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The Ongoing Boxing Match: Amazon vs. Hachette

If you follow the publishing industry you’ve seen quite a few articles and blogs on the dispute between Amazon and Hachette. One is a giant retailer, the other a giant publisher.

Amazon is demanding higher royalties (and lower prices on e-books) from Hachette. Hachette is demanding, well, who knows? It doesn’t seem to speaking for its authors. Amazon is speaking for its shareholders and consumers, as usual. And writers, too. As Hachette surely knows.

Not that you’d get that from most of the press coverage of the dispute, which casts Amazon as the big, bad bully and Hachette as the poor picked-upon traditional publisher that only wants to protect its writers. If you believe that, there’s a bridge somewhere someone wants to sell you.

But a recent New York Times article actually started off with one of those anecdotal leads (an article that begins with a story of someone that relays the point of the article in a telling fashion) that concerned, of all things, a writer who is successfully published by Amazon. That’s been rare. Usually traditional-media articles give us just the viewpoint of the big publishers.

And for once, a newspaper article – which you can read here – mentioned what so many others don’t, that Amazon-published books are not carried in bookstores. Often, we get the story that Amazon is refusing to carry Hachette books (which isn’t true).

I’m on Amazon’s side here, insofar as it pays its authors much better royalties than do traditional publishers (35% to 70% versus about 12.5% to 15%), and keeps books available indefinitely, rather than pulling them from shelves or remaindering them or whatever if they don’t sell in the first few weeks. Plus, Amazon pays promptly while publishers pay…when they pay.

Sure, Amazon is a giant and no one likes a giant. And traditional publishers can give you an “in” if you want to get noticed in traditional media. But publishers aren’t that great to deal with, either. I’ve been at the mercy of the vagaries of the publishing world, and Amazon is much easier to deal with. But then, I’m not a publisher. Just a writer. But for writers, Amazon offers far more options than do traditional publishers. It’s true that you still have a bias against you if you self-publish – few notice you, bookstores don’t carry you (you compete against bookstores by selling books “yourself” through Amazon), but you still are your own boss.

Yes, you’re on your own if you self-publish. You have to market, edit, get the book designed. But you’re on your own with publishers too – you pretty much have to market yourself, and you don’t get much of a say in editing, design or anything else, unless you’re already a big-deal author.

What the story, as it unfolds, says is that traditional publishing is still fighting against digital change. In the end it’s the customer who will decide. And the customer has pretty much already decided.

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