Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WHO'S AFRAID OF AMAZON.COM

Martin Shepard, co-publisher, The Permanent Press, Sag Harbor,  NY


On May 24, The New York Times ran a page one story “As Publishers Fight Amazon, Books Vanish.”  In their alarmist zeal reporters David Streitfeld and Melissa Eddy conjure the dreadful threat that Amazon has inflicted upon the “literary world,” causing a kerfuffle of rage and fear as exemplified by a dispute between the electronic superstore and one of the most robust publishers in the Western World. Their first paragraph states “Amazon’s power over the publishing and bookselling industries is unrivaled in the modern era. Now it has started wielding its might in a more brazen way than ever before.” Their second paragraph states that “The literary community is fearful and outraged—and practically begging for government intervention.” They then cite three publishers, none of which I would consider great examples of the “literary” community—or even the larger community of book publishers to prove their thesis. 

As far as this literary publisher is concerned this article is poppycock. It starts with the assumption that Amazon is bad and gathers meagre material to prove its point. The last time I checked, Literary Market Place listed over 2,000 book publishers in the United States. Yet Streitfeld and Eddy quote only one independent publisher in paragraph three (Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House) saying, about Amazon, “How is this not extortion? You know, the thing that is illegal when the Mafia does it?“

Who are the other publishers that are crying out? Hachette, the fourth largest of the five conglomerate publishers (who together, through all their more than a hundred imprints sell  85% percent of the books sold to the general public in America). Eddy and Streitfeld then makes passing reference to a third publisher, Bonnier, based in Germany, known primarily for publishing magazines throughout the Western world and far fewer books. As for the outpouring of social media they cite two of Hachette’s best-selling writers:  James Patterson, a writing factory, who, in 2013, “wrote” 13 Alex Cross thrillers alone, using numerous co-writers, which is why one out of five hardcover books sold bears his name. Though he reportedly earned $80 million dollars last year, he described the confrontation between Amazon and Hachette as “a war.“ The other social media complaint about Amazon came from Nina Laden, who writes and illustrates children’s books.


And what is this all about? Disagreements between Amazon and Hachette plus one independent press over Amazon’s electronic pricing of their books; this dispute resulting in Amazon’s not posting hardcover books coming out by their leading authors this summer and fall. Even Eddy and Streitfeld concede that it has nothing to do with actual books being sold, but that Hachette and Melville want more of the electronic pie, and if they can’t get it howl and rage about it. Hats off to a PR coup for the people who managed to get the Times reporters to serve up this poorly researched and badly distorted piece. From my point of view, Amazon is the very best thing any small independent press could ask for, while the scariest thing is how The New York Times allowed this unchecked article to appear. Mistakes happen, I suppose, for this is one news story not “Fit to Print”—just a one sided expose that only exposes poor journalism.


In truth, everyone wants more of the pie. We’ve been publishing literary fiction for 35 years, and in the past found that the chain bookstores took few if any of our titles, that distributors like Ingram demanded bigger discounts from us than they charged the conglomerates, or that despite winning more literary awards per title than any other publisher in America we could not match the print review coverage afforded to authors of the five big conglomerates. But we’re not calling these other organizations Mafia inspired or asking for government intervention. Surely one  must come to recognize that all these companies are—and should be—free to set their own terms based on their bottom-lines, and publishers like Hachette might consider tempering their  complaints about Amazon’s discrimination or restraint of trade. Jeff Bezos didn’t create Amazon for Hachette, and Hachette isn’t forced to use Amazon for distribution. What is Amazon anyway, other than an incredibly successful on-line store that sells almost every product  one can think of.


I give Amazon a four star review for not only their efficiency and  work they do, but for leveling the playing field, and here are the four reasons why.
1)    When you send orders to a store, distributor or wholesaler, publishers can count on returns of 20 to 80%. If Amazon orders books (which they do in increasingly larger numbers) it’s rare to get more than one or two percent returned. They are masters at this and consequently enable us to cut-down on our print runs.

2)    Amazon makes it easy to post reviews of our books, whether they are online or print reviews. Nor is there any discrimination, space-wise, between the coverage we get for individual titles or Hachette gets. Additionally, when one of our books is ordered, they list other titles of ours that might be of interest, proving themselves to be great marketers.

