In the long-running dispute between Amazon and Hachette over their terms of trade, Amazon has used its power over Hachette’s book sales to hurt authors and publisher alike. Amazon has removed pre-order buttons from Hachette books, de-stocked so that some titles appear to be unavailable, suggested to Amazon users that they buy alternative books from other publishers that are similar (and cheaper), and told buyers to go elsewhere if they can’t find the Hachette books they want.
These sanctions are designed purely to strong-arm Hachette in to agreeing the terms that Amazon wants, but Hachette are resisting even though it’s not just the publisher that’s hurting from lost sales, but also authors, especially those with books newly released or due out soon. Debut authors may be hurt particularly hard if their book’s early sales tank due to lack of visibility or availability on Amazon, where a large majority of purchases are made.
Amazon then suggested a slush fund for Hachette’s authors affected financially by Amazon’s sanctions against the publisher. Hachette declined that “offer”. So now Amazon has floated the idea that it and Hachette both forego their usual cut of sales and instead give 100% to the authors. Hachette has again declined, saying:
“Amazon has just sent us a brief proposal. We invite Amazon to withdraw the sanctions they have unilaterally imposed, and we will continue to negotiate in good faith and with the hope of a swift conclusion […] We believe that the best outcome for the writers we publish is a contract with Amazon that brings genuine marketing benefits and whose terms allow Hachette to continue to invest in writers, marketing, and innovation. We look forward to resolving this dispute soon and to the benefit of the writers who have trusted their books to us.”
Amazon’s offers are nothing more than propaganda. Amazon decided to punish Hachette and its authors by taking actions that it knew would hurt sales, and it decided to do that as a negotiating tactic. Both the slush fund and the royalty offer are no more than sops to appease authors and persuade readers that Amazon are the good guys really and that it’s Hachette that’s being mean and intransigent. That’s utter bullshit.
Contract negotiations do not require Amazon to impose sanctions on its suppliers. It is perfectly capable of running its shopfront normally whilst negotiations are ongoing, which would result in no authors getting hammered, and no readers being told to go elsewhere. Of course, then Amazon wouldn’t then have as much leverage, which is why they’re doing it in the first place.
Hachette is absolutely right to reject Amazon’s disingenuous offers: Agreeing would imply that Amazon is in the right and Hachette is the aggressor which is simply not the case.
If Amazon actually cares about Hachette’s authors and whether they are losing money, it has a very, very simple remedy: Resume normal service, and don’t impose sanctions again in future. It’s easy, and there’s no need to change any royalty rates or set up slush funds (or figure out how to fairly apportion that money, a question that I suspect is much more complicated than it might seem).
So try implementing normality within 72 hours, Amazon. You know you can.