In the UK, Penguin Random House v. Amazon is New Normal

In Feature Articles by Roger Tagholm

New Penguin Random House

Strike up the band: Amazon and PRH are in a contract dispute in the UK, prompting another round of hand-wringing, “buy-button action,” and schadenfreude.

By Roger Tagholm

Just as the swifts have returned to UK skies reassuring us that summer is shortly here and that all must still be well with the global eco-system, so the latest terms dispute with Amazon is similarly reassuring in its own way. After all, if there were no dispute with Amazon, wouldn’t we be worried?

Amazon wants HarperCollins to sign the same contract as three of the other Big Five.

According to the tech news site Recode – and congratulations to it for breaking the story (how many had heard of the site before, one wonders) — Penguin Random House UK is currently negotiating a new contract with the retailer. Now, it would be entirely irresponsible to wish for a fully-fledged Hachette-style public row — but heck, don’t we miss it? Isn’t there something magnificent when these things kick off?

For industry watchers, for those not directly involved, such disputes are really rather entertaining. They almost have a traditional feel about them – like one of those fiestas that always seem to happen when you’re on holiday in Spain or South America. Indeed, perhaps each new stand-off should be announced with fireworks, slightly out-of-tune trumpets and a great parade, snaking through the night streets…

“Honey, what’s that noise?” “Oh, it’s just the Feast Day of Our Lady of Agency. It symbolizes the perennial war of commerce, the battle between producer and seller. You want tapas tonight?”

At the moment, Carolyn Reidy at Simon & Schuster U.S. holds the record for the speediest resolution with Amazon. One assumes that some sort of “agency lite” settlement will be arrived at in this latest dispute, too — a deal in which PRH receives better terms the lower it prices its ebooks and which also sees Amazon send 200 crates of Agency Lite beer for the PRH summer barbecue.

But before we get to that, perhaps we will see some “buy button” action (Amazon removed the buy buttons from Hachette titles, you will recall) and at least one open letter to a newspaper. Or may be those strategies will be deemed so 2014. Something more contemporary will be called for – a campaign using Periscope or Snapchat perhaps. Or that will see one of the YouTubers given a shed load of money to argue Amazon’s “we just want to make books cheaper for everyone” line. We shall see.

Incidentally, swifts are also known as “devil birds” because of their otherworldly screaming. We’re not saying who is the devil in this latest dispute, of course — but we’ll observe that, as ever, the devil is in the detail. Strike up the band. Let the parade begin.

About the Author

Roger Tagholm


Roger Tagholm is based in London and has been writing about the book industry for more than 20 years. He is the former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and the author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground (Windrush Press).