What About Hachette’s Responsibility?

Remember that Amazon/Disney dispute that was supposed to be yet another harbinger of the doom Amazon was looking to bring down upon all its suppliers? Well, that’s over. Or at least negotiated to a point Amazon was willing to reinstate preorders and such on Disney products. So much for the doom. It lasted a little under two months.

There’s also this little tidbit from the same Wall Street Journal article:

“A similar dispute between Amazon and Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. in the spring lasted several weeks. Warner Bros. movies became available for preorder again in June after the studio and Amazon had made significant progress toward a deal, but hadn’t finished ironing out details.”

So that one, that I’d never even heard about before, lasted just a few weeks and preorders were made available as part of the negotiation. What do you know? Let’s also not forget the attempt by Hachette a couple months ago to buy the catalog of Perseus Books, with Ingram absorbing their distributor business, that failed miserably when Hachette, who spearheaded the deal, failed to negotiate an adequate end with either of the other two parties.

Is it time to consider, rather than a victim of some evil Amazon publisher-destroying plot, Hachette may just be really bad at business? Other companies involved in terse negotiations with Amazon, involving many of the same tactics, have emerged none-the-worse-for-wear in a matter of weeks. This has been dragging on with Hachette for almost a year, the past six months of which involving things like lessened stocking and no preorders. Those other two media companies both reportedly got out from under Amazon’s tactics through negotiation. Hachette has taken a hard line stance in negotiating with Amazon (and to this point, an horrifically ineffective one that’s looking more misguided by the day.) It really might be as simple as Hachette just kinda sucking at this.

With all the chatter about the responsibilities Amazon has (or some feel they’re supposed to have, anyway) I got to thinking, doesn’t Hachette have any responsibilities here? Nobody seems to be asking that question. Do you think their parent company cares about their excuses about Amazon, especially when they see other companies settle similar disputes quickly and relatively quietly? Apple’s shareholders didn’t give a damn about how supposedly evil Amazon is when they just filed a lawsuit against them to recoup damages from their illegal collusion with publishers. Why aren’t Hachette’s authors throwing an unholy fit? Maybe we’ve been reading the phrase “special snowflake” all wrong. Maybe the authors are trying to get concessions out of Amazon because they know the company they’re contracted too isn’t competent enough to get them on their own.

In any circumstance, I don’t see how Hachette can be absolved of its responsibilities to the writers under contract to them, no matter how many name brand authors keep mouthing off in the absolute wrong directions. I ran across this letter to Hachette by writer Blair MacGregor yesterday. It’s from early July, just after the first Authors United letter hit, but you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t look at the date. It’s oddly prescient and, in my opinion, spot on.

In it, MacGregor raises four important points, each a different area where Hachette can take action in regards to its responsibilities to the writers they represent (and likely should have already). Read the entire letter, it’s well worth it, but I’m just going to focus on a few points here:

“When I read through the latest round of open letters telling Amazon what they ought to do to support Hachette writers during your negotiations, I thought it exceedingly odd no one had written to you.”

She’s not alone there. I’m at the point where it’s far past exceedingly odd and getting into negligence and/or intentional obfuscation. There is zero logical business reason why someone, anyone under contract to Hachette hasn’t lit a raging fire under their ass to get something done by now.

“You see, your writers are contracted directly with you, and not at all with Amazon, even though many target Amazon with their urging to settle disputes. I get the impression you prefer it that way, which is an odd preference as it assumes you, Hachette, have no ability to support your writers and fulfill your contractual obligations without Amazon’s approval.”

Exactly. I would add, however, that what I think they’re lacking is the will to support their writers, not the ability. And, honestly, many of those same writers are giving them a free pass and, in doing so, applying no pressure or giving them even the slightest reason to lift a finger to fulfill their contractual obligations, as she put it.

“When ethical businesses in your position struggle — with negotiations, with collections, or with other cash flow problems — they don’t send their contractors out to solve the problem for them. Instead, they take care of their obligations to their employees and contractors while making every effort possible to resolve the issue.”

