A group of bestselling traditionally published authors – including James Patterson, Scott Turow, and Douglas Preston – engaged in an act of breathtaking hypocrisy on Thursday with an open letter calling on Amazon to end its dispute with Hachette.
The letter is incredibly disingenuous. It claims not to take sides, but only calls on Amazon to take action to end the dispute. It also makes a series of ridiculous claims, notably that Amazon has been “boycotting Hachette authors.”
Where do I start?
The Phantom Boycott
First of all, refusing to take pre-orders on Hachette titles is not a “boycott.” Pre-orders are a facility extended to certain publishers – not all publishers. Many small presses don’t have a pre-order facility. Most self-publishers don’t have a pre-order facility.
I don’t know why Amazon has stopped taking Hachette pre-orders, but both sides have stated that negotiations aren’t likely to be resolved any time soon. Amazon might be reluctant to take customers’ money for orders it doesn’t know it can fulfill. Or Amazon might be strong-arming Hachette. Nobody knows.
Either way, Amazon still displays upcoming Hachette titles (again not a facility extended to many small presses and most self-publishers) and still provides a way for customers to be notified when the book is actually released. Not much of a boycott, is it?
Here’s what a real boycott looks like.
Since October last year self-publishers have been banned, en masse, from the e-bookstore of the UK chain WH Smith. The company has given zero indication when this ban will be overturned. Do you remember Preston, Turow & Patterson writing an open letter condemning this actual boycott? I don’t either.
Barnes & Noble refuses to stock any Amazon-published titles. Many indie bookstores have joined this boycott of Amazon titles. Do you remember Preston, Turow & Patterson writing an open letter condemning this actual boycott? I don’t either.
Last year, Simon & Schuster got into a dispute with Barnes & Noble over contract terms. Barnes & Noble drastically reduced orders and didn’t stock some Simon & Schuster titles altogether. This went on for months. Do you remember Preston, Turow & Patterson writing an open letter condemning this actual boycott? I don’t either.
And I don’t remember any of that getting much play in the media.
To Discount Or Not To Discount?
The open letter also criticized Amazon for “refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette’s authors’ books.” This is pretty hilarious, because Scott Turow has repeatedly criticized Amazon for discounting too much.
In this Salon article from March last year, Turow cited Amazon’s desire to discount as an “abuse [of] their market power” and a “reason to fear Amazon.” And yet Turow signed this letter complaining Amazon isn’t discounting enough!
And I’m not sure why Douglas Preston is annoyed that Amazon stopped discounting (some) Hachette books, because, as Chris Meadows at Teleread reminded us, he previously seemed adamant that e-books should be expensive when interviewed by the New York Times in 2011.
Now we are getting to the heart of the matter. What we have here is the unedifying spectacle of a group of very well-off authors campaigning to make books more expensive. Because that’s the result if Amazon caves to Hachette.
This group of entitled bestsellers are aghast at the forces of disruption which are reshaping the publishing business. Amazon, e-books, the digital revolution, self-publishing – anything that involves a change in the status quo is something that these guys will campaign against (and if you doubt that, read this amazing takedown of Scott Turow’s last Op Ed in the New York Times).
I guess when you are seated at the top table you will do anything to hold onto your place, even to the point of embarrassing yourself with something as ridiculous as Patterson’s call for a bailout of the book business.
Let’s be very clear: these guys are mad because their cosy world is being disrupted.
Barbarians At The Gates
The letter from Preston, Turow, Patterson et al closes with a call on Amazon to “stop hurting authors,” and this is the part that sticks in my craw the most.
If these guys truly cared about authors being harmed, why have they never penned an open letter condemning Penguin Random House for the industrial-scale scamming of writers at Author Solutions?
I’ve never heard Preston, Turow, or Patterson say one word about the exploitation of self-publishers by supposedly respectable traditional publishers.
I’ll leave you to speculate as to why.
Gatecrashing the Media Party
The true aim of this open letter is very clear. It’s another salvo in the propaganda war to try and force Amazon to cave to Hachette.
As soon as word of this letter leaked out, along with rumors that some of these authors had discussed calling for an Amazon boycott, a group of self-publishers penned a letter in response.
Feel free to read that if you like, and sign it if you choose. I was happy to do so, and I was even happier to see that the rebuttal to Preston’s letter had helped address the huge imbalance in the media reporting of the Amazon-Hachette contract dispute.
Because of the large number of authors who have counter-signed the letter, mainstream media outlets and trade publications like The Guardian, NPR, The Bookseller, The Washington Post and Publishers Weekly have been forced to acknowledge that there are two sides to this debate.
In fact, it should be mentioned that there are a whole range of views on this dispute, and on large publishers like Hachette, and on giant retailers like Amazon – both among authors in general and those who self-publish. Some self-publishers aren’t happy with the rebuttal to Preston’s letter. And I’m sure many traditionally published authors don’t agree with the original letter.
That’s all fine. For me, the main thing is that the media can no longer continue to claim that all authors want Hachette to prevail in its dispute with Amazon. Yes, there are more than two sides to this debate. But maybe now the media (and, by extension, readers) will be more open to the whole range of views that are out there.
Or maybe most readers don’t care. They will probably continue purchasing books from the retailer or bookstore they normally frequent. They will likely continue not caring who published them.
And we’ll definitely keep writing them long past the time all these corporations are footnotes in history.
EDIT: I removed Douglas Preston’s 2011 comments about readers/pricing. In fairness to him, he subsequently retracted the comments. You can click through to the Teleread piece above if you want to read further about that.