Amazon is flexing another muscle in the ongoing Hachette dispute. In a letter obtained by the New York Times, David Naggar, VP of Kindle content, is offering 100 percent of all profits for some Hachette authors and has forwarded the offer to the Authors Guild, a long-time opponent of all things Amazon.
“We agree that authors are caught in the middle while these negotiations drag on, and we’re particularly sensitive to the effect on debut and midlist authors. But Hachette’s unresponsiveness and unwillingness to talk until we took action put us in this position, and unless Hachette dramatically changes their negotiating tempo, this is going to take a really long time,” wrote Naggar. “If Hachette agrees, for as long as this dispute lasts, Hachette authors would get 100% of the sales price of every Hachette e-book we sell. Both Amazon and Hachette would forego all revenue and profit from the sale of every e-book until an agreement is reached.
“Amazon would also return to 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.”
The letter, which has resulted in raspberries from the Authors Guild, is a direct attempt by Amazon to “help” the authors which, in the end, will hamstring Hachette. The message is clear: Amazon will turn on the money firehose if the publisher plays ball. And, to Amazon’s credit, I suspect it will work.
Publishers need Amazon more than Amazon needs publishers. Indie publishing, driven mostly by Amazon, is rising in quality and quantity every quarter and soon the successes by indies – the 50 Shades of Twilight, etc. – will overwhelm the successes of the established authors. If this is a frightening prospect, you probably shouldn’t be reading blogs.
Furthermore, the sense of publisher entitlement is fierce. As mystery writer Robert Chazz Chute wrote last week on the intransigence of the Authors Guild to consider Amazon’s terms, “calling Amazon a monopoly when they are merely winning at competition, for instance, is pretty weird.” Amazon is the bookstore. They don’t have to carry anything they don’t want to carry. While once the publishers were the bullies, now the bookstore is. And it seems like fair play.
Is Amazon doing the right thing in giving writers their source of revenue back? Absolutely. Is this the best way they can do it? Absolutely not. But both sides won’t budge. Doctorowian economics are at work here: the publishers feared piracy so much that they gave away rights to their product to the biggest, most swashbuckling pirate of all, Jeff Bezos. By forcing DRM on us in the early 2000s, publishers effectively locked us all into Amazon’s grasp, and even mighty Apple can’t twist us out of it.
In the end, Hachette will concede, Amazon will gain a modicum of power, and the Authors Guild will wait to wring its hands at another innovation aimed at making it easier for us to read or buy books. And, again, the authors will suffer.