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Amazon Tries to Manipulate Indie Authors in Hachette Dispute

on August 9, 2014 in Indie Authors
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Warning: If you have a problem with profanity, this post isn't for you.

For any of my readers who are sick and tired of hearing about the Amazon-Hachette e-book pricing bullshit, let me start with an apology. I'm sorry for bringing that topic here. I'm sick of it too. I've tried to stay out of the issue thus far because most is little more than fodder for linkbait blog posts and hate-baiting between author groups. It's repulsive.

More important was the fact that you, indie authors, didn't really have a horse in this race. It's a dispute between a distributor and a traditional publisher. Interesting? Perhaps. Necessary for us to directly get involved at the moment? Not so much.

That has changed. I received an email from a friend and colleague, Yolander Prinzel, who sells indie titles (both print books and e-books) through Amazon. She passed along an email Amazon sent to KDP authors, essentially trying to manipulate them into actively taking part in this dispute on Amazon's behalf.

Here is their direct call to action. You can read the full letter at GeekWire.com if you'd like to.

"We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.

- Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.

- Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.

- Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team"

You don't have to have my marketing and PR background to smell this PR stunt a mile away. Someone deserves to have their ass handed to them for letting this crap get released as-is.

Let me start by pointing out that I don't hate Amazon or take sides in this overall fight. I'm a regular Amazon customer. I just renewed my Prime membership a few days ago. And as a consumer, I don't expect to stop buying from them. But I do have low tolerance for PR nonsense and obvious manipulative behavior, and as a long-time customer I was angered by this move. As for Hachette, well, as a consumer and author I simply have no reason to care about their interests one way or the other.

That said, I think both sides are acting like spoiled corporate brats that need to put their big boy pants on and work shit out. And they need to do so without using authors as pawns in their fight.

Amazon said it themselves: "Stop using your authors as leverage...." And the folks at Amazon need to take their own advice.

This particular email has me offended both as an indie author and as a consumer. Here are the biggest problems with it:

  • Amazon assumes we're all delusional enough to believe they want lower e-book prices because they care about "book culture" or want to make life easier for consumers rather than increasing their own sales, both for e-books and Kindles.
  • They made the dickish move of sharing someone's personal email address from Hachette while setting up a specially-filtered email address for themselves.
  • They rip on the authors united thing while at the same time using readers-united in their email address for your feedback. It's absurd to pick apart someone else's choice of words while at the same time ripping it off for your own use.
  • They try to put words into the mouths of indie authors as if we would parrot their talking points instead of thinking for ourselves. That's incredibly insulting.
  • It's more than a little bit hypocritical for Amazon to criticize Hachette for using authors as leverage when they're trying to mobilize their own little indie author army to go on the attack. Along those same lines, they want you to tell Hachette to get authors out of the middle of this dispute. Um... again, how stupid do they think we are? Certainly not dense enough to not notice the hypocrisy. There is one difference though. If Hachette mobilized its authors, it did so against a company that could directly affect their authors. Amazon is asking you to stand up against a traditional publisher that has nothing at all to do with you or your own independent book sales.

Now look. Hachette is not some innocent party here. Both of these companies have spouted more than their fair share of horse shit. And both have played a role in pitting authors against each other and both are guilty of orchestrating pathetically transparent PR stunts.

But I don't really care what Hachette has done right now. This is about Amazon's email directly to indie authors. If Amazon really cares about looking like the "good guy" here (and they sure are trying to paint Hachette as the bad guy -- a two-way street in this perpetual pissing contest), then they ought to be able to rise above the bullshit instead of resorting to tactics like this email.

Amazon needs to remember that of those two companies, only one is of mass interest to both book buyers and indie authors. Most don't give two shits who publishes a book before they buy it, probably haven't even heard of Hachette, and aren't likely to go out of their way to avoid buying Hachette's titles. Amazon is the company far more people know, buy from, and publish with. And as such, they owe both readers and indie authors far more respect than this email demonstrated.

Maybe this is just me. But I think we authors should remember that while both of these companies answer to someone, that someone is not us. As such, it might be a good idea to stop speaking for Hachette and Amazon and instead speak up for ourselves. If you're as sick and tired as I am of these two big corporations trying to use authors to hash out their business disputes, why not copy them both on your thoughts?

