Amazon Tries to Woo Authors in Hachette Dispute

Amazon is trying to woo authors in its ongoing dispute with book publisher Hachette by offering to let them have the full purchase price of Hachette-published Kindle ebooks. Wait, that's not exactly right. Oh, here it is: Amazon is floating this idea to a few authors through a letter that has leaked, but the retailing giant hasn't actually proposed it.

Amazon vs. Hachette

The two companies are fighting over terms of an agreement for Amazon to sell Hachette titles. This is the first contract from one of the Big 4 publishers to come up for renewal following a settlement two years ago between the publishers and the U.S. Department of Justice.

As such, there's a lot on the line for Amazon, publishers, and writers. Amazon reportedly wants to pay less for Hachette titles, while Hachette wants to hold the line and maintain current book pricing. As part of its negotiation strategy, Amazon has pulled preorder options for unreleased Hachette titles, suggested customers buy books from other publishers, and promised delivery times measured in weeks, rather than days, for Hachette titles.

Amazon's newest salvo is to send letters to some Hachette authors, some literary agents, and Authors Guild president Roxana Robinson. That letter, which was published in full by Gigaom, acknowledges that authors have been caught in the middle of the dispute.

Hachette has certainly been hurt by losing access to the single point of sale that controls 62 percent of the U.S. book market, but individual authors that aren't multibillion dollar conglomerates have been seriously hurt. Many authors, including authors published by other firms, have attacked Amazon for its tactics. Some authors—mostly self-published authors who found success publishing directly to Kindle—have rallied behind Amazon, but the voices of Amazon critics have been louder.

Amazon's theoretical solution is to let authors keep 100 percent of the purchase price of Hachette-published Kindle titles. That would include Hachette's (roughly) 70 percent of the purchase price and Amazon's (roughly) 30 percent, for those keeping score at home. For best sellers that Amazon dumps below cost, the purchase price would represent 100 percent of Hachette's take, plus Amazon wouldn't lose money.

In the wake of this letter becoming public, Hachette issued the following statement:

Amazon has just sent us a brief proposal. We invite Amazon to withdraw the sanctions they have unilaterally imposed, and we will continue to negotiate in good faith and with the hope of a swift conclusion. We believe that the best outcome for the writers we publish is a contract with Amazon that brings genuine marketing benefits and whose terms allow Hachette to continue to invest in writers, marketing, and innovation. We look forward to resolving this dispute soon and to the benefit of the writers who have trusted their books to us.

Note that an earlier version of that statement characterized accepting Amazon's offer as "suicidal," a point addressed by Amazon in its response to Hachette's response:

We call baloney. Hachette is part of a $10 billion global conglomerate. It wouldn’t be ‘suicide.' They can afford it. What they’re really making clear is that they absolutely want their authors caught in the middle of this negotiation because they believe it increases their leverage. All the while, they are stalling and refusing to negotiate, despite the pain caused to their authors. Our offer is sincere. They should take us up on it.

A cynical person might think that Amazon wasn't serious about its proposal in the first place, that the company proposed it knowing Hachette would not and could not accept, in order to refocus author anger on Hachette and away from Amazon.

Roxana Robinson, president of the Authors Guild, for one, was quick to dismiss Amazon's stance, telling The New York Times:

If Amazon wants to have a constructive conversation about this, we’re ready to have one at any time. But this seems like a short-term solution that encourages authors to take sides against their publishers. It doesn’t get authors out of the middle of this – we’re still in the middle. Our books are at the center of this struggle.

In the meanwhile, Apple has a number of Hachette titles available for preorder at $9.99. Brick and mortar book stores, including many independents, have plenty of Hachette titles to choose from, too.

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