Clash of the Titans

Public opinion aside, Hachette is hardly the victim in its dispute with Amazon.

Clash of the Titans

How is Amazon the bad guy?

It wants more of the revenue Hachette and other “mainstream” publishers make from selling through Amazon. I don’t know if that’s a reasonable position, but it sounds like a negotiating one. There probably wouldn’t even be e-books if not for Amazon.

I know this position puts me at odds with many of my friends in the publishing realm, including the Washington Independent Review of Books, which has come out against Amazon. It also puts me at odds with Stephen Colbert, one of my favorite commentators, who famously gave Amazon the finger on his show. Hachette publishes Colbert’s books, so he took it personally that Amazon is trying to squeeze more money out of Hachette. Presumably, that also endangers Colbert’s revenue stream.

Other authors cried foul, as well, including James Patterson, who not only has to preserve his income, but also that of the many co-authors who write his books. (Patterson acknowledges that the reason he can turn out a book a month is that he only produces short treatments that a stable of writers then turns into full-length novels.)

If my ox (and all the oxen in my writing herd) were being gored, I might also complain — although I might not claim righteously that I’m only looking out for readers, literature, and mankind.

Scott Turow, a writer I admire, says that Amazon is out to destroy publishing. I presume he means traditional publishing, and he may be right. But so what? Gutenberg put the monks out of business, the Monitor and the Merrimack instantly made wooden warships obsolete, and the horseless carriage devastated the buggy-whip industry.


Hachette is a big company; it belongs to a $10 billion conglomerate. Amazon, of course, is much, much larger. I worry Amazon may eventually get too big for its britches. But in this country (allegedly the bastion of free enterprise), economic might usually makes right. (See Dick Cheney, Halliburton, Iraq; or Financial Meltdown, Wall Street, No One Went to Jail.)

A few years ago, Tiger Woods invited 120 golfers to a tournament he established. That was a smaller field than is typical at a PGA event. Many golfers who didn’t get an invitation grumbled that he was depriving them of a chance to make a paycheck. Phil Mickelson, one of Tiger’s biggest rivals (and someone who is on record as not being a big fan of Tiger), basically told the disgruntled golfers to shut up. Phil pointed out that, before Tiger arrived on the scene, they were playing for purses a tenth of what they were now. By increasing interest in golf, and sending TV revenues into the stratosphere, Tiger had made millionaires of golfers who otherwise would be changing grips and giving lessons at dusty country clubs in Podunk. 

Patterson may be losing millions (which he can afford), but that money is now being made by thousands of other Amazon authors. Why doesn’t this make him happy?

Amazon doesn’t compete with Hachette; Amazon distributes Hachette’s books. Amazon opened up an entire revenue stream for Hachette and its authors that, as I said, did not previously exist.

Amazon offered to give Hachette’s authors 100 percent of royalties while the dispute is being resolved.

Hachette turned the offer down.

How is Amazon the bad guy?

Lawrence De Maria is a former New York Times Pulitzer-nominated journalist who has just
completed his 10th novel. All his thrillers and mysteries are available at
Amazon or through his website. He would love to
hear from you through his site or via [email protected].

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