Amazon Addresses Hachette Drama logoEarlier this month, the New York Times reported that Amazon is squeezing Hachette Book Group by “marking many books” by the publisher “as not available for at least two or three weeks.” A follow-up article added that Amazon is now “refusing orders” from Hachette. Last night, Publisher’s Marketplace shared Amazon’s statement on the matter:

We are currently buying less (print) inventory and “safety stock” on titles from the publisher, Hachette, than we ordinarily do, and are no longer taking pre-orders on titles whose publication dates are in the future. Instead, customers can order new titles when their publication date arrives. For titles with no stock on hand, customers can still place an order at which time we order the inventory from Hachette — availability on those titles is dependent on how long it takes Hachette to fill the orders we place. Once the inventory arrives, we ship it to the customer promptly. These changes are related to the contract and terms between Hachette and Amazon.

At Amazon, we do business with more than 70,000 suppliers, including thousands of publishers. One of our important suppliers is Hachette, which is part of a $10 billion media conglomerate. Unfortunately, despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms. Hachette has operated in good faith and we admire the company and its executives. Nevertheless, the two companies have so far failed to find a solution. Even more unfortunate, though we remain hopeful and are working hard to come to a resolution as soon as possible, we are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon.

They add:

We also take seriously the impact it has when, however infrequently, such a business interruption affects authors. We’ve offered to Hachette to fund 50% of an author pool – to be allocated by Hachette – to mitigate the impact of this dispute on author royalties, if Hachette funds the other 50%. We did this with the publisher Macmillan some years ago. We hope Hachette takes us up on it.

This topic has generated a variety of coverage, presumably in part because the negotiation is with a book publisher instead of a supplier of a different type of product. Some of the coverage has expressed a relatively narrow point of view. Here is one post that offers a wider perspective.

WRITERS, the message to us seems clear: WE MUST FIGURE OUT A WAY TO SELL OUR OWN BOOKS in addition to and independent of our publishers and suppliers.

Read Amazon’s full statement here.

Rest in Power, Maya Angelou

Legendary poet Maya Angelou dies at 86 - peoplewhowrite

Maya Angelou, poet, survivor & phenomenal woman, has died at 86

Phenomenal Woman

by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

One Question Re: Jill Abramson Firing, Dean Baquet Ascension

Jill Abramson, the New York Times' first female Executive Editor was allegedly fired, in part for investigating the difference in her salary and that of her male predecessor. As the paper's first black Executive Editor is Dean Baquet receiving a salary on par with his predecessors? - peoplewhowrite

Jill Abramson was the New York Times’ first female Executive Editor. Dean Baquet is the paper’s first African-American to fill the post.

If it’s true that Jill Abramson was fired for hiring a lawyer to investigate the disparity between her salary and that of her male predecessor — considering income inequality disproportionately impacts blacks — how much is the New York Times paying Dean Baquet?

Are We Writing for Readers, Ourselves, or Pageviews?

Reader-focused journalism, or pageview-focused journalism? - peoplewhowriteMy newsfeed has been blowing up with reports and thinkpieces about New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger’s dirty dismissal of Executive Editor Jill Abramson. But buried in all the links and sublinks going out is the report Sulzberger’s son Arthur Gregg put together as part of a “Newsroom Innovation Team”.

Do yourself a favor and read it. It’s peppered with Times Jeopardy answers–“The number of URLs The New York Times produces on an average day.” “What is 300, Alex?”–but more importantly, it’s a window into how this respected behemoth is coping with the challenge of relevancy in the 24-hour news cycle.

As the report points out, the new normal requires agility and flexibility–constantly:

We cannot simply become a web-first newsroom or a mobile-first newsroom. We must become a flexible newsroom that continuously adjusts to the needs of the moment. Changes in technology require us to constantly reimagine what is possible. Changes in reader behavior require us to continually assess what’s working. And these exercises shouldn’t be treated as chores: They can elevate our journalism, extend our reach and enable us to better serve our readers.

Making mention of competitors like The Huffington Post, “which in just a few years has eclipsed The Times in total readership,” The Guardian, and Buzzfeed, the report recommends the paper put as much focus on “audience development” i.e. finding readers and getting them to click, as they do on producing world class journalism. The younger Sulzberger also suggested “creating a permanent strategy team in the newsroom” made up of “a mix of backgrounds in journalism, technology, user experience, and analytics.”

All of the recommendations seem right on, and it’ll be interesting to see how the New York Times will evolve as they implement them, but it brings up the question of how writers, editors, and publishers of digital outlets can navigate the increasingly thin line between “reader-focused journalism” and the misleading pageviews metric. Pageviews are often confused with audience, but they are not one and the same.

