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Authors Beg Amazon for Mercy

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Authors United
P.O. Box 4790
Santa Fe, NM 87502
For information, email Douglas Preston
at doug@authorsunited.net
 

A Letter to Our Readers:

Amazon is involved in a commercial dispute with the book publisher Hachette , which owns Little, Brown, Grand Central Publishing, and other familiar imprints. These sorts of disputes happen all the time between companies and they are usually resolved in a corporate back room.

 

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.

 

As writers--most of us not published by Hachette--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. It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation. Moreover, by inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery, Amazon is contradicting its own written promise to be "Earth's most customer-centric company."

 

Many of us have supported Amazon since it was a struggling start-up. Our books launched Amazon on the road to selling everything and becoming one of the world's largest corporations. We have made Amazon many millions of dollars and over the years have contributed so much, free of charge, to the company by way of cooperation, joint promotions, reviews and blogs. This is no way to treat a business partner. Nor is it the right way to treat your friends. Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon, we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business. None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage. (We're not alone in our plea: the opinion pages of both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which rarely agree on anything, have roundly condemned Amazon's corporate behavior.)

 

We call on Amazon to resolve its dispute with Hachette without further hurting authors and without blocking or otherwise delaying the sale of books to its customers.

 

We respectfully ask you, our loyal readers, to email Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, at jeff@amazon.com, and tell him what you think. He says he genuinely welcomes hearing from his customers and claims to read all emails at that account. We hope that, writers and readers together, we will be able to change his mind.

Sincerely,

This advertisement was paid for by authors.
Authors United, P.O. Box 4790, Santa Fe, NM 87502

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Note: Authors United did not spend any money to have me post this letter here. (but I suspect most of you all would not better ;) )

 

I could not help but be particularly intrigued by this letter. The implication from reading it is that Amazon is the only book seller on planet Earth.

 

Unless I'm missing something, the most obvious solution is to tell readers to buy their books from another bookseller.  Maybe they could even suggest a local, Black owned independent bookstore as an alternative OK, I know I reaching with that last suggestion...

 

Where is B&N in all of this why are they not stepping up and picking up Amazon's slack?

 

This line was so pathetic it is laughable;

 

"...and over the years have contributed so much, free of charge, to the company by way of cooperation, joint promotions, reviews and blogs. This is no way to treat a business partner."

 

When writers write for free, for a wealthy corporation, they are being exploited (read point #5 in this article).  This is why Amazon's Goodreads is so successful and why Facebook makes billions.

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Here others wrote a letter to support Amazon

 


Petitioning Hachette

Stop fighting low prices and fair wages

 

Dear Readers,

 

Much is being said these days about changes in the book world, but not nearly enough is being said about the most important people in our industry. 

 

You. The readers. Without you there wouldn’t be a book industry.

 

We owe you so much, and we are forever in your debt. Thank you for reading late into the night. Thank you for reading to your children. Thank you for missing that subway stop, for your word of mouth, your reviews, and your fan emails. 

 

Thank you for seeking our books in so many ways—through brick and mortar stores, online, and in libraries. Thank you for enjoying these stories in all their forms—as digital books, paper books, and audiobooks. 

 

We wanted this letter to be brief, but the topic is complicated. There is so much misinformation to correct, we wound up taking it point-by-point.

 

But for those readers with limited time, here is the crux of our message to you:

 

New York Publishing once controlled the book industry. They decided which stories you were allowed to read. They decided which authors were allowed to publish. They charged high prices while withholding less expensive formats. They paid authors as little as possible, usually between 2% and 12.5% of the list price of a book.

 

Amazon, in contrast, trusts you to decide what to read, and they strive to keep the price you pay low. They allow all writers to publish on their platform, and they pay authors between 35% and 70% of the list price of the book.

 

You probably aren’t aware of this, but the majority of your favorite authors can’t make a living off their book sales alone. Very few authors could when New York Publishing was in charge. That is changing now that Amazon and other online retailers are paying authors a fair wage.

 

You may have heard that Amazon and Hachette are having a dispute about how books are sold. The details are complex, but the gist is this: Amazon wants to keep e-book prices affordable, and Hachette wants to keep them artificially high. Higher than for the paper edition of the same story.

 

The rest of this letter explains more of the details. It explains why a boycott of Amazon would mean hurting authors, Hachette and otherwise. It explains how your decisions have granted more authors their independence than we’ve had at any other time in human history. You’re welcome to read our points, but keep this one key item in mind:

 

Major publishers like Hachette have a long history of treating authors and readers poorly. Amazon, on the other hand, has built its reputation on valuing authors and readers dearly. The two companies didn’t simultaneously change directions overnight.

