I did it. I signed the petition calling for Amazon to release Hatchette books. There’s so much anger about this issue out there, I’m half-frightened I’ll turn around and find I’m surrounded by an army of my own indie-published peers with raised pitchforks.
For those who don’t know, Amazon and Hatchette Book Group (one of the Big 5 traditional publishing houses) have been deadlocked in contract negotiations. An article doing its best to stay neutral has summed up the dispute between Hatchette and Amazon here and the WSJ’s brief article on the Amazon-Hatchette dispute also does a good job of detailing the issues. During these negotiations, Amazon began flexing its muscles by delaying shipments, removing the ‘buy’ buttons from selected Hatchette titles, encouraging readers to buy other selections, removing discounts, and removing the ‘pre-order’ buttons. There are plenty of articles on the internet detailing the tactics. If you’ve got an afternoon to kill, any Google search will net you enough information to entertain you for hours.
Both sides claim the other side is stalling. Both sides hold up rejected contract offers as proof the other has refused to negotiate. Both sides claim they are only looking out for the author and their customers.
I’m not sure I believe either.
Personally, I think both sides are looking out for their income statements. Both sides are businesses. Both have something to gain and something to lose. In business, you minimize your losses. Period. I also know a friend today doesn’t make a friend tomorrow and I’m smart enough to research my own facts and not fall for emotional language from either side. I like facts. I like sources. Perhaps it’s all that academy training, or my time at the newspaper, but I know how to dig for more than the emotional truth.
You know what, though? None of those issues compelled me to sign the petition Doug Preston and company penned to Amazon in response to the tactics. If you haven’t read his petition, you should. Contrary to public belief, he doesn’t urge customers to initiate a boycott. He doesn’t say Amazon is evil. He doesn’t say anything about traditional publishing trumping indie publishing. He doesn’t support higher prices for books. He doesn’t even say if Hatchette is right or wrong. Do you want to know what the petition asks for?
“We call on Amazon to resolve its dispute with Hachette without hurting authors and without blocking or otherwise delaying the sale of books to its customers.”
That’s it. Who wouldn’t be for that?
I’m not sure where the additional hype came from. When I asked Mr. Preston specifically if there was more to this, he wrote back:
“We’re not calling for a boycott. Nor are we calling for higher prices. We’re not against Amazon or its indie publishing model—which I personally think is one of the best things Amazon has done . . . All we’re doing is asking Amazon to resolve its dispute with Hachette without hurting authors, blocking the sale of books, and otherwise inconveniencing their own customers. “
I don’t want higher prices either. I want low prices, and I agree the indie publishing platform is fantastic! I almost expect a backlash for that admission. Out there, out in the world dominated by internet savvy self-publishers, it feels like you can’t support both. I keep feeling this raw anger and a sense of ‘You’re either with us or against us!’
In Mr. Preston’s petition he’s basically saying (and I’m paraphrasing here), ‘Hey, you two work it out. That’s what companies do best, but don’t hold the books hostage. Whatever terms and deals you come up with, that’s between y’all. We care about the books. The authors, the books, the words, the digital ink, and most importantly the reader–we’re all innocent in this.”
At least, that’s how I interpret it.
And that is why I signed that petition. Because he’s right. Because I cringe when I hear about countries banning books. Because I almost wept when I read about the religious book burning in Afghanistan. Because I defend the books from burning, banning and creative negotiation tactics. Because books should never be used as hostages in some bizarre negotiation drama like children in a custody battle.
There’s another reason why I signed that petition and dared to write about it here. I did both of those things because I have a seven-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son watching what I stand up for, watching when I speak up and why, and watching when I walk silently away and turn my attention to something else. They have watched me for days look up the original complaints, search out the articles, compare prices on Amazon with other venues, and other minor research. They have watched me look at both petitions line by line and analyze them. I hope more than anything that I have given them a glimpse of how to form their own opinion and how to stand up for it once it has taken shape in their hearts. Most of us believe in that, and want that, don’t we?
I know there’s another petition out there, and I know there are other issues. I support indie publishing. I support affordable prices. By signing this petition I haven’t invalidated those beliefs, or trivialized them, or even betrayed them, because this petition isn’t about those things.
Preston’s petition asked for Amazon to stop blocking and delaying the sale of books to its customers.
Books are like toothbrushes, or trash bags anyway, right? Just a product. A dime a dozen. Easily replaced. No creative value. No one gets hurt, right?
I certainly don’t applaud that. I don’t say to myself, ‘Yes, chain the books up! Keep them all hostage unless they agree with you, the bastards! In fact, let’s make this standard policy going forward, shall we? Agree to the terms or the products, and their creators, are held hostage.’
Now that’s food for thought going forward . . .
I have my own beliefs about Amazon, big publishing and pricing, but I’m not voicing them here because they’re irrelevant in this particular situation. I haven’t listed out the reasons why I support indie publishing or saving the whales, because neither argument is laid out in the petition I signed.
In the end, Preston’s petition is about nothing more than releasing the books and I support that.