Nearly 900 authors across world back criticism of online retailer’s business tactics in ebooks dispute with US publisher Hachette.
They include some of the biggest literary names on the planet, among them Stephen King, Donna Tartt, Paul Auster, James Patterson and John Grisham; a Pulitzer prize winner in Jennifer Egan; and four from this year’s Man Booker longlist, Joshua Ferris, Karen Joy Fowler, Siri Hustvedt and Joseph O’Neill. Then there are first-time writers, historians, biographers – all of them part of an unprecedented campaign against the world’s biggest books retailer, Amazon.
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As the standoff continues, Amazon has been slowing down delivery of Hachette books, preventing pre-order and removing previous discounts.
It is “thuggish behaviour”, said the Maine-based thriller writer Douglas Preston. “I’m talking to so many young authors, struggling debut authors who have worked for years and years to get published and then Amazon does this and crushes their hopes and dreams of building an audience.”
Earlier this week Preston had nearly 900 names – also including Jeffery Deaver , Lee Child, Barbara Kingsolver, Clive Cussler, Anita Shreve and Philip Pullman – backing a letter that he intends to publish, full page, in the New York Times.
“I have never seen in my entire life authors coming together like this,” he said. “Ever. For any reason.
“Amazon has been throwing its weight around for quite some time in a bullying fashion and I think authors are fed up. We feel betrayed because we helped Amazon become one of the largest corporations in the world. We supported it from the beginning, we contributed free blogs, reviews and all kinds of stuff that Amazon asked us to do for nothing.
“We thought we had a fairly good partnership but i n the last half dozen years Amazon’s corporate behaviour has not supported authors at all.”
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“We’re not against Amazon as a company – we would like to see it sell books, be profitable and successful. What we object to is harming authors who have nothing to do with this dispute to gain leverage.”
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Philip Jones, editor of the Bookseller, said: “Everybody I speak to thinks this negotiation is pivotal to what happens next. We won’t know what the terms are when they eventually settle at but I think there will be a line drawn in the sand – a line we all have to live with.”
It is not the first time this sort of dispute has happened.
“The difference here is that Amazon is so big, so dominant that it has a much wider and chilling effect,” said Jones. “Particularly on the ebook market where if you are not being sold or actively promoted on Amazon you really are dead in the water.”
He too had never known writers so angry. “That’s the thing that’s different this time – we’ve seen writers take sides which is remarkable and deeply worrying for Amazon. Becoming widely known as book author-unfriendly is not a great place for Amazon to be.”
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Amazon has also had support from self-publishing authors. Hugh Howey, something of a poster boy for self-publishing, was one of those behind a petition on Change.org supporting Amazon for creating a level playing field and characterising Hachette as the bad guys. Under the title ‘Stop fighting low prices and fair wages’ it had, on Thursday, 7,367 signatures.
Amazon, launched by Jeff Bezos 20 years ago, is a difficult company not to use. It is also an easy company to dislike – the Guardian revealed in 2012 Amazon had paid almost no UK corporation tax despite recording £7bn sales.
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“It is a company that has managed to grow at the expense of companies that play by the rules. It doesn’t have to pay its taxes or go through any of the common practices that we demand of bricks and mortar companies. It sells its books as loss leaders in order to support nappies and batteries. An entire industry is being held hostage in Amazon’s pursuit of a wider market share.”
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A spokeswoman for Amazon made reference to statements Preston has made during the dispute.
She said: “Mr Preston says: ‘We have many loyal and committed readers. They listen when we speak. That represents power.’ He is completely missing the point. It’s not readers who should be listening to Mr Preston, but Mr Preston who should be listening to readers. And they have clearly expressed a preference for e-books priced less than $10.
“Even four years ago when readers expressed such a preference, Mr Preston responded by saying publicly, ‘The sense of entitlement of the American consumer is absolutely astonishing’. It’s pretty clear it’s Mr Preston who feels entitled. And what’s ‘astonishing’ is that he thinks readers won’t recognise an opportunist who seeks readers’ support while actively working against their interests.”