 

As book lovers, you may have noticed a lot of the recent media coverage about this dispute. Some of it might be confusing. Exactly who is fighting whom? Why are Stephen Colbert and James Patterson so angry? Why is Douglas Preston drafting a letter to convince you that Amazon is evil? Why does Scott Turow condemn Amazon, and why does the Authors Guild fear the company that sells more books for its authors than anyone else?

 

The reason for this anger is simple: Many in publishing blame Amazon for the natural and inevitable transition to online book sales. This same transition has happened with other forms of entertainment. Rather than innovate and serve their customers, publishers have been resisting technology. They could have invented their own Internet bookstores, their own e-readers, their own self-publishing platforms. Instead, fearing the future, they fought to protect the status quo.

 

At this moment, one of the largest publishers in the world, Hachette, is battling Amazon for control over book prices. In this war, Hachette is using its authors as emotional ammunition. Hachette wants to control the price of its titles and keep those prices high, while Amazon wants to keep those prices reasonable. You may not realize this, but when Amazon discounts books, authors (and Hachette) still get paid the full amount. Discounted Amazon books do not hurt authors or publishers at all. In fact, discounted Amazon books help authors and publishers sell in higher volume while earning publishers and authors the same per-unit amount.

 

By what is being reported in the media, it may seem like Amazon is restricting what readers can access. It may seem that they are marginalizing authors. The establishment media and many big name, multi-millionaire writers are out in full force to spread this propaganda. 

 

What they are saying simply isn’t true.

 

While we are saddened that writers and readers are being affected by the negotiations between these two corporations, Amazon is not the one to blame. The players that deserve your derision in this standoff are Hachette in particular, and the New York “Big Five” in general.

 

You may remember a story from a few years back about the five major publishers breaking the law and colluding to raise the prices you pay for your e-books. These publishers were ordered by the Department of Justice to pay millions in a settlement. Their intent was to price digital books high, stifle innovation, and limit your freedom to read as you see fit. The pressure for this change came from bookstores, from major publishers, and from other online retailers. Amazon fought valiantly, but when ganged up on by a collusive cartel, they had to relent. Fortunately, prosecutors rescued us from this price-fixing scheme, and digital books went back to a reasonable price.

 

Publishers have a long history of abusing their power. They function as an oligopoly rather than as competitors. They have a long track record of overcharging readers and underpaying authors, because they all agree to do so. 

 

Amazon has a long history of doing just the opposite. Amazon fights for readers by keeping prices low and concentrating on customer service and fast delivery. They make previously hard-to-find  books available to readers globally, and they offer a selection unsurpassed in the history of bookselling. They serve rural readers who never had a community bookstore in the first place.

 

You may have heard that Amazon is putting bookstores out of business, and this is true. The good news is that the bookstores going out of business were the ones that didn’t feel like bookstores. The big discount stores couldn’t compete with Amazon’s prices and selection, and they are going bankrupt. What you don’t often hear is that small independent bookstores have seen three straight years of steady growth. This is something we celebrate.

 

What we don’t celebrate is the tactics being used by Hachette, a publisher owned by the multi-billion dollar French company Lagardere. We don’t appreciate the misinformation being spread about their negotiations with Amazon. Hachette wants e-book prices to remain as high as possible. They have stated as much to their investors. Amazon wants e-books to be affordable, so that readers can stretch their hard-earned dollar.

 

All the complaints about Amazon should be directed at Hachette. It is Hachette who wants to charge you more while paying their authors less. 

 

Unfortunately for Amazon, a company that prides itself on customer service, a breakdown in negotiations has meant making decisions that are hard on customers and authors in the short run in order to fight for the rights of those same customers and authors in the long run. At stake here is how e-books are priced. If Amazon wins, e-books won’t cost much more than the mass market paperbacks they are rapidly replacing. If Hachette wins, you will be paying more for a digital book than you used to pay for a paperback. A digital book that you can’t pass along to a friend or sell back to a used bookstore.

 

High e-book prices are not good for readers, and they aren’t good for writers. But the negotiation terms are not the only misconception you’ll see bandied about. You may have heard that Amazon is making books unavailable. This simply isn’t true. Amazon has turned off pre-order buttons for Hachette’s books, as negotiations have broken down to the point that Amazon may not be able to fulfill those orders once the books in question are released. The books that are supposedly being made unavailable aren’t available for sale anywhere else because they aren’t out yet. These reports are complete fabrications.

