Saturday, August 9, 2014

HACHETTE VS. AMAZON: Amazon wrote me a letter today, I just had to respond #Pubtalk #ASMSG

I got a letter in my email today from Amazon, and I just had to respond. This is the email I wrote to Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch,

Dear Hachette:

Amazon wrote me a fascinating letter today, which prompted me to weigh in with my opinion on this funky contract dispute happening in a very public format.

Here is a copy of the letter Amazon sent me:

Before I tell you what I think, here's a little about me:

I am a bibliophile and an author and an Indie publisher. In July, I became a NYT and USA Today bestseller.  I have never once written a query letter to an agent or submitted a manuscript to a megacorp publisher.

My eight books are available on Amazon, B & N, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords. In addition, I participate in five blogs and contribute to four Emagazines in various genres that are uploaded in various websites that distribute them freely.

I have a new book planned for preorder in October, The Nightlife Moscow. I am collaborating on Passionate Bites, a vampire romance box set with 9 authors also going preorder in October, and I am partnered with another author, Kayla Stonor, to manage her new edition releases and social media marketing.

I have never cared who publishes a book. Publisher brands are irrelevant to me.

I have over 1900 books on my Kindle, which I read on my PC, phone, and tablets. I get new books every day.

I rarely read a paperback these days. When I do, its from authors I have been a fan of for many many years, like Dean Koontz and Laurell K. Hamilton.  When I buy paperbacks, its because I caught a deal at the Dollar Tree, or a used copy off Amazon for $4-$5, or I found them in a used paperback store.

I used to read three+ books a week, now I'm too busy writing and publishing, so, its more like one book a week -- apart from editing and critique work I do for several author friends.

Moving on, here's what I think about the debate of Amazon vs. Hachette, and its harm to authors:

Amazon, a retailer, knows exactly how their business works best for them and their consumer.  Their interests are not necessarily the best interests of megacorp publishers, regardless of the fact that these megacorps are making shittons of money off of Amazon's phenomenal book discovery engine -- the best system of its kind.

Side note: did you see the new thingy on Amazon, below each book, "Frequently Bought Together" which miraculously directs the buyer to get even more books in one purchase?  Isn't that awesome?

Back to my point: Megacorp publishing contracts typically pay authors a pretty crappy royalty on ebooks, which is quickly decreasing their overall royalty payouts as ebook sales overtake paperback, and yet still publisher revenues are increasing with the continued growth of the ebook market...

How is this?  

Because ebook sales booms often happen at lower price ranges (which is what Amazon is all about).  Sadly, at those prices, the author's royalty is also lower, and often, megacorp publishing contracts cut the royalty percentage lower for special sales discounts.

What's funky, ebooks have zero cost, and zero distribution issues, and yet, megacorp published authors still make less money on them? Ebooks should be the highest profit/royalty item for an author, because no one has to print, warehouse, or ship them, no infrastructure necessary to the supply. There is no overhead to ebook sales and distribution.

Ebooks are the fastest growing sector of publishing sales, accounting for huge gains in profit margins of megacorp publishers last year and this year thus far, yet authors are making less royalty because of funky publishing contracts?

Who is supposedly harming authors? Amazon?

My message is this: I have loads of sympathy for authors of Hachette who are being victimized by their megacorp publisher

Hachette gets no sympathy from me. The company is whining in its beer -- very publicly about how Amazon is hurting the authors, about how authors are losing sales (read $$), but, its the contracts that Hachette uses and the royalty percentages that Hachette pays its authors and the asinine insistence on price-fixing (to the detriment of sales volumes) that is the true source of harm to authors. 

Lets not forget the monster antitrust lawsuit against Hachette and other publishers for price-fixing. Hachette is now attempting the same kind of tactic with Amazon.

Today's world of book retail is focused on highly competitive price structure, where discounting digital products is expected by consumers. Yet Hachette is fighting tooth and nail to retain the right to price-fix their ebooks, and block Amazon from discounting.

How does price fixing and blocking a retailer's ability to offer discounts help authors?  

It isn't helping the megacorp authors whose books cannot compete with lower priced offerings. It isn't helping consumers who statistically buy more volume of books when offered at lower prices.  It isn't helping the propagation of quality literature.  

Price-fixing is an attempt to preserve paperback sales, against the natural flow of the market as it adapts to and falls in love with ebooks and other digital entertainment and information products.

So, all this screaming and crying and arguing and other BS is for what? 

