Authors take action in Amazon vs. Hachette

18 October 2014

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Thanks to SMH for the tip.

Taking Sides in the Amazon-Hachette Battle

18 October 2014

From Forbes blogs:

“You’ll never work in this town again!”

My agent’s exact words were a bit different, but the message was clear: if I weighed in on Amazon’s side in its battle with Hachette, no publisher would ever publish another book of mine.  That is a risk worth taking, because publishing is an industry that seems bent on eating its young.

The fight between Amazon and Hachette is ostensibly about e-book pricing.  In reality, it is about much more: innovation, the business model, and the future of publishing.

. . . .

Amazon’s tactic seems to have backfired.  Some 900 authors, most of them not published by Hachette, signed a full-page ad in The New York Times criticizing Amazon for using authors as human shields in what is essentially a contract dispute between two giant corporations.

I’m supporting Amazon.   I think Amazon is far more likely to come up with innovations that may actually save book publishing.  And publishing is in desperate need of being saved. The long-term trends are not encouraging: people are spending less time reading books (even including e-books;) unit sales are down; and per-capita spending on books continues to shrink.

Yet book publishers seem unwilling or unable to recognize the implications of these trends. What other consumer business responds to flat or decreasing unit sales by increasing prices?  But that is precisely what book publishers do year after year.  Between 2003 and 2013, the price of the average hardcover fiction title rose 49 percent to $26.63; non-fiction books are priced even higher.

. . . .

Traditional book publishing is, at best, a quaint business.  The people who work in the industry are generally quite bright and typically nice.  But as a category, book publishing needs to be saved from itself.  Its business model and processes are relics of a long-ago era: the returns system – where retailers can return unsold copies at any time for a full refund – is a remnant of the Great Depression.  Such marketing basics as price-testing and package (cover) testing are non-existent.  Until Nielsen introduced Bookscan a few years ago, publishers really didn’t know how many books they sold; they only knew how many copies they shipped.  Returns could come back at any time.

. . . .

Amazon has given all authors – not just the big-name writers – a better chance of being discovered, and making more money.  Hachette is trying to maintain a paper publishing business model on an increasingly e-book world.  Authors  – and not just Hachette authors — aren’t pawns in this battle between two giants who have very different visions of the future.   They are the potential beneficiaries of an industry that needs to be reinvented.  I’m willing to risk siding with the innovator.

Link to the rest at Forbes blogs

Hachette shares Data

12 October 2014

 

Hachette Shares New Tools and Data With Authors and Agents

Hachette Book Group’s Author and Agent Portal

From Digital Book World

Hachette Book Group has just launched their Author and Agent Portal, an important new channel within hachettebookgroup.biz, the company’s business platform. The Portal provides a self-service option that puts up-to-date information and resources at the authors’ and agents’ fingertips, including confidential sales information for all of their titles published by HBG, in all formats, as well as a variety of features and tools.

Enhanced features available to authors include:

• list of all of the author’s works, with links to the individual book pages
• unit sales information
• Nielsen BookScan weekly sales data
• HBG’s Guide for Authors, a detailed introduction to our publication process
• interactive publication timeline for the 12 months prepublication
• file-sharing feature for sending large files between editor and author
• online-piracy-reporting tool

****
hachettebookgroup.biz is open to the public and offers these features, separate from the confidential features listed above:

• dynamic title search
• title metadata
• individual pages for all HBG and distribution client titles and authors
• seasonal catalogs
• author tour listings
• general company information, in an About HBG section
• publisher and imprint pages
• integrated HBG twitter feeds
• bios of editorial staff

Read the rest here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

Randall found out recently (From Hugh Howey) that DBW is now under new leadership. Already he has noted a change in the tone of their articles, finding them more open to all sides of the publishing world and containing much less ADS. He hopes this continues.

Is the NYT Coverage of Amazon vs. Hachette Really Propaganda?