 

You may also have heard that Amazon is delaying the shipment of Hachette’s books. Once again, this is not true. Amazon has stopped pre-stocking Hachette’s books in their warehouses, because the day may soon come when Amazon can no longer carry Hachette’s books. Why would they stock up on books they may no longer be able to sell? Amazon is still fulfilling Hachette orders. It is Hachette’s archaic delivery system that is the cause for the delay. Ask your local bookseller; they will tell you that orders from publishers can take two weeks or more to arrive.

 

Negotiations between publishers and retailers happen all the time. Recently, Simon & Schuster found itself in a similar deadlock with Barnes & Noble. Many authors were affected, but not by missing pre-order buttons or delayed shipments; their books simply weren’t carried at all. They were shut out completely.

 

There was little outrage or media coverage when readers couldn’t find the books they wanted at the largest chain of bookstores in the United States. But when Amazon tries to stick to its core values to keep prices low, they’re called a bully and a monopoly and a threat to Rich American Literary Culture. Does that make any sense at all?

 

The final misconception being thrown about is that Amazon is raising the prices of e-books. This is also not true. What Amazon is doing is charging the price that Hachette sets—prices that hurt sales and that authors hate as much as readers. No one wants to buy ebooks over $10. No one wants to buy hardcovers for $30. These are Hachette’s prices, not Amazon’s. Why would Amazon discount and promote titles it may no longer stock? Why isn’t the outcry directed at Hachette for pricing its e-books so high? Why is there no media coverage for all the measurable good that Amazon has done for the community of readers and writers?

 

Amazon pays writers nearly six times what publishers pay us. Amazon allows us to retain ownership of our works. Amazon provides us the freedom to express ourselves in more creative ways, adding to the diversity of literature. Unlike the New York “Big Five,” Amazon allows every writer access to their platform. Hachette believes you’ll read whatever Hachette tells you to, and rejects and dismisses many worthy writers. Amazon has built a business based on the belief that you, the reader, can make your own choices about what you want to read.

 

That is real freedom, of a sort readers and authors have never had before. While bookstores don’t have the capacity to carry every title available, that doesn’t forgive their refusal to carry self-published works and titles by Amazon-published authors. Amazon-published and self-published authors have been truly blacklisted, while Hachette authors equate missing pre-order buttons with having books removed from sale. Most self-published authors do not have pre-order buttons on Amazon, nor does Amazon regularly discount our books while paying us our full amount. We don’t complain about this. On the contrary, we rightfully believe Amazon has treated us better than any publisher ever has.

 

It’s painful to watch, dear reader, as you are subjected to so much self-serving industry and millionaire author propaganda. The New York “Big Five” devalues readers and authors alike. And now readers may be asked to boycott Amazon—the only company that has ever given all writers a chance to reach an audience, the company that gives all readers a chance to buy the books they love at reasonable prices.

 

Hachette is looking out for their own interests, not the interests of writers or readers. This approach is consistent with a long history of treating bookstores as customers, writers as chattel, and readers as non-entities. But we believe the Hachette approach is backwards. We know the only players who truly matter are the storytellers and their audience. That’s us. That’s you. We’re in this together.

 

While most of the major publishers are owned by large media giants, we are small business owners who work from our homes. While Hachette has TV personalities and millionaires taking out ads in major newspapers, we have only a chorus of voices and an appeal for sanity and clear thinking.

 

You may be urged to boycott Amazon. But a call to boycott Amazon is unavoidably a call to boycott authors who can’t get their books into other stores. Boycotting Amazon is unavoidably a call for higher e-book prices. Boycotting Amazon is preventing us from reaching you. It is an end to our independence.

 

The best way to support Hachette’s authors is by showing Hachette where you prefer to get your books. Let Hachette know that you agree with Amazon that e-books should not cost more than paperbacks. Help us urge Hachette to stop hurting its own writers. Help us urge them to agree to reasonable terms with Amazon.

 

It is fitting that Independence Day is upon us. Amazon has done more to liberate readers and writers than any other entity since Johannes Gutenberg refined the movable type printing press. With the advent of e-books and the ability to ship paper books to your doorstep in record time and at affordable prices, Amazon is growing overall readership while liberating the voices of countless writers, adding to the diversity of literature. A large percentage of the e-books sold on Amazon are from independent authors. You have validated our decision to write and to publish. Don’t let the wealthiest of writers convince you to turn away.

