Thursday, October 16, 2014

Eisler & Konrath & Patterson... Again

Barry sez: Well, James Patterson is at it again, issuing alarums from the sumptuous grounds of his bazillion-dollar mansion about how Amazon Must Be Stopped lest Jeff Bezos fulfill his evil plan to usher in The End of Days and yada yada yada. Joe’s been doing yeoman’s work for a long time in keeping up with these Pattersonian pontifications -- see here and here and here and here and here, so naturally I asked him to join me in tackling Patterson’s latest, a video interview with The Telegraph.

In a weird way, this interview is probably Patterson’s most interesting outing to date because he actually goes full circle through the stupid and winds up demonstrating that he’s for everything he’s been saying he’s against. We've transcribed what he said so we can comment on it. Joe and I in normal font; Patterson in italicized crazy.

James Patterson: This thing of comparing his company to cheetahs, and pouncing on wounded gazelles, and those are publishers, I don't think that's a great idea. And you have to say if it looks like a cheetah and it bites like a cheetah it's probably a cheetah. I'm not sure if that's the optimum for companies in this country.

Joe sez: So never play a game of Parker Brother's Monopoly with Amazon... because they're cheetahs.

Bad pun aside, let's talk about making money as a retailer. Bezos famously said, "Your margin is my opportunity." There is so much waste in legacy publishing that it was low-hanging fruit for a smart upstart to come in and feast on the giant margins.

Publishers are middlemen. They can be disintermediated. They may not like this--I can't think of any prey animal that enjoys predation--but that's the law of the jungle, folks. For decades, writers were the ones preyed upon. Now the Big 5 have gotten a taste of what it's like to be on the losing end of a power dynamic, and their top authors don't like it. So they've begun an ingenious media campaign that revolves around calling Amazon a meanie.

Newsflash: It isn't a company's job to bolster competition, or prop-up suppliers.

Authors United seems convinced that Amazon needs the Big 5, and their books. But Amazon has shown it can get 500,000 titles in Kindle Unlimited without major publisher support.

When big shots like Patterson keep spouting off in the media, they're showing how scared they really are. Patterson's interview here is akin to a pufferfish, inflating itself and trying to act intimidating so it doesn't get eaten. Look at me! I'm fearsome and powerful!

Right...

Patterson: In that respect (Amazon/Hachette) I think Jeff has done a bad thing to hurt writers. I'm fine, obviously. But a lot of writers really depend on those, you know, the back list.

Joe sez: Only the ones that earn out their advance depend on their back list to make royalties. But how many actually earn out?

It occurs to me that some Hachette authors may not be hurting financially right at this moment. They aren't making royalties anyway. So how are they losing money?

Mike Shatzkin likes to argue that big advances actually mean authors are earning royalties higher than 25% of net, because their books never earn out. If that's true, should it matter to the writer if sales are down? The writer pockets the advance, the book isn't supposed to earn out according to Shatzkin, then the writers sells another book and makes another advance that won't earn out.

To quote the Shatz:

"Only authors who sell their books to publishers without competitive bids (which indicates either “no agent” or “limited appeal generated by the proposal”) are living on that 25% royalty."

So who's right? Shatzkin or Patterson?

Neither. Only a few writers can live off their advances, and many never earn royalties above those advances, even when the advances are meager.

However, this is just me playing devil's advocate, because some writers do depend on those twice-a-year royalty checks. But Jeff Bezos isn't the one preventing those writers from making money. Amazon has no contracts with Hachette writers. Amazon doesn't have a contract with Hachette, either, but continues to sell Hachette titles.

Writers signed a contract with Hachette because they valued Hachette as a business partner, and one of Hachette's most valuable attributes is its ability to distribute books. When Hachette isn't able to come to terms with the largest bookseller on the planet, and sales are falling as a result, Hachette is failing its authors.

In a previous comment on my blog, former attorney John Ellsworth said:

"Implied in the publishing contract is the requirement of acting in good faith. Right now, it could be argued that publishers appear to be hurting their own authors by representing their own interests (higher profits) ahead of authors' interests (sales platform) by failing to contract with Amazon. This could support a claim for bad faith by author v. publisher, which could result in damages and could result in a breach being declared such that the author can then take steps to acquire what is called "cover" for oneself, which is law talk for mitigation of damages. Mitigation could take the form of self-publishing."

It seems obvious the guilty party here is Hachette. And I hope some Hachette authors hire an attorney and pursue a bad faith claim.

But rather than address that very real issue, Patterson et al keep flapping their gums about the evils of Amazon. They use fear words. Absurd arguments. Propaganda. Nonsensical appeals to emotion. Ineffectively use the media. They avoid the actual problem, and its possible solutions. But their whining isn't working. In fact, many are calling it out as the nonsense it is.

Amazon needs to be stopped? Check out this Washington Post article by David Post which shows otherwise. (It's literally a post in the Post by Post).

Amazon is a monopoly? No, it isn’t, writes Maxwell S. Kennerley, Esquire, on the Litigation & Trial website.

Amazon plays rough? So what? writes Joe Nocera in a New York Times op-ed piece.

Amazon is what's wrong with American capitalism? Actually, it’s what’s right, writes Reihan Salam in Slate.

Is Jeff Bezos really the bad guy in this dispute? Alex Beam of the Boston Globe says no.

The media coverage of Amazon/Hachetter is fairly balanced? Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of the New York times, thinks not.