3)    Earnings from Kindle sales are excellent as both publisher and author find more profit (especially when we, as publishers, split eBook income on a 50:50 basis with our writers) with virtually no production costs. I've heard that most of the bigger houses don’t do this, writing contracts giving most authors only 25% of electronic income. Perhaps some of the authors complaining about Amazon on social media, would be better served if they complained to their publishers, like Melville or Hachette, if they are not getting 50% of this pie.

4)    Amazon generally pays us within 30 days, with wire transfers to our bank.  Nobody else in the industry come anywhere close to them  and enables us to keep up with printing costs and salaries.
I always have a lingering suspicion that when one of the large publishing cartels complains they are being treated unfairly by Amazon, it’s probably good for most all of the smaller, independent presses. When the Times allows a poorly researched, inaccurate anti-Amazon screed to appear, it makes me want to stand up for Jeff Bezos and Amazon, and present a very different point of view which I hope will balance out what I consider blatant propaganda. And I would encourage other publishers who feel similarly to email me and speak out as well.

-Marty

shepard@thepermanentpress.com


Martin Shepard, co-publisher, The Permanent Press, Sag Harbor,  NY

84 comments:

  1. Bravo. At last a voice from the wilderness. I recall years ago when it seemed most of the book world was damning Barnes and Noble for putting small independent bookstores out of business and for putting pressure on publishers! Matter of fact it wasn't so long ago ...just last year...that B&N had a spat with a publisher and stopped ordering and shelving that publisher's books. But we don't hear much about that because Amazon is the big bad wolf of the moment. As a customer I appreciate Amazon for its lower prices, quickness of shipment, generous return policies and its ability to provide just about every book published in recent times...new or used, in or out of print Amazon has accomplished what B&N wanted to but failed to do. (Our local B&N is a disaster zone with books improperly shelved...found Edna St. Vincent Millay titles shelved under E, S, V and M as well as in sections other than poetry! Their people know little about books and are little help to customers.) It seems that the inept are the ones who run around accusing the successful......"It's your fault I'm failing, you big bully!" ..It's easier to point a finger than to to improve themselves. Thank you for some positive input.

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    1. So nice to read your comment and know that we're not just one voice in the wilderness here.

      Marty

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    2. A great piece, I totally agree. Maybe the New York Times has no Editors anymore?

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    3. A biased, poorly researched, unedited New York Times article? Isn't that all of them? I've read far too many articles in the NYT (and most other papers too) on topics where I'm a subject matter expert that were flat out wrong to ever trust any of their articles on any subject.

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    4. We are a small publisher who finds Amazon easier to deal with than our local bookstore. We did a book fair last year and B&N took such a huge chunk from our authors that we wound up refusing to participate this year unless things changed. They did, and now we are bypassing the bookstore and selling/collecting ourselves.
      High Tide Publications

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  3. I'm a SF author who very recently went the independent publication route when the gatekeepers of the Big Six refused me entry. Amazon has been a boon, and I'm an unabashed supporter. Hachette and Amazon both have some very talented and conscientious individuals working for them, and it is terrible that individual authors may suffer for their disagreement, but the biased NYT article (and others) all seemed to be uniformly anti-Amazon. This seemed squirrelly to me, so I'm glad to see dissenting views that make more sense, like yours, David Gaughran's, and Amazon's own post in their discussion boards. Kudos!

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  4. Bravo. I'm a reader (not a writer) who reads a lot. I never really paid much attention to who publishes a book until recently, when certain publishers started conspiring against their customers (me, for one). Now I'm hesitant to buy from these publishers even when their prices aren't exorbitant. BTW, I will look for your books now.

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  5. Bravo. Publishers can't boast record profits quarter after quarter based on ebook sales (of which authors get a mere 25% of net) and then cry foul when Amazon, who sells more than 65%-80% of those books, asks for a raise.

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    1. I'd love to know what publishers you're referring to that "boast record profits quarter after quarter based on ebook sales." All the industry stats I've seen show most publishers boasting of shrinking profits.

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  6. Thank you for this. It is the antidote for soooo much nonsense.