Yup, that’s what ethical businesses do every day. What’s that tell you about where Hachette stands on the ethical scale? Remember, this letter was from three months ago, nearly as long as both Disney and WB’s negotiations combined. What have they gotten done in that time? Zip. Now he gets to the four areas where she believes they should act:

“First, your response to Amazon’s offer to participate in a royalty fund for impacted writers is puzzling if your desire is to care for your writers. Requiring a total resolution be reached with Amazon before discussion on royalties takes place might feel like a powerful move, but exposes the priority you place upon your writers.”

It looks even more egregiously bad now that we have direct examples of both Disney and Warner Brothers getting immediate actions out of Amazon during negotiations. And that’s not to mention MacMillan accepting a nearly identical deal during its last negotiation. Why the authors didn’t use Amazon’s offer to get Hachette to act to mitigate the damage done to themselves and their fellow authors is lost on me. Their irrational and indiscriminate hatred of Amazon is blinding them to both their own and their fellow writers’ interests. But they shouldn’t have had to. Hachette showed zero interest in taking Amazon up on this. Worse still, they have done absolutely nothing on their own, nor did they even try any sort of counter proposal. Someone should mention to Hachette that negotiations typically involve some form of actual negotiating.

“Second, disclose precisely how you are fulfilling the just-in-time orders Amazon is placing with you. I assume your distribution centers aren’t set up for small and swift shipments, but surely a multinational company such as yours has someone in its distribution department able to cobble together a temporary remedy.”

This is spot on, too. If you want us to believe Amazon is why books are shipping slower, prove it. Show us that you’re getting those orders out ASAP and they’re not sitting on someone’s desk in your warehouse for two weeks. I’ve only seen one writer inquire about these shipments, and here’s how that turned out:

“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.'”
–From Digital Book World

Third party…for his own book shipments! Dripping with concern for writers, right there!

“Third, put some effort into promoting your writers who aren’t your top sellers since they are the ones who stand to lose the most—and most fear that loss.”

I’m totally down with it but they won’t do this when times are good. A snowball has a better chance of wintering successfully in Hell than Hachette ponying up to promote non-mega-selling authors. Still though, not only should they be because of this situation, but because it’s the right thing to do all the time.

“Lastly—and most importantly—publicly and firmly assure your writers that their future contract negotiations will not be based upon lower sales numbers that result from your prolonged negotiations.”

Yes, yes, a million times, yes! This should be the first question anyone asks Hachette from now until the end of time; will you guarantee not to use the lower sales figures during this dispute to drop or otherwise force better deals with writers for yourself? All day, every day. Even Hachette’s most virulent supporters just assume it’s a foregone conclusion that they will employ such unforgivably sleazy actions as this. They’re all over Amazon about the preorders because they’re afraid of the punitive actions Hachette will use those figures to take against them. Yet from writers to Hachette…crickets.

“It’s almost as if no one believes you’d consider it in your best interest to mitigate the damage writers believe will be done to them. It’s almost as if all those urging Amazon to act are far more confident in Amazon’s likelihood of listening than they are in yours. After all, none of them have yet asked you to do…well, much of anything, really.”

Yeah, almost. I think she’s on to something here. Perhaps no one’s pressuring Hachette because they know how futile it is. Whatever the reason, it’s high time that many, many someone’s start not only asking, but demanding Hachette do something here for its writers, if nothing else. Complain about Amazon all you like, but Hachette is directly responsible to the writers it has under contract. And right now, they’re pissing down all of your backs and telling you it’s raining.

You all are worried about your next contract if you rock the boat or make any noise about this? Let me ask you, if this continues to drag on through Christmas, book buying’s most wonderful time of the year, what next contract is it you think is going to be there? Unless you’re a superstar, there won’t be a next contract for you to be concerned about. Speak now or forever hold your peace.

UPDATE: Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader just pointed out to me that Perseus Books, the company Hachette swung and missed at, recently struck a new ebook deal of its own with Amazon. According to the report, the deal included not just their own catalog but all the books in their distributor business that were set to be spun off to Ingram in the failed acquisition.

Talk about dodging a bullet! If that sale had gone through, all of those Perseus books would be caught up in the same vortex as the rest of Hachette’s catalog right now. Instead, they’re selling ebooks unencumbered. It’ll be interesting to see if we get any information on what the terms of the deal are, but there can’t be too many smiles around Hachette’s campfire right now.

