Last fall, I commended Condé Nast on its partnership with Amazon, but also suggested that we keep an eye on the retailer and not give them too much power. Now, Hachette is doing just that, as it and Amazon engage in public fisticuffs over royalty payments.
You’re familiar with it now, but I’ll recap: Amazon and Hachette are in a fight over royalties. Hachette refused to cave to Amazon’s allegedly crappy deal (the talks are happening behind closed doors). As a result, Amazon has discouraged customers from buying Hachette titles, including saddling them with up to month-long delivery times, offering alternative lower-priced titles, and, bizarrely, encouraging people to purchase Hachette titles from its competitors.
As Jack Shafer at Reuters wrote, “By essentially banishing many Hachette titles from its stock, Amazon, which ordinarily puts its customers first, has put them last.”
Hard to argue that it’s being customer-centric. Way to let your freak flag fly, Bezos.
All I can say is: Go for it, Hachette. I’m into it. It’s one thing to partner with a giant company that is well-liked by customers and quite another to be asked to submit to a monolith while they squeeze out the competition. In fact, it has the look and feel of an anti-trust lawsuit waiting to happen.
On some level, customers are complicit. The notoriously pro-consumer company is acting to the contrary. And customers need to demand a better business for all involved, if for nothing other than to enhance their experience. Pressure from one of the big five book publishers will help. We’re not talking about customers losing access to Susie Down the Block’s chapbook or someone’s published grad school thesis; Amazon customers are going to lose access to writers like James Patterson, Malcolm Gladwell and America’s golden child: GMA’s Robin Roberts.
Tim Worstall, a blogger for Forbes, suggests that we just let them fight it out themselves. I understand why other publishers are loathe to get involved, and to instead wait it out on the sidelines, hoping for Hachette’s triumph, particularly since Amazon has proven to be a no-holds-barred negotiator. As Jonathan Mahler wrote in his piece for the Times: “[Other publishers] have their own relationships with Amazon to protect, and they do not want anything they say to be construed as antagonistic, all the more so now that Amazon has demonstrated its willingness to punish booksellers when negotiations become contentious.”
Publishers are wary, and rightfully so, but where is the FTC on this? Some judge has got to be dying to write the definitive opinion on Amazon v. Hachette.
As companies consider the odds, I’m hoping more get involved, not less. Do I want my company to throw down? I’m not sure. As a struggling independent publisher that relies on Amazon for a source of revenue, I’m not certain I can make it up on our own, particularly because Amazon owns the customer, not me. Amazon customers appear beholden to Amazon, but this past month has proven that even Amazon has a breaking point.
Then again, isn’t a bar fight much more fun when every drunk joins the fray? Sure, the whole place is gonna get thrashed, but it’s probably time to gut the thing anyway.