909 Authors Waste a Hundred Thousand Dollars on Ad Castigating Amazon

909 Authors Waste a Hundred Thousand Dollars on Ad Castigating Amazon Amazon Publishing 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

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

34 Comments

  1. Amber8 August, 2014

    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.

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder8 August, 2014

      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.

      Reply
    2. Valentine9 August, 2014

      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.

      Reply
  2. Juli Monroe8 August, 2014

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

    Reply
  3. Dan Agin8 August, 2014

    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.

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder8 August, 2014

      I don’t know how to tell you this but there’s a serious problem with your comment: it presents a rational argument. You do know that is never going to work, right? 😉

      Reply
  4. Dan Meadows8 August, 2014

    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.

    Reply
  5. Dan Agin8 August, 2014

    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

    Reply
  6. Common Sense8 August, 2014

    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!!

    Reply
    1. Ebook Bargains UK9 August, 2014

      “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.

      Reply
      1. FSkornia9 August, 2014

        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.

        Reply
  7. LS9 August, 2014

    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.

    Reply
  8. Greg Strandberg9 August, 2014

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

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder9 August, 2014

      I agree, but more importantly the cost of the ad is probably going to be its downfall.

      When this story gets repeated outside of the publishing industry bubble of NYC, a lot of readers are going to think that if the authors can afford to waste that much money then they must be rich. If they are a happy Amazon customer then they’re going to contrast their low prices with the complaints of rich authors. That is not going to be good news for the authors.

      Reply
    2. fjtorres9 August, 2014

      Not for them.
      For the country club millionaire authors it’s sofa cushion money.
      Plus, the NYT is running a BOGO special: for every full page ad you buy, you get a free supporting hack job:
      http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2014/08/david-streitfeld-embarassment-to-new.html

      Reply
      1. Nate Hoffelder9 August, 2014

        Hah

        Reply
  9. William D. O'Neil9 August, 2014

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

    How about hypocritical?

    Reply
  10. Angela Booth9 August, 2014

    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.

    Reply
  11. David Gaughran9 August, 2014

    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.

    Reply
    1. Steven Zacharius9 August, 2014

      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.

      Reply
      1. AvidReader9 August, 2014

        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?

        Reply
  12. Ebook Bargains UK9 August, 2014

    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.

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder9 August, 2014

      Yes, i just woke up and found that letter. Weird.

      Reply
    2. FSkornia9 August, 2014

      Didn’t the Authors United letter originally call for spamming Amazon and Jeff Bezos’ email box? I pretty much say that turn about is fair play and karma can be a real bitch.

      Reply
  13. Caleb Mason9 August, 2014

    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/

    Reply
  14. Paul9 August, 2014

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

    Reply
  15. greg oire29 August, 2014

    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 ..

    Reply
  16. […] fired their next salvo today in their battle against Amazon. After seeing that their last effort, a $104,000 full page ad in the NYTimes, was less than successful in swaying public opinion, Authors United turned their attention to a […]

    Reply
  17. […] after not taking sides in taking out a $104,000 advert in the NYTimes, and after not taking sides in sending a letter to Amazon’s board of directors (and then […]

    Reply
  18. Rick19 December, 2018

    Several years after this battle ended, I’m amazed at how off base most of the commentary was in this thread and how misdirected.

    First, the Author’s United ad was very effective in putting Amazon back on its heels and its entire campaign was probably the reason Amazon called a truce in its drive to gain control of publishing.

    Second, it’s rather sad how none of the so-called leaders of the publishing movement took the opportunity to advocate and argue for the interests of self publishers. Instead, Howey, Konrath, Gaughran, and this site served to relentlessly flack Amazon’s position without ever asking hard question of Jeff Bezos such as:

    * Why can’t we price our books over $9.99 without suffering punitive MDF fees?

    * When will stop price rigging the market and slinging BS that $9.99 is the “optimum” price for an ebook? It can’t be.

    *What does Amazon call its stocking fees a “royalty” when they’re no such thing? And why does this site and other’s allow them to get away with it?

    *Jeff, have you ever heard of inflation? Do you realize that under your Stalag Seven Dollars regime, the earning power of self publishers drops every year? That since the box was first established, inflation has robbed writers of 20% of their income?

    * What was up with that 60% margin grab on audible books?

    * Why can’t self-publishers create bundles?

    * When will you put in place transparent processes that ensure that authors aren’t arbitrarily banned by Kreepy Ken, your algorithm that runs around flagging people for violating the “rules” of KU, an impenetrable black box that operates by standing over the shoulder of every Kindle user watching what they read?

    * Does anyone really think allowing your $150B corporation to snoop on everyone’s reading material a good idea?

    * Why don’t you do for self publishers what Apple was willing to do. Create a 70% (us)/30% (you)? You can still make a lot of money, treat writers fairly, and pay back for all the damage your market manipulation has done so self publishers.

    Finally, to the self publishers who participated in this thread and carried water for Amazon (especially the knuckleheads who signed Howey’s ludicrous Change.org petition), what were you thinking? What stake did YOU have in the fight? What was Howey doing that benefited you in the least?