This isn't only bloggers like me and Barry and Hugh Howey and Courtney Milan calling out the bullshit we see. Even the establishment media is reporting what’s really going on.

Patterson: It can put them out of business or ruin their families… I understand the strategy, although it hasn’t worked, that they would put pressure on the publishers… attacking writers…

Joe sez: First of all, for the eyerollingeth time, Amazon isn't attacking writers.

It has tried, three times, to compensate writers so they aren't caught in the negotiations.

How is Amazon supposed to negotiate with a supplier--one it currently doesn't have a contract with--unless it applies some pressure? Hachette sells books on Amazon.com, and wants fast shipping and pre-order pages and discounting on paperbacks. Amazon wants the ability to discount ebooks, which is normal; almost all retailers set the prices of the things they sell. Hachette doesn't want Amazon to discount their ebooks, because it will accelerate the downfall of their paper distribution oligopoly.

That's what's happening. No authors are being attacked, boycotted, disappeared, censored, banned, or sanctioned.

Second, the reason publishers aren't feeling pressured is because super-rich bestsellers like Patterson keep flapping their gums in the media, emboldening Hachette to hold out.

Maybe if Patterson and Preston and the rest of Authors United and the Authors Guild actually tried to pressure Hachette, this would all be over.

But Patterson and Preston want the paper cartel to continue, because it makes them assloads of money.

Patterson: Throughout the history of the world, getting into religious wars by powerful countries or organizations does not seem to work. It didn’t work in Iraq, it didn’t work in Afghanistan, it’s not working in Syria, it didn’t work in Ireland. Amazon in attacking writers has created a religious war. Writers are religious about books, and they’ll take the punches, they’ll take the blows, and they’ll use whatever they have to do. They are not going to let books get hurt in this country.

Barry sez: I don’t want to make too much of Patterson’s analogy, but I will say it’s a little odd that he’s comparing writers (or the ones at Authors United, at any rate) to jihadis, mujahadeen, the IRA, and others the USG calls terrorists. But I guess one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and all that.

Joe sez: So Patterson thinks this is an actual ideological movement? For whom? The .001% of wealthy writers, and those with Bookholm Syndrome who want to join that exclusive club?

Barry sez: I know it’s weird, but at least there’s some humor here. Because it’s typically the self-published writers who are accused of being ideological. Meanwhile it’s always the establishment writers who bring in the religious references.

So, shorter James Patterson: “Publishing. It’s not just a business. It’s a religion.”

Joe sez: I want to see Patterson really prove that this is a religious war for him, since he brought up the analogy. If Patterson demanded that Hachette remove his books from Amazon, it could function as the equivalent of a suicide bombing; hurting the enemy while killing yourself in the process.

Do you have the stones to do that, Mr. Patterson?

Actually, that doesn't take any courage. Patterson is financially set for life. He could never sell another book, and still be rich.

But how many of the other Authors United signatories could say the same? How many need to fall on their swords to prove…

What exactly are they proving? That Hachette should be able to keep the prices of ebooks high?

Patterson: So Amazon has attacked a group, that, it’s small and I don’t think writers have really turned up the heat yet, but we could… one of the things we could do is literally come out and ask for a ban.

Barry sez: Holy “Writers Literally Calling For Book Bans,” Batman!

Okay, okay, just giving Patterson a hard time. I don’t think he really means what he says. What he seems to be threatening isn’t so much a ban as it is a boycott. Or call it a “direct targeting,” or “sanctioning,” or “disappearing” books and authors, or any of the other nonsense terms Authors United and their media enablers throw around as though English were a second language they tried to learn while focusing most of their energies on sniffing glue.

Joe sez: I'm unclear if he's suggesting customers boycott Amazon, or authors boycott Amazon. I don't think either would work.

Patterson: It’s come up with a lot of writers. One, we could all take our books off Amazon… if myself and all the Hachette authors and then all the authors who are sympathetic, which range from Stephen King and John Grisham to Philip Roth… if everybody’s saying they’re doing a wrong thing here, you would think that would mean something.

Joe sez: It does mean something. It means rich authors don't want the gravy train to end, so obviously Amazon is bad.

Barry sez: Can anyone explain what Patterson is doing other than suggesting books be made harder to find until a troublesome distributor capitulates?

Hmmm… now why does that sort of thing sound familiar?

Oh, that’s right, because it’s exactly what Authors United, within which Patterson is a prominent voice, purports to decry. As the organization so eloquently puts it:

Our point is simple: we believe it is unacceptable for Amazon to impede or block the sale of any books as a negotiating tactic.”

“We appeal to you [Amazon board of directors], with hope and goodwill, to exercise your governance and put an end to the sanctioning of books, which are the very foundation of our culture and democracy.”

And this:

“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.”

“None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage.”

“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.”


“Currently, Amazon is making it difficult to order many books from Little, Brown and Grand Central, which affects readers of authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, Nicholas Sparks, Michael Connelly, me, and hundreds of others whose living depends on book sales. What I don’t understand about this particular battle tactic is how it is in the best interest of Amazon customers.

I haven’t seen something this hypocritically self-indulgent since Stephen Colbert urged Amazon customers to stop buying other authors’ books until Amazon agreed to ship his more quickly.

Yes, I recognize the easy rejoinder: “But Barry, it’s different when authors voluntarily remove their books from a retail channel as opposed to the retailer not offering preorder buttons, reducing its inventory, and otherwise not making it as easy as possible for readers to find the title in question at that retailer.”

