Thursday, October 23, 2014

More Advice To Authors United

Two days after Simon & Schuster and Amazon announced a multi-year contract, David Gaughran wrote a great post about things Authors United can do next. He opined that while AU was ineffective in the Amazon/Hachette dispute, they did excel at getting media attention. Why not use that attention to address some real issues?

He's correct. But before they get to his excellent list, they still have one big thing they can help out with.

I gave my advice to Authors United a month ago. That advice is more applicable than ever before, now that S&S has proven that Amazon can be successfully negotiated with.

Some of my advice was:

1. Write an open letter to Hachette. You've stated, repeatedly, that you aren't taking sides. Prove it. Let Hachette know how unhappy you are with their negotiating tactics, and do so publicly. Which leads to:

2. Leverage Hachette. Hire lawyers to get out of your Hachette contracts. Proclaim you'll refuse to sign any more deals with them unless they fix this situation. They have failed you, so let them know.

3. Force Hachette to accept one of Amazon's offers to compensate authors during the negotiation period. Amazon has tried several times to take authors out of the line of fire, and you've dismissed this without good reason.

I know it has only been three days, but why hasn't Authors United announced its next move? I'm just one man, and I can compose and post a blog response within a few hours of breaking news. Certainly all of those prize-winning, bestselling authors that comprise Authors United could make some public statement. It's not like they're unable to get media attention.

But they haven't made a peep.

So once again I'll give AU some advice as to how to proceed.

1. Release a statement praising Amazon and S&S.

2. Openly ask Hachette why they can't reach an agreement.

3. Ask Hachette and Amazon to retroactively compensate all effected Hachette authors once an agreement has been reached.

I don't expect you to admit you were wrong. You can even continue to believe you were right this whole time, and that Amazon is a harmful, unreasonable monopoly that boycotts, sanctions, blah blah blah.

This isn't about saving face, or defending your previous position. Keep pride and ego out if it. This is about effecting change.

Contact your media lackeys. Get some inches and airtime. Demand that Hachette explain what is taking so long, since Amazon quite obviously has no trouble making deals with the Big 5. Reiterate that your goal has always been to protect authors.

If you can put some public onus on Hachette you'll be remembered as heroes, and make the publishing industry better for authors.

The wind changed direction. Go with it. You've gathered together a powerful group of authors, with a lot of access to media that's hungry to hear from you. Use that and get this situation buttoned up.

It's doubtful any journalists will ask you any difficult or uncomfortable questions, since none have before. But if some reporter with a bit of integrity sneaks a zinger into an interview, here are some examples of how to deflect.

Q: Didn't you previously take an anti-Amazon stance?

A: We've repeatedly stated we aren't taking sides. We're pro-author. We want authors to stop being harmed.

Q: Why didn't you approach Hachette at the beginning of this dispute?

A: Hachette wasn't the one making their books difficult to buy on Amazon. Amazon was doing that. Now that Amazon has shown it can negotiate in good faith, as evidenced by the Simon & Schuster deal, we want to make sure Hachette negotiates in good faith as well.

Q: You've repeatedly rejected Amazon's offers to compensate authors. Why have you changed your mind?

A: Amazon's offer to compensate authors during the negotiation period would have caused an ongoing financial strain on Hachette. We propose they settle their differences, and then each fund a pool that will compensate authors once there is a deal in place. Money, of course, would be great. Amazon also has the ability to promote books in the same way they can make books difficult to find. We'd love to see Amazon give Hachette authors some additional promotional consideration once an agreement is reached.

Q: Do you feel as if you've been wasting your time--and money--on this affair?

A: Not at all. We got involved in this because we care about authors, and we would like to think that all the attention we helped bring to the subject was one of the reasons the Amazon/S&S deal happened so quickly. We now impress upon Hachette and Amazon to agree to similar terms, ink a deal, and to do so quickly.

Joe sez: Do the right thing, Authors United. Use your power for good.

BTW, here are some wrong ways to proceed. I caution you against:

1. Releasing a statement saying Amazon/S&S has nothing to do with Hachette, and Amazon is still wrong.

2. Taking full credit for the Amazon/S&S deal.

3. Refusing to pressure Hachette to strike a deal.

4. Refusing to pressure both parties into compensating authors harmed during the negotiation.

5. Defending your past position, rather than evolving.

6. Going into hiding, hoping this whole thing will blow over.

If you did the right thing, as I've outlined above, I'd become an Authors United signatory if asked, and I'd use my blog to help spread your message.

