The Authors in the Middle Respond

August 10, 2014 § Leave a comment


On pages A8 and A9 of the New York Times today is a two-page letter, signed by over 900 authors, condemning Amazon for its recent strong-arm tactics against Hachette and its harmful targeting of the Hachette authors who, as a result, find their books disadvantageously priced or else entirely unavailable through the online retailer.

The letter was written by one such affected author, Douglas Preston (The Codex), and signed by such writers as John Grisham, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Jennifer Egan, and Valerie Plame under the moniker of an organization called Authors United. Taking out the ad space for the letter cost $104,000.

“As writers—most of us not published by Hachette—we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want,” it reads.

Later on, it says: “Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon, we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business.”

The letter then encourages readers to contact Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with their opinions on the matter.

If there were any impressions that Amazon, with its sweet discounts and undeniable convenience, was ever meant to be a friend to the publishing industry, they may have been dashed for good by George Packer’s article in the February 17, 2014 New Yorker, where he writes:

It wasn’t a love of books that led [Bezos] to start an online bookstore. “It was totally based on the property of books as a product,” Shel Kaphan, Bezos’s former deputy, says. Books are easy to ship and hard to break, and there was a major distribution warehouse in Oregon. Crucially, there are far too many books, in and out of print, to sell even a fraction of them at a physical store. The vast selection made possible by the Internet gave Amazon its initial advantage, and a wedge into selling everything else. For Bezos to have seen a bookstore as a means to world domination at the beginning of the Internet age, when there was already a crisis of confidence in the publishing world, in a country not known for its book-crazy public, was a stroke of business genius.


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