Sunday, June 22, 2014

Indie News: Is Amazon Being a Bully?

Is it still cyberbullying when it's perpetrated by a mega-million-dollar corporation? Maybe. Lots of self-published authors are weighing in on the debate between Amazon and traditional publishing, represented in this particular dispute by Hachette. So let's examine the issue and ask the hard question: is Amazon being a bully?


Goliath and Goliath

Believe me, I get it. Defending Amazon, and anything they do, has become a bit of a knee-jerk reaction for indie authors. Amazon gave them a platform, a voice and for a few, millions of bucks. So it's easy to jump to Amazon's defense, particularly when one hears that they're in a good old-fashioned standoff with publishing giant Hachette. Put in that context, I almost want to grab a pitchfork myself. 

But that's just one facet of this complicated mess that's being carried out right now, this very moment. Amazon and Hachette did not see eye-to-eye on the price of ebooks. The two companies could not agree on how to split the profits. Amazon wanted to give more money to the authors, and Hachette said no let's give them even more than that. 


Yes, that was a joke. No one is talking about giving any money to the authors who did the actual work; please don't be ridiculous. No, Hachette and Amazon both wanted a bigger piece of the ebook revenue and Hachette wouldn't back down on the sum they wanted. 

So Amazon took it to the mattresses. If you don't know what that's about, shame on you. Go watch The Godfather and get back to me. The point is, Amazon decided to make a thing out of it. And now...well, it's a really big thing. 

Because Amazon started using strongarm tactics to get their way. Prices on Hachette books have been raised. Shipping has been delayed. Pre-order buttons on Hachette books have mysteriously disappeared (detectives needed). And Amazon has taken it so far, they're getting national media coverage for these bully techniques. They even started promoting cheaper "similar books," offered through different publishers of course, on listings for Hachette books.

Amazon hasn't backed down despite blistering coverage from the likes of The New York Times and late night's Stephen Colbert (who happens to be a Hachette author), proving that the company is more than willing to take a few ugly op-ed pieces on the chin...if it means getting bigger ebook revenues from this one publisher. They've taken a stand, and it bodes ill for the future. 

Especially when you consider that Amazon already makes more money from ebooks than anyone else. But at the same time, more money for Hachette? How funny that they should fight for that, when it's very likely that many of their authors make 10% or less in royalties. 

So is Amazon being a bully? Probably. But before this, publishers were a little bit like bullies, too. That doesn't make it okay for Amazon to deny equal selling and distribution rights, and whether or not their tactics are bullyish is a moot point anyway. 

If Amazon can use this kind of force on Hachette, Amazon can use this kind of force on anyone. That's why Amazon has to be stopped. 

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