Dan Meadows is a writer living on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. Follow him on Twitter @watershedchron


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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think it would be helpful if you provided some details about the actual issues being disputed between Hachette and Amazon. Because all I read was a bunch of polemics. What are the core points of disagreement? If you provided that, we’d all be in a better position to know if Hachette sucks at business. It might be if they sign a bad deal, it sucks worse.

  2. Ditto what Rick Chapman said. Since you have no idea whatsoever about the contract terms involved in the Hachette case, which, no doubt, are different from those in the other negotiations you mention, your comparisons fall flat. Your references to Hachette refusing to accept Amazon’s bogus and pretzeled PR stunt shows how little you understand the nature of that offer and why it was financially ridiculous. Reading opinions on Hachette vs. Amazon from people who haven’t bothered to gather any of the pertinent business information or background facts and who have no experience in publishing is like listening to the sales clerks at a makeup counter lecture about the pros and cons of a new plastic surgery technique.

    • For one thing, I have 15 years of experience in publishing and have been involved in numerous negotiations both with suppliers and distributors from the publisher side. Speaking as a writer, though, part of the efficacy of having a deal with someone like Hachette is their ability to market and distribute my material. Being unable to reach an agreement with the largest retailer of books going for nearly a year is unacceptable. The fact that they’ve done precisely nothing to mitigate the damage being done to their writers is even more so. In my opinion, if this continues on much longer without some action from Hachette to address losses to its writers stemming from their negotiating stance, I believe that should constitute an actionable breach of contract for their writers.

      The initial Amazon offer of splitting a pool to compensate authors for losses during the negotiation is not unreasonable at all. In fact, it was so not “financially ridiculous” that MacMillan accepted such a deal during their last negotiation with Amazon (one, I might add, which was the first strike in the illegal collusion these publishers and Apple engaged in). The offers following rejection of that one were progressively worse for Hachette, I agree, but that’s what happens during a negotiation, particularly when one side refuses to actually negotiate.

      Clearly, the circumstances of Amazon’s deals with Warner Brothers and Disney are very likely different. Perseus, however, not so much and that deal happened with no consternation or public hand wringing. In addition, I didn’t see too many publisher sympathizers pointing out those differences when Amazon froze Disney’s preorders. It was widely viewed as more of the same as what Hachette was getting. Now that Disney has reached an apparent agreement with Amazon, it doesn’t count because they’re “different”? It certainly seemed to matter when it could be painted to Hachette’s benefit.

      And what about using the lessened sales as a result of this dispute against authors in future contracts? You didn’t mention that. Is that acceptable to you? Don’t you believe Hachette should give some kind of assurances that they won’t be pursuing such ends?

      So you don’t think I know what I’m talking about, that’s fine. I’d like to hear your suggestions. What do you think, if anything, Hachette should do to make the writers under contract to them whole, or at least mitigated somewhat? Do you believe they have a responsibility to those authors at all? I have yet to hear one single suggestion offered up by anyone who supports Hachette in this. I really would like to know.

  3. To provide a concrete example of what I mean, in addition to Amazon not wanting to buy some books from Hachette on the agency model, it also wants to increase Hachette’s MDF expenditures.

    Now, if the publisher is paying more MDF to a reseller, just whose hide does that ultimately come out of? Is it not the authors? Is it therefore stupid of Hachette to resist this in their negotiations?

    It would be nice if you could dig into that aspect of the story in greater depth so as to provide us all more perspective.

    • I would love to know what Amazon is asking for in terms of co-op or other fees. I’m presuming it’s more than before, possibly significantly more. But why shouldn’t they ask for that? They are, after all, responsible for a huge share of Hachette’s sales. I believe Barnes & Noble also went to wall with Simon & Schuster over this exact thing, as well. It’s not an unusual circumstance at all.

      I agree that Hachette will ultimately recoup any additional fees from their writers, but why should that be? A big part of a company like Hachette’s ability to attract and sign writers is their ability to market the work. We hear it every day from people telling us how crucial publishers are. Why shouldn’t that, at least in large part, come from Hachette’s cut? If their writers are paying for that marketing themselves anyway, wouldn’t that lessen Hachette’s draw for writers? That’s assuming the vast majority of their writers ever see any of that supposed marketing might in the first place, which is pretty well documented that they generally don’t.

