A Tale of Two (Types) Books

A Tale of Two (Types) Books

Wesley MurchisonWednesday,8 October 2014

The Snap:

Amazon is still holding back books published by Hachette, except one. Wisconsin Congressman, Paul Ryan, is out with a new book titled “The Way Forward,” and, according to the New York Times, it was experiencing the same fate as all the other Hachette published books. That is until Aug. 20, when Paul Ryan made an appearance on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” and got to air his displeasure, however modestly, about being in the crossfire between the online retailer and one of the big five book publishers. Since then, however, his book has been easier to find and started receiving the regular discount usually provided to books by retailers.

The Download:

Technically, Ryan’s book is being published by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette. Of course, in these types of commercial standoffs such distinctions aren’t relevant. Like all books published by Hachette’s imprints, Ryan’s book was hard to find and was taking three weeks to ship. But while on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” he told hosts Andrew Ross Sorkin and Becky Quick that Amazon’s behavior is “a very frustrating thing,” then adding that “clearly Amazon is making kind of a power play here.” When asked by Sorkin if Amazon’s behavior was the exception to his antiregulation position he simply retorted: “If I were just a private citizen I would voice one straight opinion.”

Shortly thereafter, Amazon started treating the former vice president nominee to the Republican Party differently than the rest of the Hachette published authors. It became easier to find, was fully discounted and shipped immediately, according to the New York Times.

It’s really no surprise that Amazon would treat a prominent politician differently. But for those authors who aren’t fortunate enough to have been elected to public office on the national stage, the circumstances couldn’t be worse. Amazon’s cyber-boycott is a double whammy. The preorders help publishers decided how popular a book is going to be, therefore determining how many to order for printing. The discount can make a well-publicized book reach Amazon’s top-100 list or New York Times bestseller list.

To illustrate the impact this boycott has on a book, the New York Times reports that the new release of “Sons of Wichita,” an exposé on the conservative billionaire Koch brothers that received good reviews, fell off the paper’s bestseller list after Amazon removed the discount and slowed delivery to up to five weeks.

“The wind was at my back, but Amazon diminished some of that momentum at a key moment,” Daniel Schulman, the books author, told the New York Times.

Amazon has pointed time and again that other book disturbers behave in like fashion over contract disputes. But what Amazon fails to understand is the company’s large share in the online marketplace and its influence. That’s why it isn’t surprising that more the authors are coming out against Amazon, while few are coming to its defense.

Hachette and Authors United, a group of authors organizing against Amazon’s heavy-handed tactic, can add to their list of supporters such literary luminaries as Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, Orphan Pamuk, V. S. Naipaul and Milan Kundera. As impressive as adding two Nobel Prize winners and one Nobel nominee is, what’s most significant is that the support is growing outside the ranks of Hachette community.

The implication is that more authors are starting to see Amazon, with its large market size and aggressive behavior, as the bigger threat to their financial success. In the long-term, most analyses and reports have predicted that Amazon will win if the online retailer is successful in capping the price of e-books and increasing its profit margin per unit. In the meantime, the short-term damage to company’s image is a small price to pay. However, Authors United, and lawsuits in Europe against Amazon, are laying the groundwork for a pivot away from Amazon as more publishers and authors feel the squeeze put on the book industry.

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Hat Tips:

New York Times, Huffington Post, Image Credit: Flickr

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