Thoughts on the Amazon v. Traditional Publisher Fight

Hachette and Amazon settled their dispute. Hachette (which publishes authors such as Robert Galbraith (J.K Rowling’s pseudonym), Malcolm Gladwell and James Patterson) is allowed to set its own e-book prices.

I’m not sure where I stand on this, namely because I don’t think I have complete understanding of the facts. However, from here it looks like Amazon wants to cut prices for books because it sells like 40% of all books sold, and its business model is cheap prices. Amazon’s dominance also gives it serious leverage as most publishers/authors can’t simply walk away from the site. Publishers such as Hachette don’t want to cut prices so that they have more money for themselves and authors. Amazon needs them because they carry some of the most influential authors of our time.

On the one hand, I get Amazon’s point. Commerce, including book-selling, is changing and it’s trying to force publishers to evolve. Many people seriously question if publishers are even necessary anymore, as authors can self-publish, take a higher percentage of rights, and therefore sell a bunch of books on Amazon while still keeping prices down. There is a real freedom to this model. It seems to get rid of a gatekeeper, and allow diverse, non-traditional, innovative stories to gain access to the market-  amazing books that never would have had a chance because agents/publishers were afraid to bet on them.

On the other hand, Amazon is a retailer that sells a billion things. Its heart is with the platform, not with the books. They made this clear when, as part of its negotiating tactics, it delayed shipping of books by Hachette authors, made them unavailable for preorder, altered search terms so they were difficult to find, etc. I wanted to be neutral and listen to both sides (because I think there are legitimate arguments on both), but that really rubbed me the wrong way as both a reader and a wannabe author. It also demonstrates the problem of eliminating publishers altogether (if that’s its end goal). Someone needs to be invested in more than just bottomline, but also the art and the artists. While I think publishers definitely are focused on the $$, I also think they do genuinely care about the books as well.

I don’t know, it seems like the two parties just kicked the can down the road, and this same dispute will emerge again in a few years. I’m interested to hear other people’s thoughts.


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