I’d call that a distinction without a difference. Either way, aren’t books being “suppressed” and “sanctioned” and “disappeared” and all that? Aren’t readers inconvenienced either way? Aren’t the very foundations of western culture threatened either way?

Actually, there is a distinction. Every one of Patterson’s and all other Hachette authors’ books are available on Amazon. Yes, some of them aren’t as easy to order there without preorder buttons etc, but charges of a “boycott” etc are a massacre of plain English. But what Patterson is proposing would be a real boycott, with books being outright unavailable through Amazon. Wouldn’t that be worse than anything Amazon is charged with doing?

Joe sez: Hint: yes.

Barry sez: Now personally, I find the Pattersonian and Authors United arguments to be bullshit. Joe and I have repeatedly asked Authors United what they propose a retailer do -- beyond outright capitulation -- when it can’t come to terms with a supplier. No one from the organization has ever responded. And that’s because there is no response. When a retailer and supplier can’t come to terms, the retailer typically stops selling the supplier’s wares (in this sense, Amazon is being extraordinarily kind to Hachette; after all, it’s still selling Hachette’s goods even though the parties’ contract has expired). That’s the way of the world, and you’d have to be neurotically narcissistic to imagine you’re so special you’re somehow immune from it.

But what interests me, as always, is when truth bleeds through the bullshit. What Patterson unintentionally demonstrated in his interview is that he and Authors United don’t particularly care about whether readers are inconvenienced by books being harder to find on Amazon. They don’t even particularly care whether books are available through Amazon at all. If they believe making books unavailable to readers might gain them leverage, they’re more than happy to do it.

Given the incoherence of their underlying position, the hypocrisy doesn’t surprise me so much. What surprises me is that anyone is still taking these bozos remotely seriously.

Joe sez: So, in essence, Patterson finds the death penalty to be inhumane and reprehensible, so he's going to hang everyone who supports the death penalty.  

Am I right? He whines that his books aren't available on Amazon, so his solution is to make his books unavailable on Amazon?

It's a pufferfish bluff.

Barry sez: I wouldn’t even call it that. Did you see how fast he backpedaled when the interviewer said, “If you were take your books off Amazon, that could change something”?

Joe sez: As a thought experiment, let's say he's serious. Let's imagine his titles no longer appear on Amazon.

Will Kindle owners and Amazon shoppers, en masse, abandon their ebook reading devices and favorite online bookstore so they can find Patterson's latest release elsewhere?

Or will they not bother and instead one-click some other thriller?

I suggest Mr. Patterson perform an experiment. Are you reading this, Jim? Remove just one of your titles from Amazon, and then see if your sales go up proportionately on other platforms. If they do, it shows readers will follow you.

Stop the chest thumping and do it. Actually make a stand, since this is so important to you.

And be sure to let us know how that turns out.

P.S. Did you know that in 2010, during negotiations over digital pricing, Penguin withheld digital books from Amazon? Those unconscionable, bullying, boycotting, sanctioning, disappearing, directly-targeting, culture-killing, monopolistic monsters! Oh, the humanity...

70 comments:

Smart Debut Author said...

Hey Patterson and the rest of you Assclowns United...

It's time to nut up or shut up.

Pull your books off Amazon if you've got the stones.

I dare you. I double-dog dare you.

… *crickets* ...

Yeah. That's what I thought.

Hairhead said...

Seriously, I wonder if Hachette et al. are spreading money around -- there are SO MANY of these anti-Amazon screeds spread through many media, and all of them saying the same, factually wrong things!

This is an organized media blitz, no doubt about it. But I somehow think that the AntiChrist -- er, Jeff Bezos (personal current net worth $80 billion) -- might not be intimidated.

David Darracott said...

James Patterson's novels appear in just about every drugstore, grocery store, airport, Walmart, news stand, discount house, chain store, and book store in America, along with most every other retail outlet you can name that sells printed books.

Yet my books and the books of thousands of other writers are in none of those stores. Apparently that isn't enough for him.

He would prefer that the one bookseller who gives us a fair shake also be controlled by the same multi-billion dollar New York conglomerates who maintain a stranglehold on all those retail outlets.

Those who rant against the evils of Amazon complain about limited access to book buyers. They apparently think the future of the world depends on denying the marketplace to others, with absolute access for themselves.

Jeff Ezell said...

ROFL. Y'all nail them, complete with documented references, while the comical farce continues with the Big 5 and Arsclowns United sputtering dialog exposing their sinking ship, taking on more water. Cold icy water. Will AU abandon ship? Go down with the ship like loyal captains of authorship? They can't see through the fog to realize the Joe-Barry Iceberg is dead ahead and not moving.

Readers rule. Who thinks readers give a damn who published the book they want to read? SILENCE! Hmmm...They read the story product the author's creativity has produced. Write on!

Anonymous said...

Hachette authors have been losing a lot of sales and now that the holiday season is near,they will lose many more. No wonder they are desperate and their media minions are ratcheting up the rhetoric.

Patricia Lynne said...

I can't get over the whole religious war bit. Really? Although, when my hubby watched the video (he's not an author; just a computer programmer) he said it was nothing but appealing to emotion. Which I found a bit interesting that he quickly came to that. He doesn't read this blog and isn't following this mess (mostly because he doesn't care. *gasp* He is a reader and he doesn't care for the drama I've told him about. He gets that it's a contract negotiation and not a war against books) so he only knows what I've told him and that's not much. It makes me wonder how many other people have come to the same conclusion as him.