      My point is that other businesses, some similar, some different, have and continue to reach agreements with Amazon without the world ending rhetoric and without sending their contractors out there to fight a shadow battle for them in public. Hachette has been playing this game for nearly a year, the past six months of which costing their writers greatly in terms of sales and revenue with not a peep about doing anything to actually help those writers. Hachette’s public stance from the beginning has largely been my way or the highway, Amazon, at least, has not only claimed a desire to negotiate but have offered several possibilities to get the process kick started. If Hachette is truly trying to avoid a bad deal, they’re not going about it very well and their silence in regards to taking action to directly help their own writers through this speaks volumes about their priorities.

  4. In regard to the negotiated settlements with Disney and Warners, what you don’t tell us (and probably don’t know) is the terms of those settlements. Were they fair? Were they onerous? If the latter, how onerous were they? Just how much did Disney and Warners have to give up to put an end to Amazon’s hard-line tactics? Without that information, I don’t think it’s fair to fault Hachette for their failure to negotiate an end to the current situation.

    Look at it this way … When we were growing up, we all had the experience of seeing the bully in action on the local schoolyard, threatening and trying to intimidate younger or smaller kids into giving up their lunch money. However, just because two kids gave up their money to end their harassment and hellish treatment, that doesn’t mean a third kid is required to do the same thing. If instead that third kid stands up to the bully, fights him and wins freedom from harassment and intimidation, it benefits every other kid on that schoolyard. How do we know that’s not the situation we have now with Amazon? How do we know that Amazon isn’t the schoolyard bully, and that Disney and Warners weren’t simply the kids giving up their lunch money to end their schoolyard hell? If that’s the case, then we ought to be lauding Hachette for standing up to the bully to make things better for all of us!

    The bottom line, though, is we don’t have all the facts, Until we do, I think you anti-Hachette stance is unfair and uninformed.

    • So Disney and Warner Brothers are cowering schoolchildren? Really? Hachette has engaged in a pattern of resisting change, supporting unnecessarily higher prices (to the point of actively engaging in illegal collusion in an attempt to fix retail prices) and has done nothing for its writers damaged by its actions. I’ve asked this of other people and I’ll ask you. What do you think Hachette’s responsibility is to the writers under contract with them? Do you have any suggestions about what Hachette can or should do to help it’s writers through this difficult time that they, at least in part, are responsible for? Why shouldn’t they have contributed to the pool with Amazon? Should they give assurances that they won’t use these losses against their own writers in future contracts?

      • I’ll address the couple of main points you raise that aren’t just hyperbole and hot air.

        First, you state, “Hachette has engaged in a pattern of resisting change, supporting unnecessarily higher prices … and has done nothing for its writers damaged by its actions.” As to the first part of that, are you honestly saying that ALL change is a good thing? I think there are plenty of examples where change has NOT been beneficial, from the growing use of environment-damaging plastic bags by retailers to the U.S. deciding to mothball its entire space shuttle fleet and rely on the Russians instead. To blindly indict somebody for being resistant to change is, simply put, insane. If you want to discuss the change on a point-by-point basis and determine whether resistance is warranted, I’m up for that. But that’s not your position. No, you’re slamming Hachette for being resistant to change, without any discussion of whether such resistance might indeed be warranted.

        As to the second part of the quoted statement (“supporting unnecessarily higher prices”), how have you (and Amazon) determined that the prices are unnecessarily higher? The argument seems to be that an e-book will sell more at $9.95 than at $14.95. But the truth is that it’s not so simple; that’s not always the case. There are many books with specialized niche markets that are only going to sell a certain number of books (I speak here from experience). They’re only going to sell 5,000 or 10,000 or 20,000 or however many copies, regardless of what they’re priced at. Maximizing the return to the author — which is one of the publisher’s responsibilities — requires the book be priced at the highest possible price point that’s not going to reduce the maximum number of sales. Who’s the best party to determine that max sales number and the corresponding highest possible price point? Amazon? Or the publisher, who has a much greater history of working with such books? Obviously, it’s the latter. Amazon’s “one rule for all” logic simply doesn’t make sense, and I would argue they’re doing some writers and authors a great injustice by trying to force it in all situations. Publishers need to be the ones to determine the price at which specific books should be sold, in order to do right by all their authors.

