909 Authors Waste a Hundred Thousand Dollars on Ad Castigating Amazon

360505392_69557c287d[1]Authors United, the new advocacy group which is formed around an open letter written by Doug Preston, will be taking out an advert in the Sunday edition of the NY Times to publish that open letter. (It's nice to see vanity press coming back in to favor.)The letter, which reportedly costs $104,000, criticizes Amazon for its role in the contract dispute with Hachette Book Group.

You can read the letter in its entirety over on Publishers Weekly, so I won't be quoting it below, but after much Internal debate I have decided I will comment upon the letter. I've actually been thinking about it ever since I covered that letter a couple weeks ago, and for the past 16 days I have been trying to decide how to criticize it best:

Should I focus on its inherent absurdity, the falseness of its logic, or perhaps the fact that a vastly larger number of authors are taking Amazon's side in this fight?

After some thought, I have decided to go for all three. Let's take them in reverse order.

Scope

After getting burned for suggesting that authors take a side, I have maintained that authors and readers should not get involved at all. But since we are talking about authors who already have chosen a side, I think it's worth putting the membership rolls of Authors United into perspective.

A total of 909 authors signed the open letter to be published Sunday. While that might sound like a lot, about 8 times as many authors have signed a similar but opposing letter/petition on Change.org.

That petition has reached 7,650 signatures, dwarfing the the number of authors who signed the Authors United letter. That would suggest that far more people are on one side of the fight than the other, looking into the details tends to let the air out of that argument.

One detail which Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath both neglect to mention (even David Streitfeld of the NYTimes glossed over it) was that the change.org petition was signed by far more than just authors; it was also signed by readers, and some of the comments make that clear.

The diversity of the signers in some ways strengthens the petition but in other ways it weakens it and makes it the least of the my complaints against the open letter.

The statements, on the other hand, are so absurd that I could have written a post on that alone.

Falsity

According to PW, the text of the letter complains that Amazon:

But in this case, Amazon has done something unusual. It has directly targeted Hachette's authors in an effort to force their publisher to agree to its terms.

For the past several months, Amazon has been:

--Boycotting Hachette authors, by refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette authors' books and eBooks, claiming they are "unavailable."

-- Refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette authors' books.

--Slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette authors' books to Amazon customers, indicating that delivery will take as long as several weeks on most titles.

--Suggesting on some Hachette authors' pages that readers might prefer a book from a non-Hachette author instead.

One could argue that Amazon is targeting its business partner, and not authors, but I think some would consider that to be nitpicking. One could also argue that Amazon isn't delaying shipments; they're simply running out of stock. But again, nitpicking.

Instead, let me make a more classic argument.

In claiming that Amazon is directly targeting Hachette's authors, the open letter is attributing a motive to Amazon which it does not go on to prove.

This is a type of straw man argument. Admittedly, it's not an ideal example, but it falls in such a closely related category that I think one can reasonably apply the label. This letter puts thoughts in Jeff Bezos's head and then criticizes him for acting on those thoughts. I have a problem with that.

This is a mistake that many people make, including me, but that doesn't mean that it's okay. I was recently called on this point by a reader (which I really appreciate now, because it led me to better express my objections to this letter). Sadly, I don't see that anyone besides me has pointed out the flaw in the open letter.

What is even more frustrating is that the 909 authors missed the flaw, don't see it as a flaw, or simply did not care.  In any case, I think there's a chance that the authors also missed the inherent contradiction of the letter, one which rises to the level of absurdity.

Absurdity

While I was working on this post, I took some pauses in order to discuss this letter with one of the authors who signed it. I won't mention his name (I decline to set him up for attacks), but I do want to share with you one of his tweets:

I am against the continued placement of writers (for PR reasons) in the middle of a dispute they have no control over.

I find that position particularly interesting because, from my vantage point as an outsider, I can see that Preston's open letter is doing just that.

The 909 authors who signed this letter, including many who are not published by Hachette, are castigating Amazon for supposedly doing exactly what the letter is intended to accomplish.

I have no other word for it besides absurd.

To be fair, these authors are choosing to put themselves in the middle, but that doesn't change the fact that the letter, as written, is guilty of the same crimes for which it accuses Amazon.