We're all pro-author. We should all act like it.

You have the money. You have the power. You have the media contacts. Make a move.


Andrew P. Mayer said...

Their reaction will speak volumes about their intent.

Sadly, whenever a groups "ethics" are revealed to simply be a smokescreen for pure selfishness, then their only choice in the face of conflicting outcomes and unarguable truths is to double down on the bullshit.

Alan Spade said...

A timely post, just when the Authors United's silence grow louder and louder. Well done, Joe.

Randall J. Morris said...

I don't think they'll do anything from your list. AU has proven that the thing they are best at is failing to address real issues and talking past logical arguments with appeals to emotion. I would love to see them take up the cause of all writers... I just don't realistically think they'll do it.

JR Holmes said...

I'm inclined to agree with Randall Morris on what AU will be doing. Silence at this point would tend to keep them from looking more foolish than would any actual statements that would just call attention to their past statements. And, with how unlikely it is that any reporters will reach out to them for an actual statement, their silence won't hurt them too much in the broader public eye.

That being said, it does nothing for their reputation inside the writing community. And the individual members of AU can keep silent and just fade away from the controversy (a not undesirable situation).

T. M. Bilderback said...

I'm kinda waiting for Stephen King to sound off, now that his publisher has signed an agreement with Amazon.

Bravo, Joe! I only hope that they take your advice!


Joe Flynn said...

How will the AU biggies react? Well, to paraphrase a famous line from a long-ago best selling novel: Being rich means never having to say you're sorry.

Geoff Palmer said...

Good work, Joe.

Hugh Howey has an interesting post on this too, speculating on the contents of the S&S/Amazon deal and how both parties win.

It's here:

Jim Self said...

Unfortunately, I think we can expect to see AU either:

1. Slink away, or

2. Ask why Amazon is targeting Hachette unfairly by refusing to come to a reasonable agreement like they did with the other publishers.

Their complete lack of success so far makes me think #1. Their ego makes me think #2.

Meb Bryant said...

From your blog to God's ear.

Rex Kusler said...
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Anonymous said...

Most of this advice is solid, but I just don't see AU pressuring Hachette publicly because it ultimately weakens Hachette's bargaining power. The AU authors are all in now, and they won't change course. Ego's probably a factor. Naivety may be another. But I would hope they are doing so privately.

Smart Debut Author said...

My advice to Authors Entitled:

Hold a thumb-and-forefinger "L" against your foreheads.

Angry_Games said...


Amazon's earnings reports have been far, far more dire in the past. Remember, only recently has Amazon reached a tipping point where they now own majority shares of certain market sectors. For a decade, Amazon, like Yahoo, Google, and many other .com corporations were financial black holes.

Yet investors kept pouring money into them, believing the companies to have something special that would eventually make money. (you know... investing for future profit...).

Amazon and Google have 'something special.' Google has Android, Gmail, AdSense, and search (Android has majority share of the mobile OS market across the world, you can see how Adsense + email + the entire operating system becomes a profitable venture...).

Amazon has... well, Pretty sure I don't need to explain what is valuable about Amazon.

What does this have to do with anything? Earnings reports come out all the time for Wall Street companies. Logic dictates that companies must make a profit to survive, so we praise companies like Apple who make a profit, and we show concern (or scorn) to companies like Amazon who continually 'lose money.' Even though Amazon isn't actually 'losing' money.

Amazon operates above a loss in a large number of areas, such as digital goods and affiliate sales (where the seller ships the item instead of Amazon itself). In the areas where they still operate at a loss, they've cut that negative margin to be razor thin for the most part, which allows other sectors to accrue much larger losses where said losses can be diluted instead of raising panic alarms.

Then there's also the company's investment/reinvestment strategy. Amazon buys a lot of smaller companies because those companies have a product or service that Amazon feels would benefit it as a whole. So spending $100,000,000 for a tech firm that has database code which will enhance Amazon's internal product search ability is an investment worth taking, since over time, that $100 million gets diluted and even repaid (think of it as an author actually earning out an advance) because the search upgrades have increased product visibility for targeted audiences, thereby increasing sales. You can, I guess, see all of this as a bit of a parallel to self-publishing.

