meeting in a secret lair, a la the Legion of Doom.

    Douglas Preston: I’ve got it! We’ll tell them that books aren’t a consumer product.

    Stephen King: Wait, what? Isn’t this a debate about price? That makes no sense.

    DP: A book isn’t a toaster, King!

    SK: Yes, but–

    Lee Child: With all due respect, a book is more like the bread. Or gluten. Authors are like gluten. I’ve been on the breadline, I know a thing or two about this.

    James Patterson: Money fight! *starts throwing wads of cash*

  16. AU = Alternate Universe?

  17. I was hoping for something much more exciting in AU’s “next initiative.”

    A group of 900 writers is too bulky, too unwieldy. But surely one writer, acting alone, under cover of darkness, can infiltrate the Amazon fortress and… and…

    Um, WHAT is it they’re trying to do?

    • Kind of want to read that as a short story now!

      • It’s new thriller! Titled THE AMAZON SANCTION.

        • Maybe it could end with the lone hero getting caught and tortured by the Dread Pirate Bezos (forced to read books written by people who live in places like Indianapolis and Omaha and didn’t even go to Ivy League schools, denied “summering” privileges, fed Safeway food…).

          That would provide a setup for the next volume, in which the hero’s best buddy mounts a rescue attempt using a rag-tag team of misfits assembled from military prisons, Manhattan luxury apartments, million dollar “writing shacks”, and Aspen ski lodges.

          • This is an awesome premise; is it ok if I query the Big 5 with it? I want them to advance me some venture capital so I can quit my Chinese toaster factory job and pursue my dream of writing a worthy and accurate novel.

  18. As a stockholder, I briefly considered writing a counter letter to Amazon’s board telling them to ignore anything these idiots said. But….

    1.) The board already knows these people are idiots. (Which is one of the reasons I invested.)


    2.) Being a good do-bee, I would have to actually go read the letter before I did so, and I’ll be honest, here, I haven’t even read the excerpt of the fisk of the letter PG has posted here. I just don’t wanna! You can’t make me.

  19. I notice that this latest effort by “Authors United” — unlike previous ones — doesn’t list the SFWA as a signatory.

    Hmmmmmmmm. 😉

  20. Douglas Preston: “And now, our master stroke! It will bring Amazon to their knees!”

    The NYT: “This is going to be great! Stop the presses! Get our star reporters in here… guaranteed cover story! So what’s the play, Doug?”

    Douglas Preston: “We’re going to write another letter! And send it to Amazon’s Board!”

    The NYT: “Wait… what?”

    Douglas Preston: “We’ll Fed-Ex it to them! Just to show them we mean business!”

    The NYT: “That’s a joke, right? I mean, that can’t seriously be all you’ve got, Doug.”

    Douglas Preston: “But… It’s a letter! From the finest writers of the English language! Fed-Exed! To their Board!”

    The NYT: “Oh, crap… This is getting embarrassing.”

    Douglas Preston: “But… it’s to their whole Board! I’m going over Bezos’s head! Don’t you get it? He’s in trouble now, baby!

    The NYT: *covers eyes* “Uh, never mind those star reporters… Get Streitfelt in here. He’ll write just about anything you tell him to, Doug — he’s dumber than an orangutan.”

    Douglas Preston: “An orangutan? What does that have to do with saving literature?”

    The NYT: “I need a drink.”

    • Yep, Amazon is going to be totally impressed by a FedEx package. No one at Amazon has ever seen such a marvel. It will be as beyond their ken as quantum mechanics would be to an australopithecine.

      Isn’t Amazon actually FedEx’s largest customer, or nearly so? Yeah, a company that routinely provides next-day delivery of chest freezers to Resume Speed, South Neoklasas is going to be wowed by the feat of transporting a letter from New York to Seattle at anything less than Pony Express speed.

  21. “Then that pesky tech upstart, indoor plumbing, came along.”

    That was the funniest thing I read all week. Also, accurate. When you have no other choice (he said from experience) an outhouse is nice, but indoor plumbing is vastly superior.

  22. So… where the hell is Steve Z, Publisher to the Stars? Where is Shatzkin, Agent to the stars? Why haven’t they dragged their carcasses here to this discussion (along with their make-believe friend Deb Smith) and tell us how stupid/wrong/illiterate we are?