Anonymous said...

Patterson seems to be utterly clueless as to how badly he embarrassed himself in that interview--hell, it embarrassed me just to see it!

Religious war?!

How much worse can this get? It's like watching a train-wreck in slow motion: sickening, but you can't look away.

Curtis Manges

antares said...

Patterson finds the death penalty to be inhumane and reprehensible, so he's going to hang everyone who supports the death penalty.

Am I right? He whines that his books aren't available on Amazon, so his solution is to make his books unavailable on Amazon?


LOL funny. Holy Hypocrisy, Batman!

Terrence OBrien said...

Removing books by Patterson, Stephen King, John Grisham and Philip Roth would be a great experiment. Go for it.

Would millions follow the authors to B&N, Kobo, and Apple? If so, that would create competition for Amazon and go a long way in preserving books, culture, and literacy itself.



Libby Hellmann said...

I am appalled that Patterson could do that interview with a straight face.

"Amazon" is attacking authors? It's a "religious war?" Jeff has done a "bad thing?"

Can you say "Newspeak?" Oh wait, that was 1984. Or was it?

antares said...

Throughout the history of the world, getting into religious wars by powerful countries or organizations does not seem to work.
Oh, so that is the reason that half the world still worships Baal, huh?

James Patterson does not know shit about religious wars. Rome exterminated Carthage. In a century, Islam spread from Indonesia to Spain, carried by the sword. His premise is false.

You can prove anything if you can make up your facts as you need them when you need them.

Alan Tucker said...

I asked Doug Preston in email what Amazon could do to pressure Hachette without hurting the authors in the process. This was his response:

Of course Amazon, one of the largest companies in the world, has negotiating tools at its disposal besides hurting authors. For one thing, they have an outsize voice, hundreds of millions of loyal customers, and a respected corporate brand.

Huh? So they're supposed to wield their "respected corporate brand" at Hachette to strike fear into the enemy? I'm sure that's worked for Jobs, Gates, Trump, or any other successful business man in the past. "Behold, my respected corporate brand! Cower before me, infidels!"

So, yes, we at AU can't use logic to form an argument. Next step? Invoke religion!

Anonymous said...

My fear is that self-published authors may become pawns in this battle. They depend on lower prices to sell, and if legacy prices are lowered, they may not be able to compete on quality for the majority of their offerings.

Anonymous said...

Joe, honestly, if you want to maintain some credibility, you should probably stop with the "Amazon has offered to compensate Hachette authors" BS. Seriously, it's right out of the Standard Oil playbook. But maybe you don't see that as a negative.

Terrence OBrien said...

Standard Oil bought up lots of smaller oil companies. Many of the sellers just moved down the road, drilled some more, and sold again to Standard. They liked it because they were very well compensated for their effort. It's a pretty interesting playbook.

Anonymous said...

Terrence, that's certainly one way of looking at Standard Oil practices. Another is that consumers liked the lower prices. Doesn't tell the whole story of why the Supreme Court stepped in, though.

Anonymous said...

Jesus, this bullshit again?

Jim Self said...

Joe,

It's been great to see other major media outlets comment on the story with more sensible arguments. I think Patterson and AU have already run out of steam. Their "big guns" came out recently when they... sent letters to Amazon's board of directors! Talk about anticlimactic. So now Patterson is swinging his follow-up punch: an interview with The Telegraph! Dun dun DUUUUUUUN!!!

Hopefully the fisking is getting less stressful and more enjoyable.

SJArnott said...

Joe: "As a thought experiment, let's say he's serious. Let's imagine his titles no longer appear on Amazon.

Will Kindle owners and Amazon shoppers, en masse, abandon their ebook reading devices and favorite online bookstore so they can find Patterson's latest release elsewhere?

Or will they not bother and instead one-click some other thriller?"

I think the idea that Amazon is successful because it provides a 'universal' service (ie stocks the vast majority of titles available) is a myth.

Back in the day, I used to frequent my local bookstore (till it was bought out by a large chain, which was then bought out by an even larger chain, which then closed it). But I didn't go to that store because it offered me every title on the planet, I went there because it was convenient and it offered me a decent selection.

Matt said...

Anonymous said...
Joe, honestly, if you want to maintain some credibility, you should probably stop with the "Amazon has offered to compensate Hachette authors" BS


So a fund to compensate Hachette authors split 50:50 by Amazon and Hachette is BS? And of the 3 separate compensation proposals Amazon has made Hachette has rejected them all and come up with zero alternatives, and that's not BS?

Whatever you're smoking, lay off for a while.

Alan Spade said...

I agree with Matt, Hachette should at least have come up with an alternative. Even if Amazon's offers are disingenuous, Hachette is also disingenuous with its authors by not making any other proposal.

Terrence said: "Would millions follow the authors to B&N, Kobo, and Apple? If so, that would create competition for Amazon and go a long way in preserving books, culture, and literacy itself."

Exactly. If Amazon is a monster, bestsellers and big publishing houses are the first ones to feed it. Their current stance couldn't be more hypocritical. Perhaps they would be accused of collusion if they were taking off their books from Amazon together, but they should do that house by house, during the course of the negociations. I think we have reached the limits of all the whining and threatening.

Arphaxad said...

I love the part of the interview where the interviewer asks Patterson if he will pull his books, essentially calls out Patterson on the spot, and all the magnificent James Patterson, the master of words, could say was "but, but, but..." and then squirm under some other hot button words.

