Robinson and Alexie Draw the Focus to Authors in Amazon-Hachette Dispute

In the flurry of media stories over the last few weeks covering the dispute between Amazon and Hachette Book Group, one perspective has largely been overlooked: that of the author. Two Guild members recently took to the airwaves to fix that.

Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson was a guest Thursday morning on NPR’s On Point, reminding listeners that while Amazon may be the bully in this particular dispute, Hachette and the rest of the Big Five don’t exactly have clean records when it comes to e-book revenue, which seems to be the object of the two firms’ standoff.

Just as Amazon is pressuring Hachette now, Hachette and other major trade publishers, Robinson said, regularly put the squeeze on their authors when it comes to e-book royalty rates. As we’ve maintained for years, an e-book royalty of 25% of net receipts is a windfall to the publisher and a major step back for authors. To begin with, it’s not reflective of publishing’s traditional “joint venture” arrangement, in which authors and publishers effectively split the net proceeds of book sales. What’s more, it incentivizes publishers to favor e-books, from which they profit at a higher rate than from hardcover sales.

Robinson also touched on the potential antitrust violations of Amazon’s market dominance, particularly its predatory pricing schemes. The New York Times covered similar ground in an editorial on Tuesday. The Times’ editorial board wrote that “when a company dominates the sale of certain products as Amazon does with books, it has the power to distort the market for its own benefit and possibly in violation of antitrust laws.”

Robinson wasn’t the only member of the Authors Guild family in the news. Council member Sherman Alexie made a Wednesday evening appearance on The Colbert Report, standing up for the authors affected by the corporate standoff and even suggesting a boycott of Amazon.

When two publishing giants fight, Colbert asked Alexie, who do you root for? Alexie responded without hesitation: “You root for the authors.” Colbert and Alexie, both Hachette authors, expressed frustration not only at what Amazon’s tactics have done to their own royalties, but also at how they could affect new authors.

The authors also took the time to remind readers that Amazon’s not the only bookstore on the block. When Colbert asked Alexie what we can do to fight back, the novelist responded with a solution we can all bear in mind: “Well, number one, you don’t shop there . . . for anything.”

The American Booksellers Association hasn’t passed up this opportunity to convert readers’ ill-will towards Amazon into more support for their members. The organization released a logo this week sporting the following message: “Thanks, Amazon, the indies will take it from here. Independent bookstores sell books from all publishers. Always.”

We’re hopeful that independent bookstores, at least, can find a way to turn this strife to their advantage.

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