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  7. We live in a world of tall poppy haters who follow the overused mantra that 'small is beautiful' and by dubious extension that big is evil. Neither ever proves to be true in real life. Even monopolies, if well managed by inside and outside forces aren't necessarily dangerous sharks, but rather gentle manatees. Yes, big can go wrong despite checks and balances. In reality, the smaller an organisation the fewer the controls. And a giant such as Hachette, posing as a group of separate lovely little companies is often the worst of all possible evils. So let's wait for the facts before we decide on where to plunge our knives. All the evidence so far amounts to Amazon being the most friendly giant authors and readers have ever had.

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  8. I am not on one side or the other, because I do not know all the facts, but I find this blog very refreshing. I was appalled by the bias of the NY Times in two opinion pieces (or blogs?) in the same day against Amazon. We already knew that the Times was anti-Amazon. The Times is a publisher and they have a knee-jerk reaction against Amazon.

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    1. One of the BIG reasons I canceled my subscription to the NYT and no longer gift a NYT subscription to my father. Getting harder and harder to find unbiased news....

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  9. Bonnier is based in Sweden and is one of the largest book publishers in Europe. You should check your facts too, Marty, before lecturing others.

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    1. um that doesnt really deal a death blow to his arguements. is that the best you got?

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    2. However, it does demonstrate a casual attitude to facts.

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    3. Yes, I did goof on this, because I read Bonnier's history too quickly. Gerhard Bonnier was a German, living in Copenhagen ,Denmark, when he first started his company. It was moved to Sweden later on when his sons took over. Today they control 175 companies in 20 countries (newspaper, film, magazines, broadcasting and other media) among them, one of which is located in Germany.

      Marty

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    4. Not just their history. They are a big player in the German book market. To suggest otherwise is a mischaracterization. Ullstein, Piper, Thiemann, Carlsen. The criticism was leveled at Amazon's treatment of Bonnier in Germany, and, while not a German company, they are not a small publisher.

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  10. I’m pleased to see there are some more balanced articles and posts on this starting to appear. Hachette might not be the biggest of the big 5, but they're a long way from being the helpless small publisher they’re being portrayed as in most of the mainstream press.
    Whatever happens with Amazon and Hachette, it's going to set the bar for the other big publishers when they come to renegotiate. I think everyone in the book industry is going to be watching this very closely.

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  11. Marty,

    Please make the letters black and the background white. The current layout is unreadable.

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    1. I second this! I skimmed the post but will probably cut-and-paste it into Word and change the color scheme before I actually read it through.

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    2. I increased the font size in my browser and used OS X's accessibility controls to reverse the colors. It's ironic that a publisher's blog would be so incredibly difficult to read!

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    3. http://www.beelinereader.com/ <- this made me so happy. Change to a readable format at the click of a button!

      Also: Very interesting post. I am worried about Amazon driving down prices a la Wal Mart. But perhaps this is not the cause of it.

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    4. I was going to ask the blogger this too. The content is compelling but tough on the eyes, like a computer running DOS.

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    5. Thanks for this feedback. I still prefer the contrast of white letters against a black background, but we've enlarged they type, made it bold, and changed the font so that it should now be much easier to read.

      Marty

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    6. Making the font bold actually makes it worse. It's very hard to read this. Also, something about your layout breaks the safari reader. It doesn't show your point by point list at all.

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    7. I love the color scheme as I read this on my Kindle. So much easier on the eyes and the same way I read e-books.

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  12. This blog is nearly illegible due to the combination of small font size and white-on-black theme.

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  13. I only recently began reading about this publishing-world drama and it was refreshing and edifying to read your take on this. Thank you !

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  14. Well I don't agree with you at all. Using one bad article from the NYT to booster your viewpoint while overlooking all the well-researched pieces out there that show Amazon to be bad for authors, and publishers just like you. Amazon's Divide & Conquer way of doing business is not leveling the playing field – it's taking control of it so it can make up all of the rules as it goes along. I don't believe for one minute that should Amazon win this battle with publishers, big of small, that authors will be better off, and I say this as a publisher and author. Having a de facto monopoly in the selling of literature is my idea of a dystopia. And I think that once Amazon takes over and changes it payment margins or payment schedule (just because it can–and to it advantage) you may change your mind about them. Especially since this seem to be your only defense for them.

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  15. I started reading this following a link from Amazon's explanation of their Hachette issue, and I come to the word "kerfluffle" about three sentences in and I almost stop reading. Kerfluffle to me is and internet word designed to mock and diminish it's users opponent: "don't get yourself in a tizzy little lady." It's a really unserious, lazy, and stupid word. Word choice reflects on the author.