6 October 2014

From Joe Konrath’s blog:

By now you’ve seen the NYT Public Editor’s piece criticizing her own newspaper’s coverage of the Amazon/Hachette situation.

Note to David Streitfeld: see what Margaret Sullivan did? Being a competent reporter, she researched the situation and presented both sides of the story. That means quotes from authors representing both sides, and quotes from the very source (you) she was critical of.

She’s an excellent, smart, fair journalist, Mr. Streitfeld. Put your hat in your hand and go thank her. After you have, ask her for some pointers.

As well done as the piece was, Ms. Sullivan did write something that I didn’t agree with.

“A pro-Amazon author (Barry Eisler) charges that the paper is spewing propaganda…“propaganda” is a stretch…”

Is it really a stretch? Let’s dig a little deeper.

Grab some munchies, folks.
First, some terminology:

Propaganda is information that is not impartial and used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or using loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented.

Hyperlinked in that definition is “impartial” which leads to a wiki about journalistic objectivity:

Journalistic objectivity can refer to fairness, disinterestedness, factuality, and nonpartisanship, but most often encompasses all of these qualities.

Also linked is “lying by omission”:

Also known as a continuing misrepresentation, a lie by omission occurs when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception. Lying by omission includes failures to correct pre-existing misconceptions.

And “loaded messages”:

In rhetoric, loaded language (also known as loaded terms or emotive language) is wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes.

Next, Joe dissects his target:

Streitfeld: Among Amazon’s tactics against Hachette, some of which it has been employing for months, are charging more for its books and suggesting that readers might enjoy instead a book from another author.

Joe sez: Amazon “charging more for its books” actually means Amazon is charging Hachette’s suggested retail price. Amazon suggesting that readers might enjoy a book from another author “instead” is unproven. Amazon advertises other authors’ books on every book page. This isn’t unique to Hachette. Amazon also offers used books for considerably less than the price of the new version, on the very same page. (buy Whiskey Sour for only $0.01!) But where has Amazon said “Buy this instead of this”?The word “instead” is loaded.

Streitfeld: The scorched-earth tactics arose

Joe sez: Scorched-earth? Misrepresentation, and loaded.

Streitfeld: “Outliers” was selling Friday for $15.29, a mere 10 percent discount. On Barnes & Noble, the book was $12.74.

Joe sez: See how the word “mere” is not impartial? No mention that many indie bookstores don’t discount at all.

Plenty more line by line dissection.
A tad of whimsy included:

More newsworthiness: Amazon Stops Taking Orders for Time Warner Videos.

Both Amazon and Warner declined to comment on what is simply a negotiation between two businesses. But Streitfeld managed to write 600 words about it, fanning the anti-Amazon sentiment fire he’s been building.

But wait! Maybe Streitfeld actually had a reason to call this newsworthy.

Streitfeld: “Considering all the press regarding Hachette it seems strange that no one is reporting this,” one commentator wrote on the Amazon forum.

Joe sez: Now I see! An anonymous commenter on an Amazon forum wanted this reported, so the NYT devoted a whole column to it.

I can imagine Streitfeld pitching this story.

INT. NYT OFFICE, DAY

A serious looking David Streitfeld speaks to his editor, Suzanne Spector.

Streitfeld: The haven’t been any developments in the Amazon/Hachette dispute in a few days. But I’ve got a new angle.

Spector: Do tell.

Streitfeld: Lego.

Spector: I’m not even touching you.

Streitfeld: No, not “let go”. I mean The Lego Movie. Huge hit, but Amazon isn’t selling any pre-orders of the movie. In fact, it isn’t taking advance orders on any Warner movies.

Spector: So Amazon not selling something that isn’t available is news?

Streitfeld: When you say it that way you make me sound stupid.

Spector: I’m sorry. I know you don’t need help in that area.

Streitfeld: Don’t you get it? Amazon is doing the same thing that they did to Hachette.

