Paula Deen’s N-word scandal has brought the ongoing power struggle between Amazon and retailers into relief. Though her once soon-to-be-released cookbook New Testament: 350 favorite recipes, all lightened up shot to the top of Amazon’s list as her fans pre-ordered it in support, her publisher Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, opted not to release it. They have also yanked her five-book contract.
The New York Times reported the publisher’s decision was in response to several retailers refusing to carry Paula Deen products, including the book:
A person with knowledge of Random House’s decision to cancel the contract said, “When Walmart, Target and J. C. Penney all announced they are discontinuing their Paula Deen business, including books, it is awfully tough to stay the course of a publication. It was a business decision.”
Asked whether Deen will have to return the likely millions of dollars she received in advance, a spokesman for Ballantine told the Times, “That’s why God invented lawyers.”
The decision highlights the leverage retailers still have over Amazon — and the necessity for the two to work together for the good of authors and book lovers. While Amazon aims to solidify itself as a publisher, most recently hosting a Breakthrough Novel competition that awarded the winner a $50,000 book advance, booksellers and big box stores remain the venue authors need to connect with readers one on one, city by city, state by state. The internet amplifies on the ground word of mouth, but there needs to be word of mouth on the ground.
As an author, it’s frustrating to watch this battle play out. While the differing business interests battle, the author’s business hangs in the balance as Amazon and retailers play baseball with reader discovery. Yes, writers need to do the work of building an audience, but one person can only do so much without going on reality TV. There needs to be a support system in place across the chain from publishers to bookstores to Amazon that works to help emerging authors expand their reach. At the end of the day, it’s to the benefit of all involved–most importantly, readers.