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New Authors Group to Add Pressure to Amazon in Dispute With Hachette

4926598654_981f0fea9e_z[1]Move over, The Authors Guild, you have new competition in the castigating Amazon department.

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.

image by The Official CTBTO Photostream

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William D. O’Neil July 23, 2014 um 11:58 pm

I don’t know any of the authors you list, and can recall reading only one book by one of them. For the most part I think of them as writers of light fiction. I certainly would not be swayed in any way by their opinions on anything but the craft of light fiction.

I do know a number of other authors, people I respect for their well-researched and well-written non-fiction, including at least one Pulitzer winner, and have reflected on how it might change my views if one of them were to subscribe his name to AU’s . The short answer is no, not at all. Transparently self-interested, unsupported, un-analytical can does not gain credit from endorsements, however august.

I’m a student of human folly and write about it and its origins. It’s entirely clear how it is at work in AU’s statements. I think most people who know and care anything about the issue sense this and cannot be swayed by louder and more strident assertions, no matter who is induced to sign them. And the great majority, those who neither know nor care about the issue, will suffer no further diminution in their understanding nor increase in their concern as a result of them.

Finally, let us suppose there to be some body of people who will be energized and swayed by a declaration signed by their favorite authors of light fiction. What are they to do about it? Do we seriously suppose that they will so far neglect their own economic interests as to attempt a boycott of Amazon? Would Amazon notice if they did? Very few people, in my experience, buy from Amazon out of any particular liking for the corporation.

Steven Zacharius July 25, 2014 um 1:45 am

I think the proper term would be bestselling fiction. How is it possible that you don’t know any of the authors mentioned? These are some of the biggest selling authors on the planet.

fjtorres July 25, 2014 um 7:08 am

Not hard.
A lot of genre readers have no interest in bestseller fiction.

Somebody who is deeply committed to fantasy or romance or mysteries will simply go to the appropriate section without a glance, totally bypassing the payola tables. (It was actually easy at the Borders near me since it had an entrance that led directly to the coffee shop section and the SF&F section was three aisles past that. And that entrance was closest to the section of the parking lot I favored. I could be in and out in ten minutes and see nothing but the important stuff.)

Of the whiney Hachette country club authors I know Patterson because he was on Castle and because a friend of mine liked his birdgirl YA stories. The rest? Nobody I care to read much less care what they think.
They are no part of my life.

fjtorres July 25, 2014 um 7:23 am

Oh, yeah: I also know Gladwell. A friend loaned me OUTLIERS to critique. I was unimpressed by his handwaving and cherry-picked anecdotes in service of political correctness.

That those authors think a full page ad in the holy NYT is going to achieve anything or get anything but snickers ouside Manhattan is proof positive how out of touch with the real world *they* are. Civilization doesn’t end at the Hudson… increasingly, it begins on the far side.

Anne July 25, 2014 um 9:59 am

If you don’t read bestselling fiction it would be easy to not recognize any of those names. I’ll bet my dad wouldn’t be aware of any of them and he reads more than anyone I know. While I’m familiar with many of those mentioned, the only one I’ve read is Tracy Chevalier and she is now on my do not buy list. When I have the time, every author that signed that letter is going on said list.

JC July 24, 2014 um 1:26 am

“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,”

Oh this is just disgustingly ironic. Publishers do this all the time. How many times have I wanted to buy an ebook or audiobook but prevented from doing so because instead of the publisher or author or whoever makes the decision won’t sell it in the country I’m in because they’re waiting for a local publisher to offer them more money for the privilege to sell it? Oh sure I can still buy the book from Amazon because that’s one of the great things about them, but I have to pay exorbitant shipping fees which is stupid when a digital version is available. I actually once contacted an author about how I couldn’t buy her book because although Amazon is willing to sell it to me the publisher didn’t make it available in my country. And she just told me to find a torrent and download it illegally since she has no control over it and it’s not my fault that the publisher hasn’t sold the rights or wants to release it in my region :/

Then there’s the fact that ebooks from these big publishers usually cost double what indie ebooks which are just as good or typically better are priced. How is that not preventing a reader from purchasing the ebook? Don’t know about anyone else but price still plays a big factor for me and I’m against anything that will drive the price even higher. So, all the authors who signed that letter only succeeded in me putting them on my black list… Authors that I will never buy books from.

Steven Zacharius July 25, 2014 um 1:48 am

Publishers don’t decide not to sell an ebook or printed book in a certain country. Do you think they want less sales? Most likely they don’t have the foreign rights for that title and the agent/author has sold the rights or is trying to sell the rights to another publisher in that local country.

