Home » Uncategorized » Douglas Preston on Amazon, Authors United, and What’s Next

Douglas Preston on Amazon, Authors United, and What’s Next

7 December 2014

From Publishers Weekly:

Throughout the months-long dispute between Amazon and Hachette over e-book sales terms, Douglas Preston was one of the most outspoken authors on the matter. He went so far as to form a group to give authors a voice in the stalemate: Authors United.

. . . .

“I came into this a loyal Amazon customer, grateful to Amazon for selling my books,” said Preston. During the dispute, his then-forthcoming novel Blue Labyrinth (Nov., HBG), cowritten with Lincoln Child, looked like it could suffer collateral damage when Amazon removed the buy buttons for preorders and slowed shipping for Hachette titles—but he said that wasn’t his concern for starting Authors United.

. . . .

Preston said he was “shocked” by the decline in sales overall for Hachette titles through Amazon. To convey the scale of Amazon’s so-called shenanigans, Preston said that Amazon had to order more than one million copies of Hachette titles to restock after the two companies settled their differences. More than 3,000 authors and 8,000 titles were affected, and it took two weeks, from November 12 to November 26, the day before Thanksgiving, for Amazon to bring its inventory back to pre-sanction levels, he said.

Preston’s disillusionment with Amazon dates back to his first phone call with Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s senior v-p of Kindle content, when Preston thought that if Amazon understood how bad they were hurting authors they would change their tactics. Preston said that authors tend to think of their books like children, so Amazon’s actions struck especially close to the bone and felt, to many, like a personal attack. It wasn’t until the end of the conversation that Preston realized, to Amazon, books are a commodity like TV sets and diapers. “Amazon started with the assumption that all the authors wanted was money,” said Preston. “What we really want is an audience and to get people to read our books.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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54 Comments to “Douglas Preston on Amazon, Authors United, and What’s Next”

  1. There is a word for people who think that their books are their children:

    Delusional.

    There is another word for people who expect others to treat their books as if they were their children, but I can’t use it in poilte company.

  2. Monday To Do List. Call Russ Grandinetti and express my concerns about the payout in KU. Writing that down just below buy cat food and shavings for horse at Tractor Supply. Wait! Good idea. Add memo–Suggest to Mr. Grandinetti my life would be improved if Amazon would carry shavings and large bags of cat food.

    • I want Amazon to deliver bales of alfalfa and equine senior. It is a drag having to drive three miles to Big R when I run low, not to mention the mess that it makes in my station wagon.

  3. I can’t be the only person who laughed when I read the thing about authors wanting an audience instead of money.

    Like… Seriously? Amazon thinks that authors only want money? OF COURSE WE ONLY WANT MONEY! We’re business people selling through Amazon!

    Christ, Preston sounds more snooker loopy every time I read something he said.

    • All he wants is to be read? When readers complained about the price of his ebooks, he called his own readers “Entitled” and said this was a “Walmart mentality.”

      Why didn’t he argue with his publisher to lower the price of his ebooks if all he wanted was to be read? Or post the stories for free on his website?

      • @ Hugh

        Well, he could well afford to do just that, since he’s already rich.

        But the rest of us still need to make money off our writing. Doh!

        • Ah, but he doesn’t do this, does he? Instead, he fights on the side of higher ebook prices. Both then and now.

          None of this adds up. And the debut authors he claims to be fighting for were the least affected by the negotiations with Amazon. Most of them will never earn out their advances, to they’ve made every penny coming to them. The people who were hurt were the Pattersons and Prestons. Which is why we’re hearing so much from them.

          I’d respect all of this whining a lot more if it came with a pinch of honesty.

          • Speaking of honesty, how could Preston have so much information about numbers if Amazon doesn’t release that sort of data — and Preston claimed to be acting independently of Hachette (who would have the numbers)?

          • Debut authors were hurt the most because lowered sales numbers will hurt their chances to sell their next book. That won’t be a problem for branded authors like Patterson and Preston. Their future’s secure.

            • Debut authors will only be hurt if Hachette willfully ignores the fact that their unilateral decision to refuse to negotiate with Amazon lead to a short period of lowered sales.

              That is, when the debut writer comes in with a new book, Hachette editors will say, “Sorry, your sales weren’t so good on the last one.”

              When the writer says, “But that was because you didn’t have a deal with Amazon and all your sales were down.” The editors would have to say, “We don’t care. We’re dumping you anyway.” Or they might use it as leverage to give the writer a lousy deal. In other words, it requires Hachette editors to be complete jerks.