Spector: Sounds like two businesses in negotiation.

Streitfeld: It is. That’s what Warner said, before declining to comment.

Spector: So what’s the spin? You’re all about authors being harmed by Amazon in the Hachette dispute. Are you thinking Lego Batman is being harmed by Amazon now?

Streitfeld: No. That would be silly. Lego Batman is too busy fighting Lego crime to care.

Spector: So who does care, exactly?

Streitfeld: A lone anonymous commenter on an Amazon forum.

Spector: Run it!

(I’m thinking Joe should write a screenplay for a madcap comedy, 30’s style. His wit is wasted on Streitfeld.)

Naturally, no Streitfeld dissection is complete without his signature logic:

It’s worth noting that one of the earmarks of propaganda is dehumanizing the enemy and creating false images.

So 900 established authors mean much more than 8600 authors and readers. Makes no difference that some of the 8600 signatories on the anti-Hachette petition were authors who outsell many of the 900 signatories. Makes no difference that the anti-Hachette petition included readers, whose opinions don’t seem to matter even though the anti-Amazon petition purported to be on behalf of readers.

Instead, Streitfeld points out that more people care about dolphins than books, but somehow doesn’t think that’s a false equivalency.

Then he says he’s “on no side here”.

You dismissed a petition with whale math, Streitfeld. Of course you’re taking sides.

It’s a long one folks. And worthy.

Felix

Joe’s Blog.

Joe’s books.

Amazon `Targeting’ Hachette Writers

21 September 2014

Malcolm Gladwell criticises Amazon in Hachette dispute

19 September 2014

From The Financial Times:

Amazon’s dispute with Hachette publishing house is threatening the loyalty of Amazon’s customers and sabotaging its relations with authors, according to Malcolm Gladwell, the best-selling writer of The Tipping Point and Outliers.

The online retailer’s aggressive tactics, which involve delaying shipments of Hachette books or declining to make others available for purchase, are “a violation of their best interests”, said Mr Gladwell, a Hachette author.

. . . .

In an interview for Saturday’s FT Weekend Magazine, Mr Gladwell said he was “agnostic” on the business dispute but disliked becoming a “pawn”. He said: “I thought Amazon wanted to be nice to me. I thought their endgame was to woo authors. So, then why are they sabotaging us?”

. . . .

The company also acts as a platform for the sale of self-published books, potentially challenging the historic role of publishers, whose services to authors include paying advances and publicising their work, as well as publishing and distributing books.

Mr Gladwell dismissed the idea that successful authors could cut out traditional publishers in the digital era. “I hesitate to weigh in on this most sensitive occasion. I have a very nice arrangement with my publisher,” he said.

“The truth is the relationship between an author and a publisher is not set in stone. It’s a relationship. You can structure it however you wish. And if circumstances change and you think that the publisher needs to do more or less than they’ve done in the past then you should just alter your business arrangement. These things aren’t givens.”

Link to the rest at The Financial Times (which has an unpredictable paywall. Search Google using the title of this post and you should get in) and thanks to SMH for the tip.

PG suggests that if Gladwell didn’t want to be a pawn, he shouldn’t have signed with a company like Hachette in the first place.

In Latest Volley Against Amazon, Hachette’s Writers Target Its Board

15 September 2014

From The New York Times:

Amazon is at war with Hachette, and it sometimes seems as if it has always been that way.

As a negotiating tool in the battle, which is over the price of e-books, Amazon is discouraging its customers from buying the publisher’s printed books. After six months of being largely cut off from what is by far the largest bookstore in the country, many Hachette writers are fearful and angry. So this week, they are trying a new tactic to get their work unshackled.

Authors United, a group of Hachette writers and their allies, is appealing directly to Amazon’s board. It is warning the board that the reputation of the retailer, and of the directors themselves, is at risk.

“Efforts to impede or block the sale of books have a long and ugly history,” reads a letter being posted to the group’s website on Monday morning. “Do you, personally, want to be associated with this?”