        And then there’s the third part of the quoted statement (“done nothing for its writers damaged by its actions”), which ties directly into the rest of your response, where you ask what I think Hachette’s responsibility is to its writers and why it shouldn’t contribute to the “pool” with Amazon. Do you really think the “pool” concept outlined by Amazon is fair? What is Amazon giving up by participating, and what would Hachette be giving up by participating? Are they equal contributions, or is that bargain slanted more in one direction than the other? Most observers have looked at the idea and concluded that it would be a grossly unfair situation for Hachette. Amazon would be giving up only its profit, because they have invested nothing in the production and printing of the books. However, Hachette would be giving up not only its profit, but also recoupment of what it has invested in bringing the book to the market — author’s advances, editing, proofreading, layout and design, printing, etc. So while Amazon loses a little on their overall current profit, Hachette takes a big hit, not just losing its profit but also putting itself firmly into the red because its investment isn’t recouped. Certainly, one of Hachette’s responsibilities to its authors is to remain in business and remain profitable, so that it can continue to sell books and pay its authors royalties. Amazon’s pool concept does exactly the opposite, so shouldn’t Hachette’s responsibility to its authors include opposition to such a ridiculous idea?

      • To address some of your points, are you suggesting Hachette isn’t resistant to change? Change is neither inherently good or bad, it just is. It’s how you adapt to it that determines where along that spectrum it lies. Publishing has become a much more open and opportunity-laden enterprise for far more people than it was just a few short years ago. Hachette, and most other large publishers, made their bones in a closed off, some would say sheltered, environment. Certainly a much more limited one. I see little reason to believe they have much interest in adapting to that as opposed to fighting to continue on as it had been.

        The problem with that is it doesn’t address the reality of altered expectations of readers. When you argue for higher prices, that’s not only resisting change, it’s resisting the will of the majority of people buying the books. When they argue in favor of what’s effectively price-based windowing of ebooks (pricing them high as some attempt to support new hardcover releases) that’s also fighting against the tide of what readers want. Basically, this is an attempt to shift the mass market paperback model to ebooks using price as opposed to time and availability to push the more expensive hardcover. It’s not embracing the possibilities that exist now, rather it’s a somewhat backdoor attempt at maintaining a status quo that isn’t really a status quo anymore except in their own conception.

        I am in complete disagreement with you on price. For one thing, Amazon’s own statement said they recognize that there are some instances where an ebook should be priced higher. And their example of the difference in volume between $14.99 and $9.99 didn’t specify all books need to be $9.99, it was an explanation of what their data shows is the potential increase in sales volume (and resulting revenue, particularly with a zero marginal cost for reproduction product like ebooks) at a lower price point. I’ve seen the one-size-fits-all argument made many times, but I don’t see where Amazon said that at all. In fact, it appears to me to be an area where they were inviting negotiation and Hachette’s public response to such was hard-line and resistant to the notion in any form.

        As for who knows better about pricing, I think your assumption that it’s Hachette is flat wrong. Amazon has far, far more data on moving books of all types in all niches at all price points at their disposal. If the question is how to maximize revenue through sales volume, Amazon is far more qualified to answer that question than Hachette, especially in the digital realm. Nor does Hachette have the right, as you put it, to determine the retail price to consumers. That’s called resale price maintenance (an uglier but more accurate term is vertical price fixing) and it can be in and of itself an antitrust violation. It’s also the crux of the matter that was behind the illegal collusion that cost them millions in damages. SCOTUS has opened a small door where these sorts of agreements can be legal if negotiated on a limited level (obviously not in collusion with several other publishers) but Amazon has no reason to acquiesce to such an offer to give up control of pricing in its own store, particularly when the intent is not to maximize revenue within it at all but minimize it to an extent in order to shield a different product line in a different class of retailers altogether. Hachette has to offer something tangible of value to get such concessions from Amazon (or anyone, really). I have little idea what that would be. And I doubt they do either or there wouldn’t be a dispute going on right now, nor would the collusion have happened. This is another area where they are resisting change; the reality that they don’t still possess the market power or negotiating leverage they once did. Basically, they’re over-playing their hand.

