updated 10:01 am EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Amazon fires back, continues to claim to be looking out for consumers
Some authors have begun to side with publisher Hachette in its struggle against Amazon. A letter, signed by almost 900 authors, is objecting to the way that Amazon is handling Hachette, saying that the fight is "harming authors who have nothing to do with this dispute to gain leverage." Amazon claims to be "looking out for the customer" in the dispute, and has already responded to the unpublished letter, calling the spearhead of the campaign "entitled" and an "opportunist."
The mouthpiece of the authors, horror and thriller writer Douglas Preston hasn't made the letter public yet, but it should appear in a full-page ad in the New York Times. In an interview with the UK newspaper The Guardian, he says that "we're not against Amazon as a company -- we would like to see it sell books, be profitable and successful." However, he calls Amazon's behavior in the dispute "thuggish."
Amazon has publicly admitted to disrupting sales of books from publishing group Hachette, via its Kindle forum. The retailer revealed it is not actively buying stock from the publisher in anticipation of sales to customers, and claims the entire escalating feud between the two companies relates to the pricing of books, along with other supply-related terms.
Authors attached to the letter include Stephen King, Donna Tartt, Paul Auster, James Patterson, John Grisham, Jennifer Egan, Joshua Ferris, Karen Joy Fowler, Siri Hustvedt, Joseph O'Neill, Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, Barbara Kingsolver, Clive Cussler, Anita Shreve and Philip Pullman. "I have never seen in my entire life authors coming together like this," Preston said of the letter supporting Hachette. "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," continues Preston. "We supported it from the beginning, we contributed free blogs, reviews and all kinds of stuff that Amazon asked us to do for nothing."
Amazon claims its actions do not affect 989 out of 1,000 items sold, while also suggesting those requiring Hachette books quickly to "purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors." Amazon states that the issues with negotiations is on the "behalf of customers," with the term negotiations being an "essential business practice" critical to "keeping service and value high for customers in the medium and long term."
Critics accuse Amazon of hiding behind the "fight for customers" label and in fact is pursing unsustainably low market rates for books and e-books that would force most publishers out. Amazon has already announced plans to publish some authors directly, and may have designs on becoming a publisher itself.
Amazon is taking an aggressive stance to the still-unpublished letter. In a harshly-worded statement, attempting to discredit Preston as a spokesperson for the movement, Amazon says that customers 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 recognize an opportunist who seeks readers' support while actively working against their interests."
In the eyes of Amazon, Hachette is the one to blame for the dispute. It claims that Hachette was contacted to discuss terms in January, but in a letter offering to pay the authors directly, Amazon says that it "heard nothing from them for three full months."
Hachette refused the offer, which Amazon says would have returned "normal levels of on-hand print inventory, return to normal pricing in all formats, and for books that haven't gone on sale yet, reinstate pre-orders." Apple and others are taking advantage of Amazon's stand-off by wooing customers who want Hatchette authors' works to order them from the iBookstore and other e-book outlets.
"Honestly, we are hoping Jeff Bezos will come to his senses and settle this problem with Hachette without hurting authors." Preston told The Guardian. "Let these two corporations duke it out ... just don't hurt us. If he does, we can all go [back] to writing books, but if Jeff wants to take the long hard road with us, we will walk that road with him."