54c77016-bb3f-4bae-8a5c-9f50403afef2We’re still seeing massive coverage of the negotiations between Amazon and Hachette. Unsurprisingly these appear to be tough, and the coverage is provoking a bit of retelling of war stories. Karen Christensen, co-founder of Berkshire Books, delivers (via the SSP group on LinkedIn) this account of their fraught relationship. (This devilish logo comes from a Seattle Times article referenced in her piece.) The trouble with her account, it seems to me, is that what she’s really complaining about is that Berkshire Books is making less money off the books they sell through Amazon. Now we can of course sympathize with this attitude — you don’t want to work for free — but she has obviously done the math and decided that it is all in all worthwhile to accede to Amazon’s discount demands because that way BERKSHIRE WILL SELL MORE BOOKS. Her Chinese contact would after all not have bought This Is China: The First 5,000 Years if it hadn’t been available on Amazon. She enlists Berkshire’s poor authors in an aside about royalties on sales at greater than 50%: but if your authors are not getting paid a royalty, this is not Amazon’s fault. Maybe your standard contract needs to be revised. Moses didn’t bring this clause down from the mountain — you can change it. And maybe altered market conditions demand that you should.

“Amazon is destroying competition and innovation because it is not letting the market determine winners and losers.” I know publishers are used to saying this sort of thing, but isn’t it actually the reverse? Isn’t Amazon creating competition and innovation? Or wouldn’t it be doing so if publishers were not so prone to lie supine on the floor drumming their heels on the carpet and sobbing “It’s not fair”. Of course it isn’t easy. It isn’t even pleasant; and many of us got into books in the beginning mainly because it was “pleasant”. But if everyone just accepted our claims to be disinterested benefactors of humanity, would we really do a better job? But wait a minute: Amazon’s dodgings and finaglings, while aiming to improve their margins, are all directed at lowering prices to their customers, which is exactly what makes them fairly safe from anti-trust prosecutions. Many in publishing have been heard to say things like “But just wait till they control the whole enchilada: then they’ll put the prices up.” Maybe. And if they do, then they will probably be open to an anti-trust suit from the Justice Department. Personally I don’t think they are dumb enough to contemplate any such thing.

Steven Colbert’s contribution to the debate has the somewhat redeeming feature that it’s meant to be funny.

Here on the other hand is a fascinating piece — word from inside. The writer used to work “for a little bookstore on the internet. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Begins with an A.” She makes a great point about single copy ordering — it’s almost calculated to bring a publisher’s warehouse to its knees (though we’ve made strides, some of us, in this area recently). Book warehouses are by-and-large set up to handle large carton-sized orders, not ones and twos. Is this another weapon being used by Amazon in its debate with Hachette? And if it is, is that in some way wicked. We have seen the changes coming: shipping carton lots to big bookstores is surely not the way things are going to be in the future. All publishers have to beef up their small order shipping systems: outside pressure is more of an opportunity than a problem.

Matt Blind’s Digital Reader piece, “A once-in-a century opportunity to reinvent publishing and books” is a must-read. Positive and uncomfortable (for all currently at the table), it suggests the way forward.

Passive Voice ( a valuable blog subtitled A lawyer’s thoughts on authors, self publishing and traditional publishing) gives us his take on the story too, with a link to The Atlantic‘s story by Jeremy Greenfield. The Passive Guy (David Vandagriff), was interviewed by Len Edgerly on the Kindle Chronicles podcast of 11 April.

Sorry about all this reading material. This story seems to have unloosed a flood. My head is spinning. Yet I hesitate to promise never to post on it again — it shows every sign of having legs. And after Hachette we will be moving on to the next in line of the Big Five.

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