    The answer was nothing. Worse, self publishers missed an opportunity to put real pressure on Amazon to change.

    rick

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder19 December, 2018

      “First, the Author’s United ad was very effective in putting Amazon back on its heels and its entire campaign was probably the reason Amazon called a truce in its drive to gain control of publishing.”

      I love the smell of revisionist history in the morning.

      ” Instead, Howey, Konrath, Gaughran, and this site served to relentlessly flack Amazon’s position”

      That’s because it wasn’t Amazon marking books out of stock, it was Hachette not shipping the books for Amazon to sell. Robin Sullivan, wife and business manager of author Michael Sullivan, said that when this happened in 2014, what she found was that Hachette wasn’t shipping her husband’s books to Amazon.

      If you have credible evidence she is wrong, I want to see it.

      As for the rest of your FUD, I’m just going to let it stand there so the obvious biases will debunk.

      Reply
  19. Rick24 December, 2018

    +++ I love the smell of revisionist history in the morning. +++

    Your nostrils are malfunctioning. I wrote about this in 2014. It’s still online. And months before Amazon called off its campaign, I predicted it would and explained, accurately and truthfully, what was going on.

    Unlike some sites and writers.

    And its time you stopped with the “Hachette wouldn’t ship books to Amazon”. They certainly would have if Amazon hadn’t made it clear they wouldn’t accept them on the docks. Only someone who has no knowledge of how channel fights play out would take that nonsense the least bit seriously. Amazon started off by buying stock from Ingram and Baker and Taylor and they certainly could have done so if they wanted.

    “FUD.”

    Yeah, FUD. Inflation is FUD. The audible book margin grab is FUD. Calling a giant MDF stocking fee a “royalty” is FUD. Stalag Seven Dollars is FUD.

    I don’t think anyone reading this is going to think I’m slinging FUD. Numbers and facts speak for themselves. I think they’re going to wonder why you never engaged on behalf of the self publishers.

    In any event, Merry Christmas!

    rick

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder24 December, 2018

      “They certainly would have if Amazon hadn’t made it clear they wouldn’t accept them on the docks.”

      Yeah, right. Where’s your proof?

      Here’s Michael on 2014 saying that Hachette was delaying orders:

      From March 9th until May 8th my wife, and business manager, was having constant emails and phone conversations with my editor, publisher, and Amazon over these issues. We were getting very mixed messages. On April 29th, during a phone call with Amazon’s Author Central, the Amazon representative indicated they had more than a dozen purchase orders placed from April 21st – 24th which had not yet shipped. At that time, Hachette was indicating ship dates of May 2nd – May 10th. Hachette has continually assured us all orders were shipping “in a timely manner” and Amazon was to blame for placing small orders. We’ve asked for copies of the purchase orders and confirmation of the shipment dates from my publisher but have been told, “It is not information we would like to be shared with any third party at the current time.”

      Reply
  20. Rick25 December, 2018

    Yeah? IOW, two different organizations with two different agendas say two different things. Wow. That’s never happened before. Who knows who to believe and who’s telling the truth. And who cares about this amazing trivia? Again, if Amazon wanted Hachette books in quantity, it knew how to get them. That’s a fact.

    Here are some more facts. It was Amazon that that wanted to gain control of the publisher’s pricing model in regards to ebooks. The publishers didn’t want to give control of their pricing system over to Amazon. When you do that, you give up control of your business. Why the publishers should have been expected to do that is beyond me. Channels often fight for control of pricing, and influence it, but rarely are given control. It’s not the business of a channel or a vendor to set prices. That’s done by the market.

    And regardless, NOTHING about the fight benefited self publishers in the least, This is a fact. Not one single point Howey made in that dishonest and stupid petition impacted self publishers in any aspect. Howey was asking self publishers to carry water for a battle in which they had no stake regardless of the outcome.

    What he, and you, and other people should have been doing is pointing out the different ways Amazon’s dishonest practice of calling huge MDF stocking fees “royalties” was distorting the debate. Did you ever do this? Did you ever point out that calling $9.99 an optimum price for ebooks was stupid and ridiculous? How do you feel about Amazon banning authors out the blue with no explanation why?

    Howey’s flacking on behalf of Amazon did a huge disservice to self publishers. Instead of using the opportunity to put pressure on the company to do right by self publishers, all HE did was kick up FUD and fake news. Like this immortal bit of bushwah from that petition:

    +++ Amazon pays writers nearly six times what publishers pay us. Amazon allows us to retain ownership of our works. +++

    Amazon pays no one anything. They extract huge MDF stocking fees from your sales and transfer what’s left over to you. And isn’t it special that a reseller, which stocks inventory and isn’t a publisher and doesn’t pay royalties, doesn’t try to grab your copyrights?

    Did you ever publish an analysis of Howey’s petition and point out that it was chockablock full of this nonsense? If so, please direct me to the link; I missed it.

    In any event, I’ll leave it there. I only posted on this blog because I was calling up the Howey petition as research for my newest book and your link with analysis was at the top of the page. I started scrolling through your piece and the comments and was just struck by how wrong you all were. You DO realize, now, that Preston’s petition turned the tide? That the $100K was money well spent? (Well, not from Amazon’s viewpoint.)

    Well, it doesn’t matter. Best of luck.

    Merry Christmas!

    rick

    Reply

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