Or am I wrong? The comments are open.

image by Gastev

About Nate Hoffelder (11579 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

27 Comments on 909 Authors Waste a Hundred Thousand Dollars on Ad Castigating Amazon

  1. This kind of drives my crazy with the author’s saying Amazon is target them, when they should be looking at their publisher who isn’t doing their job. Hachette is suppose to negotiate a contract with Amazon not let it expire. They are taking a HUGE chunk of money off the author’s work to do things like get the books out there and negotiate with book sellers. If the author’s want to take a stand a say we want higher ebook prices to prop up our print books and don’t like amazon’s terms great sign THAT. But Amazon not stocking their books or not giving them a pre-order button has more to do with their publisher not getting a contract in place since Amazon doesn’t have to even sell their book without one.

    I noticed couple of authors on that list that I still grudgingly buy new release ebook from even with the high price I don’t agree with. Now I won’t be.

    • That bothers me as well, and I frankly don’t understand why more Hachette authors aren’t yelling at Hachette.

      Luckily none of my favorite authors are on this list.

    • I just read the books. I don’t care about the author’s views. Most of the time, I can’t tell anything other than their gender based on the name.

      Also, no matter how much I love their books, I remember they’re human and authors, not marketing or business gurus to know what the best deals are.

  2. Fortunately, they are almost all authors I only read from the library. Although Benita Eisler made me do a double take. 😉

  3. Like any bookseller, Amazon can choose to sell or not sell any book. For many years B & N cut private deals with publishers and there were many instances when a publisher would not give a contract to an author without the agreement of a B & N buyer to carry the book when it was published. The idea that the 909 authors ought to be shouting at Hachette is on the mark. If Amazon does not like Hachette terms, Amazon has the right not to carry Hachette books–and Hachette authors should consider that the next time they sign a Hachette contract. As for Hachette, no one is stopping them from selling their books elsewhere–nothing is happening here that did not happen with B & N years ago. The idea that Amazon is hurting authors is nuts. It’s Hachette that is hurting their authors.

  4. I suspect there’s one really simple fact most of these authors don’t want to admit. You sign that contract, you’re no longer an author, you’re a corporate asset. In some respects, no different than a copy machine or a filing cabinet. Hachette owns you, or at least the representation of you in the work you licensed them. By their logic, there is absolutely nothing Amazon can do other than kowtow to what Hachette wants, that won’t “harm” authors in some form. It’s a totally false meme that conveniently ignores the nature of the business relationship these authors freely entered into. What I don’t understand is why it’s not plainly obvious that Hachette’s negotiating stance is predicated on making Amazon publicly look bad. I mean, who stalls on a negotiation past the point where the contract expires and not expect some sort of action? The only point I can see in doing that is to make Amazon take action that everybody knew Amazon was going to take. Screwing with buy buttons, pre orders, stocking, etc., stuff all retailers do in these situations, that Barnes & Noble just did to Simon & Schuster. It was entirely predictable and if you’re actively stalling, there’s no credible way you didn’t know it was coming. The only question I have is whether or not they even considered authors enough to realize they’d be hurt by this as much as they are or if it they intended it. I sincerely hope it was just ignorance. You’re an asset, not a person. And if there’s a few points in the percentage in it for them, you may be an expendable one too. Don’t get me wrong, Amazon’s not anybody’s friend and I think it’s a mistake to attribute anything other than self interest in their actions. But I just keep coming back to the fact that Hachette had to know this was going to happen yet they seem to have made no preparations to do anything to mitigate the negative impact on their writers. I mean, even if you truly believe you have to wage this fight, don’t you have some kind of responsibility to the people under contract to you? Even professional athletes set up strike funds if they think they’re going to have to take action that leads to paychecks drying up. Why didn’t Hachette do something like that? Even if you don’t want to take Amazon’s money, why aren’t you doing something internally? Forgiving a percentage of advances still owed? Something other than shrug and call it suicide? Why isn’t Preston asking Hachette that? What good could that $100,000 they just dropped on that ad have done if they distributed it amongst the midlist writers who have seen sales drop offs like the 60% Preston claims? Or Patterson either, for that matter. Nothing’s stopping him from putting his money where his mouth is.

  5. Here’s a link to an incisive argument on Yahoo that Amazon knows what it’s doing and should be supported for the benefit of all authors.

    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/best-thing-for-books-is-more-power-to-amazon-183232178.html

  6. I side with Amazon because they ALWAYS place the customer first. They are also trying to get a better deal for authors, but apparently this list of authors has a hard time comprehending that. Sorry to see Steve Berry on that list, I do like his books, but I always get the ebooks from the library. And even if I didn’t, there are lots of books by other authors waiting for me to read them.

    Frankly, they all lost me during the agency model fiasco. I was outraged that I could get a discounted paperback at the grocery store but not the same price for the ebook. Then I discovered the wonderful world of indie authors and low price backlists. I now have more ebooks that I can read in my lifetime and don’t ever need to do business with traditional publishers or their stable of authors ever again.