. . . .

“Since its founding, Amazon has been a highly regarded and progressive brand,” it says. “But if this is how Amazon continues to treat the literary community, how long will the company’s fine reputation last?”

. . . .

The letter warns the directors that the discontent might spread.

“Since its founding, Amazon has been a highly regarded and progressive brand,” it says. “But if this is how Amazon continues to treat the literary community, how long will the company’s fine reputation last?”

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

Punching straw men in the Hachette-Amazon dispute

8 September 2014

From author J. Nelson Leith:

There’s an all-out reactionary assault against the evil leviathan Amazon which, unfortunately, is manifesting itself as a foolish defense of the greater evils of incompetence and irrationality.

. . . .

Which nicely segues into the most egregiously inane slash-piece against Amazon lately, a quasi-viral piece in the Los Angeles Times, wherein Carolyn Kellogg punches her way through a squad of straw men while pretending to pick apart Amazon’s position.

When you choose to attack straw men instead of attacking your opponent’s arguments, it’s usually because your opponent’s arguments are unassailable.

. . . .

Kellogg either doesn’t understand what she just read or is being intentionally dishonest.

[from Amazon] “With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out-of-stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market — e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can be and should be less expensive.”

It’s true that these material costs are removed from the equation of e-book costs. But most publishers are still publishing print books, so those costs remain part of their bottom line. Publishing e-books adds costs: making design adjustments, encoding in multiple formats, creating metadata methodology, etc. Making an e-book is not cost-free.

Again, “e-books are cost-free” is not even close to what Amazon is saying. Amazon is saying that e-books are less expensive and that this difference isn’t fully reflected in the prices being charged for them.

Can Amazon’s opponents only think in absolutes?

And, pointing out that publishing print books is also part of a company’s bottom line is like pointing out that Berkshire Hathaway sells See’s Candies and Fruit of the Loom. “We can’t mark down the chocolate because underwear is still part of our bottom line!” But in reality, Kellogg’s point is even more ridiculous than that, because print and e-books have the same source material, which means that many costs (e.g., screening, reviewing, and editing manuscripts) are shared by the two products. That’s not more cost per product as she’s implying. That’s less.

. . . .

Amazon’s admittedly problematic size gives it a clear advantage over publishers in determining what the price should be, because they can quickly and easily experiment with pricing until they understand, scientifically, the optimal sales price to maximize profits for everyone: themselves, publishers, and authors. There is simply no way a company like Hachette could match the sheer scale of Amazon’s data and analysis on this matter. If Hachette had any sense (which their incessant fumbling proves they do not) they would take Amazon’s calculations more seriously.

Link to the rest at J. Nelson Leith and thanks to SMH for the tip.

Here’s a link to J. Nelson Leith’s books

Amazon Vs. Hachette: Fewer Middlemen Equals A Better World

31 August 2014

From TechCrunch:

By now everyone is well aware of the ongoing battle between Amazon and publisher Hachette. The thing is, we all know how this story ends; we just don’t know when it will be over. This one does not have a David vs. Goliath ending. Goliath is going to win — and that is a good thing for the world.

An investor in oDesk once said, “Two middlemen seems like one too many.” It was a pivotal statement that solidified the early focus on providing direct connections between employers and freelancers anywhere in the world. Everything we did in the early days of oDesk to support and benefit these direct connections paid off. Everything we did to accommodate other middlemen in the process was a waste of time.

. . . .

Hachette is a middleman. So is Amazon. There should be only one.

The arguments for Hachette go something like this: without great publishers, there will be fewer great writers, and emerging talents will have a harder time establishing themselves. For at least 900 authors, this is a scary proposition. Publishers do provide valuable services of talent discovery, quality control and distribution. But let’s look at each one of these points and see how things could be better with fewer middlemen.

. . . .