              The logic behind blaming Amazon for possible damage to debut or mid-list writers (damage caused by Hachette’s mismanaged business negotiation) is about the same as blaming Amazon for the fact that advances at the big trad publishers are down. It has nothing to do with Amazon, other than the rather crazy notion that if Amazon gives into everything publishers want they might act in their own interests and treat writers well. If Amazon doesn’t, then publishers are forced to behave illogically. (Like junking a promising writer simply because his sales during this dispute weren’t what would be expected if there was no dispute.)

              Maybe what debut writers will learn from this situation is that Hachete is managed badly and so they’ll look elsewhere for their next book deal.

              • When the writer says, “But that was because you didn’t have a deal with Amazon and all your sales were down.” The editors would have to say, “We don’t care. We’re dumping you anyway.”

                Those won’t be the words that emerge from their mouths, but that will be the sentiment that informs their actions.

          • Hypocrite, thy name is Preston.

            • Perhaps his sales fell off because he made such an egregious jerk of himself. I had never heard of Douglas Preston before he started noisily stuffing both feet into his mouth. Now I would take pains to avoid anything written by him or anyone who associates with him.

  4. Smart Debut Author

    [Douglas Preston] is convinced that Authors United and their letters played a significant role in Amazon reaching a settlement with Hachette…

    …and they brought about peace in the middle east, cured world hunger, and solved global warming, too.

  5. The pre-order buttons were most likely removed because Amazon had no way of knowing if Hachette would ever ship them (no contract — remember? That means Hachette could fail to ship them; and as I recall, it was Hachette — not Amazon that was slow on shipping the books to Amazon and causing the delays.)

    This special little snowflake (heavy on the ‘flake’) needs to whine at the one they crawled in bed with, not the guy down the hall …

    • Pre-order buttons are a form of co-op. You have to pay for them. Hachette had no contract with Amazon, and thus was not paying it’s co-op. Quite simple, really.

  6. Preston said that Amazon had to order more than one million copies of Hachette titles to restock after the two companies settled their differences.

    Interesting, although I take that as a measure of the damage done by Hachette, rather than the damage done by Amazon. Simon & Schuster managed to negotiate a new contract before their old one ran out. Hachette refused to even come to the negotiation table before their contract expired. I’m unimpressed with their business conduct. Glad they are not one of my business partners.

    • Here’s Preston on the two contract negotiations:

      As to the length of the negotiations, Preston said, “Hachette really pissed off Amazon because [HBG CEO] Michael Pietsch so relentlessly opposed them and we did, too. They settled with Simon & Schuster, and they could have settled with Hachette the next day. They didn’t so they could send a message, letting a body hang at the city gates longer.”

      Sorry about the dent in your desk. I have one to match.

    • Uh… One million copies to restock? Does Preston listen to himself when he talks? Assume that is true. Reason from there. What does that tell you about the business? What the hell is wrong with PW that they let that tidbit slide by? Seriously, no follow up questions occurred to Judith Rosen? Talking about burying your lede.

      • When it comes to anti-Amazonite movements and people, they get a pass. Few are the sites that bother to check facts, interview opposing sides, etc. It’s just taken for granted Amazon is bad and wrong and their opposition is glowing with Heavenly light. One million lights.

  7. “Amazon started with the assumption that all the authors wanted was money,” said Preston. “What we really want is an audience and to get people to read our books.”

    Hey, Doug, perma-free.

    Dan

  8. Preston said he was “shocked” by the decline in sales overall for Hachette titles through Amazon. To convey the scale of Amazon’s so-called shenanigans, Preston said that Amazon had to order more than one million copies of Hachette titles to restock after the two companies settled their differences. More than 3,000 authors and 8,000 titles were affected, and it took two weeks, from November 12 to November 26, the day before Thanksgiving, for Amazon to bring its inventory back to pre-sanction levels, he said.

    How does he know that? Did the Hachette’s representative told him? Did they share those numbers with Hachette’s midlister too? And how did they represent this? As Amazon’s fault?
    Like J.M. Ney-Grimm said: the damage was done by Hachette, rather than the damage done by Amazon since authors had signed their contract with Hachette, not Amazon.

    • The decline is for everyone, not just Hachette authors, although I’m sure the delays because of no contract might have had some effect. Many of us have seen it, and we’re indie. Things changed in the ebook ecosystem, and I’m guessing at least one is a maturing market, another being a huge influx of new titles (particularly by indies), and a third was definitely KU, which has changed a lot of how ebooks are viewed on Amazon.

  9. To summarize: Poor, innocent Hatchette, and their authors, were brutally victimized, sanctioned, boycotted and dissapeared by Amazon through their thuggish monopoly tactics fueled by their heartless, soulless obsession with moving commodities. Period.