Don't make threats that you yourself are not willing to back up with action.

I think James Patterson has done great things to encourage children to read, it saddens me to see him exposed for the corporate flunky that he is.

Anonymous said...

Matt, Amazon is willing to take losses on their ebook business, so let's not view their offer to compensate Hachette authors as anything other than a public relations ploy. Lee Child made some excellent points here the other day about pricing and the free market. But people thought he was being overly competitive, unfair and mean-spirited. Some vowed to boycott his books. Too bad Lee's not a company. Then he'd find some love here.

Arphaxad said...

Anonymous = Troll

Please don't feed the trolls.

Alan Spade said...

I don't know if anonymous is a troll, but Lee Child was in favor of Hachette declaring 2014 a blank year for its authors, so Hachette should sign its authors for other contracts even if they had losses due to the negociating process.

I think that would be the minimum for Hachette to do, but so far, they haven't made any statement regarding their authors. Their bad.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot that traditional publishers get wrong, and Joe, Barry and Hugh understand this very well. Not sure why so many here buy into the "AU writers are all stupid, elitist 1% trolls" line of thinking.

Joe Konrath said...

Standard Oil, huh? I've opined on this before.

Godzilla and King Kong are duking it out on the streets of NY. Citizens are getting trampled, and their property is being destroyed.

Godzilla says, "If King Kong agrees, we'll move all the people out of harm's way, and each chip in half for all the damage we cause."

King Kong says, "Nah."

And we should blame Godzilla? Seriously?

The Big 5 are the price-fixing cartel here, akin to OPEC. Amazon has introduced competition into their old boys club, and they don't like it.

SJArnott said...

I never understood why people are so negative about Amazon's offer.

As I understand it, Amazon offered to give up its 30% on the Hachette ebooks it sold, the suggestion being that Hachette then give all that money directly to the authors.

I'm guessing that Hachette's objection was that they'd be losing 70% of revenue (less whatever percentage they'd be paying the author anyway) compared to Amazon's 30%.

I'll also guess that Hachette didn't match the offer for the following reasons:

1) assuming author royalties on ebooks as 25%, then 100 - 25+30+30 would leave Hachette with only 15% of revenue. Which is worth it or not, depending on the value of the PR and maintaining good author relations (not worth it, as it turned out).
2) they'd be following Amazon's lead, which wouldn't look good.
3) it might underline how much Hachette authors could be making under a 70% royalty regime.

Perhaps these are all good business reasons for turning down the deal, but to say that Amazon's offer was disingenuous is a bit rich.

It's like a chess player getting caught out by a check-mate, then tipping over the board and storming off in a huff, leaving someone else to pick up the pieces (the authors in this case).

Buddy Gott said...

James Patterson has slowly been losing his mind ever since Tyler Perry was cast as Alex Cross.

Nat Russo said...

I don't think we have to worry about lower legacy prices impacting indie sales. The reality of the legacy business model is such that their prices can only fall so low before they put themselves out of business. I believe price is an area that indie authors will always be able to compete in.

Christina Pilz said...

Joe, thank you so much for watching the interview so I don't have to.

Frank Dellen said...

There was a questionnaire among 20 german authors recently and 18 or 19 found Amazon terrible
But when asked whether their publicher should stop shipping their books to Amazon, all of them stumbled around "I don't think that's possible" and similar stuff. My guess is they hadn't even asked

Notable exception: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%BCnter_Wallraff
Had his books removed, although the publisher told him it would 15% less money (or something like that).
I didn't agree with his opinions on Amazon much but I applaud him for putting his money where his mouth is.

So wake me up when somebody finally actually DOES something.

Dan Meadows said...

How exactly would they go about pulling their books from Amazon? They could pull their ebooks, certainly, but for the print versions wouldn't they have to pull their books from any distributors that might sell to Amazon as well? I doubt the DOJ would look kindly on them trying to get all their distributors to blacklist Amazon. Even then, what's stopping Amazon from cutting a deal with Walmart to get those books? Or hell, what's stopping Bezos from walking into a Walmart (or any store) anywhere and buying out Hachette books to put in his store? On top of that, what about the massive number of third party sellers on Amazon who sell the books used? How do they go about blocking those? Realistically, if Amazon wants Hachette's books badly enough, they can and will get them whether Hachette likes it or not. Ebooks are really the only area where they could effectively block out Amazon. But they won't do that because ebook profits are the only thing keeping them comfortably in the black.

Silas Payton said...

Am I missing something here? Amazon would no more pull Patterson's books on his request, as they would pull his books on my request. The order would have to come from Hachette, the company that owns the rights. And Hachette would no more pull Patterson's books from Amazon on his request, as they would on my request.

Hachette would make a business decision based on the value of the estimated outcome. Can you imagine the conversation where Patterson tries to explain to Hachette, why they should pull his titles from Amazon, particularly when he tried to explain it is because it has become a religious war???

The likelihood of Hachette pulling even one of Patterson's books is next to none.

Darren Sapp said...

New, one-sided piece on CBS Evening News tonight starring Douglas Preston and Stephen King.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/authors-take-action-in-amazon-vs-hachette-e-book-battle/

Laura Resnick said...

When you sign a traditional publishing contract, the right to distribute the work is among the rights you sign over to the publisher. Patterson, Preston, and Hachette's authors have absolutely no legal authority to "pull" their books from Amazon; they have licensed those decisions to Hachette.