JC July 25, 2014 um 4:29 am

They do actually. Rights for our country are tied with US rights which means if the author sold them the rights to sell in the US it comes bundled with the rights to sell in my country and yet I still come across ebooks or audiobooks that Amazon/Audible will say isn’t available in my country. If it was a self published book I just contact the author and they can tick on a box in their KDP dashboard or whatever it is and make it available for me. With regard to waiting to sell the rights to a local publisher, I believe I mentioned that in my previous comment… There’s no pint waiting for a local publisher when we’re talking about a Third World country with publishers that can barely publish local books let alone have enough money to buy the rights for international books. Which means these ebooks will never be available unless the publisher holding the rights decides to stop waiting for an offer. Knut seeing as some of the digital content I want we’re published several years ago and still not available for purchase, it just seems stupid. The paperbacks aren’t imported either. And Ben if they were the prices are absurdly marked up and ordering from Amazon, we have to pay high shipping and handling.

Ebook Bargains UK July 25, 2014 um 8:58 am

Actually the problem for most Third World countries is that the RETAILERS do not allow ebook downloads there.

99% of indies assign full world distribution with Amazon, Kobo or whoever, but utterly pointless when Amazon blocks downloads to much of the world.

Google Play is the exception, slowly rolling out stores planet-wide. But a long way to go.

Bart Anderson July 24, 2014 um 2:55 am

Interesting times we live in!

I think Amazon’s stuck. On the one hand, it needs to beef up its margins and (finally) make some profits for shareholders, before they get too restive.

On the other hand, there is a limit as to how hard Amazon can press their publishing partners – avoiding paying taxes – paying poor wages to their workers – putting bookstores out of business, thumbing their noses at the French government. They are just making too many enemies. Perhaps it’s the circles I run with, but anti-Amazon feeling runs high, and those who do buy from Amazon don’t feel good about it.

I hang out with heavy-duty book buyers: teachers, librarians, journalists, academics, etc. and our behavior is not primarily motivated by economics. Ideals and principles are important to us. This open letter by authors in the New York Times will make a difference.

Remember that book buying behavior is heavily skewed, with a small percentage buying loads of books, and most of the population buying almost none. If the dispute has caused 8% of the population to change its behavior, that could be very significant.

BTW, I think you underestimate the influence of the New York Times. It is a world newspaper, like the UK Guardian or Der Spiegel. I can’t think of any newspaper which has more status. (I have a love-hate relationship with it myself).

Eric July 24, 2014 um 6:56 pm

Utter nonsense. Before I retired I was a college librarian for 30 years, hung out with librarians, teachers, all sorts of principled academics, and to suggest we paid no attention to economics is ridiculous. When I purchased books for the library the discounts we could get were always important. Most of my friends, heavy book buyers were always looking for deals and heavily used remaindered services, not to mention getting me to buy books for the library for them so they wouldn’t have to themselves. I spent (not kidding) more than $3000 on books last year, mostly non-fiction including history, biography, politics, and technology, all e-books, I might add, so I can carry my entire library around with me. Believe me, I always track prices and try to get the best deal. To suggest principled people aren’t worried about cost is ludicrous. Unless, of course, you travel only with academic administrators who seem never to worry about economics.

Bart Anderson July 26, 2014 um 6:24 am

Eric, you didn’t respond to what I wrote. I said, "our behavior is not primarily motivated by economics. Ideals and principles are important to us."

Primarily motivated. Are your actions primarily motivated by economics? I would guess not.

Anyone primarily motivated by economics would not go into those meaningful, but poorly paid professions.

Sure, we look for deals. I know all the tricks – libraries, inter-library loan, used bookstores, library book sales, (my favorite), free ebooks, etc.

However, if one has made a commitment to culture, one cares about whether publishers go out of business, whether quality works are still produced, etc. One tends to venerate bookstores and libraries.

Ebooks are a great addition to the other possibilities, and Amazon has created some amazing systems. However, they have zero sense of obligation to anything other than dominating the market. Bezos himself said that the only reason he got into books was that they was uniquely suited to the form of business he wanted to build (computer based, mail order). It could have been salami sausages, for all that he cared.

Here’s an example of Amazon behavior. A relative of mine is part of a non-profit effort that is beneficial to anyone involved in global literacy. Microsoft, Kobo, and the other biggies all contribute and take part. Except for Amazon, which has declined.

fjtorres July 24, 2014 um 6:47 am

Those people think too much of themselves; they are nowhere as influential as they think. They are just embarrassing themselves. If they think an ad in a print edition, any print edition, is going to do more than provide lining for bird cages they are in for a rude awakening.
Amazon isn’t stuck, they’re moving on. To KU and whatever their next challenge to the publishing establishment might be. If Hachette wants to operate without a contract, without promos or subsidized shipping efficiencies and whatever else Amazon offers, they can have it. I think Amazon is now daring Hachette to pull their titles…

Let *them* take the heat for going nuclear.

