In response to news breaking of some of the terms Amazon is demanding from Hachette, Alex Shephard of Melville House wrote an article on the publisher’s blog describing Amazon’s demands as “extortion” (the preceding quote is from the New York Times):
“I spoke to someone involved on the Hachette side of the negotiations, who is under orders not to discuss them and asked not to be named. This person said that Amazon has been demanding payments for a range of services, including the pre-order button, personalized recommendations and a dedicated employee at Amazon for Hachette books. This is similar to so-called co-op arrangements with traditional retailers, like paying Barnes & Noble for placing a book in the front of the store.”
Stewart’s source at Hachette was unequivocal, telling Stewart that Amazon “is very inventive about what we’d call standard service… they’re teasing out all these layers and saying, ‘If you want that service, you’ll have to pay for it.’ In the end, it’s very hard to know what you’d be paying. Hachette has refused, and so bit by bit, they’ve been taking away these services, like the pre-order button, to teach Hachette a lesson.” ”Inventive” is certainly a kind way to put that—“extortion” is another.
Shephard makes a superficial effort to remain objective, but his legacy publishing bias shows through nonetheless.
So, basically, in their most recent round of negotiations with Hachette, Amazon has begun demanding payment for many of the same services for which traditional brick-and-mortar booksellers have long charged publishers–and this is extortion? Since when did digital disruption come to equal criminal behavior?
If big-chain booksellers are going the way of the dodo, then why is it extortion for Amazon, the company that has filled the void, to demand the same accommodations their failed predecessors used to get? There needs to be a better reason than “because it hasn’t always been that way.” Objecting to Amazon’s demand for a greater percentage of ebook sales is one thing–that’s business, and negotiating with a partner who wants a bigger piece of the pie is part of business. But calling Amazon extortionist because it wants the same consideration traditionally associated with fulfilling the role it’s fulfilling is ridiculous.
Moreover, as I’ve said before, the issue of whether or not Amazon is a monopoly is entirely separate from the issue of their demands for greater recognition from publishers. Traditional publishers are conflating the issues in order to seem like victims, but the truth of the matter is that the only thing underlying their objections to Amazon is greed.
It’s important to note that the vaunted “publishing industry” (aside from a few hacks like James Patterson who continue to accuse Amazon of killing literature) isn’t fighting for the rights of authors at all: they’re fighting for their own profits. Amazon’s reasoning is simple: they provide more and more of the services and resources necessary for publishers to sell books, thus they should get profits commensurate with those services and resources. It’s no secret that those who publish through Amazon receive royalties far in excess of anything traditionally published authors have ever received; the Big Five are rebelling against the reduction of their cut for the sake of rebelling against the reduction of their cut. Because if their profits fall, their ability to continue monopolizing the same industry they are currently accusing Amazon of trying to monopolize will be in jeopardy. Authors will suffer before anyone else.
This is not to say that Amazon, therefore, is automatically any better. There’s nothing compelling them to continue offering self-published authors the same benefits they’re currently receiving. But that’s an issue for another day. Perhaps when the smoke clears, when the two bullies get through pushing each other around, the little guys will have a better perspective on what their future looks like.