    I read on though and you make some seemingly good points, but I don't think you really understand who are dealing with when you deal with Amazon. As the commenter above said, Amazon goal is to grab as much market share as possible which by definition requires putting people out of business. The evidence for this is their years of incredibly low profit margins. They have low profits because they are trying to undercut everybody. THe strategy is, offer the lowest prices, put competitors out of business, grab their market share, raise prices.

    In the e-book market, the goal is to have the dominant platform. The fact that they are holding Hachette's physical books hostage in a struggle over e-book prices suggest that they aren't quite there yet. WHo knows the real story, but this is all about controlling the e-book market.

    The point is, Amazon is Rome. They are trying to create an empire. You can say the Roman Empire brought a lot of good things to their subjects--roads, bathhouses, 50/50 split on e-book royalties (for now)--but in order to get those goodies, a population had to be first subjugated.

    My instinct is that I would be worse off under the Amazon empire, and so see no reason to help the subjugate me.

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    1. Two quick points. 1. The word is "kerfuffle." It has only one l. I agree it's a stupid word and can be demeaning. It means commotion, but doesn't covey the same idea, so it's a weak word. 2. I am not an author; I am a consumer. I love Amazon. Apart from initially engaging in what I believe was price fixing of e-books, it provides good value and low prices generally. Hachette is a big boy and so is Patterson. Nothing illegal is going on here. But, as usual, neither sides wants to lose at bargaining. Hachette apparently is less powerful than Amazon. Tough break. Also, I have never read anything James Patterson has written and I don't intend to, and I suspect that makes me worse off in the same way not watching enough television makes me worse off. He's one author who, to millions of people, is irrelevant. Finally, your Rome analogy is totally inapt.

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    2. Why is my rome analogy inapt?

      And about illegality, if a company is found to have monopoly power, which is subjective and determined by a particular court, then using it is illegal.

      I don't know if they qualify as a monopoly but the reason I am against what they are doing and their apparent ethos is because I don't want them to become a monopoly. It would be bad for me and everyone who like books if they get control of the ebook market, the distribution market, the publishing business. Any of these are conceivable. They are a business and they do not give a crap about anything but that business. That is the modern american business ethos.

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    3. FYI: "Kerfuffle" is a term utilized internally within Amazon's employee culture. Its use is of, believe it or not, a more serious nature in this context. I believe this was a miscommunication due to careless choice of words - not an intentionally mean-spirited mockery.

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    4. I'm a big fan of Julia Roberts, and she uses this word frequently and not in any dismissive way...more to indicate confusion....which is how I used it too.

      Marty

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    5. Bigdata/Technology powered economies of scale are good for consumer as it achieves lower costs and better service. To achieve such scale, you inevitably become the market leader. That is not same as monopoly. Other retailers can still sell those books but not at the same prices that economies of scale makes possible. So as a consumer if you care about keep your local retailer in business, you will have to buy at a higher cost. Also, just because a business becomes capital intensive doesn't mean it is now a monopoly.

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    6. Small point, but as far as "kerfuffle" goes, my mother was using it when I was a child, and my grandparents used to use it too. I'm surprised to see so many people unfamiliar with it. Maybe it's a Brit thing?

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    7. Nope, not at all my parents and grandparents used it all the time, as do I. Calling it a stupid "internet" word gave me a good laugh, since I am significantly older than the internet. (oh and born and raised in the US).

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  16. Great! Finally a sane perspective on this. These book publishers were caught fixing prices for ebooks for crying out loud! How are so many people ready to call them "victims"?

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  17. You should better research the publishers "caught fixing prices" thing.

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    1. The publishers WERE caught price fixing. In fact, they price fixed in cahoots with Apple, and any Amazon customer who bought their books got a refund. They had to pay money because Amazon refused to be a party to their price fixing. It wasn't Amazon who did the price fixing, it was the publishers. Amazon cried foul, and the publishers had to give up millions (although not as much as they stole from customers by price fixing.)

      Sources:
      http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/03/25/amazon-settlements-ebooks/6869033/

      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/31/business/media/penguin-and-macmillan-deny-e-book-price-fixing.html

      Apple and the big five were found guilty. Amazon didn't want the prices to go up, and their customers got overcharged. Sounds like Amazon is looking out for their customers.

