Last night Amazon posted their third official statement in the ongoing contract dispute with Hachette, and like their first statement the open letter posted last night is proving to be an effective tactical PR maneuver.
The letter, which you can read over here, said that Amazon only wanted a 30% commission from sales of Hachette ebooks, and that Amazon was fighting with Hachette over whether the ebooks would be expensive or cheap. The statement goes on to lay out the math to justify lower ebook prices, and then it concludes with the idea that authors should get 35% of the sale price of an ebook.
That last bit has turned a number of authors’ heads, including Hugh Howey. He is now convinced that Amazon, a publicly traded corporation out to squeeze margins as thin as possible, cares about the royalties paid to authors by publishers:
Just as immense here is Amazon’s call for higher pay for authors, which is neatly tucked within the folds of their post. Amazon comes right out and states that they are asking for 30% on the sale of ebooks, which is what they currently get from most self-published titles. It is an entirely reasonable percentage for a retailer (bookstores get 40% – 50%). What I love, though, is that Amazon then suggests that the remaining 70% should be split evenly between the author and the publisher.
As Barry Eisler points out, Amazon just became the closest thing we have to a writers’ guild. Not only are they fighting for lower prices, which sell more books, capture more of an audience, and make more income . . . but Amazon just came out in favor of ebook royalties of 50% of net. That is twice what authors are currently offered.
I would argue that Howey has made any number of mistakes here, including taking a PR statement as fact. Another mistake that could be made would be to believe was to believe that a for-profit corporation as ruthless as Amazon cares about anything other than their balance sheet.
Later in this post I will explain why Howey is wrong, but at the moment I want to point out that Howey’s beliefs could be a sign of a newly identified condition called “Amazon Infatuation Syndrome”. This term was coined earlier today by Nicole Cushing, and Hugh Howey is the first known case.
Like Amazon Derangement Syndrome, AIS sufferers have an irrational emotion towards Amazon which overrides conscious thought. In the case of AIS, that emotion is love for a soul-less corporation:
@NicoleCushing Yup. Guilty. I love them as a reader, writer, and bookseller. But I’ll break up with them if they start to mistreat me. 🙂
— Hugh Howey (@hughhowey) July 30, 2014
Given how Howey is gushing about Amazon above, I don’t beleive he would break up with the retailer.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Amazon; they’ve treated me well as a customer. But even though I do business with them, I make a point to never forget that one of the names proposed for Amazon was Relentless.com. (Jeff Bezos is apparently a big believer in truth in advertising.)
Amazon is in this for their own interest, and not anyone else’s, and that is why it is important to remember that we cannot accept yesterday’s statement as fact. It is a PR statement, and as such it was not written to convey facts. Amazon’s goal was to convince you to believe an idea: that Amazon only wants a fair share (30%) and lower ebook prices.
The thing is, we do not know as outsiders that this is Amazon’s actual position. All we know is that this is what Amazon has said is their position, and that is not the same thing. For all we know Amazon is selectively reporting the facts to support their argument.
made up this statement out of whole cloth solely with the goal of swaying opinion in their favor. (And just to be clear, my disbelief also extends to everything Hachette has said or leaked.)
And that, folks, is where Howey went wrong. They forgot to take the statement with a grain of salt, and in some cases that resulted in AIS.
Calmer heads have long been saying that authors should not be taking sides in this dispute between multinational multi-billion dollar corporations, and I continue to think that is a good idea. Both sides are acting in their own interest – not mine. Even Amazon, which some might argue has done well for indie authors, has only ever acted with the goal of boosting their revenues.
A pox upon both their houses, I say.
image by PhotoAtelier