My Only Words on the Amazon/Hachette Fiasco

My Only Words on the Amazon/Hachette Fiasco

It’s like I’ve got a helicopter.

I’m flying over a stadium, maybe something like a Roman arena. Below me, traditionally published lions claw at spearmen emblazoned with lowercase alphas upon their tunics. They circle one another, lunge, thrust, pawing, tearing flesh, piercing skin, skewering, blood and limbs and entrails everywhere. And I’ve got my little mini-hybrid publishing helicopter, flying above it all, immune to their rage. No matter which side wins, my helicopter will still fly, because I’ve gone and done the hard work of building relationships with the parts vendor, the fuel people and the repairmen and women. Neither the spearmen nor the lions care that I exist, circling a few hundred meters above their heads. They’re busy tearing each other apart.

Like my metaphor?

In case you’ve been living under a publishing rock, about nine hundred authors bought a full page ad in the New York Times in the hopes of encouraging Amazon to stop blocking/delaying/unpromoting their books. In response, Amazon has launched a counter offensive. They sent an email to me (and apparently everyone else who uploads ebooks to their platform), encouraging authors to email Hachette and tell them what nasty, law-breaking elitists they all are.

In case you didn’t hear it, the sound of me rolling my eyes and groaning permeated that last paragraph.

So, I guess, sure. I’ll write some letters. I don’t think it’s quite what Amazon intended, though.

Dear Amazon,

No. You don’t get to decide what prices “make sense.” You want to talk about colluding to fix the marketplace? Well, you’re now so big that you don’t need to collude. You just need to apply price fixing to your own system, and you’ll have achieved fixing of the marketplace.

There is no solution to this state of things short of massive political reform to suck the monetary might out of corporate giants like you, and that will not happen in this country’s near future thanks to firmly ingrained libertarian ideology.

Under the current state of things, the way that we achieve not having fixed prices is by you, Amazon, not fixing them. You are the vendor. You should let the publishers decide the price, then you get to sell at a discount if you want to take the hit. You should not be allowed to force a producer of goods to sell products to you for less. That is the essence of price fixing.

For more on this topic, see the intelligent and eloquent Chuck Wendig.

Zack Bonelli

Dear Hachette,

You’re right. Amazon is kind of big and gross and throwing its weight around and making your life miserable. However, I have to admit, I kind of feel like you had it coming. You’re one of the “big five.” You’ve followed a corporate ideology of buying up smaller publishers to become mega-huge so you can operate on lower profit margins and smash little guys like me out of the market. So really, Amazon has just outsmarted you at your own game. You’ll have to excuse me for having not much sympathy for you.

But this is not a lost cause. There are important lessons to be learned here. You can rise and thrive still. Here’s what you should be learning from this situation: The game you’ve created is toxic. Fix it.

You mostly have right on your side. The kind of book ecosystem you want is probably objectively better than Amazon’s. But you’ve got to fix some of your practices, mostly around the way you treat your authors. The fact that you’re willing to use your signed authors as bargaining collateral in your negotiations against Amazon (by letting their books just sit there, pseudo-blacklisted) is kinda… icky. I can’t imagine ever treating an author I signed that way. But the state of business has given Amazon all the levers. Your lever is your authors, and it’s not nice of you to pull it.

The only real solution, to my mind, would be political reform that breaks up and divides corporate organizations so that none of them is big enough to fix the market, alone or together. Shoot for that, encourage that, and then you’ll have my sympathy and support.

Zack Bonelli

I’m going to go back to developing and maintaining my helicopter.

Title Image © Shutterstock


  • August 9, 2014

    I haven’t published anything with Amazon, yet I too woke up to find that Amazon Hachette email in my inbox. I think it is totally bizarre email and I was scratching my head about it all morning. I read Chuck’s post about it, and I agree with everything you and he are saying.

  • August 12, 2014

    Just like every other great business that started small, Amazon and Hachette have lost sight of their original ideals. Now that money, rather than principles, are their focus, neither care about what happens to the little guys. It’s up to us to help each other build our helicopters and fly over the arena, laugh at the monsters tearing each other apart, and enjoy our own journey and cheer on our fellow pilots. We’ll succeed without them because we’re focused on helping PEOPLE, not ourselves.

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