        As for contributing to the pool for authors, I do think the initial 50/50 split was fair. Hachette clearly entered into this expecting a long, protracted fight. They are less arguing for specific points as they are fighting an existential war over business models. Amazon, on the other side is fighting a similar fight. As such, Hachette knew going in that’s it’s authors would suffer during this and have done nothing to mitigate that. The same deal, by the way, was fair enough that MacMillan took them up on it in a previous negotiation. Even still, there’s nothing preventing Hachette from taking action in this regard irrespective of Amazon. They could have instituted some payments or temporarily higher royalties or what have you. Yes, they have a responsibility to try and get the best deal they can but, in the present case, their authors are absorbing more of the losses than they are. Hachette themselves stand to benefit from a better deal, likely far more so than their authors. Why haven’t they made some sort of effort to show authors they have some skin in the game and aren’t just going to let them die on the vine while they fight for a system where they’ll recoup those losses later and current authors are left holding the bag to support Hachette in this with no guarantee any such deal will even benefit them or make them whole. Hachette’s unwillingness to put it’s money where it’s mouth is with respect to its authors makes me very suspect about any actual concern they may have for specific authors as opposed to authors as little more than a class of suppliers that are largely interchangeable cogs. To be clear, if that’s their approach, so be it, but don’t combine that with rhetoric about caring and nurturing authors when they’re really just using them.

    • Until we do, I think you anti-Hachette stance is unfair and uninformed.

      Truly, the same could be said for any anti-Amazon stance, I suppose.

      But the overall point is that the authors who are currently fist-shaking at Amazon do not have a contract with Amazon. They delegated all distribution and retail responsibilities to Hachette. While Hachette has thus far upheld the basics of that responsibility (Hachette books are, after all, still available for purchase via Amazon), it has been unable or unwilling to come to an agreement that would provide its authors the additional retailer-provided perks of pre-orders, warehousing, and discounts.

      And Hachette has been most content to permit the fist-shaking. It keeps them from having to answer any questions.

      Authors spit at Amazon all the time while distributing their books through them. (I’ve said myself that Amazon is clearly not “my friend.”) Authors don’t fear Amazon will suddenly blacklist them for speaking up. The same cannot be said for publicly and angrily accusing publishers of wrongdoing.

      • Please see my latest reply to Dan immediately above. I think it generally covers any response I would make to you on the larger picture.

        More specifically, I agree that authors have delegated “all distribution and retail responsibilities to Hachette,” and I think that’s as it should be. I think it makes sense to delegate such responsibilities to a publisher with many decades of experience in the field. Furthermore, I trust that Hachette, as part of its responsibility, will protect its writers against unfair distribution and retail scenarios that third parties try to thrust upon it and its writers. As you noted, Hachette’s books aren’t completely unavailable, and that may well be a better situation for its writers than the terms that Amazon wants to implement. Until all the cards are publicly on the table (and I realize they may never be), I’m not ready to jump to the conclusion that Hachette is doing anything wrong. Right now, only Hachette and Amazon know everything that’s involved. Any conclusion that Hachette is somehow failing to “provide its authors the additional retailer-provded perks” is based on incomplete information and thus is an invalid analysis.

      • You’re a more trusting soul than I am. One area that comes to mind is deep discount clauses where publishers give retailers the big price break they want while preserving their cut with the writer absorbing the entire discount out of their cut. That’s certainly not an area where publishers are looking out for their writers in dealings with retailers. I tend to believe the best contracts are the ones where both parties know if they step out of line, they’ll be called on it. It’s not enough, in my mind, to just put the honus on Amazon but not ask difficult questions of Hachette as well when there is reasons to believe their hands aren’t any cleaner. According to Doug Preston, their writers are losing 50%-90% of their Amazon sales. I have a difficult time believing whatever Amazon’s offering, that’s it anywhere near as draconian as that. It may well be more in line with what Hachette ultimately wants, but if that’s the case, wouldn’t that seem to put the publisher and their writers’ interest at odds of sorts.

  5. I think that’s as it should be. I think it makes sense to delegate such responsibilities to a publisher with many decades of experience in the field.