Sure, they could ask Hachette to pull their books from Amazon, but (unless they have improbably unusual contracts) Hachette has absolutely no legal obligation to comply with their request. It is Hachette's decision, not the authors'.

So the whole "pull your books" is a red herring I see no point in discussing.

If they got any self-published projects, they could pull those--but presumably their rationale for not doing so (if they even have any such projects?) would be that those projects are not the subject of this dispute aka "religious war" (I find Patterson's ignorant posturing about this media-hyped business dispute being a "war" so vapidly silly and self-involved, I can't even take offense--it's too droolingly stupid to rise to the level of being offensive).

Patterson's comments are so embarrassingly foolish and fact-free, I can't help wondering--in all seriousness, not being facetious or joking--if he's suffering from an undiagnosed or improperly treated health problem that's damaging his cognitive functions.

And I agree 100% with that David Darracott said above.

Joe Konrath said...

So the whole "pull your books" is a red herring I see no point in discussing.

If Patterson told Hachette to do it, they would.

Anonymous said...

I like this talking King Kong. Seems pretty reasonable, in a make believe kind of way. He still gets blasted to his death in the end, right?

Anonymous said...

SJArnott, if Amazon was truly concerned about hurting Hachette authors with its tactics, it could simply estimate lost revenue and write checks directly to them. Why not? Amazon is willing to lose money on ebooks to gain market share. The reason it doesn't, of course, is that it is involved in negotiations with Hachette, and matching offers are just another part a business strategy to gain advantage.

Here's an analogy. Joe might not like it because it doesn't involve monsters, but it might explain why Hachette did not go along with Amazon's matching offers.

Imagine workers from General Motors on a lengthy and contentious strike over a wage issue. Imagine 500 strikers picketing outside a plant, in the pouring rain. Then imagine General Motors holding a press conference, where they offer free umbrellas (GM logos!) to strikers because, deep down, despite their differences, GM wants the world to know that they truly care about workers.

Would you blame the strikers if they were cynical about the umbrella offers and respectfully declined?

Talin said...

No, but if GM was offering to pay half the strike pay your analogy would be closer.

One point is that Amazon doesn't have the contact info all of Hachette's authors. Amazon mails the checks to Hachette normally who mail it to the author's agents if they have one. A number of them likely self-publish on the side and others could be tracked down with a few minutes to hours work per author. A few of the older generation with no real internet presence might be impossible though. Lifetime copy-write and all that.

SJArnott said...

Anonymous: "Imagine workers from General Motors on a lengthy and contentious strike over a wage issue. Imagine 500 strikers picketing outside a plant, in the pouring rain. Then imagine General Motors holding a press conference, where they offer free umbrellas (GM logos!) to strikers because, deep down, despite their differences, GM wants the world to know that they truly care about workers."

I don't see that this analogy works at all. Amazon is not negotiating with the authors directly, they are negotiating with Hachette. In your analogy GM would offer 100% of backpay to buy umbrellas for the striking workers as long as their Union also made a contribution. In this case, the Union has flatly refused the offer without consulting their membership.

Do you think Hachette turned to their authors and gave them the chance to vote whether to accept or decline Amazon's proposal?

Anonymous: "if Amazon was truly concerned about hurting Hachette authors with its tactics, it could simply estimate lost revenue and write checks directly to them. Why not?"

Why should they? Amazon is giving up 100% of their revenue from these sales. Isn't that enough? Why should Amazon have to bankroll a publishing company worth $10bn? Is it so unreasonable that Hachette should try and match the offer?

SJArnott said...

Dan Meadows: "Even then, what's stopping Amazon from cutting a deal with Walmart to get those books? Or hell, what's stopping Bezos from walking into a Walmart (or any store) anywhere and buying out Hachette books to put in his store?"

I don't know for sure, but I would guess that there's a contract provision that ensures books are sold for 'sale' (ie to the consumer) but not 'resale' (ie to a wholesaler). Even if there wasn't such a provision, I'm sure one could be swiftly inserted.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's any group trying to "make it" that turns faster on one of their own when they do than writers. They just gather into little circles and spout horrifics while the rest of the circle nods at their "genius" and pats them on the back, before taking their turn.

You got one thing right, though. Amazon isn't the enemy. Not by a longshot.

Anonymous said...

SJArnott, you can debate the finer points of the analogy all you want. I think there are flaws in the King King v. Godzilla argument, but I don't have the time or inclination to produce some belabored 5,000 word fisking response. The point is that it's historically naive to assume that "Amazon is being generous and nice" to Hachette authors with their offer, without recognizing that these battles are often waged, as Standard Oil tactics show, through public relations. Both sides are doing it.

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

If this is a religious war, is it okay if I dress up in black,throw sand on my shoes, and video myself cutting the covers off of BEACH HOUSE? Of course I would cut with a hatchet. As far as Patterson's books being in drug stores, are they placed with the other nonprescription sleep aids?

Anonymous said...

I think Patterson's "won't someone think of the BOOKS" whines are hysterically funny considering he long ago stopped writing his "own" books!

Joe Konrath said...

I think there are flaws in the King King v. Godzilla argument, but I don't have the time or inclination to produce some belabored 5,000 word fisking response.

My analogy is fine. And it won't take me 5000 words to fisk yours.

General Motors employees striking is in no way analogous to two companies without a contract negotiating for terms. Employees are not a company, they are individuals.