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    2. Very naive view of what Apple AND Amazon were up to. Amazon has a bridge to sell you/

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    3. Keep researching. You can figure it out.

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  18. Excellent post. Thank you for writing it and offering clarification. Amazon is so often portrayed as being the Big Bad Wolf, but they really are not.

    And I see that Hachette's trolls are already worming their comments into the comment mix.

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  19. I am sorry, Marty, you are not right. In Germany it is especially the back list, which Amazon doesn't serve. So it is not only the upcomming books. Also on amazon.com there books not on stock, which are for some time on the market, e.g. the paperback of "The Everything Store"...

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    1. Is Amazon *REQUIRED* to carry every single book? Get a life and get a clue.

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    2. Well, first of all, obviously this post bases on a lack of research. And second, Amazon allways told to satisfy all customers wishes. That ist their marketing. Now they don't anymore. They are not interested in customers, but in profit. The stock price fell down, that is their problem. And suddenly the customer is not interesting any more. We now see, what is behind the mask.

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  20. Amazon doesn't make life hard for small publishers because it doesn't need to. Yet. What the "kerfuffle" is about is what's foretold by Amazon's heavy-handed tactics in dealing with Hachette. Big publishers are sharky businesses, everybody knows that, but the best scenario for customers and, I'd wager, for small suppliers is to have several sharks keeping one another in check. Amazon's service of niche markets is laudable, but its use of low profit margins and cheap-out working conditions to drive competitors out of business isn't. And Amazon services niche markets so well partly because its essential structure as one of the first online-only businesses allowed it to make money off niches in a way that bricks and mortar shops simply couldn't - so believe me when I say that the primary motivation was never any desire to do good by the small supplier. That was just a nice side effect. Up until last week, I would have said that Amazon has more or less consistently displayed a desire to do good by the customer - with the odd hiccup along the way. The Hachette fiasco has outed it as a business that places its own stranglehold on suppliers over the customer, though. So what this means is simple: if and when Amazon sees any kind of benefit to be had in tightening the screws on independents, it will. You've been spared the rough and tumble so far because there's nothing in it for them. If you want things to stay that way, you should be fighting for them to always have large and healthy competition and big suppliers who are able to hold them to account.

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    1. One of the things I hear a lot is that Amazon doesn't pay its employees well. However, I did a quick search and came up with $12/hr for warehouse workers. That is $2 above the $10 minimum wage Congress wouldn't go for.: http://www.glassdoor.com/Hourly-Pay/Amazon-com-Warehouse-Worker-Hourly-Pay-E6036_D_KO11,27.htm This may not be completely accurate, as it is only 12 reporting that salary, but it is a far cry from Walmart, which sits below $9. Maybe those extra $3 are what's cutting into Amazon making tremendous profits? Also -- healthy competition for Amazon is other online sellers (B&N, Apple, etc.) *not* publishers -- who are suppliers, not sellers.

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    2. I am compensated VERY well by Amazon, and I am given a lot of RSUs every year in addition. I make well above the median income in my area as a QA manager at Amazon who started out as a contractor only 3 years prior.

      Regarding profits, we draw enormous revenues, but are continually re-investing into new ventures and infrastructure. Amazon is a long-haul kind of company, so tremendous profit is not its penultimate goal. We're trying to build something that lasts - something not as suspect to volatility like some big tech companies.

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    3. I recall reading a NYT article last year about disgruntled workers in the UK and Germany, and the crux was that while Amazon had touted good-paying jobs working for Amazon, most of the positions at these facilities were for contract workers, not hired by Amazon or working for them officially, but for all intents and purposes working for Amazon. I am sure these people would not show up in the statistics for hourly warehouse labor.

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    4. Being better than Walmart isn't setting a particularly high bar, but maybe this is true, even when you factor in the use of contract labour. In terms of working conditions, Amazon doesn't appear to be far off from Walmart, and may even be worse:
      http://www.salon.com/2014/02/23/worse_than_wal_mart_amazons_sick_brutality_and_secret_history_of_ruthlessly_intimidating_workers/
      http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/dec/01/week-amazon-insider-feature-treatment-employees-work

      And saying that retailers are Amazon's only competitors is an extremely short-sighted way of looking at modern retail business. For years now companies like Tesco and Walmart have adopted an antagonistic approach to suppliers when this has helped the bottom line - eating into supplier margins to beef up their own, essentially treating suppliers as a kind of competitor. Amazon knows this well and hence has been trying to gain a chokehold over the supply of all kinds of digital content. We need the companies supplying said content to be in a position to push back.

