Amazon’s war of words with book publisher Hachette has stepped up a notch in recent days, with an open letter signed by authors provoking further communications from both companies. It’s safe to say neither is in the mood to compromise in their long-running licensing row.
The trigger for the latest round was the open letter from “Authors United” last week, published in the New York Times and signed by more than 900 writers from various publishers, including Stephen King, Philip Pullman, Carol Muske-Dukes, David Baldacci, Donna Tartt and Malcolm Gladwell.
“As writers – most of us not published by Hachette – we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want,” claimed the letter, which called for Amazon to “resolve its dispute with Hachette without further hurting authors and without blocking or otherwise delaying the sale of books to its customers”.
It also encouraged fans to email Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (including his email address) to nudge him along that path. “This is no way to treat a business partner. Nor is it the right way to treat your friends.”
Cue Amazon’s rapid response – published at the URL readersunited.com – suggesting that the dispute is an example of the e-book format being “opposed by the literary establishment”, and comparing it to publishers’ opposition to paperback books in the 1930s.
It brings up Hachette’s involvement in a court case over illegal collusion with rivals over e-book prices; claims a number of authors support Amazon in the dispute; and reiterates previous claims that e-books sell more copies when they cost less: “Books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more,” said Amazon.
“If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.” Oh, and it also published Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch’s email address.
And then, in turn, Hachette released the text of the email Pietsch is sending to people who contact him after Amazon’s prompt: “This dispute started because Amazon is seeking a lot more profit and even more market share, at the expense of authors, bricks and mortar bookstores, and ourselves,” he wrote.
“We are negotiating in good faith. These punitive actions are not necessary, nor what we would expect from a trusted business partner.”
There are elements of this dispute that would be laughable – the tit-for-tat email address publications, and a mind-boggling misquotation of George Orwell in Amazon’s letter – if the implications weren’t so serious, not just for book publishing, but for the way the balance of power plays out in any creative industry. Music included.