Anyone with a blog can see how many pageviews they generate by post, where the traffic is coming from, if there are repeat visitors, etc. And anyone with a blog also knows the pieces that get the most clicks may have nothing to do with the core content offering of site, and that those outlier posts may not be a true reflection of the blog’s audience. For example, now and then, I click over to Buzzfeed for their addictive quizzes, but I don’t consider myself a part of their “audience” because I do not visit the site for anything else.  An advertiser might not care about this semantic because my visit to the site means my potential engagement with their banner ad or sponsorship of a quiz, but it’s an important distinction when it comes to audience loyalty, which I would argue is a more important metric.

But if digital journalism or blogging is your business, audience numbers–no matter how or why they come–are necessary as they keep editors assigning you stories or advertisers paying for eyeballs on your site.

They also set up a tension when it comes to motivation:

Should you write for pageviews (e.g. pen a thinkpiece about The Solange Knowles-Jay Z elevator fight)? Should you write for your reader (e.g. take the time to investigate what really happened on the elevator, interview vetted sources, and write an informed piece about what happened  that adds to the knowledge the reader is amassing clicking around to different stories on the elevator dust-up)? Or should you write for yourself (e.g. about something that may have little or nothing to do with Beyonce’s sister going off on Jay Z in The Standard Hotel’s elevator, that you are passionate enough to invest time and think power into)?

The specifics may be different, but it’s a classic human conundrum. Players in every industry have always had to grapple with working for love, money, or more money; and the resolution has always been far from neat and tidy.

If you choose door number Love, it’ll likely take forever to build an audience sizable enough to be relevant (unless you Love writing about celebrity and scandal), and may require you to invest money and resources you don’t have in abundance. If you go for the money, there’s some real or imagined sense you are bartering some part of your soul. Hence, the steam release of watching, re-watching, pausing, laughing at, pontificating about, emailing, and sharing video of celebrities brawling (sans audio, dammit) in an elevator.

The irony is, the internet has made it possible for readers to discover the most niche forms of content, which means there is some reward for work that may not drive tons of clicks. But the issue is who has the time to create content for these seeking souls?

Interesting times at the Times, and in the times, as we work to figure this all out.

Bring in the Negotiators: Amazon vs Publishers Continues to Shaft Writers & Readers

UPDATE: The New York Times reports that Amazon is now “refusing orders” of upcoming Hachette titles:

The retailer began refusing orders late Thursday for coming Hachette books, including J.K. Rowling’s new novel. The paperback edition of Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon — a book Amazon disliked so much it denounced it — is suddenly listed as “unavailable.”

In some cases, even the pages promoting the books have disappeared. Anne Rivers Siddons’s new novel, The Girls of August, coming in July, no longer has a page for the physical book or even the Kindle edition. Only the audio edition is still being sold (for more than $60). Otherwise it is as if it did not exist.

Right now the link to Stone’s book seems to be working, but Siddons’ Amazon book page shows the book as “currently unavailable.”

With Barnes and Noble flailing and Amazon flexing, everything seems to be pointing to writers creating their own sales centers for their books.


Publisher Hachette says Amazon is deliberately delaying orders of its books, including Stephen Colbert's America Again. - peoplewhowrite

Publisher Hachette says Amazon is deliberately delaying orders of its books, including Stephen Colbert’s America Again.

It’s time for publishers, Amazon, and bookstores to squash their beef. It’s hurting readers, and making it even more difficult for writers, especially new ones, to find an audience and generate strong sales.

Today’s New York Times reports that Amazon is “marking many books published by Hachette Book Group as not available for at least two or three weeks.”

Writer David Streitfeld elaborates:

A Hachette spokeswoman said on Thursday that the publisher was striving to keep Amazon supplied but that the Internet giant was delaying shipments “for reasons of their own.” …Generally, most popular books are available from Amazon within two days. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.

If your impulse is to “show” Amazon by buying the book from Hachette’s website, you’ll be greeted with a message that reads: “Ebooks purchased from the Hachette website will not work on a Kindle eink device or within Apple’s ibook reader. To read ebooks purchased via Hachette you’ll need a free Adobe ebooks account.” The thing is, most people who read e-books, do so on a Kindle.

The fact is, Amazon, which has a 65% share of the e-book market (that accounts for 30% of total book sales revenue), and the traditional publishing industry have been inflicting pain on each other for several years now — but neither has shown they can win outright control of the publishing market.

When Amazon opened a publishing arm and recruited industry power player Lawrence Kirshbaum to head it up, they could not recoup the advances they paid their bestselling and celebrity authors because Barnes and Noble refused to stock their titles. A recent piece on Forbes (that references George Packer’s 13-page feature on The New Yorker) shares that Amazon gave Penny Marshall an $800,000 advance, but the title sold 17,000 copies. Bestselling cookbook author Tim Ferris had a similar experience when he published a book with Amazon.