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    5. "We need the companies supplying said content to be in a position to push back."

      Hmm...maybe it's just me, but I do care a LOT more about the persons who create the content then the companies that collect it and repackage it to resalers.

      To a certain extend publishers are for books what record labels are for the music business...good for some authors/artists but greedy, life sucking beast to many others...but...with the growth of self-publishing there is at least an alternative for those that do not need or want to deal with content "providers"

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  21. Thank you for presenting more information in the Hachette-Amazon dispute. As a reader, my main concerns are being able to purchase books that I am looking for quickly and easily and find new books that may interest me. Amazon has done these things amazingly well, but their success does not make them the bad guys, just the easiest to blame for others' failures. I've honestly never given much thought to publishers, large or small, but everyone involved in the process certainly deserves to be treated fairly. I'm downloading Permanent Press' catalog, liking you on facebook, and Montana is already in my cart.

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    1. Thanks so much for your reply, May you enjoy Montana and Gwen's sequel, Dakota.

      Marty

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  22. Honest Question, why on ebook sales does the author not get a bigger cut of the pie? I can understand with a printed volume that you have large costs associated with production and distribution, that only allows an author a small cut on those sales.

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    1. Two reasons: one, many of these publishers flat out lied for years that it cost just as much to produce an ebook as a print book to justify a low royalty and two, somehow, all these supposedly competing publishers simultaneously settled on the 25% of net royalty virtually industry wide practically overnight, a rate that may or may not earn authors a few extra dimes than a paperback sale but earns the publishers something like triple the profit of one.

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  23. Where on earth did the James Patterson figures come from?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Patterson_bibliography

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    1. It's true that out of the 13 books published by him in 2013, only two were Alex Cross thrillers.

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  24. Does anyone know the values being argued over? Is this a case of Amazon wanting 70% or a case of Hachette wanting 90%? Is it possible Amazon wants something in line with their other contracts while Hachette (one of the publishers colluding to raise e-book prices in the Apple anti-trust) wants a much larger than 'normal' slice?

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  25. I find it interesting that Amazon links to this pro-Amazon blog even as it acknowledges that it's flipping off both the authors it sells and its customers. I've dealt with Amazon as an indie publisher, and to my mind Jeff Bezos is as much of a lying, hypocritical snake as anyone else in the publishing world. That's why I pulled all my e-books and put them up on Smashwords and Vook. I also link my paperbacks through a site that gives people dozens of other options to buy from, not just Amazon. You can't avoid doing business with them, but neither do you have to let them have a monopoly.

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  26. Excellent.

    I'm an author of computer-related books writing for a tech publishing company, but hoping to break into other genres. Amazon opens the door for folks like me. I may be successful, I may fail completely, but at least I'll have a chance.

    What's interesting is that Amazon has never positioned itself to be a monopoly. At most, you have an agreement to sell through it, exclusively, for a few months. Oh, and not charge more for books sold through Amazon than you charge elsewhere.

    Compare that with a publisher, who gives you 12% of the book royalties, and wants to control everything about the book. That's if they even feel your work is worthwhile.

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  27. This sentence is incoherent: "Though he reportedly earned $80 million dollars last year, he described the confrontation between Amazon and Hachette as “a war.“ If you wanted to say, "he makes too much money to complain," you would be wrong, but in any case that is not what this sentence says. It seems to say: "Despite Patterson having made a great deal of money last year, he still perceives the conflict between the two companies as a conflict." That makes no sense.

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  28. Your blogger theme of white on black is hard to read.

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  29. Plus ça change. When Amazon started selling books, they were (and, if you believe some people still will) destroying the independent booksellers. The number of which have been growing in the last two years and appear to be doing well.

    When Amazon bought Booksurge and began placing POD presses in their major distribution centers so they could print them as needed for faster shipment, they were sued because they were forcing people to use their in-house printing company. Never mind that the return on sales for Amazon was twice that received from the other major POD printer unless you shorted the discount, thus making it all but impossible to place books in regular bookstores.

