By Bonnie Stanard
In the ongoing disputes between Amazon and NY publishing houses, whose side am I on? Amazon and Hachette, the most recent combatants, reached agreement last November, at least for the time being. Why should I support elitist publishing houses that ignore and belittle writers like me? Haven’t they had too much power for too long? On the other hand, is Amazon trying to gain total control over the industry? And since it’s been pulling punches with Hachette, can it be trusted to treat self-published writers like me fairly?
When the internet took off, Amazon came on the scene and did what major booksellers and publishing houses didn’t have the foresight to do. It sold books on the superhighway and opened up publishing to any and every writer. In the process, it put major booksellers out of business (Books A Million, Borders). With brick-and-mortar booksellers on the decline, publishing houses such as Hachette increasingly depend on Amazon as retailer.
Half the book trade (more or less depending on different sources) is now controlled by Amazon. A 2014 survey by researcher Codex Group found that Amazon controls 67% of the e-book market*. With statistics like these, I’m getting nervous. How big is too big?
I’m thankful for Amazon and the opportunity it has afforded me to self-publish, but in these changing times, my gratitude is tempered by unease. Unlike Hachette, which has the other big four publishing houses in its corner, there's no support for me if I have a dispute with Amazon.
From what I can gather from reports, the Amazon-Hachette negotiations regarding who has authority to set the price for e-books went public when amazon.com did things such as refuse pre-orders for Hachette books and slow their delivery. Amazon’s tactics, meant to pressure Hachette in the negotiations, affected sales of the publisher’s books.
The bad publicity Amazon aroused with its underhanded tactics may have impacted the negotiations. In simple terms, Hachette gained the right to set their e-books prices, and the new arrangement is due to take effect in 2015. Amazon pushed for lower prices while Hachette sought higher prices to protect its paper sales. Buyers can expect the cost of some e-books to go up, which won’t make them happy.
THE NETFLIX IDEA
Last August Amazon introduced an innovation in the distribution of e-books which takes the Netflix model and applies it to books—in other words, a book-subscription market. It’s the Kindle Unlimited plan in which customers pay $10 a month to access a library of hundreds of thousands of books that can be downloaded free. What reader won’t like this? But does it sound like a good idea for writers dependent on royalties?
Some reporters have called this a struggle between the future and the past, the West Coast and the East Coast, the masses and the elite. Whatever it is, it will impact us writers regardless of whether or not we have a voice in the current fight. And if Amazon puts major publishing houses out of business, where will writers get the clout to deal with Amazon?