Right now, it’s hard to get through the day without stumbling over a new story, opinion, or petition regarding the ongoing dispute between Amazon and Big 5 publisher Hachette. For the most part, I don’t have a “side” on the issue — I largely agree with David Gaughran, who cautions against leaping to conclusions about  business negotiations between two behemoths when we know virtually nothing about the terms either side is asking for.

Well, it turns out one of the reasons we don’t know much about those terms or the negotiations is that, according to a letter from Kindle VP David Naggar, Hachette didn’t even respond to Amazon’s request to discuss things until after their contract expired in March.

Actually, strike that — Hachette didn’t even respond then. Per the letter, Naggar says that:

We reached out to Hachette for the first time to discuss terms at the beginning of January for our contract which terminated in March. We heard nothing from them for three full months. We extended the contract into April under existing terms. Still nothing. In fact we got no conversation at all from Hachette until we started reducing our on-hand print inventory and reducing the discounts we offer customers off their list prices. Even since then, weeks have gone by while we waited for them to get back to us.

In other words, big, bad, bullying Amazon didn’t start leaning on Hachette over disagreements in terms. They only started leaning on Hachette after Hachette had spent months ignoring Amazon’s attempts to negotiate.

Hard to negotiate when one side refuses to talk.

Even so, and even as a self-published author, I’m not especially interested in defending Amazon. Nor even of criticizing Hachette. For all I know, Hachette was stalling negotiations because it was the only way they could divert a gigantic meteor on a collision course with Earth.

What I’m interested in are the facts. The fact that there weren’t any facts at all only goes to illustrate that authors haven’t been rallying behind Hachette because Hachette is a guardian of literature and Amazon is a gold-grubbing Smaug.

They’ve been doing so because Hachette is the one in control of their paycheck*.

Otherwise, how can you accuse Amazon of not playing fair when Hachette is refusing to step foot on the field?


*You can argue the same thing goes for indie authors backing Amazon. Most of indies’ talk, however, has been in response to the rather one-sided media coverage of this whole affair. Completely different context, in my opinion.

Additionally — I readily admit there’s a danger in taking Naggar’s account at face value. He is one of Amazon’s biggest dogs, after all, and there’s an obvious risk that he’s spinning or omitting the details. If it’s a lie that Hachette’s been so unresponsive, however, it’s a bold one — and only supports the idea that we have no damn idea what’s happening between the two of them, and might form our opinions accordingly.

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3 Responses to A Brief Note on Hachette v. Amazon

  • Hey Ed. I guess if Amazon is lying it can be easily disproved. We’ve had further statements from Hachette and Amazon since this one, and in Hachette’s two statements since it hasn’t called into question Amazon’s depiction of events.

    Which makes you wonder what Hachette’s strategy is here. Delay things until more of the Big 5 are negotiating too? I can’t see that working.

  • Scott Dyson says:

    I draw some parallels to my experience in dentistry, with dental insurance companies. We HATE them, but we are fairly dependent on them. What we hate most is when they get between the doctor/patient relationship, by telling patients what care they <i<should have, all the while explicitly stating that they’re not trying to determine care (although if you do THAT we won’t pay for it but if you do THIS we will).

    We have to remember that as corporations they are out to make money, or at least further their own corporate goals, and if we get in the way, they’re going to side with money over a patient’s well being. Same with Amazon and Hachette. They’re going to do what they need to do to make the most money.

    So which one gets in the way of that reader/writer relationship the most? I’d suggest that it’s the big publisher, since Amazon has removed barriers for storytellers to get their books out there. Of course most authors are going to prefer Amazon over Hachette, except of course the ones who have benefited from having Hachette in their corner (like Preston and Patterson and many others).

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