    When the Big Six conspired with Apple, I took one look at what evolved and said "price-fixing." I benefited from it, too, but that didn't make it any less a spade, so it was no surprise when Amazon won in court.

    After nearly 15 years of digital publishing, I've grown weary of the rampage anything Amazon does inspires in the traditional industry. Bookstores demand we support them, no matter how badly they may be run, but won't stock our books because we won't accept returns (and give a deeper discount to offset same). Authors incite their fan base to boycott Amazon, ignoring the fact they are doing to their small-press-published peers what they condemn Amazon for doing—preventing them from earning royalties.

    Is Amazon perfect? Heck, no. They're a business, not a charity, and no publisher, large, small, or minuscule that forgets that for an instant is going to fare well. Much is made of their size, overlooking the fact those poor traditional publishers are all owned by major international conglomerates that are at least that same size and sometimes larger. This is NOT David and Goliath, it's Hercules vs. Antaeus.

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    1. I don't know the truth about Apple and publishers price-fixing, but one of the big the issue that pushed them to the agency model was Amazon's plan/desire to charge less on a sale of an ebook than what they were going to pay the publisher. They would still pay the publisher a percentage of a sale based on the publisher's electronic list price, but they would charge the consumer drastically less than that price, so Amazon would effectively take a loss on each sale. They did this not purely for the benefit of the reader but to make their e-books seem unrealistically cheap and undermine other booksellers who do not have the ability to discount so heavily. How is this not an attempt to become a monopoly?

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  30. As a CUSTOMER of Amazon -- who used to order while living in the USA, and now orders from a foreign, English-speaking country -- I can attest to several facts:
    1) AMAZON does NOT place customer service at the top of their priorities: otherwise, they wouldn't have so many "customer service" reps who are barely fluent in the English language, dealing with a majority of English-speaking/writing customers.
    2) If you complain too much, too often -- about legitimate problems, such as slow shipping service, non-English-speaking reps who don't solve the problem, etc. -- you can eventually find your Amazon page missing buttons. VERY MUCH the way the books published by Hachette are missing buttons (in their case, buttons to order, in mine, buttons to select shipping). My page -- in fact a particular address to which I shipped books, etc.; I know, because I had someone else try ordering/shipping to the address -- was somehow "tagged" by Amazon workers so that I can only select expedited shipping. When -- after getting no help from the "customer service" reps -- I finally wrote a complaint to the Jeff Bezos email account, his right hand man, Mr. Norberg -- at least he said he was Norberg -- told me it was probably a "cookie" problem. Then he lectured me about writing too many emails (never bothering to find out that half the emails were sent to acknowledge receipt of packages, because other buttons on my Amazon page were likewise affected, or that most of my emails were sent in order to get customer service reps to actually answer questions not answered in the first place. But to have a Second in charge write back to you after serious complaint with such frivolity and dismissiveness speaks yards about Amazon and their "commitment to customer service". Right). I've even, recently, had customer service reps MAKE UP, out of whole cloth, tracking information about a package that was temporarily lost or sitting idle for nearly a week. THAT IS THE STANDARD OF CUSTOMER SERVICE where AMAZON is concerned.

    More importantly, Amazon wasted no time in manipulating the page of a "customer" -- me -- when they knew they couldn't provide better service (I now have to order everything via expedited shipping, because their standard shipping was so often late or lost). If Amazon is willing to do that to one customers -- and, indeed, to a high profile client like Hachette Books -- what is to stop them from being a totally tyrannical online merchant once they have a complete monopoly?

    I can only surmise that comments -- and blogs -- in support of letting Amazon gain a monopoly are made by jejune and completely oblivious individuals. Either that, or Americans in general have become so apathetic they don't know when the knife is being held to their own throats.

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    1. I had to call Amazon customer service for the first time in 10 years today. They spoke excellent English and were unbelievably helpful. The whole issue was sorted, and replacement sent out, in a few minutes.

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  31. Thank you for an intelligent penetrating counter cultural article. I enjoyed reading your blog personal description.

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  32. Will you confirm that you did not receive any financial or other incentive from Amazon to write this blog post?

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    1. Of course not, "anonymous," and can you confirm that you did not receive financial or other incentives from anyone connected with the five major publishing corporations to impugn my reputation?

