From Publishing Perspectives:
Last Wednesday’s (January 27) Authors United event on Amazon and book publishing had a curiously provincial air about it. It was staged at Washington’s New America Foundation, a nonprofit think tank that includes “impartial analysis” in its description of its work. The event’s loaded title, “Amazon’s Book Monopoly: A Threat to Freedom of Expression?”, suggests that New America’s grasp of impartiality may be partial, but the intent here was to state that Amazon’s market position will, as one participant put it, cause “long-term effects on the global book trade.”
The question of whether Amazon technically has a monopoly in the marketplace, of course, is unsettled. It’s something that some of our colleagues find endlessly discussible. And Amazon’s vast size matters here, both in animating this circular debate and in that quality of provincialism. At many points Wednesday, the event—ably webcast live by New America—looked a bit like earnest but presumptive town folk complaining that a rural electrification program might harm the tranquility of the pastures. This is always a risk, of course, when we take on so large an entity as the Amazonian estate.
. . . .
“For the year, Amazon passed $100 billion in revenue for the first time in its two-decade history. It took rival Wal-Mart Stores Inc. 35 years to reach the same mark in 1997, two years after Amazon.com opened for business.”
And contextually speaking, one of the hardest things for some publishing people to do is to keep in focus the fact that Amazon is vastly more than books and publishing. It’s more than lawnmowers and dog beds, too. Its AWS operation, Amazon Web Services, has “a huge lead on rivals in offering cloud-computing services,” Bensinger writes. As a tech company—and that’s what Amazon is—it “easily” outperformed in 2015, writes Bensinger, “other tech giants like Alphabet Inc., Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc.”
. . . .
All of which throws a huge shadow over events like Wednesday’s in which detractors gather to rail at the feet of a colossus.
Authors United, earnestly led by novelist Douglas Preston, was established at the time of the Amazon-Hachette contract-renewal standoff and remains one of the most polarizing efforts in the author camp. It’s seen by many in the self-publishing world as a consortium of bestselling trade authors who place their interests in establishment publishing over the value of opening the market to independent publishing, as Amazon has done. And one of the things that has dogged the United group from the beginning, of course, is that its author-members sell their books through Amazon. In that light, the hand that feeds them looks sorely bitten each time they mount a complaint. Anyone can understand how tricky this circumstance is in such an event as Wednesday’s.
Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives
PG says this piece highlights how pathetic the Authors United group are and how deeply needy their relationship with their publishers has become.
Remember how AU came into being. After having their hands slapped for a comically inept conspiracy to illegally fix prices by the Justice Department, the business geniuses of Big Publishing moved their price-fixing plans forward one by one as their existing contracts with Amazon expired.
Hachette was first up in the renegotiation of its contract with Amazon. The old contract provided that Amazon would set the price for ebooks, but would pay Hachette amounts based upon Hachette’s list price for ebooks. This provided a direct financial benefit to Hachette and to Hachette’s authors.
For some reason, the aforementioned business geniuses of Big Publishing thought they understood more about pricing ebooks than Amazon did, so Hachette insisted that Amazon must quit selling Hachette ebooks at a discount and, instead, sell them at the price Hachette specified.
Hachette has no problems with Barnes & Noble selling printed books at discount, but ebooks were different – new and strange – like websites.
But the executives convinced themselves over cocktails that they knew the proper price for online digital goods and Amazon didn’t. Besides, they never trusted ebooks even though their accountants patiently explained how much more profit they could make by selling electrons instead of dead trees. The fight went on for awhile and Amazon became nervous about selling Hachette ebooks without a contract in place and either quit or slowed down orders for Hachette ebooks.
The AU folks diligently studied the Constitution and antitrust laws and discovered that the founders of the nation had granted traditionally-published authors a divine right to have Amazon sell their books. Why? Because Amazon is better at selling books than anyone else. So Amazon has to sell Hachette books, contract or no contract.
Eventually, Amazon gave in and Hachette set ebook prices higher than Amazon recommended. All of Hachette’s co-conspirators did the same thing.
To AU’s surprise, instead of increasing, sales of tradpub ebooks declined! Who knew that sales had anything to do with prices?
It’s all Amazon’s fault. First, Amazon would not set ebook prices as high as Big Publishing wanted them set. And authors were harmed. Then, Amazon would set ebook prices as high as Big Publishing wanted them set. And authors were harmed.
The only reasonable conclusion for AU is that Amazon is plotting to harm authors. And books. And the writing life. And culture. And New York. And, probably, baby seals too.
In PG’s dream world, Amazon would quit selling all books published by Hachette and the other antitrust outlaws (computer problems!) until each Author’s Union member traveled to Seattle and kissed each of Jeff Bezos’ toes. Three times. And petitioned the Vatican to have Jeff declared a saint. And built a cathedral in Manhattan named after St. Jeff.