Disclaimer: I am a self-published author who does the majority of my sales through Amazon. This does not make me an apologist or a fanboy. Or blind to the potential reality of Chicken Little where the sky might one day fall when royalties are slashed since there will be no more competition (all of this is utter horse excrement, by the way, but I'm a realist and my "just in case" radar is always active in the background).

This post is directed more at the "let's start talking about how Amazon is tanking because they're going broke! PILE ON!!!" aspect than about Authors United. Mostly to quickly squash any talk from persons who only see headlines from CNBC about a company's stock going up or down based on an earnings report without having any actual knowledge of how large tech corporations manipulate their accounting to make it all work.

venkyiyer58 said...

I don't expect Authors United to respond positively to Joe now. They didn't before. They are probably too busy writing books, all of a sudden.

SJArnott said...

JK: "I know it has only been three days, but why hasn't Authors United announced its next move? I'm just one man, and I can compose and post a blog response within a few hours of breaking news."

To play devil's advocate, it's a lot easier for one person to release a statement than a committee. If they're doing anything at all I imagine they're all arguing about the very points you've raised. I think any cohesion they might have had has been fractured.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

A refreshingly positive and optimistic message! Wouldn't it be awesome if they pay some attention? Alas, human nature is such that we tend to dig in when shown up.

Joe, get Lee Child back here to chime in. Maybe he can be the new spokesperson for AU, now that S&S has shown the way to do rational business.

Thanks again for using your pulpit for good.

Barbra Annino said...

Preston has spoken up. And it's not far from what we've come to expect.

PRESTON: If Simon and Schuster is happy with this agreement, and if Hachette's being offered the same terms, I would, you know, be wanting Hachette to strive to solve this problem as soon as possible. But it doesn't solve the problem of Amazon. Every time they get into a negotiating problem with a publisher, are they going to target the authors? I mean, it's just unacceptable.

Ripley King said...

The return of the agency model, with wiggle room. The rest will follow SS. Hachette will, no doubt, be the last to play along, after wondering what went wrong.

Terrence OBrien said...

8704What happens when they can't borrow any more? Their earnings came out today.

Amazon's operating cash flow covered their spending, leaving a billion dollar free cash flow. They aren't borrowing.

Rex Kusler said...
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Walter Knight said...

Fight Amazon? Amazon just announced revenue of over 20 billion dollars (per quarter). Amazon just build five more distribution centers (in India). It's over. Amazon's competitors cannot compete. Amazon is growing even bigger.

I switched all my books over to Amazon Prime because of the genius of Amazon marketing. It's over, get used to it.

Terrence OBrien said...

Yahoo hasn't posted 3Q results yet. The following is from Amazon's earnings release .

"Operating cash flow increased 15% to $5.71 billion for the trailing twelve months, compared with $4.98 billion for the trailing twelve months ended September 30, 2013. Free cash flow increased to $1.08 billion for the trailing twelve months, compared with $388 million for the trailing twelve months ended September 30, 2013. "

G. B. Miller said...

Absolutely love your posts on this. Reminds of Columbo when he says, "I have just one more question."

Although I'm just starting out on the self-publishing thing, I can see a lot of parallels between this useless disputer and the minority realists in the labor unions (both private and public) who are more attuned with the times than their so-called leadership.

I believe Hatchette won't really start to negotiate in good faith until it starts to adversely reflect their bottom line (i.e. stock prices).

David Gaughran said...

I think we should give credit to the Authors Guild where it's due.

The Authors Guild found time in its last post to quietly note that it considers 25% "inequitable." It also noted that the Authors Guild has always held this position... of being mildly perturbed about what authors get paid.

Maybe Roxana Robinson will find the time to mention her barely noticeable opposition to how much authors get paid the next time she's being interviewed on television. Maybe Scott Turow will slip in a very low-key mention of how he is a teeny bit in favor of higher royalty rates the next time he is calling Amazon the "Death Star." And maybe Doug Preston will find time to devote ten seconds to the issue of author royalty rates in his next round of interviews with the worlds' media about the (hypothetical) terrible things that could happen to authors in the future.

Mark Edward Hall said...

That's an awful lot of maybes, David Gaughran.

Laura Resnick said...

Oh, David, stop reaching for the moon.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...
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