In a remarkable move, Amazon released a statement yesterday defending its slow-walking of Hachette Book Group titles. The normally tight-lipped corporation broke its silence amid a barrage of press—including Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson’s appearance on the Bloomberg TV program “Market Makers”—concerning its ploy to pressure Hachette into accepting unfavorable contract terms.
In its statement, Amazon sought the sympathy of its customers as well as authors. After pointing out that Hachette is “part of a $10 billion media conglomerate,” Amazon claimed that “when we negotiate with suppliers, we are doing so on behalf of customers.” The claim sounds more than a bit disingenuous after widespread reports that the online retailer is under investor pressure to improve its profit margins.
The disingenuity continued as Amazon strategically offered an olive branch to authors, describing a proposal that it and Hachette come together to fund an “author pool—to be allocated by Hachette—to mitigate the impact of this dispute on author royalties.” The proposal was obviously a red herring, with no chance of success: one thing we’ve noticed over the years is that it’s not likely a publisher will agree to pay authors for books it doesn’t sell.
Hachette’s response was sincere in comparison, but not without its crafty moments. In rejecting Amazon’s author pool proposal, the publisher counter-offered that once the parties reach an agreement, “we will be happy to discuss with Amazon its ideas about compensating authors for the damage its demand for improved terms may have done them, and to pass along any payments it considers appropriate.”
After aligning itself with the concerns of authors, and even referring to authors as “partners,” Hachette also made a salient point about the literary marketplace: “By preventing its customers from connecting with these authors’ books, Amazon indicates that it considers books to be like any other consumer good. They are not.”
The dispute is sure to be a hot topic at this week’s Book Expo of America Conference in New York City. If you happen to be there, come by and see us at Booth 1211.