Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Authors Still United Against Amazon

Last month I wrote a number of posts about Amazon’s controversial business  practices and the dispute they are having with Hachette Book Group:  

A newly formed group, Authors United Against Amazon, consisting of nearly 1,000 authors, took out two full-page ads in a recent edition of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. The leader of that organization, bestselling author Douglas Preston, gave an exclusive interview to BookMarketingBuzzBlog. Here is what he has to say:

1.      What kind of reaction have you gotten from your double-page NYT ads about the Hachette-Amazon dispute?  We had a tremendous reaction. I think people and the media in general are starting to realize how Amazon is damaging the livelihood of thousands of authors, who have nothing to do with this dispute, but sanctioning their books and using them as leverage. When you threaten the ability of people to support their families and pay their mortgages, you should expect a strong reaction. I don't think we authors are doing anything that other people wouldn't do when faced with an existential attack from a giant corporation.

2.      What kind of resolution do you believe will take place? My hope is that we can resolve this amicably. We're not against Amazon, nor are we for Hachette. We're not taking sides. We would like to see everyone kiss and make up. We are merely asking Amazon to please not sanction books and hurt authors by using them as leverage in this dispute. Amazon, one of the largest corporations in the world, has other negotiating tools at its disposal than targeting books and authors. Amazon could end these sanctions tomorrow--and we urge them to--while continuing to negotiate with Hachette.

3.      What trends/changes do you see for the book industry coming up? I think Amazon has done a great service to the industry by establishing and expanding the self-publishing model, which has given many writers a voice. But what Amazon may not realize is that traditional publishing houses perform a vital role in our society. Publishers provide venture capital for ideas. They advance money to authors, giving them the time and freedom to write their books. This is especially important for nonfiction writers, who must quit their jobs to travel, research and write a book.    These advances are not given out of charity: the publishers assume the risk and they expect—and get—a financial return. What will Amazon replace that with? How, in the Amazon model, will a young author get funding to pursue a promising idea? Indie publishing and traditional publishing should be able to exist side by side. And indeed all authors--indie and traditional--need to come together, because we're all in the same leaky boat.

4.      How can Barnes and Noble or independent bookstores or even Apple take back the book market from Amazon? Apple is doing fantastic things with its iBookstore, including offering a self-publishing model that actually pays a higher royalty to authors in many instances than the Amazon model. They have a great interface. They need to expand this interface beyond the Apple universe, so that iBooks can be read on any device, from an Android phone to a PC. Barnes and Noble offers a great website. And last but surely not least, independent bookstores are important to our towns and cities. I used to take my kids into an independent bookstore and let them browse through the kids' section. They would spend hours in there. Teaching kids to love books is a fundamental responsibility of a parent. You can't do that online -- kids have to see and handle the books. And independent bookstores offer book signings, author talks, book clubs, and autographed books. The online world can't offer that.

5.      What can be done by the industry or authors to push more print book sales? I think people are going to choose their favorite interface and I don't see good ways to try to steer people to one or the other. I am happy whenever anyone is reading a book--whether electronic or physical.

6.      Do you expect to see more consolidation within the book publishing industry? I'm not smart enough to predict how the industry will react to these rapid changes.

7.      How are you, as an author, working through the dispute as it relates to your own existing or upcoming books? It's very discouraging to see my own sales drop 60 to 90% at Amazon, and 30% overall. That hurts. But I have an audience, and I'm going to be okay. The people who are being devastated by Amazon's sanctions are the debut and struggling midlist authors, who are seeing their hopes, careers, and dreams being absolutely crushed. Real people are being hurt. Authors are not toasters and television sets. Amazon has built a fine reputation as an innovative company, but how long will that last if it continues to target the literary community with sanctions, every time it runs into negotiating difficulties with a publisher?

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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