 

We urge you to support the company that supports readers and authors. Amazon didn’t ask us to write this letter, or sign it. Amazon isn’t aware that we’re doing this. Because in the end, this isn’t about Amazon. It’s about you, the reader, and the changes you’ve helped bring about with your reading decisions. You are changing the world of books, and you are changing our lives as a result.

 

(The unanticipated outpouring of support and the thousands of signatures in the last few days are greatly appreciated. Readers and writers alike have responded to what was organized as an open letter and has become a call for an end to this standoff. We hope our chorus of voices will help convince Hachette to negotiate on behalf of the best interests of its authors and its readers. As readers, we believe in reasonable prices for e-books. As writers, we believe in a fair share of e-book profits. And we all want an end to the harm being caused to Hachette's authors.)

 

Signed, concerned readers and writers.

 

Sign Petition

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The second later is perhaps worse than the first letter.  Maybe because it at almost 2,500 words it is 5 times as long as the first letter, and opens itself up to many more opportunities for critique.

 

I agree 100% with the first two sentences.  Readers fuel the industry.  All that noise about missing subway stops and reading to children confuses the issue.  It is the readers money everyone needs, Hachette (publishers), Amazon (book vendors), and authors.

 

The crux of the issue with these two letters, driven by authors, is where does each respective group of authors benefit the most financially.  Big time authors like Gladwell makes more money when Hachette gets it's way and the anonymous self-published authors feels they benefit when a big publishing is hurt.

 

From a business perspective I've made far more money from commissions on books sales from Amazon than I have from advertising from Hachette. 

 

However, Hachette's authors have taken out advertisements directly, and this is revenue I would never have realized if Hachette were not paying these authors.

 

The issues are complex.  Again I believe both of these group are moved by money more than benefit to readers...

 

The business models are horribly flawed from a readers perspective.  Especially for readers of Black literature.  While there a many more books being published today, which is a good thing for readers, there are virtually no physical stores to sells these books.  There are fewer websites focused on these books, so most of us are going directly to Amazon to buy our books. 

 

Once you are at Amazon, Amazon is not exactly "selling" books, they are handling the transaction.  Amazon handles these transactions brilliantly--which is why they are doing so well.  But you better know what book you want when you go to Amazon otherwise you'll overwhelmed and end up buying a book you will not like.

 

The prices Amazon sells book for has little to do with the costs associated with producing those books.  The cost associated with self-publishing a book are entirely different than a book published by a major publisher. 

 

Does this mean books published by a major house are better than those published by a self-published author?  The answer is yes.  Are there exceptions to this?  Of course, but the editorial process alone makes books published by major houses better, in general.

 

Historically, our problem with the major publishers is that they generally don't publish enough books by Black writers or with Black characters.   As more pressure is put on major publishers does anyone think they will publish more books written by Black writers? 

 

Amazon sells books at a loss. While this is a great strategy to garner market share it is not a sustainable business model.  Everyone so vigorously supporting Amazon's prices will be really upset when Amazon's prices increase to reflect the actual costs.

 

Amazon has already killed other booksellers, booksellers with deep products knowledge, who could actually hand sell a book, and create more demand which would generally drive publishers to produce similar products. There is simply less demand for Black books in this type of environment.

 

Did anyone notice there have not been any novels, written by  Black writers, on the NY Times bestsellers list for the last three months.

 

Even individual authors interested in making money will have to eventually charge more than 99 cents for an ebook. 

 

The other factor is value there are some ebooks that are not worth 99 cents and others that are worth much more. 

 

There is no apparent correlation between a book's price on Amazon and the book's cost of production and quality of writing.

 

Both letters ignore all of these issues.

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I found this message here: http://readersunited.com/ I don't know if it is actually from the Amazon's Books Team, but it reads like it could be legit

_______________________________

 

A Message from the Amazon Books Team

 

Dear Readers,

 

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents — it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

 

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution — places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if "publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them." Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

 

Well… history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

 

Fast forward to today, and it's the e-book's turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette — a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate — are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there's no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market — e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

 

Perhaps channeling Orwell's decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn't only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette's readers.

 

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will "devalue books" and hurt "Arts and Letters." They're wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

 

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that's 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

 

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell's interest to suppress paperback books — he was wrong about that.

 

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: "Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors" (the comments to this post are worth a read). A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled "Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages," garnered over 7,600 signatures. And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran's recent interview is another piece worth reading.

 

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we "just talk." We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette's normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

 

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We'd like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

 

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com
Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

 

Please consider including these points:

  • We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
  • Lowering e-book prices will help — not hurt — the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
  • Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon's offers to take them out of the middle.
  • Especially if you're an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

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