Offering an umbrella to individuals getting hurt in a negotiation doesn't correct the situation they're complaining about: getting pinched monetarily. You're incorrectly inferring that GM is striking because they're wet, and umbrellas will solve the problem. They are striking for money. Money would solve the problem. If GM offered them money, the workers wouldn't need to strike.

Your analogy sucks. It took me two minutes and 86 words.

Anonymous said...

Joe, the analogy I used supports the point I made about disingenuous public relations maneuvering. To assume that "GM is striking because they're wet" is so far off the mark, it's pointless to respond.

But aside from that, I do enjoy this site a great deal, and I learn more here than anywhere else. I think you are doing a great service for all writers, no matter where they publish.

Nirmala said...

Joe, I think your point about how any author who has not or will not earn out their advance is actually not being affected by this dispute is brilliant. So even when Preston complains that his sales are down 50-90% on Amazon, why should he care? He has probably already been paid all he will ever earn from those books.

So Amazon may not be "targeting" many authors after all if Shatzkin is correct that most books do not sell enough to earn out the advance. They are already out of the middle of this dispute.

Anonymous said...

Nirmala, I doubt you could find one author with a legacy publisher who doesn't care about book sales. Think about it.

SJArnott said...

Anonymous said: "The point is that it's historically naive to assume that "Amazon is being generous and nice" to Hachette authors with their offer, without recognizing that these battles are often waged, as Standard Oil tactics show, through public relations. Both sides are doing it."

Somewhat of a strawman argument since I'd never suggested Amazon were being generous or nice.

I'd already acknowledged the PR element of these shenanigans in a previous comment. My point is that it would have been better all round if Hachette had matched, or part-matched Amazon's offer. The authors would be better off and Hachette would be looking pretty good.

Unfortunately Hachette appear to think there's more value in keeping their authors in the front line as martyrs for the legacy cause.

(BTW. How do you get to be 'historically naive'? Do you have to wear a ruff and codpiece?)

Elka said...

“Nirmala, I doubt you could find one author with a legacy publisher who doesn't care about book sales. Think about it.”

I agree. But they worry about sales because they know that book's sales influence the size of the advance of their next book, or they are afraid that because of the lack of sales caused by Hachette and Amazon's negotiation they might not even get an offer for their next book. That worry was very clearly presented by Saintcrow's blog post. It's not the money from the sales, the Hachette's midlister authors are worried about, but about the ability to sell their next book and earn their next advance. Now, since this worry is constantly present in an average mislister trade-published author career (just ask Laura Resnick and Kristine Kathryn Rusch), when their sales could be murdered by things like getting a new editor who hates the book, putting the book into a wrong genre, bad cover, not putting the book into catalogs, not sending the book's info to retailers, using wrong matadate, publisher-retailer negotiation...

Why is this something that is coming up now, when this is something that was always present and why is this presented as Amazon's responsibility, not trade-publishers'? (This is a rhetorical question.)

Nirmala said...

I have no idea if he is correct, but Lee Childs suggested on here that Hachette will treat this year like a strike year in baseball, and that they will realize that a poor performance this year by one of their authors is not representative of their ability to sell books.

If all Hachette books that are being delayed, etc. are being affected similarly, is Hachette going to drop all of those authors or offer them all a lower advance next time? Seems like Hachette could easily shoot itself in the foot if it did by driving them all to other publishers or self-publishing. Does Hachette really want to start over with a whole new batch of unproven authors?

Hachette may have a problem anyways keeping their authors if several of their authors have become disillusioned with their publisher, or with traditional publishing overall. They may be thinking long and hard about self-publishing their next book given how Hachette has not been able to come to terms with the largest bookstore out there.

So obviously Hachette authors care that their book sales are dropping, but what will they conclude, especially if Hachette punishes them by dropping them or offering a lower advance next time?

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't Amazon stop selling the Hachette books they want to sell, even at a loss? Are they just a nice company that cares about low prices for customers? Or is it more about what Lee Child suggested--that Amazon doesn't want to be perceived as the Walmart of the internet--bullying vendors to the point where it's take it or leave it, but look at our prices? I think Child is correct. They don't want to be seen as the store that doesn't carry Stephen King or James Patterson or Donna Tartt, but has these other great .99 cent ebooks instead. That lessens the brand. I don't think Amazon is continuing to sell Hachette books because it is being "extraordinarily kind," as Barry suggests. It's a business strategy. Microsoft got away with antitrust violations until they didn't, spent billions and finally settled. Apple, learning from the Microsoft debacle, wisely settled early on the ebooks case and saved billions. (I see Joe's using a PC in his photo. Hmm.)

Nirmala said...

The publishers settled the ebooks case. Apple did not and is even appealing the court decision where it lost. So I would not say they learned anything from Microsoft.

Anonymous said...

Great points, Nirmala. My thinking is that the process of contract to publication is so long and drawn out, Hachette will probably have come to terms with Amazon, and the next run-in will be with another of the Big 5. It's hard for authors and agents to predict what's next. I don't think Hachette will be in the same position two years from now. Lee Child made a good point about the prices for ironing boards on Amazon. Why not offer them for sale at whatever the companies think they can charge and let capitalism sort it out?

Anonymous said...

Nirmala, my understanding is that Apple agreed to settle, and they are now engaged in appeals for conditions of the settlement. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/16/us-apple-ebooks-settlement-idUSKBN0FL22P20140716

William Ockham said...