So that Hachette can try to preserve its paperback sales by having ebooks priced the same as paperbacks?

How the hell does this have anything to do with the concept of protecting authors and quality literature?  

Sounds like Hachette has engaged its book publishing PR organization to spin propaganda and fling it across the media worldwide to put pressure on Amazon in their negotiations.  

Since when has Hachette ever publicly stated they are the self-appointed protectors of authors and literature? From their demands on Amazon, it would seem they are a megacorp who wants to protect a certain business model, and that business model is proven harmful to authors.

My bullshit detector is screaming like a firetruck.

From where I stand, Amazon isn't the one in this negotiation that is responsible for hurting Hachette's authors.

Hachette needs no help at all to hurt its authors, its been doing a fine job of that all on its own.

My advice to Hachette:

Hachette, instead of inciting authors across the world into frenzied arguments over half-truths and BS propaganda, why don't you take your dispute and go to court, quietly. I'm sure the DOJ would love to preside over this dispute in court, and I imagine they are watching these proceedings very closely.

Hachette, leave the authors and your monster PR campaign department out of your contract negotiations. This is a polarizing issue, causing nothing but strife between authors at a time when we need to be united and working together to face a rapidly evolving industry. Many authors are so confused about the future of publishing, that some will choose not to publish, simply because of this ugly mess of propaganda you have dragged out into the media.

My advice to authors:

Want to learn  the down and dirty, nitty gritty about this heated debate?  
Check out JA Konrath's blog:



  1. As a published author and sideline observer of the ever-evolving world of publishing, I always thoroughly enjoy your slant on the happenings in our world. You are informative, knowledgeable and, yes...I'll say it...opinionated--an opinion I don't always agree with. In this case I do. I love it.

    I just got back from a week in San Antonio at the RWA convention where among the workshops that ran from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. I also listened to traditionally published authors cry crocodile tears into their chocolate martinis about the shafting they got from their publishers while indie authors stood around holding Coronas+lime wedge looking smug. It was a ever-present, unacknowledged theme of the entire week.

    When I got home, my husband asked my what my "take-away" was from the convention. With a slight quirk of the lip, I responded, "Self-publish." Amazon, for good or bad--I'll be the first to say, yes, sometimes Amazon can be a bit of a business bully--has done more to help the author than any of the Big 6 (or are they down to 5 by now? It's hard to keep count of who is buying who). Unfortunately, you need a media guru to wade through all the b*llsh*t that's spewed by both sides.

    So, THANKS, TRAVIS! I appreciate the guidemap through the turd forest of publishing.

    1. Yep, that's me, your friendly guidemap through the turd forest of publishing.

      You have such poetic prose. Brings tears to my eyes.


    2. Great blog. I have three short items on Amazon and I'm pleased at how easy the directions were to follow. I really think that Hachette is afraid of its authors being enabled to follow in the footsteps of Edgar Rice Burroughs and become successful publishing their own works. I don't know how this works yet so I'll have to select Anonymous.

  2. I got the same email, and I feel exactly as you do ... as do most authors, even the ones fighting for the "bad" guys. Like you said, they simply don't know what's out there for them. Anyway, I would love to syndicate this post on The Masquerade Crew. If interested, see the following link.

    1. Syndicate away!

      I filled out your form thingy!

      Thanks for offering.


  3. Thank you Travis! This whole back and forth thing is ridiculous and it all revolves around greed. Jacking up prices is not a way to help authors, I'll be the first to say there is no way I'll buy a digital book for the same price as a paperback or hardback. I'm an indie publisher that formats my 60+ authors books myself without the aid of any software, I do all there social media marketing for them! and push there books to every corner of the earth and I still give my authors far more of the profit than any of the mega corps out there.

    If authors want a fair deal, they should publish themselves or go with a smaller publisher that knows what they are doing. Amazon is in the right all the way in this, greed can sometimes win out for a while but everything comes full circle and intelligence and honesty will always win out over greed in the end!

    I intend to share this post with my authors and on every social media platform! Thank you again, Travis!

