After posting my last blog, WHO’S AFRAID OF AMAZON.COM?, on May 27, it immediately went viral, appearing on Business Insider, Forbes, Bloomberg News, and Yahoo Financial, and included interviews in Forbes and Business Insider, which gave me an opportunity to expand my comments. Amazon.com also posted it. The Cockeyed Pessimist received over 30,000 hits, I had countless email responses, and God knows how many others read it from these various sources. The Financial Times of London asked me to write an Op-Ed piece, which was published on June 2 and sent to their 300,000 subscribers.
That blog was written in response to a business article in The New York Times written by David Streitfeld and Melissa Eddy, which seemed to contradict the reality of our own experiences with Amazon. No sense repeating them here—all you need do is go back to that previous blog to follow the argument. One of the things I’ve learned since then is that over 85% of the small and independent publishers who responded to my blog had the exact same experiences with Amazon that I had and shared my viewpoint.
It also appears that Streitfeld and Eddy have dug in on their position, for they continue to present a mixture of hypothesis and rumor (which, to their credit, they report as such), but also adding dollops of innuendo by painting Amazon as the villain in the dispute with Hachette and the other four publishing conglomerates. These huge multi-national corporations may be filled with fears and uncertainties, but the reporters ignore the fact that there are over 3,000 publishers in the US (according to a recent report in Literary Market Place). What works for the Big Five does not necessarily work for the other 2,995 of us, any more than the richest 1% of our population represent what the other 99% of us desire. In fact, Amazon has provided huge benefits and advantages to small, independent publishers, unprecedented in my 35 years as a publisher.
On May 30, two separate articles appeared in the Times. They cite “rumors” that Amazon is willing to alienate customers because it is selling Kindle titles at too low a price and are willing to lose money in the process. In a second article Hachette author Michael Gladwell was interviewed, who by his own account has earned millions of dollars for his books and goes on to describes Amazon—along with his publisher –as “partners.” He wonders why his partner Amazon, who must also have earned millions from his book would abandon him by not taking pre-orders well ahead of publication date for his next book.
I know that Amazon won’t take pre-orders from us unless we can ship books within the time frame of expected delivery. Perhaps they have a different deal with the Big Five, but I’m not privy to their negotiations. What I do know is that the Department of Justice ordered that discussions between Hachette and Amazon be held in private, without commentary from either side. Still, in one of Streitfeld’s postings his final line was “An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.” He didn’t refer to the DOJ injunction, which also applies to Hachette, leaving the impression that Amazon alone is intentionally hiding something dishonorable.
I’ve read that another Hachette millionaire author stated that pre-orders from Amazon help determine print runs. I do know that pre-orders of books, before knowing how many copies are destined to be sold, puts an impossible burden on all publishers, since this is the only industry that sells on consignment, allowing bookstores (and Amazon is an on-line bookstore) and wholesalers to return books for full credit, and most publishers—large and small—receive returns of 20% to 80%. Nonetheless, it’s been a blessing to be able to address media reporting that not only seems one-sided, but is doubtlessly bringing great joy to the Big Five’s well-staffed PR departments.
I can also tell you that on-line journalists and bloggers have been generally far more supportive of my views than most print journalists. But change seems to be coming in print, too. On the OP-ED page of the New York Times on Saturday, May 31, Bob Kohn, who represented the Big Five and failed to win their case when the Justice Department found them guilty of collusion was at it again, writing a difficult to follow screed, How Book Publishers Can Beat Amazon, while the columnist Joe Nocera dismissed all of this as nonsense in a beautifully rational, and balanced way in his article, Amazon’s ‘Bullying’ Tactics, which I’d urge you to read.
What all this does is get a conversation going where everyone can have their say, not just the privileged few.