Take a look at Apple’s App Store. They’ve effectively destroyed the old guard of video game publishers. It’s only in the last few years that an independent game developer from Vietnam could end up with the No. 1 game in the world. That developer probably never would have been discovered by EA. Platforms like the App Store or Amazon can do a better job of talent discovery than the status quo, because they lower the barriers to entry for aspiring app developers or authors. They give everyone a chance. I don’t hear consumers complaining about the lack of good games available. On the contrary, mobile gaming is hotter than ever.

A platform like Amazon will get data about user conversion rates and user ratings much faster than anyone else and can let the cream rise to the top. Granted, they will not discover authors before they ever write a book, but as soon as a title is available for sale, Amazon can take care of the rest. An aspiring author that self-publishes a title that resonates with readers will rise to the top of the charts in a meritocratic platform like Amazon. We should be embracing meritocratic platforms.

. . . .

The bonus for the world is that eliminating middlemen makes the world more economically efficient and maybe even more educated. Prices come down and the amount of reading goes up.

The lessons for other marketplaces here are straightforward. Align the incentives of the buyer and supplier and, if possible, ignore the incentives of other middlemen.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Amazon vs. Hachette: Soul searching in techie, bookish Seattle

23 August 2014

From The Seattle Times:

In this city famous for its independent bookstores and pungent coffee shops — brick-and-mortar institutions that value touch, taste and long, rainy afternoons — a high-profile conflict about the business of selling e-books has left many readers feeling conflicted.

Their dilemma: balancing an addiction to the convenient and wallet-friendly services of the local Internet giant with their devotion to the local literary culture.

“I’ve spent more on Amazon just to support them just because everyone was boycotting them,” said Peg Manning, an Orcas Island resident and self-described Amazon junkie who also loves wandering into her local bookstore with her granddaughter.

. . . .

Because of its status as the largest distributor of books, Amazon’s tactics in the Hachette dispute have grabbed headlines and polarized consumers and authors. One national survey indicates some consumers are voting with their wallets — against Amazon — and an informal poll in Seattle shows the issue playing out at cash registers here, too.

. . . .

Small contradictions — the Amazon lover who also supports the local bookstore, and the Amazon skeptic who still buys e-books for his Kindle — point to internal conflicts for readers who are becoming more and more aware of their purchasing power.

It’s a classic case of convenience versus conscience.

At a recent gathering of Seattle’s Meetup Book Club, for readers in their twenties and thirties, 11 members were split between those who prioritize convenience and those who view Amazon’s business practices as monopolistic and strong-arm.

But even during a civil discussion among the reasonable book-clubbers, it became clear this is a touchy subject in the land of Amazon.

One member, his Kindle resting on the table in front of him, said he was an ex-Amazon employee. He didn’t say much else. Down the table, a woman called Amazon a book bully, citing concerns about the company’s growing power. She emailed later asking that her name not be used because she works in tech and doesn’t want to limit future job opportunities.

. . . .

Local writer Lyanda Lynn Haupt, a Hachette author who says her book sales have been affected, claims Amazon’s tactics stifle “ideas and art and a marketplace” because “they are not working in the interest of authors.”

“Amazon’s reach is just so much farther than it should be …,” she said. “It can be really harmful and restricting to authors’ projects.”

Still, Haupt has $150 in Amazon gift cards from friends, and she plans to use them.

Bainbridge Island novelist Jonathan Evison, who spends at least $100 at independent bookstores each month, takes more of a hard-line approach to Amazon, which he believes is seeking world domination (though he has friends who work at the company, and “they’re good people”).

. . . .

“I am like 99.99 percent of the consumers out there,” said local author Robert Dugoni, who was previously published by Hachette but is currently under contract with Thomas & Mercer, one of Amazon’s publishing imprints. “I will always look for a product at the best price and the most convenient way of buying it. It’s hard to pass up the opportunity to sit at your computer, buy a product, and have it delivered to your home two days later.”

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times

 

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