    1. You go right ahead and share it all up and down.


  4. As with all disputes -- ALL disputes -- there is no single 100% victimized party in the Amazon-Hachet job. (Oops, that should be Hachette. My bad. :D) I too have been published by two of the then-Big-6-now-5-and-Falling traditional publishers, with less than splendiferous results. I too now go the indie route. It took me the better part of two years to find a publishing team (mainly, my freelance editor, who also works for the likes of Greg Bear and other big names in the biz; and my present cover designer, who works for, well, me, because I've never heard of anyone else on her client list :D) of folks who truly understand what I want to accomplish as an author. Folks at the Big-6-now-5-and-Falling never gave a crap about my input as an author, and I knew that going in. So until it came to knock-down-drag-out fights that I -- I!!! ai yiii yiii -- had to mediate between my (now ex- and also probably falling) literary agent and my editors, necessitating me having to step in to create little things like, oh, the back-cover copy, I didn't bother even trying to influence what was happening to my book babies behind Those Closed Doors. That said, being indie isn't all candy and roses for me either. The more I think about Amazon's policies -- such as allowing customers to "return" digital downloads for full refunds, and why ISN'T that tantamount to condoning piracy? -- the more I want to take a long hot shower. And then go dry off at the bank, because Amazon is where 99.9% of my sales revenues come from these days. Gads, I feel like such a bookslut sometimes. Thanks for letting me make this confession!

    1. Bookslut confessions, sounds like my kinda chitchat.

      Being Indie is a full time job. Indies work their asses off to write-publish-promote.

      Its not for everyone. But for me, I wouldn't have it any other way.

      Now, if a megacorp walked up to me with a seven-figure offer, I would probably change my tune.

      Until then, I'm pretty happy deciding what to publish, and when, and handling all that stuff like cover art and promotional pricing considerations, and promotions scheduling, and dropping books into multiauthor box sets all over hell.

      Its highly competitive, but it can also be a blast.


  5. Once again, Travis cuts through to the truth. Thanks for posting this. I'll be sharing it.

  6. Brilliant blog! The Amazon letter confused for a bit with the authors in the middle... but you made it all crystal clear!

  7. Great response. I too sent a letter.

  8. Thank you Travis. I love how boldly you proclaim your opinion. As an indie author, I've focused on getting my books out for public consumption, making them the best they can be with the abilities I currently possess. I write, edit, line edit, and format all of my own files. I create my own covers, market and promote my work. It's A LOT of work. And I was one of those who went to conferences and pitched to agents and editors, and wrote 1 and 2 synopsis and query letters to pitch to agents I hadn't met at conference. But I came to realize that each of those agents are limited by their company as to how many books they could contract each year, and often it was 5-6 contracts. That makes the competition fierce! This is why I decided to self publish,
    All that said to say this: Thank you for sharing this information with authors, Travis! This is information I was not aware of and will help me as I continue to release my indie books. And I love your 'no holds barred' attitude in conveying your message. Thank you again again.
    Keepin' the Dream Alive!
    Su Williams

  9. I think the publishers see the writing on the wall. The publishers know, in a few more years, they will be edged out of the business by companies like Amazon. That's why they're fighting so hard. Because in this internet-age.. who the hell needs a publisher anymore? They're just a third party sucking a cut of ebook sales. The internet is disrupting other industries too- look at music labels, cable companies, magazines and newspapers disrupted by digital distribution. This is only the beginning.

  10. Hachette has responded with a most reasonable letter.

    They assert basically nothing, except for a generalized notion that they are negotiating in 'good faith,' and that Amazon has 'sanctioned' their authors, with horrible attacks, like removing preorder buttons.

    Amazon has no relationship to Hachette authors. As a retailer, its relationship is with Hachette. So, when Hachette can't come to terms on a contract, then Hachette pays the price.

    These authors don't have a publishing account with Amazon. They don't even own rights to their books.

    As an Indie author, I cannot even get an Amazon preorder. This is a special provision provided to publishers who have large catalogs and larger sales volumes, its part of a publisher's contract, and, those publishers have an Amazon rep they can call, directly.

    Indies, self-pubs, we don't get that. There are only a handful of Indies with the coveted privilege of preorders.

    And, its preorders that make bestsellers out of newly released books. Everyone in the business knows that.

    As I said before, I have loads of sympathy for Hachette's authors who gave up their rights to their books, and are now subject to this mess, but, as an Indie publisher, I find it very hard to have sympathy for Hachette whining about a 'sanction' of not having preorders.

    I don't have them either.

    Am I being 'sanctioned' by Amazon too?

  11. What first made me look into this further was that Hachette was presenting themselves as this tiny independent publishing company being squashed by big bully Amazon, when I knew they owned Little Brown and Disney Hyperion.