    Hats off to PW for regurgitating every Snowflakes’ United talking point in such a succint and efficient Pro-Legacy fluff piece lacking even a milligram of objectivity.

    I’m curious; as the relevance of Legacy World continues to shrink, where will that leave its leading propaganda lapdog?

  10. “Amazon started with the assumption that all the authors wanted was money,” said Preston. “What we really want is an audience and to get people to read our books.”

    I don’t…I can’t even…oh, the hell with it.

  11. When one company controls 50% of the market, and it has proven itself to be ruthless and uncaring with authors, that’s a problem. We don’t want this to happen again.”

    Glad to see he is finally upset with Penguin Random House and Author Solutions. Oh, wait. Never mind.

  12. “Amazon started with the assumption that all the authors wanted was money,” said Preston. “What we really want is an audience and to get people to read our books.”

    If that’s the case why aren’t his books offered for free? I’m sure his fans would love to read the newest Pendergast-book for free.

    Or why isn’t he donating his advances to charity? Any charity? Or maybe to a charity for all those writers who are struggling with such basics like rent and food?

    • I was thinking his summer home in Maine could be turned into a shelter for the homeless.

      • Back in 2010, he complained about the “Wal-Mart mentality” of consumers “not wanting to pay the real price of something.” (Because they objected to paying hardback prices for ebooks, especially when the books had been out a while.)

        So yeah, he’s interested both in money _and_ in sneering at his readers who have budgets.

        • He’s made enough brain-dead statements that this is one reader who is never going to read one of his books. Even if it’s free.

          • I know a lot of people like his books, but I couldn’t finish the first one I picked up. The characters were pure cardboard, with cardboard dialogue to match. On the up side, I don’t have to give up reading something I like.

  13. From the linked article at PW:

    “He is convinced that Authors United and their letters played a significant role in Amazon reaching a settlement with Hachette.”

    What?

    Those letters had almost nothing to do with the reached settlement at all. That was a business negotiation, not a PR stunt.

    I think Amazon wrote its “Readers United” letter because AU left a gaping hole in its PR effort. Amazon capitalized on this gap using their letter, but only from a PR perspective.

    The resulting contract between Hachette and Amazon happened in their respective board rooms, not in the media.

    As much as Authors United would like to think they made an impact, they did not. It doesn’t matter how much Doug Preston thinks (or imagines) they did.

    • All they succeeded in doing was delaying the deal reached between the two parties. It gave Hachette hope that they could win the PR war. So Authors United basically extended the suffering of writers for another 3-4 months. And I warned Douglas in July that this was going to be the only result of his efforts. It sucks to have been right.

      The people who put an end to the negotiations were S&S. They took the same basic deal Hachette had been offered 10 months earlier, and with that, and the looming holidays, Hachette had to back down. The AU folks are delusional to think anything else took place. All they’ve done is harm.

      • “All they succeeded in doing was delaying the deal reached between the two parties.”

        That was the impression I got. The entire thing may have been resolved sooner if it hadn’t become such a public spectacle. Hachette took the publicity and ran with it, and ended up looking rather silly after S&S reached an agreement so quickly.

      • They succeeded in demonstrating consumers see them as just another bunch of widget maker.

  14. Man, this guy (and the other loud-mouthed members of AU) has an unbelievable ego.

  15. No, I’m pretty sure most authors ALSO want money. I know that’s no longer a concern of the filthy rich, but most authors aren’t in the same boat as the Prestons and Pattersons of the world. Good on them for using the legacy system to enrich themselves, but they most certainly do not speak for most authors. I think that petition they tried to ignore pretty much proved that.

  16. It wasn’t until the end of the conversation that Preston realized, to Amazon, books are a commodity like TV sets and diapers.

    Consumers see books the same way. Click for diapers. Click for TVs. Click for books. They don’t care about the author’s mental state any more than they care about the TV maker’s mental state.

  17. The power of warehousing. And the lesson: If your fricken publisher had sat down and worked through an agreement instead of stonewalling, the warehouse stocks would not have depleted and the books would have kept selling.

    To Blame: Hachette.

    Sorry, I do not see how Amazon has an iota of blame for not wanting to give valuable retailer service, like preemptive stocking, fast shipping, and preordering for a publisher (and authors) with whom it has not business contract.

    I wish he’d stop whining and just go write books. And the next time your publisher doesn’t wanna negotiate in good faith for a deal, jump on THEIR a** , not the retailer’s.

    • Some people like to call a company’s help number and cuss out whoever answers. If it turns out they didn’t actually call the right company, they usually still cuss out whoever
      answers.

      Preston is afraid to blame his publisher, but he’s perfectly willing to blame the folks at Amazon. Because they’re there.

  18. Does not speak for authors.

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