Amazon VS Hachette, Round 7

prime parry~ August 9th, 2014 ~

Like many a KDP author, my husband and I checked our emails over a Saturday morning cup of coffee. A lengthy email from the Amazon Books Team took center stage among the others and we dove in. Impromptu messages from our global distribution partner are rare, unless something is amiss or some new program has been launched. A “reader” version of this email can be viewed here.

The email began with a well-worded history lesson, harkening back to the birth of the paperback and likening its poor reception to today’s ongoing issue with Hachette. Apparently, the traditional publishing industry has prior offenses in marshaling authors to exclude a particular reading medium which it views as a threat. The paperback–now the bread-and-butter darling of the paper book industry–was once painted with leper-like status and bookstores refused to sell them, saying that it would cheapen literature as a whole. Several independent publishers, however, rejected that idea and printed them anyway–as they were very cheap to produce–and sold them at news-stands and drug stores. A huge demand for the humble paperback ensued and–contrary to the book industry’s dire predictions–literacy rates exploded. Yes, garbage was printed along with the good stuff, but the point Amazon’s email extrapolated from its mini-history-lecture was that the price of the paperbacks was in proportion to its production cost.

My husband and I glanced at each other over our coffee cups. My raised eyebrow was answered by his sage nod. A familiar scenario, indeed. As authors we, naturally, don’t want to see eBooks get so cheap that it doesn’t make business sense to keep writing them. To us, charging less than $2.99 would not just be insulting, it wouldn’t be worth the effort considering the amount of time the average writer spends on the actual writing (6 months-1 year per title) let alone the expensive editing services ($900-$1200 per title) and artwork/formatting services, as well as the subsequent website/marketing.

Our books are on the lower end of the scale simply because we self-market and utilize high-quality software for formatting; if we hired those services out we’d have to charge a little more per book. Though we like the control aspect of setting our own prices, we agree that prices should not be raised or lowered across the board, as if they are all alike. Books, like every other commodity is subject to supply and demand. We also strongly feel that $.99 for a full-length novel is just too low, unless used on a temporary promotional basis… which is another thing consumers seem to like, so it stays.

Whether or not you agree with Hachette’s argument or Amazon’s–or have a foot in both camps–most folks agree that the eBook revolution came about because of one industry’s blatant refusal to evolve. The demand for eBooks is there because consumers want them. End of story. Consumers also don’t want to pay paper prices for digital books. Folks are smart, publishers… they know eBooks are far, far cheaper to produce than paperbacks. Consumer knew this long before Amazon’s Saturday email… and yet Hachette seems to be insistent that consumers pay $9.99-$14.99 for their eBooks.

I admit I let out a rather mocking snort upon reading that bit of information, knowing full well I could walk into any bookstore right now and purchase a tangible, paper book for that same price. Having made and formatted my own eBooks for some time, I know that the cost of self-publishing an eBook–for us–is about $2. For Hachette to charge such ridiculously high prices for eBooks brooks of greed.. and arrogance; even worse, it is the kind of arrogance that appears deliberately ignorant of the lessons other companies were able to learn over the last ten years: 1. eBooks are here to stay, 2. publishers must evolve or go extinct… and 3. the customer is always right.

The entire argument boils down to this: in the past traditional publishers refused to give consumers what they wanted… so, they migrated. Amazon was more than wiling to extend a hand to self-published writers in order to meet demand, and then went a step further in letting said writers control what prices they wanted to set their books at. Consumers responded in droves, and still do… and are likely to continue to flock to the mega-online retailer for some time to come, despite its rather mysterious PR system and cloaked industry data.

Dislike or like Amazon as you will. Agree or disagree with Hachette’s many gripes. From the perspective of actual writers, however, my husband and I love getting 70% royalties from our own work, something I bet a Hachette author would just love to have for themselves, and this despite pressure from their contracts/agents forcing them to voice a feeble opposition.

I admire Amazon Book Team’s endeavor to garner the ire of its vast array of indie writers by pointing out anti-trust-like collusion between companies and encouraging both writers and readers alike write to Hachette’s CEO and voice said feelings. I doubt it will do any good. History shows us that most mega-publishers have an ingrained habit of not listening to consumers until its almost too late.

I am certain many self-published writers view the entire Amazon VS Hachette debate with a ponderous grimace. They give a rueful shake of the head, let out a half-sighed remark on the stubbornness of human nature and then move on to check their latest hourly sales figures… whereupon the smiles return once more.

slender floral divider

L. R. Styles is an author of The Road to the King series, On the Way to America & The Inheritance

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4 thoughts on “Amazon VS Hachette, Round 7

  1. While I agree with the notion that $9.99-$14.99 for an eBook is unrealistic given the current environment- your argument is flawed. You praise Amazon for allowing you to set the price for your books, yet “admire Amazon Book Team’s endeavor to garner the ire of its vast array of indie writers . . .” in their fight to deny Hachette the right set their own prices. You can’t have it both ways. Why is Amazon using its near monopoly position to force Hachette to adhere to Amazon’s terms? Now, lest you think I’m an Amazon hater, I’m not, I applaud them for all they’ve done for readers and authors alike. I most likely would not be published but for their efforts to expand the eBook market. But doesn’t their use of their extreme power scare you?(And let’s be honest they wield a TON of power in the publishing world) They’re tying to bent a large, well heeled publisher to their will. Hachette has the money to fight them – for now at least. You and I don’t. What happened when Amazon turns on us? And don’t kid yourself, if they feel it is in Amazon’s financial best interest to force you to sell your books for $1.49, they will. Will you admire them when they do that to you?

    As authors we should be concerned when a retailer turns on a fellow content provider. Hachette, even thought they are a publisher, is a content provider. They sell a product in Amazon’s retail ‘store.’ As authors we should all be squarely behind Hachette’s RIGHT (not them, but their right) to set their own price for their books, because ultimately that is what we want: the freedom to access Amazon’s retail platform to sell our books at the price we want. Let the market determine what is fair, not Amazon. If consumers don’t want to buy eBooks at $9.99-$14.99, they won’t and Hachette will need to adjust accordingly. If they don’t that’s on them. But I absolutely do not want Amazon dictating the price to anyone, not even a big Publisher, because if they can do it to them, they sure as hell can do it to me.

  2. Very well said! You laid the crux of the matter out clearly in a way anyone could understand. I loved it all. My favotie paragraph was this:

    “I admit to letting out a rather mocking snort upon reading that bit of information, knowing full well I could walk into any bookstore right now and purchase a tangible, paper book for that same price. Having made and formatted my own eBooks for some time, I know that the cost of self-publishing an eBook–for us–is about $2.For Hachette to charge such ridiculously high prices for eBooks brooks of arrogance; even worse, it is the kind of arrogance that appears deliberately ignorant of the lessons other companies were able to learn over the last ten years: 1. eBooks are here to stay, 2. publishers must evolve or go extinct… and 3. the customer is always right.”

  3. “… 1. eBooks are here to stay, 2. publishers must evolve or go extinct… and 3. the customer is always right.”
    I love that statement. 🙂 It just tops your whole article. Well done!

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