Better yet, if you're unhappy with the blatant PR stunts pulled by either company and how they affect authors, contact their PR folks directly. And don't hold back. They just love feedback.

Tweetables

Amazon & Hachette are "spoiled brats that need to put their big boy pants on and work sh*t out." - Tweet This
Take your own advice Amazon: "Stop using your authors as leverage...." - Tweet This

Sick of Amazon and Hachette pitting authors against each other? Tell them! - Tweet This

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9 Comments

  1. Jessie
    Jessie August 10, 2014 Reply
  2. Sharon Hurley Hall
    Sharon Hurley Hall August 11, 2014 Reply

    Yes! That letter left a bad taste in my mouth. Amazon should be better than that (or, if I’m wearing my cynical hat, at least pretend to be better than that).
    Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted…The Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success [Review]My Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern August 11, 2014 Reply

      That’s exactly it. If you’re going to get on your high horse pretending that you’re in it for the good of someone or another, at least respect us enough to play that role with a bit of credibility. But the way they’re insulting the intelligence of all of the KDP authors who work with them is pathetic.

      I was supposed to order something from them today (not a book). But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’ll use Prime features that I’ve already paid for. But I’m having a much more difficult time spending more there right now. That’s not to say I’m boycotting them or recommend that. But as a customer I’m disgusted with them right now.

      I think they owe both indie authors and their customers an apology for treating all of us as though we’re too stupid to see through this bullshit, and I emailed Jeff Bezos & the Amazon PR team telling them so (and yes, I copied Michael Pietsch for good measure — after all, Amazon seems to think all complaints should be heard by both; In that case, I’m happy to oblige).

  3. LisaG August 11, 2014 Reply

    Loved this post. I am tired of both sides being jerks about this. Thanks for posting this.

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern August 11, 2014 Reply

      I’m just glad this time all the author blog posts floating around aren’t just fanboy spiels for Amazon or big publishers in general. It looks like quite a few indies were upset by Amazon’s request. I hope they pay attention.

  4. Anne Wayman August 11, 2014 Reply

    Yes, thanks for this… Amazon may finally be getting too big for its britches… or maybe we’re just starting to notice.
    Anne Wayman recently posted…When They Say Your Freelance Writing Fees Are Too ExpensiveMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern August 12, 2014 Reply

      It’s been a long time in the making.

      I look at them much like I look at Google: use them for what they can offer you now, but keep yourself in a position where you could leave them tomorrow. The problem a lot of authors and publishers have is their over-reliance on a single distribution outlet. That’s not how you run a responsible business. Those mistakes have been made countless times by others, and you either learn from them or you risk screwing yourself over in the long run.

      It seems to be a common problem with writers, and not just the indie author crowd. Many are looking for the easiest possible solution to everything. It’s easier to rely on one distribution outlet than manage many, so they do it. It’s easier to let one company do everything to bring your book to market even if the result is sub-par (like a subsidy POD company), so many authors do it. It’s easier to rely on freelance bidding sites even though the majority of high paying gigs will never be found there, so many freelancers do it.

      Eventually those kinds of decisions tend to bite you on the ass — like small businesses who relied too heavily on Facebook and are now finding they’ll have to pay for formerly free exposure, like writers who relied too heavily on content mills that shut down or drastically cut their assignments suddenly, and like anyone who’s ever relied on one of the many apps Google shut down or any of the startups Yahoo! acquired only to eliminate. Business is an adapt-or-die proposition, and relying too heavily, or even exclusively, on a single third party for product distribution means you’re always at risk.

      Somehow I doubt Amazon’s recent actions are going to convince their die-hard fans that they’re better off diversifying. But it’s only a matter of time. So sure, use them now and love them for what they offer you if they bring you the right kinds of readers at the right kinds of price points. Just don’t be naive enough to think that love or dependence is mutual in any way. The moment it makes more financial sense for their shareholders to squeeze indies, they won’t hesitate to do it. Make sure you’re in a position where you can choose to either stay or go on a moment’s notice, and you won’t have major problems if (or when) that time finally comes.

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