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Amazon stand-off not just with Hachette anymore…

HUK for 1x2-1x2aFor those not in the know, Amazon and Hachette had some kind of breakdown during negotiations a few weeks back. Although no one has told us what exactly this breakdown was over, we can speculate that Amazon asked for some kind of price drop from the publisher to which they refused – telling Amazon that they think they get their books cheap enough already. Whatever happened, the result was that Amazon took action. The Pre-Order option was removed from all Hachette books and some authors have even been unlisted. Worse, delivery times for books – presumably – in stock have been lengthened in what seems like an attempt to put people off purchasing titles.

Although you guys may not have heard of Hachette, you’ve likely heard of their child companies, Orion and Gollancz – two of the biggest genre publishers out there. These guys are responsible for publishing work by friends of Fantasy-Faction such as Brent Weeks, Sam Sykes, N.K. Jemisin, Brandon Sanderson, Sarah Pinborough Patrick Rothfuss, Tom Lloydd, Joe Abercrombie, Stephen Deas, Ben Aaronovitch, Elspeth Cooper, Saladin Ahmed, Francis Knight, Trudi Canavan and so, so many more…
This is worrying enough, but when you add to that fact that Amazon have close to 90 per cent of the UK ebook market and 60 per cent of the American – with around 50 per cent of total book sales in each country – you have quite a scary situation on your hands. Hachette haven’t revealed any details on how it has affected them, but I can summarise and say: it would have fricken hurt. The worst part is that Hachette isn’t in the position to take this kind of a hit. Just a few months back they announced they’d need to cut 3% of their staff, so this dispute is not only risking the income of authors, but also the job security of publicists and stability of publishing as a market.

AmazonI believe the big problem is that Amazon doesn’t really have too much to be concerned about. Amazon is so big these days that book sales aren’t its only income. Video Games and Movies are where the real money is at and with their increasing range of services in those markets they don’t have to be too concerned about an angry publisher or two.

But, today, something interesting happened. Today Amazon in the US stopped taking pre-orders for Warner Bros DVDs and Blu-rays, including The LEGO Movie! Apparently it was a similar story… Amazon went to discuss their contract with Warner Bros, Warner Bros didn’t want to concede to even less of a margin and so Amazon are using the same ‘halt pre-order tactics’ as they did with Amazon.

As we all know, Pre-Order sales help boost hype and sales figures. Upon release, if a title is top of the charts there is a snow ball effect. People checking the top ten items in a particular category will see the title right up there and presume it kicks arse and give it a go. If the book sells massively it might even find itself on a national newspaper’s bestseller list. As well as boosting initial sales and improving their longevity, sequels can use ‘voted best seller on the ‘*Insert National Newspaper Name* list’ and this can has people impressed enough that they go back and pick up the first book and then the sequel. Also, when sending a sequel for review, if book 1 didn’t get anywhere you are likely to have a hard time convincing one of the bigger publications to review it too.

As you can see, for any author unlucky enough to find themselves affected by the Amazon/Hachette stand-off right now the outlook is pretty bleak – but it is for us readers too. If the publishers concede to Amazon every time they look to cut margins they have to make that money up somewhere. They either cut staff, they cut royalties or they stop taking as many chances on new, non-guaranteed hits. I don’t think it will ruin anyone’s career as it stands (although it may eventually), but with the minimal income so many authors make it is certainly going to hurt them financially and likely cost them a great number of sales. If I set out to order a book for my holiday in August and I find that the book I want to pre-order (out in July) is not available, I may purchase my second choice instead – or just not bother.

My thoughts go out to authors losing sales and publishers worrying about the current state of things. I love how easy Amazon makes buying books, but I am terrified at the power we – book buyers – have given them. Until further notice I will be taking down Fantasy-Faction’s Amazon store and recommending you only purchase from local Booksellers for now.

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Amazon stand-off not just with Hachette anymore..., 8.9 out of 10 based on 22 ratings
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9 Comments

  1. Sanna says:

    How about the Book Depository, does anyone know if they are in any way connected to Amazon or up to the same kind of shady business? I buy a lot of my books there, it would be nice to know if I should switch to some other alternative for now.

    Scary how powerful Amazon has become!

  2. Igor says:

    I would disagree with you on that Mark. The first time I heard about this issue I thought the same “Damn, AMZ is pulling out some bullying tactics”. Well after reading a TON of editorials and opinions I’ve changed my mind.

    Publishers aren’t small business they are also big conglomerates. The Big 5 are responsible for 85% of US market and Hachette is a $10bi company. But every time and author is asked about advise I hear the same crap “Don’t expect to live out of writing. There’s no big money here unless of course you are GRRM, JK Rowling or Paulo Coelho”.

    What does that mean? The pie isn’t being fairly cut. And authors seem to know that and just accept the status quo as part of life.

    If you run a burger stand and your burger supplier doesn’t agree in lowering the prices you have two options: either change the supplier or comply with it. If you do comply you will have to raise your prices or chop off your profit margin.
    The same goes with AMZ but the difference here is that they aren’t a burger stand, they are freaking McDonald’s therefore having a lot of leverage and they gonna use it. And because of that the burger supplier will run a campaign telling people how McDonald’s is bad and f#$ing workers and farmers.

    To me that’s what’s going on. Publishers known for price fixing and cartel practices are running a media campaign to damage AMZ, the company that made possible for authors around the globe to find their readership and make some income (did you know Paulo Coelho followed JK Rowling’s example and went self-pub for his new book?). They aren’t the good guys either but their business model directly benefit authors and customers therefore I support them.

    So, let me paint a different scenario where AMZ doesn’t have that leverage and publishers have no limitations upon ebook prices. I would be freaking expensive. How do I know that? Well I’m from Brazil and I just described our ebook market. Here the ebooks usually cost the same as dead trees or maximum 20% less. Publishers don’t want to operate with low margins so they raise ebook prices to avoid an ebook growth and keep the status quo. My kindle books are all in English so I can avoid the outrageous prices practiced here (usually 40% more expensive than English ones).

    More: AMZ took years trying to start operations in Brazil. Our big bookstores and publishers threatened small publishers in case they signed out deals with AMZ. The result is a distopia that we need to be rescued from.

    I’m just offering a different perspective that people my not get being inside a market that somehow benefits the customer. AMZ helped shape today’s scenario over there and giving up on that due to the manipulative campaign being run by a traditionally predatory industry will only build a terrible future.

    Cheers, man!

  3. Ian Drury says:

    Well done. Amazon is exploiting its near monopoly to the detriment of authors and readers. And it couldn’t care less, since books are now a relatively small proportion of its business.

  4. I’m so upset that Amazon owns Goodreads. Because I ADORE Goodreads. I can’t let the site go because I have TBR titles through 2019 and it’s so nice and organized. But they profit off those ads…

  5. As a Hachette author (I have two series published through Orbit), I am, and have been suffering (since February – long before the news broke) with lower sales as the discounts were removed, my pages started recommending “other books that were cheaper), and my books are usually available in 3 – 4 weeks rather than 24 hours.

    The ironic thing is Amazon is doing to Hachette what Hachette (and other publishers) have been doing to authors for years. Using the strength of their position to get the best terms for themselves. So while it is easy to be anti-Amazon, I’m not sure why anyone is complaining with the publishers take 75% of ebook income, insist on contracts that last until I die plus 70 years, and can consider a book that earns only a few dollars a week still “in print” and therefore won’t revert rights to the authors. The strong always exert pressure over the weak and in the publishing ecosystem, the author is the “weakest” even though without us no product would exist.

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