The latest skirmish in Amazon vs Hachette happened while I was on the road, which worked out well for me, as I was forced to spend five days as passive observer to the initial volley and the subsequent Category 5 Opinionstorm. I’m actually grateful for this, as when I got home I had already read the email Amazon sent out to its Kindle authors; if I had seen it raw in my inbox for the first time, I probably would have roared and said Things I Would Regret Later.
Seriously. It’s not a very good email. It’s insulting and pandering, and when I asked Brown to read it, he said: “Amazon did know they were sending this to writers, right? Because I’m taking a heavy beating from these metaphors.” You can read the full text for yourself here. If you don’t want to read it (don’t blame ya!), the takeaway argument is that readers (and yet somehow the primary audience for this email was authors who publish on Amazon…) need to come together and put pressure on Hachette to lower its ebook prices.
They referenced Orwell.
The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.
They referenced Orwell several times, actually, which is a huge warning sign to me because Orwell is synonymous with the little guy fighting against a giant oppressive force. Also? That giant, oppressive force tends to be a self-interested douche. Whoever wrote that email/press release seems to have intentionally misrepresented Orwell. Amazon could have chosen better, stronger quotes from any number of Orwell’s contemporaries to support their position, but Orwell wasn’t picked by accident. There’s never any subtlety when the O-bomb is dropped: it instantly creates the impression of conflict between good and bad, oppression and freedom, mind control and free will… It’s a trigger warning that an emotional argument is underway.
I can’t stand emotional arguments. I make them myself, and I’m as susceptible to them as anybody else, but if I’m being called in as part of Amazon’s own personal army, I’d like there to be a little more logic involved. Crowdfury is an exceptionally useful tool, especially for smaller persons and companies who do not have lawyers and publicists on staff. As one of those smaller persons and/or companies, I know firsthand that you do not release that particular Kracken unless there is no other choice. Crowdfury is nigh impossible to control, and can turn on you in a heartbeat because nobody likes to be used.
Which seems to be what is happening here. There’s been a substantial backlash to Amazon’s call to arms for this exact reason. No number of invocations of the ghost of Big Brother can change the fact that they are a giant organization with entire battalions of lawyers and publicists. They do not need us to fight their battles for them.
I am not obligated to go to war for Amazon. I provide content to Amazon, they provide services to me, and that is the end of that. And they are arguably less accountable to me than to some of the other service providers I’ve worked with: my relationship with Amazon has the illusion of transparency, as I can check my stats to see if my books are selling, but I can’t request additional data to verify these sales have occurred. I have to trust that Amazon’s algorithms are working, and that there is a 1:1 ratio between actual sales and reported sales. (I have no reason to doubt this is exactly what happens, but I can’t read an article about ebook price-fixing without thinking, “Hmmm…”)
I’m probably not alone in saying I would fight their battles with them if saw a righteous cause. I happen to like Amazon. They have provided great opportunities for me and many other self-published authors. I like the quality of the paperbacks they print for me. And I love the way their monthly payments arrive on time! If I saw another company actively threatening Amazon, I’d probably go and get my old plowshare and start hammering it back into shape. However, that’s not what’s happening here. Amazon’s existing business model is not being threatened, and many (most) of the points they have made to support their anti-Hachette arguments have been disputed.
By pushing this campaign, Amazon has made itself vulnerable. Best-selling authors are ten kinds of grumpy with them. And it’s quite possible that they have overextended themselves in going up first against Hachette, and then against Disney. (Disney, people!) Google Shopping Express, the fledgling Google/Barnes & Noble partnership, sees Amazon’s fight against Hachette as an opportunity. Since nearly a third of my income comes from Amazon. I’m watching all of this play out very, very closely.
p.s.: It seems a good time to offer up a new take on old advice. Here! I’ve redone the Orwell poster for you, free!
Download your own copies here. The .zip has two convenient print file sizes (4.5″x6″ and 8″x10.5″). If you want it in a larger size on heavy paper stock, let me know and I’ll see if I can get it into the store.