    Paging Shatzkin, Steve Z, Publisher to the Stars, and Make-Believe Deb Smith. Paging Shatzkin, Z, and Figment of Imagination.

    Anyone? Not a single person will come and defend this travesty of a letter to us unwashed heathens?




    • DBW’s moron-in-chief Jeremy Greenfield stepped up to the plate today by covering this with a straight face.

      I have a feeling that even Cader and Shatzkin know that Jeremy is a clown. Useful at times, but mostly embarrassing.

      • Hugh, that was remarkably restrained. I was hoping we could keep the Greenfield piece a secret from you, lest your head explode. But you seem to be cranially intact.

    • Deb cruised by Jen Rasumussen’s excellent “Authors United vs. Amazon: a Primer,


      She deployed the ever popular “Amazon is not your friend” and “you peasants don’t understand publishing” tropes and then took a swipe at Hugh. “Cheerful nonsense,” is how she described his views.

      She’s like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for indie authors. You know you’ve hit a nerve when Deb drives by.

  23. “Efforts to impede or block the sale of books have a long and ugly history. Would you, personally, want to be associated with this?”

    When I read the above my first thought was: haven’t publishers been doing this or is it curating when they do it? Protecting the readers from the tsunami of crap.

    From my point of view Amazon seems to be doing to the opposite. I’ve never had access to so many books from many countries (including China). Before Amazon and kindle I bought books once or twice a year from sales. Now I buy books weekly. The ones I love and want to pass on to my kids I buy as a paper version.

    As a customer I’m happy with Amazon. I just wish more bookstores gave me same satisfied experience.

    • A not so quiet “secret” is that Amazon Publishing is now the single largest source of translated titles *into* the US.

      Between that and their support of Indies they are bringing in a lot of new voices into the market.

  24. “We’re so totally not elitist! We just think we’re better than anyone in manufacturing. Or China.”


    • And I have to say, as am actual PHYSICAL production worker, that there is little that could p*** me off more than their remarks regarding blue collar labor. I try not to take it personal but their elitism, their belief that their million-dollar contracts and high class living standard makes them better than someone who works in a job that is, very likely, destroying their body for a paycheck makes it pretty hard not to start to hate them.

      They’ve made it painfully obvious they think we’re peons and barbarians at the gate, so I’m done feeling an ounce of sympathy for the decline of their way of life. We tried to be nice. We offered advice. Now it’s time to move on and step over their corpses when their careers die. I won’t miss them.

    • It really is gross. Go ahead and treat selling other stuff like a business, because the people who make that stuff aren’t artists like us, so they don’t matter. But we make BOOKS! We are owed a living!

      This particular part of the letter seems to be drawing a fair amount of outrage, so I await their cries of, “No, that’s not what we meant!” 1100 writers and you couldn’t convey what you meant?

    • It should be noted that, if you look at the post, that it’s Joe Konrath saying “We’re so totally not elitist! We just think we’re better than anyone in manufacturing. Or China.” not AU.

      Still, I find it hilarious the claim that they don’t make consumer goods. Hachette clearly thinks so. That’s why they drop a writer after a book that doesn’t hit its sales target. Not that I’ve heard Preston, Patterson et al complain about that.

    • I note from my online browsing today that they won themselves a number of accusations of racism with that “writers don’t come from China” riff. Even people who try to stay focused on the next fiction deadline and ignore such nonsense wound up blogging their appalled reaction to that one.

      • Plenty of writers come from China. So do readers. AU thinks Amazon is big? Try Alibaba. Imagine how completely it will shake up the publishing ecosystem if Jack Ma decides to sell books. And think how well the “special snowflakes are not crap made in China” argument would go over then.

  25. Release the hounds-tooth jacket-wearers.

  26. I got involved in a discussion at arstechnica

    I’m just a reader, but I do enjoy these authors blogs.
    I was surprised by how many people believe that publishers treat all their authors like King or Patterson.

    Just shows that PR still works. But now days, with the internet, it’s easier to “fight back”
    I’m now really proud I was called an Amazon shill.


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