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Lee Child on Amazon: a Fisking

lee childOf the 909 authors who signed that full page advert slash open letter against Amazon, Lee Child is one of the most respected, admired, and articulate. So when I learned (via The Passive Voice) that he had given an interview on BBC Newsnight and explained why he had signed that letter, I was eager to find out why.

And now I wish I hadn’t.

Mr Child uses one ridiculous argument after another. After having watched the interview (embedded below), I now grasp why people have told me that they plan to never buy/read the books written by the authors who signed that letter.

To start, this is how he views the situation vis-à-vis the 909 authors and Amazon:

"I’ve got a lot of good friends there. But the point is exactly that: If you have a good friend who is misbehaving, you don’t immediately shoot them in the head and bury them in the woods. You take them aside and you have a quiet word with them. You say, come on, pal, you’re out of line – shape up and behave properly. And that’s me and the other 900 authors are saying."

Apparently Mr Child thinks spending a hundred thousand dollars on a full page advert in the Sunday NYTimes is the equivalent of having a quiet word with Amazon.

He’s joking, right? I mean, that last sentence has to be the punchline, right?

There’s simply no other explanation for it. And since I just rolled a SAN check, I know that I’m good, so I have to wonder how Mr Child thought that statement makes any sense.

And that’s not the only crazy statement he made:

" They are squeezing the customer most of all by depriving the customer of what she wants, and this is the very bizarre thing. … The customer wants the books that she wants to read, and Amazon is not delivering them right now because of this row."

But, but, but – Amazon isn’t depriving customers of anything.

Somehow Mr Child has forgotten that Amazon is not the only retailer in the world. He has confused Amazon not having a title in stock with the customer not being able to shop anywhere else – not even with the marketplace sellers on Amazon isn’t going to slap my hand if I go to another website and buy a title that is out of stock on So no, this customer is not being deprived.

And right after Mr Child demonstrated that he didn’t understand how people shop for stuff, he showed that he doesn’t understand economics either:

Interviewer: If someone cant afford it at 10 or 20, they can afford it (Mr Child’s new book) at 8 pounds, and you get a new reader.

Child: I don’t think there is a significant number of people who are going to say that 8 pounds are that much better than 10, having bought the machine in the first place for however much that was.

Apparently Mr Child is under the mistaken impression that his book is being sold in isolation. He forgets that his expensive ebook is competing against cheaper ebooks, so rather than a consumer making a binary decision to buy or not buy Mr Child’s book, said consumer is deciding which of a hundred possible ebooks they might buy.

In that situation, cheaper ebooks have a clear advantage. So yes, 8 pounds is that much better than 10 pounds. (And I don’t even know how to address his assumption that books have to be expensive; I’m stumped.)

All in all, I regret having had to watch the interview below.  While I have discussed that letter with several authors who signed it, Mr Child is the first author where I can’t simply respectfully disagree.

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Geoffrey Kidd August 14, 2014 um 1:05 am

Stupid question time: Is there a list of the pakhtash who signed that letter somewhere? I’ve made a bet with myself that at least one deservedly-despised-by-me author’s name is on that list.

Thanks in advance.

LS August 14, 2014 um 3:10 am

Here is the Authors United letter with names:

Geoffrey Kidd August 14, 2014 um 12:13 pm

Thank you. I won my bet.

fjtorres August 14, 2014 um 1:32 pm

Only seven ever got money out of me.
None will, moving forward.

Kevin August 14, 2014 um 2:59 am

But aren’t you being a little unrealistic in expecting the people who publish on Hachette to be bright and/or logical?
Along with most people, I had also thought that authors would think that Amazon is genuinely interested in making money, so based on utter self-interest Amazon could recommend prices that maximize their sales and their profits (and coincidentally maximize their correlated royalty payouts). Amazon even clearly wrote that this is what they are doing. I happen to believe Amazon because the utter profit-centered self-interest makes it believable. But it seems that nobody believes this either. Rather they think that Amazon is deliberately trying to lower Amazon’s profits.
It’s an interesting problem. If appeals to author’s comment-sense, logic, self-interest, and greed don’t work, what else could? Wow, this could be a great plot for a story. Probably nobody would believe it though. Too stupid for words.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2014 um 7:43 am

The thing is, I’ve had discussions with authors who had signed that letter. Neither of us changed the other’s mind but I have come away with a better understanding of their position and respect for their arguments. I don’t feel that way about Lee Child.

LS August 14, 2014 um 3:04 am

Ok that’s messed up.

For somebody so enchanted with arithmetic, he sure missed the simple math. Switching his numbers to dollars, for $40 I can either buy 5 books at $8 each or 4 books at $10 each. Two dollars can make a huge difference. If I find an indie author I like, or a traditionally published author with a discounted back list I can get anywhere from 8 books for $40 or even 40 books for $40.

