By Dennis Abrams
The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon has gone directly to authors “hoping to gain hearts and minds – and leverage” in its long-running dispute with Hachette Book Group.
Amazon has offered to let Hachette authors keep 100% of the revenue from e-book sales while talks continue between the two over a new digital-book contract.
Hachette has rejected the proposal.
The WSJ sees the proposal as a way for Amazon to get back the support of Hachette authors “who say they have unfairly become collateral damage” during the negotiations. Amazon also suggested in the letter that it hoped that the move might serve to speed up the talks.
But on Tuesday afternoon, Hachette released a statement, “Amazon has just sent us a brief proposal. We invite Amazon to withdraw the sanctions they have unilaterally imposed, and we will continue to negotiate in good faith and with the hope of a swift conclusion.”
Amazon then responded, in part to an earlier statement from Hachette that accepting their proposal would be “suicidal.” “We call baloney. Hachette is part of a $10 billion global conglomerate. It wouldn’t be ‘suicide.’ They can afford it. What they’re really making clear is that they absolutely want their authors caught in the middle of this negotiation because they believe it increases their leverage. All the while, they are stalling and refusing to negotiate, despite the pain causes to their authors. Our offer is sincere. They should take us up on it.”
The Journal noted that since the financial impact on Amazon would be marginal at best, the move was a good one. “Hachette constitutes a very small part of Amazon’s business,” John Tinker, an analyst at Maxim Group said, “It’s a smart PR move by Amazon.”
Mike Shatzkin, chief executive of Idea Logical Co., a New York publishing industry consultancy told the WSJ that “Hachette has a tough row to hoe here, because their authors are getting hurt and missing the best-seller lists.”
But best-selling Hachette author Douglas Preston, who signed a letter earlier this month attacking Amazon for its tactics during the negotiations, said in an interview with the Journal that the new proposal would be “devastating” to Hachette while “barely hurting Amazon at all.”
He added that he was opposed to the proposal because Hachette has been there for him throughout his career. “There’s something wrong with this,” he said. “My publisher gave me a very large advance for the book they are about to publish. Morally, I would have to turn over that [Amazon] money to them.”
A spokeswoman for Amazon responded, noting that Preston “can opt out of the offer for himself if he wants to, but he shouldn’t stand in the way of debut and midlist authors benefiting from this offer.”
In the letter accompanying the proposal Amazon said its goal was to “take authors out of the middle” of the dispute. If Hachette would sign off on the idea of giving authors 100% of e-book revenue, Amazon would then return to “normal levels of on-hand print inventory, return to normal pricing in all formats, and for books that haven’t gone on sale yet, reinstate preorders.”
Amazon added that it would be able to put its proposal in effect within 72 hours if Hachette agreed.
Read the full letter, as well as Amazon and Hachette’s statements here.