Which they won’t. They’re just stonewalling and smokescreeming until the prohibition against no-agency discounting expires so they can demand the conspiracy terms again.
Amazon will wait them out, collect the evidence, and *then* de-list them.

Amber July 24, 2014 um 6:55 am

“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,”

Eye roll with that comment since Amazon is a public company. Some how I don’t think that these authors would stand up for the latest smut book that Amazon banned for content. Amazon is a public company there is no law that says that have to carry all books.

This letter won’t change my buying habits but then again I haven’t read any books from the authors listed. Even if one of my favorite authors was on the list it wouldn’t make me start cheering for Hachette. I’m just an avid book buyer not an author so I’m not cheering for an company that wants to raise ebook prices. Even what the prices are set at now my buying of the books from the main publishers diminishes each year as the smaller publishers and indies take more of my money. At this point the only time I will pay $12+ for an ebook is for authors I got hooked into before I bought ebooks, and even some of them I’m passing on. So if Hachette does win they will lose all the sales from me at this point.

Rob Siders July 24, 2014 um 8:43 am

Something about this story is fishy. PW wrote that Preston said:

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.

Um, doesn’t Hachette pay the royalty, which was set by the terms of the contracts with its authors? I worked in record retail for a number of years and we never cut checks to artists when we sold their CDs. We bought product from the labels. Period. End of transaction.

Is there something I’m missing here?

fjtorres July 24, 2014 um 8:56 am

Media bias.
Remember: PW = Publishers Weekly.
Who pays for their ads, and hence their salaries?
Why be truthful when the truth would hurt their bottom line?

Heck, the Authors' bottom line wasn’t even an issue until Hachette started stonewalling.

As somebody or other recently put it: "Hachette v Amazon is a butcher arguing with the meat market and both expressing concern for the cow".
With the cow actively defending the butcher.

Bob W July 24, 2014 um 9:18 am

These bovines are actually the few bulls that feel they have a pretty sweet deal in the breeding program.

fjtorres July 24, 2014 um 11:55 am

They’re still hamburger on the hoof to me.
Not a single steak in the lot.

Ellen July 24, 2014 um 1:40 pm

Am I the only one that has notices all large number of Hachette books in the Kindle Forum "Discount/Price Dropped Kindle ebooks III" thread in the last couple of weeks? How come none of the Amazon tech bloggers have picked up that part of the story. Seems like Amazon isn’t stifling Hachette ebook sales.

Nate Hoffelder July 24, 2014 um 1:52 pm

You might be the only one who noticed, yes. How do you keep track of them? I haven’t found a way to indentify Hachette imprints other than through memorizaton.

Anne July 24, 2014 um 3:00 pm

I just check the thread once a day-

Not all posts list much more than title with link and pricing information but if you click on the link, you should see Hachette as the seller regardless of the imprint. And yes, there does seem to have been a higher than usual quantity of Hachette titles posted.

Nate Hoffelder July 24, 2014 um 4:05 pm

Thank you.

JC July 25, 2014 um 4:42 am

Sorry for the typos in that commen…. Typing on a teeny tiny iPod keyboard 🙁

Basically traditional publishers are worse for a reader who doesn’t live in one of the Big Markets. Our main gateway is Amazon and since we’re not considered as important enough to bother with for these big publishers, I have over the years shifted to small or indie pubs . Amazon is about the only place I can buy ebooks without a lot of hassle, but I do purchase some stuff directly from indie sites if they have their own storefront and accept paypal.

SpringfieldMH July 25, 2014 um 8:57 pm

You’re wrong.

Amazon may or may not have discussed/floated/whatever something with Preston… But they aren’t fools or incompetents… an actual "offer" can only be made to Hachette.

For a counter to this, see the pro-Amazon pro working class mid-list author letter/petition at , which happens to have over seven times as many signatures as "Authors United".

Nate Hoffelder July 25, 2014 um 10:54 pm

I’m not entirely wrong, no. Preston may not have been able to formally accept the money but he (or rather the group) could still have responded to Amazon’s offer by stopping their campaign.

Bart Anderson July 26, 2014 um 6:48 am

SpringfieldMH, do you have any information on who is behind that petition? I don’t see any names on the website about who initiated it.

I am suspicious of anonymous efforts like this, since they are often the sign of astroturfing (false grassroots movements). Any good journalist would check this out.

I do recognize some of the signatures.

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