I usually buy about 20 newly published mainstream ebooks a month, and read more than that a week, I just can’t afford to pay $13.99 for every ebook. I’ve found lately I’m passing on the majority of new books, buying my top 10-15 authors & putting the rest on a wish list that I rarely bother to go back to unless there’s a major ebook sale. Needless to say the authors currently self publishing new & back list books are currently getting more money from me right now, and will be until publishers put their prices down.

JM August 14, 2014 um 5:17 am

Your articles would benefit from a more restrained attitude towards what other people think and say. At times you become insulting to others, and this makes reading your otherwise intelligent comments quite painful.

puzzled August 14, 2014 um 5:38 am

Does this mean that Nate should care more or less about what other people think or say?

Niels August 14, 2014 um 6:01 am

I would normally agree with your statement, but in the case of mr. Child (an apt name in this case) I agree 100 % with Nate’s comments.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2014 um 6:43 am

There were two snarky sentences in a 600 word post. At that concentration it is simply colorful language.

fjtorres August 14, 2014 um 7:25 am

Or, as they used to say in the old days, "getting the mule’s attention" 2×4 style. Self-absorbed and delusional people need a wake-up call once in a while.

Anybody care to take a look at those authors' estimated net worth to see how many millionaires are on that list? Those guys simply have lost their economic sense of proportion to their deep bank accounts and constant kowtowing by sycophants. A bit of disrespect is exactly what’s called for.

And maybe a reminder that Hachette book sales (*their* titles) are not only lower at Amazon, but also at Nook.

They signed that letter counting on the reader goodwill their celebrity and book catalog had earned them to sway readers without considering that goodwill is a currency too and that once they expend it earning it back is not going to be as easy as the first time. Because they forget that Amazon has 20 years' and 240million customers' goodwill in *their* account.

I think that a good many of the authors who signed the country club millionaire authors letter–whether because they truly buy the crap they’re dishing out or because of peer pressure or to show their loyalty to the publishing establishment–are about to discover that readers by and large do see a $5 difference as significant. They are about to discover that readers have long memories. And that it isn’t just publishers who can blacklist authors; readers can and do compile s***lists and boycott offensive authors all on their own.

Except the authors have already "kindly" compiled the list for us.

fjtorres August 14, 2014 um 7:34 am

Oh, and by the way, by signing Mr Preston they have aligned themselves with the man who, as the illegal 2010 price-fixing conspiracy kicked in, raising prices to $15, said this:

“The sense of entitlement of the American consumer is absolutely astonishing,” said Douglas Preston, whose novel “Impact” reached as high as No. 4 on The New York Times’s hardcover fiction best-seller list earlier this month. “It’s the Wal-Mart mentality, which in my view is very unhealthy for our country. It’s this notion of not wanting to pay the real price of something.”

Yeah, that is the kind of thinking they are endorsing.

Richard Herley August 14, 2014 um 8:08 am

Well said!

Juli Monroe August 14, 2014 um 8:02 am

And it was a very good thing I’d finished my breakfast before I got to the Q-Tip comment. Spit takes do not do good things to iPads. 😉

This was priceless, Nate. I read the commentary on Passive Voice yesterday, but they failed to comment on the "quiet word" with Amazon. Not sure how they missed that one, but it was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.

I’m genuinely looking forward to my camping trip at the end of the month where I won’t have easy access to WiFi, and I can tune this whole thing out for a week. I’m hoping it’ll all be over by the time I come back.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2014 um 9:03 am

Thanks. I wish I had thought to also call him on characterizing Amazon as a "friend". I for one don’t see multi-billion dollar corporations as friends, but what do i know.

Karl August 14, 2014 um 7:38 am

On the contrary, I loved how laugh-out-loud funny and entertaining this article was as it made some valid rational points.

Name Required August 14, 2014 um 5:30 am

Nate, visit the passive voice page that you have linked and read response of Mr. Lee Child (or somebody that uses his name) to snarky comments 😉

This is starting to be highly entertaining.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2014 um 6:40 am

I did – after I wrote this post. Fun, and also reassuring that it was fair to fisk him.

TheGreatFilter August 14, 2014 um 10:07 am

A couple of points:

>>Apparently Mr Child is under the mistaken impression that his book is being sold in isolation.

Well, in a way HIS books are being sold in isolation. He is Lee Childs. He is a name brand. Many people will buy his books and ignore other competing books because he is that brand. Ohhh, Jack Reacher is so sexy.

>>Somehow Mr Child has forgotten that Amazon is not the only retailer in the world.

When you say "the world," do you mean the USA, or the USA and the UK, or the whole Amazon-dominated English-speaking market? Amazon does has a near-monopoly status in the English-speaking E-book market, so they are almost "the only retailer."

One last point: Does Hachette sell e-books via Amazon? And, if so, have they also been blocked? If so, then "the only retailer" and Amazon’s monopoly status becomes increasingly true. I presume this isn’t the case…

TheGreatFilter August 14, 2014 um 10:40 am

Bah. He’s old, rich and spoiled. Like many people in positions of privilege, he has forgotten (or, worse still, has never known) the value of labor and money.

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