Back in May, Amazon began delaying and, soon thereafter, “refusing orders” of books published by Hachette after a breakdown in negotiations over ebook prices. Amazon released a statement that insisted it is not to blame for the standoff, but it was reportedly recommending other books to customers seeking specific Hachette titles. This understandably raised the ire of Hachette authors.
A month after the dispute was publicized, comedian Stephen Colbert, whose book America Again was released by Hachette, encouraged viewers of his popular news comedy show to bypass Amazon for Portland bookseller Powells.com. Now authors based in America and Germany are uniting separately to tell readers Amazon may be the place to score cheap books that are delivered quickly, but it’s also manipulating them.
Via AuthorsUnited.net, 900 American writers asserted that Amazon is deliberately “inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery… contradicting its own written promise to be ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company‘.” Meanwhile, German-language authors bearing the brunt of a brawl between Amazon and German publisher Bonnier wrote their own letter saying: “Amazon’s customers have, until now, had the impression that these lists are not manipulated and they could trust Amazon,” clarifying “Amazon manipulates recommendation lists. Amazon uses authors and their books as a bargaining chip to exact deeper discounts.”
At ReadersUnited.com, Amazon positioned the fight as one against readers, that is ultimately slowing revenue for authors, publishers, and Amazon. In its open letter to the industry, the Amazon Books Team explains:
For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.
As it stands, the stalemate is having the same effect as the higher pricing, according to Amazon’s logic.
For writers, this battle highlights the problematic nature of reduced competition in the distribution of books. With Borders gone, Barnes and Noble flailing, and Amazon the top of mind choice for most readers, it seem writers need to take more ownership of the order fulfillment process. If we don’t, we may find ourselves caught between the publishers and Powells.com or some other unforeseen, to-be-invented force that makes it convenient and cheap for customers to get the stories they want. Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson put it best in a piece recently published on Publishers Weekly about the easy vilification of Amazon: at the end of the day, it’s “a question of who’s being the biggest bully at the moment.”