      Marty

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  33. Its bullshit when that the publishers cannot gang up to fight amazon.

    amazon is bullshit.

    the only reason there is an Amazon today is because they got away with not paying STATE SALES TAX while every other retailer had to pay it.

    Amazon stole from states as far as I am concerned.

    Otherwise there would be no Amazon today.

    We bought things from Amazon specifically because their overall price was cheaper and that was because they didnt have to pay 8%, 10% and 12% state taxes.

    So now that Amazon got away with that crap its thinks its special.

    Please!!!!!!

    The book companies should all be allowed to get together and say screw off to Amazon.

    Why is that not allowed?

    The business laws of America are bullshit.

    That is why Europe is where justice exists today.

    Somehow our courts and regulators lost their common sense years ago.

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    1. Martin Shepard, co-pubisher, The Permanent PressJune 3, 2014 at 5:04 PM

      If you think Amazon is such bullshit, why do acknowledge buying books from them? I would think you'd want to follow your heart instead of your purse and get things elsewhere.

      Marty

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    2. Bill, Your ignorance is appalling. Retailers as such do NOT pay state sales tax. Customers pay sales tax. Retailers that operate within a state may be required to collect sales tax for the state. Amazon did not steal any money from the states because it never had any of their money. Until recently the Federal government required that interstate commerce be taxed only by the Federal government which it has never done, relying rather on an income tax. The states are still free to tax consumption and purchases by their own citizens, they have just previously been unable to shift the cost of doing so over to businesses outside their state. Get your facts straight.

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  34. Germany and France should throw Amazon out of their countries.

    Amazon wants to devalue books and all digital goods to sell other things.

    Amazon doesnt value books.

    Lowering the cost of a book doesnt make amazon a good guy.

    In the end consumers will be hurt and so will creators.

    See the big picture. Throw Amazon out of France and Germany.



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  36. Marty,

    Love your punchy and gutsy jab to the heart of this issue. Would you consider rearranging this content into a brief article with a title like Amazon vs. The Other Literary Cartels that explains the conflict in brief without taking sides and why authors should have no more fear of Amazon's muscle than other literary powerhouses. I would like to publish such a piece in my Sacred Ground Magazine (lynfuchs.blogspot.com) with a bio paragraph promoting your site and publishing efforts. Though my books are published by a small traditional publisher not self published, I value Amazon on libertarian grounds and with distaste for the cartels who wielded so much clout in the past now crying wounded victim.

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  37. As a writer I like the 70/30 royalty split from Amazon. They pay better than ANY publisher. I do a lot of the work and am rewarded for my efforts. My friends that have traditional publishing contracts are poorer than 10 years ago due to constriction in contracts, advances and royalty splits. Getting 25% ebook royalties is pitiful. The publishers are stealing the product the writer creates and they retain the rights for as long as the book is in print --- forever in the case of ebooks.

    Amazon is leveling the field for the writers. We create the product. The publisher is only the conduit to the readers who are our customers.

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  38. Hi Marty - I too run a small press, and I could not agree more with your comments. You are spot-on. Thank you for taking the time to so articulately voice what many others of us have been thinking of late. - Ed Renehan, Managing Director, New Street Communications, LLC

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  39. As a literary fiction author, I have felt the pain of the bookstore inventory control made possible by computer programs. Literary press books that do make it into brick and mortar stores don't stay there long unless they sell quickly or perhaps win a prize. I agree with the points you make about the advantages Amazon offers literary presses. It can take time for readers to discover a book.

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  40. While Amazon's innovations and resulting advantages to niche creators in particular is terrific and laudable, the bullying tactics in publisher disputes - consumer dissuasion via intentionally delayed shipping, discount reduction, buttons removed, etc. - are flat-out unethical. Amazon is transforming creation and distribution opportunities in unprecedented ways, and paving the way for new economies, it's a shame that its corporate values as demonstrated in this dispute are regressive. Amazon is in a powerful enough position to manifest corporate ethics that are as progressive as its business innovations - or at the least not backwards-looking. And if you say that its business innovations are predicated on traditional, predatory behaviors, I have no response for you.

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  41. Thank you for sharing this information this is very nice blog thank you for giving this info
    Groobers

    ReplyDelete