@anonymous

Apple only agreed to a conditional settlement with the states (and a consumer lawsuit). That agreement is conditional on the outcome of the federal case which they lost and are appealing.

Dana Stabenow said...

But a lot of writers really depend on those, you know, the back list.

Speaks a guy who obviously never had a book out of print or a publisher who refused to bring that OOP book back into print. I had 16 books OOP. I begged, I begged (I'm embarrassed now at how hard and how often I begged then) my publisher to bring them back into print. Nope.

So I did it myself, which was a very good thing, because if they'd taken me up on it they would have paid me 15 percent e-royalties for the privilege, whereas by publishing independently I get 70 percent.

You get a taste of that, you don't go back. And you thank Jeff Bezos for the opportunity every goddamn day.

Walter Knight said...

The problem with the Big Five and it's top authors taking their plight to the media is that many in the media have tried to write and publish books themselves and are familiar with the ease of doing business on Amazon, and how difficult it is to publish through the Big Five.

Often the minions of the media can be fooled, or willing to be accomplices in lies, but many know from experience the reality of how difficult it is for new authors to publish.

Anonymous said...

It may be easier to publish with Amazon, but a lot of writers are writers only, and no good at marketing, promotion, and social media. Self publishing is not for everyone, despite the great royalties.

Anonymous said...

You can still self publish and be bad at marketing (etc). My books get read without any social media strategies i.e. time wasting.

Eric Christopherson said...

So now we've got a Nobel Prize winning economist weighing in on Amazon-Hachette and Amazon's market dominance in books more generally:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/opinion/paul-krugman-amazons-monopsony-is-not-ok.html

Care to fisk this one, Joe?

Now where is my popcorn ...

SJArnott said...

Eric Christopherson said: "So now we've got a Nobel Prize winning economist weighing in on Amazon-Hachette and Amazon's market dominance in books more generally:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/opinion/paul-krugman-amazons-monopsony-is-not-ok.html"

I just took a look. The man's arguments are not impressive (it's facile to compare Amazon's online retail success with an oil company's stranglehold on 19th-century transport infrastructure) and the comments section is a circus with Amazon being conflated with everything from Walmart to Fox News and the fall of the Roman Empire. One person even lashed out at Amazon for "offering a staggeringly inflated array of consumer products". I mean, what? How dare they?

Anonymous said...

Amazon will ultimately buckle on this because books simply aren't going to be worth it in the long run. They can make more money elsewhere, and who really cares if Hachette would rather sell certain ebooks for $11.99 rather than $9.99?

Nirmala said...

Heads up: Joe's debate with Rob Spillman is up on Salon:

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/20/the_great_amazon_debate_a_leading_amazon_critic_and_a_self_publishing_rock_star_try_to_find_common_ground/

Alyx said...

Yay, Joe!
I'm always amused at this idea of "slashing royalties."

My first book (these are all genre, p'back originals, "siltsuckers") was at a 10% royalty.

Two books later (same pub) it was 6%.
Then after that, 4%.

And you're saying, why did you accept that!
Because I HAD NO CHOICE. The publishers then colluded-- maybe not openly-- so that any X-genre writer got this particular royalty. In fact, the contract terms were identical from one publisher to another. I think they all met at Elaine's and drafted their contracts.

So I was amazed--- amazed-- at the 70% Amazon payment and the 65% Smashwords. Amazing. TEN TIMES what the Big-5 pubs were "giving". The difference almost made me cry. Not the amount so much as the recognition that this is MY BOOK. It's not 4% my book. It's my book.

Joseph said...

It doesn't matter if legacy competes with Amazon on royalties because legacy DOES NOT COMPETE FOR INDIE AUTHORS.

Amazon could slash royalties tomorrow and guess what? Legacy still wouldn't look at my shit.

This seems all so stupid to me. Amazon is already the only game in town for most people. There's no where else to go, yet Amazon still isn't fucking indies. They've cornered the market and stuck to the same deal. For years.

This whole 'once they are dominant they will will be just as bad as legacy' is simply urging me to not publish at all so legacy can continue to do the exact shit they are warning us that Amazon might do but hasn't. Even though they could. Tomorrow.

Amazon already won. Years ago. So where's the royalty fuckery? Oh. It didn't happen. So seriously shut it.

Nat Russo said...

Joseph said: "Amazon is already the only game in town for most people. There's no where else to go..."

I think it bears repeating that Amazon isn't the only game in town for indies. I can think of at least four distribution channels off the top of my head, and more are appearing every quarter.

Look at the history of publishing for a moment. "Legacy" publishers are the new kids on the block, not indie publishers.

Anonymous said...

Some of us who have been in the business a while remember when the Amazon royalty was 30%. It was then upped to 70% Why? Because the Apple store came alone and offered 70%.

It's doubtful that Amazon would ever go below 70%. There are too many mega-corps (Google, Apple, etc.) that could put together an Amazon-type book store. Sure, not overnight, but eventually if they set their minds to it.

There's no such thing as a monopoly of digital distribution in this digital age. There will be shifting players of prominence, but no one can force the suppliers of content (authors) to forever be relegated to a certain percent. As soon as another player sees a profit above that percent,age the competition will be back on.

So, relax and enjoy your 70%. As to Amazon versus Hatchette, it's just a business dispute. Authors opted out of having a voice in that when they sold their rights. You can't sell them and simultaneously try to keep them.

RJJ