    Thanks Amazon!!

    • “I side with Amazon because they ALWAYS place the customer first. ”

      This will of course be a different company from the Amazon that is currently being sued by the FTC for scamming consumers out of millions with its apps.

      • Arguably it is the app developers that are only providing their apps on Amazon’s platform that are scamming the consumers. How much responsibility should be placed on the middle-man? If they locked down as tight as Apple (who also was sued and settled on this exact same premise), there would be another uproar about how Amazon was restricting the market, flexing their muscle, etc.

  7. I’m sad to say two of my favorite authors signed this letter. It could have been more though, so I’ll have to be happy it was only two.

  8. Wow, $104,000…am I the only one that thinks that’s a huge waste of money?

  9. “I have no other word for it besides absurd.”

    How about hypocritical?

  10. I love that the Change.org petition is being signed by READERS.

    I also love that authors have $104,000 to give to the NYT. That should help the NYT’s bottom line. (Snark)

    Initially, I thought all the angst from authors was ridiculous.

    Now I think it’s gone beyond that. I think their stance is shameful.

    The authors signing that ridiculous letter should be ASHAMED, because it all boils down to is that they’re hitting up their readers to pay more for books, so that their publisher can maintain the status quo.

    I’ve been reading Konrath’s blog posts, and more power to him.

    Here’s what I’m doing: I’ve created my own personal boycott — I won’t be buying any books published by Hachette. No need to contribute to their idiocy.

    No, it won’t matter to anyone, but I’ll feel a lot better.

  11. Here’s one question I’ve never seen the “Authors United” crowd address:

    If Hachette was refusing to engage Amazon in negotiations (which Hachette hasn’t denied) and the contract between the two had expired (which has been established), what do Preston et al consider a legitimate tactic to get Hachette to engage in negotiations?

    I could go on about how disingenuous the “Authors United” crowd are, how they are knowingly making false claims, and the real reason why they are getting involved in this particular fight – and yet have remained silent in so many others – but I’ve written about that at length elsewhere, and I think most people know the score.

    • Steven Zacharius // 9 August, 2014 at 9:18 am // Reply

      David you are smart enough to know that one position can be so far to the extreme of the other….like possibly changing from agency to wholesale, that there really isn’t a good negotiating counter-offer. This should be left between the two of them to work out.

      • Steven, when is silence in negotiations a good ploy? During your negotiations which you characterized as entrenched on both sides, was their no communication for long periods of time? Did you ignore them until after the contract expired?

  12. When it comes to absurd, Amazon wins hand down begging indie authors for help to spam the Hachette CEO’s email box because Hachette is “part of a $10bn media conglomerate.”

    If the arguments from the Hachette authors weren’t hitting home then Amazon would not be reduced to such desperate and embarrassing measures.

  13. To the person above who said: it is the publisher’s job to negotiate terms with resellers for their clients.” Amen.

    If Amazon stands pat, the authors will start expressing more of their wrath toward Hachette. Let’s suppose you are a big-name author with an agent auctioning off the rights to your next novel. You are currently published by Hachette and have just missed out on a lot of sales. Until there is a new deal in place, and assuming the terms are close, would you not chose Harper, RandomP, or someone else over Hachette for your new novel, knowing they have a deal?

    But…then again maybe the safest publisher for your new novel will be Hachette right after they have a new Amazon contract and those others who have yet to negotiate will be bad choices as they are up next. I wonder how the top agents are navigating these murky waters right now for new works from their authors?

    I woke up this morning and wrote the following blog post on “all the current wars” including this one in case anyone is interested: http://blog.publerati.com/

  14. I doubt they paid $104k, more likely $60k if they are like any other advertiser who bargains hard

  15. hi,
    i am a little late here, hope you dont mind.
    i bumped to the following and wanted to comment:

    “In claiming that Amazon is directly targeting Hachette’s authors, the open letter is attributing a motive to Amazon which it does not go on to prove.

    This is a type of straw man argument. ”

    i dont know almost anything anout the hachette-amazon dispute but there is no straw0man argument in the above letter.

    1.i see that you are not selling my books, you re always out of stock etc
    2. i get the feeling you are having some problem w/ me
    3. what would that be? our relationship was always ok. hmmmmmmmm
    4. hey maybe its than fight you recently picked up with my publisher
    5. you also did the same thing to my…team-mates!! ok we gonna have to complain

    i think its a pretty straight-forward syllogism ..

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