    Alas, those decades of experience occurred under drastically different market conditions, and their performance during the last market shift (small bookstores to Big Box) did much to harm all but their bestselling writers.

    Furthermore, I trust that Hachette, as part of its responsibility, will protect its writers against unfair distribution and retail scenarios that third parties try to thrust upon it and its writers.

    While we might eventually agree on other points, this one I would not. I’ve heard from too many writers and listened to too many industry folks to trust a publisher to act in their authors’ best interest on most any matter. Most writers with a span of experience would feel the same way. That’s why the fear remains that Hachette will drop writers because their sales numbers during the Amazon dispute dropped. No one in the industry questions that outcome. It is simply accepted as fact that careers will be derailed, if not ended completely.

    Dropping writers due to low sales is not within the scope of Amazon’s power. That’s entirely the publisher’s decision. (And it would be, I should note, based much on the Borders/BN-motivated policies instituted during that last market shift I mentioned above.)

    As you noted, Hachette’s books aren’t completely unavailable, and that may well be a better situation for its writers than the terms that Amazon wants to implement.

    The terms under which an author is paid for his or her work are between the author and Hachette, not the author and Amazon. If Hachette wants better terms for its authors, it is free to provide them at any time via contract riders and the like. (For most authors, though, the most recent contract riders were the ones that locked ebook royalties as 25% of net.)

  6. A couple of points:

    You wrote, “… the fear remains that Hachette will drop writers because their sales numbers during the Amazon dispute dropped. No one in the industry questions that outcome. It is simply accepted as fact that careers will be derailed, if not ended completely.”

    It may be “accepted as fact,” but it’s not fact — at least not today. It hasn’t happened yet and to assume that it will is, at this time, erroneous. We can debate any point on the facts, but it is impossible — with any validity — to debate on conjecture. Let’s wait until it happens (or doesn’t) to debate how Hachette has treated its authors because of a decline in Amazon sales.

    And you wrote, “The terms under which an author is paid for his or her work are between the author and Hachette, not the author and Amazon. If Hachette wants better terms for its authors, it is free to provide them at any time via contract riders and the like.”

    Agreed. My point, though, is that if Hachette determines that a book has only a limited maximum number of sales because it’s geared strictly to a niche market and that it’s going to sell that number of copies regardless of whether it’s priced at $9.95 or $14.95, isn’t it Hachette’s responsibility to make sure the book sells at the higher price, regardless of outside pressure? The higher price will do better by both Hachette and the author. A forced lower price in such instances will screw the author as well as Hachette. And Amazon’s “one size fits all” philosophy would do exactly that!

    • It may not have happened yet but that doesn’t change the tangible fear bordering on acceptance from writers and most supporters of Hachette. That’s not coming from Amazon, or even me, it’s coming from people directly connected to the situation (or similar ones). My question was is Hachette unwilling to make assurances that they won’t do such things and, if not, why?

      Per the higher price point, again, I disagree that there’s a direct correlation between highest possible price and increased revenue. It may maximize the individual sale while lessening the totality of them, which is what I believe Hachette wants with regards to ebooks, hence the high price/low royalty stance and rhetoric about protecting hardcover sales. Again, this could be construed as another instance where the publushers interests and writers interests may diverge.

    • From what I have read, the dispute isn’t about setting a fixed price for ebooks or about setting a fixed discount. Hachette, or any other publisher, can set the price of ebooks as high or low as they see fit. It’s the discount that has to be negotiated. With the agency model (forced on Amazon during the Apple/big six agreements), only one discount is agreed to on all ebooks. Amazon wants to negotiate different discounts for different price ranges. Hachette demands one-discount-fits-all. It doesn’t matter whose side you are on, until Hachette negotiates terms, the dispute will go on.

      Of course, the DoJ may speed things along eventually and force some kind of agreement.

  7. Brad, despite our differences, you do make some good points to consider and I appreciate you stopping by for some discussion. I’ve always thought what someone believes is colored by the lens of their own experience, and we all have our own experiences to draw from. We may argue against other points of view, but if we don’t at least make an effort to understand where those positions are coming from, we lose in the end. So thank again for adding your perspective on things.

    And Blair, thank you, both for the great letter and your thoughtful comments here, as well. I always appreciate a good, passionate discussion! Thanks!

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