Meanwhile, Barnes and Noble has been struggling to maintain its 141-year foothold in book selling as more and more readers seek the discounts and convenience Amazon offers. B&N felt Simon and Schuster was not standing in solidarity with them to face the challenge, so they reduced orders of S&S titles by as much as 90%. Last July, the bookseller’s CEO resigned, a month later they mended fences with S&S after an eight-month standoff that likely impacted sales of debut authors most. Just last month, Barnes and Noble Chairman Len Riggio sold $64 million worth of the company’s stock.

It’s clear that publishers, Amazon, booksellers, AND writers need to lock themselves in a room and figure this madness out i.e. learn from each other, once and for all, because neither has shown they can do it on their own with consistent success. As industry heavyweights Molly Stern, Eric Simonoff, Jonathan Karp and Reagan Arthur admitted in a panel last November, “Amazon’s focus on the customer–-from discount pricing to the convenience of delivery and expediency of the Kindle–-is an incredibly difficult thing to compete with, but also admitted their current business model can’t withstand the eradication of the chain bookstores.” Symbiosis, people. Please!

Do You Need An MFA?

Karin Gillespie got her 'Masters in Chick Lit' - people who write

Karin Gillespie

A Masters in Chick Lit“? Writer Karin Gillespie throws a coal in the MFA vs NYC debate with a witty takedown on the divide between “respectable” lit (read hardcover) and Fifty Shades of Grey / bodice-rippers (read e-book release for those “voracious” readers). Excerpt below, full piece here.


…I started thinking less like a commercial writer and more like an M.F.A. student. I started quoting John Gardner on how an artist “gets his sense of worth and honor from his conviction that art is powerful.” I read Poets & Writers magazine cover to cover. 

…At the end of the two-year program,  I read aloud from my thesis novel. People complimented me afterward, but no one laughed, not even a titter. It was an odd feeling. I tried to reassure myself; who needs laughs when you might one day be the author of “an unflinching and elegiac novel that echoes the work of (insert name of very important writer)”?

After graduation I shopped my thesis around. I sent it to agents with a more literary bent because I now considered myself a literary writer. I received a slew of rejections. One kind agent leveled with me and said my prose was competent but lacked personality. I wanted to write her back and say, “Wait. I thought that was a good thing?”

All said, Kseniya Melnik — whose book Snow in May just came out — got her agent after one of her MFA professors recommended one of her short stories to a few magazine editors. Granta published it, after which several agents contacted her.

The 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Shortlist is Here

New Zealand-born writer David Herkt is on the 2014 Commonwealth Writers Prize Shortlist - peoplewhowrite

New Zealand-born writer David Herkt

The finalists for the 2014 Commonwealth Writers Prize are:

Ikanre by Adelehin Ijasan (Nigeria)
All Them Savages by Michelle Sacks (South Africa)
Let’s Tell This Story Properly by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Uganda)

Grandmother by Yu-Mei Balasingamchow (Singapore)
A Day in the Death by Sara Adam Ang (Singapore)

The Night of Broken Glass by Jack Wang (Canada)
On The Other Side by Idrissa Simmonds (Canada)
Agnes Agnes Agnes by Luiza Sauma (United Kingdom)
Household Gods by Tracy Fells (United Kingdom)
Killing Time by Lucy Caldwell (United Kingdom)

Cowboy by Helen Klonaris (Bahamas)
Sending for Chantal by Maggie Harris (Guyana)
Miss Annie Cooks Fish by Charmaine Rousseau (Trinidad and Tobago)

The Dog and the Sea by Lucy Treloar (Australia)
Monkey Boy by Janine Mikosza (Australia)
Hummingbird by Daniel Anders (Australia)
Playing the Stringless Guitar by Michael Hunt (Australia)
Tenure by Julian Novitz (New Zealand)
Rhododendrons in Mist by David Kerkt (New Zealand)

Rupert Murdoch Bought Harlequin for $415 Million

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp has bought Harlequin - peoplewhowrite
Good news for romance writers? Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp just picked up Harlequin for nearly half a billion dollars, adding the Toronto-based romance novel publisher to its HarperCollins portfolio. According to the New York Times, the acquisition “is consistent with the company’s broader strategy of investing more heavily in the publishing industry. In 2011, the company bought the religious publisher Thomas Nelson Inc. In 2012, it tried to buy Simon & Schuster from CBS, but the two companies could not agree on terms.”

Harlequin’s digital publishing technology and the romance industry’s vanguard transition to e-books was of specific interest to News Corp, according to Brian Murray, the chief executive of HarperCollins.