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Amazon versus Hachette

May 29, 2014


Anyone living outside a box has heard by now of the megabattle between Amazon and Hachette over who gets to pocket more of the readers’ money. As the NY Times (to which I quaintly subscribe) so aptly put it, Amazon “promises a world where books are cheap, where anyone can publish anything,” whereas Hachette “is holding fast to the traditional publishing system that underpins modern culture.” So there.

Put that way, the choice could not be more stark–between good, and, well, something else good. It’s Godzilla versus MUTO–but who is which? And what about those two little people running underneath–Writer and Reader?

Ultraphyte has no real answers, but some thoughts.

  • Publishers do a lot for authors; more than most realize. Blockbusters make up for the myriad titles that never pay back their advance. Good editors help some authors reach the bar of professional communication. And good marketers promote works that would not otherwise get noticed.
  • Does the publisher’s work merit more than half the cover price? Even for ebooks? Do authors really want overpriced ebooks–or are we better off with lower price, larger volume?
  • Does the “added value” of a “traditional publisher” really merit the current backlog, approaching two years at my publisher? When anyone  could post it overnight on a website?
  • Lower price, larger volume, quicker publication all favor Amazon. But what happens when they’re the only game in town? Do we really expect them to just win and go home like Godzilla?

Personally, I’ve cheered Amazon for years as the place where all my “out of print” books could be found forever, and where I could find anything else out there. If selling kitchen and hardware stuff subsidizes books (one of the claims) so be it.

But I’d also like to see more competition. So, for the moment at least, I’ve switched my book links (at right) to Barnes and Noble.

Tell me what you think.



  1. May 29, 2014 8:42 pm

    Hachette is a blog-friendly publisher, or at least they’ve tried to be. They still send me an email every month offering advance reader copies, with the expectation that I will read them before the publishing date and post a review. In the last year, however, the list of books on offer is shorter. More publishers are offering electronic copies through netgalley, perhaps to keep up the kind of pace necessary to compete with Amazon-style publishing on demand. I get daily e-mails from authors and publishers asking me to read and review books, but if I see that a book is published by Amazon rather than a more traditional publishing house, I refuse. It’s not worth my time sorting out the rare find from the piles of dross.

    • May 29, 2014 10:42 pm

      Yes, that’s what they say about science publishing. But I’m finding, it’s really not that bad–and some bizarre, interesting stuff comes out, that the mainstream journals would never publish.
      Isn’t fiction the same? A Confederacy of Dunces, no publisher took it. And the publishers nearly lost Herbert’s Dune.

  2. May 29, 2014 8:55 pm

    Amazon is way to powerful. I am trying to buy as little from them as possible. The main thing I still buy from them is MP3 music. I’ve tried a few times to get suggestions for where I can buy music aside from them, no one seems to have ideas except for iTunes (almost as bad).

    • May 29, 2014 10:44 pm

      Yet Amazon is powerful because they serve the customer–still the best collection of reviews, IMHO. And surprisingly responsive–any time I complain about my account, a real person responds.

  3. Chris permalink
    May 30, 2014 6:59 am

    Here’s a modest proposal: instead of buying 20 books or CDs from Amazon this year, buy 15 from your local bookseller (or somebody else’s local bookseller), or directly from the artist, publisher, or label. Make up the difference in cost, if there is any, by borrowing five books from the library instead. The math will work out to everyone’s benefit except Amazon’s, and your shelves will be less crammed.

  4. txupi permalink
    May 30, 2014 9:33 am

    Thank you for doing this. I have already read all your books (and used/recommended Ocean to my students), but there is one I wanted to reread & now it would be easier on my Nook. I’m shocked at the price of the textbook — and the title tickles my husband’s interest (he is a long retired microbiologist/veterinarian). When my last book came out we had a hard time finding someone to publish it, and finally went with iUniverse [ ]. Marketing leaves much to desire & the most weird element is that for review copies we have to mail out physical cards! So, for an ebook I have ended up writing by hand personal letters!! Using stationary from decades ago. Circles.

  5. Rick York permalink
    May 30, 2014 9:50 pm


    As a reader geezer on a fixed income, I have to say Amazon has been a boon to me. As the son and brother of librarians, I am a devout user of the library. Here in Portland, we have one of the best, if not the best, public library systems in the country. As well, I might add, one of the great bookstores of the world in Powell’s. These days most of my purchases are non-fiction. I truly wish Bezos and company would stop being so predatory. Like it or not, he is on the side of history and, he doesn’t have to push things the way he does. Why alienate people when they’re probably going to be your customers anyway?

    I do understand the problems between Amazon and Hachette as well as other publishers. As with many things, this story is far more nuanced than Hachette would have it. I hope that you and your readers follow Charlie Stross. He wrote an extensive series of blogs on what really goes into publishing a real book. He has recently written on the dust up between Hachette and Amazon, here:

    and here:

    I commend both articles as well as the comments. Like you, Stross has a number of really smart and knowledgeable readers.

    It’s too bad that the old publishing model is dying. I will miss it. But, it is dying and, we need to find the best way for writers to make a living with books of both kinds, “e” and “dead tree”. Likewise, since readers generally don’t pay large advances, we still need publishers in some form.

    Sorry for going on so long. I am a book addict.

    • Chris permalink
      May 31, 2014 6:53 am

      Bezos has no choice but to be predatory, because the company is not very profitable relative to its enormous size and the only way he can satisfy Wall Street is by persuading it that he has a business model that will crush all competition and leave him with an effective monopoly when the dust settles. As that monopoly solidifies, he will be forced to take steps to improve its bottom line — as he has in fact already done by cutting discounts, raising the cost of Amazon Prime, and putting the screws on publishers to get a better deal.

  6. June 1, 2014 10:04 pm

    The problem with buying ebooks from Barnes & Noble is that (a) you don’t own them and (b) Barnes & Noble isn’t doing well. If Barnes & Noble fails, and they turn off their servers before they turn out the lights and go home, then all the books you “bought” (really licensed) from Barnes & Noble are gone…

    I see the argument for competition, but it’s not strong enough to make me bet on Barnes & Noble.

    Also, per your remarks about Amazon customer service, Barnes & Noble customer service is execrable. My experience having tried to order books from them is one of the reasons I’m not betting on them being around very long.

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