A new authors advocacy group is coalescing around Douglas Preston, the author of one of the open letters to Amazon. Called Authors United, the group plans to pressure Amazon to resolve the ongoing contract dispute with Hachette.
Authors United initially came into existence as a result of the open letter originally written by Preston. "We feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want," the letter said, calling on Amazon to accede to Hachette.
The letter was passed around and signed by multiple authors, and the group now includes well-known names like Paul Auster, David Baldacci, Tracy Chevalier, Philip Pullman, Donna Tartt, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Mark Haddon, Sophie Hannah, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, and James Patterson.
Authors United plans to have the letter published as an advert in the NY Times. It's going to be funded from the pockets of the authors themselves, and will include the letter and the names of the signatories. In writing to The Bookseller to announce the group, Preston wrote: "We have many loyal and committed readers. They listen when we speak. That represents power; perhaps even enough power to face down one of the world's largest corporations."
Authors United is entering the fray of a bitter contract negotiation between the retail giant Amazon and the French media conglomerate Lagardère. After Hachette Book group, Lagardère's US publishing sub, allowed its contract with Amazon to expire, Amazon responded to the lack of a contract by letting its stock of Hachette titles run out. Amazon also stopped discounting Hachette titles, and in June Amazon also removed the pre-order buttons from Hachette titles. It is now late July, and there is no sign that a deal is about to be signed.
Authors United is only a few days old officially, but it is already making its presence felt. Preston had a phone call with Amazon VP Grandinetti on Monday. According to PW, Grandinetti made an offer to Authors United similar to the one which Amazon made to authors and agents earlier this month:
This time around, Grandinetti suggested a what-if scenario in which Amazon would return to delivering Hachette authors their standard royalties on e-books, and return to stocking of all the publisher's titles. Amazon and Hachette, meanwhile, would continue to negotiate, turning all proceeds each company normally earns from the sale of e-book titles over to an agreed-upon literacy charity.
Preston turned down the offer, andremained unswayed by Grandinetti telling him that the authors are having the opposite of their intended effect. "Every time [the authors] make a statement, it makes Hachette less willing to compromise," Grandinetti is reported to have said.
He plans to finalize the letter for publication in the NY Times this week or next. I don't see the advert having much effect directly; the NY Times isn't that widely read outside of New York City. But with luck the media coverage of the advert might generate more attention outside of the nexus of the publishing world.
But even if that happens, it's still not clear that the additional attention will sway the public. This dispute went public close to three months ago, and the latest survey suggests that 60% of the public is unaware of it. A significant minority don't care, and only 8% have reduced their book purchases in response to the news.
I find that I have to agree with Grandinetti; aside from stiffening Hachette's resolve, I don't think Authors United will have much affect. And since Amazon has already shown a willingness to play hardball, what little effect AU has will likely prove counter-productive.
In the midst of negative publicity, Amazon has reduced their stock of Hachette titles, reduced discounts, and removed useful bonuses like the pre-order buttons.
Amazon is willing to play rough, so we cannot rule out the possibility that they might decide to go Nuclear: Amazon might decide to simply stop carrying Hachette titles completely.
That would be an extreme move, yes, but it is also the next logical escalation for this tactic. And if this contract dispute goes on long enough I expect Amazon to do it.
Or am I wrong? The comments are open.
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