The very public Amazon vs. Hachette dispute is like hopping in a time machine and being dropped off in high school during class elections. The companies are the two popular kids trying to convince everyone to vote for them because their opponent is mean greedy bully who just wants to take your lunch money.
Everyone grabbed their popcorn and watched as the fight has left the school hallways and spilled into the streets. But after several months of back and forth and input from authors and the Authors Guild the situation has become like two third graders arguing “no you! No, you!” repeatedly waiting for the other to give up.
But the big question that is probably on everyone’s mind? Should I care? Well, yes! Duh. What are they arguing over? What everyone argues over, money, specifically eBook money. Negotiations started in January of 2014 as their contract was nearing an end. Emma Cueto sums things up nicely over at Bustle, “The assumption in the industry is that Amazon wants the power to discount Hachette eBooks whenever they want — essentially setting the price for these books at whatever number it wants — which Hachette doesn’t want for obvious reasons. Amazon probably also wants Hachette to pay more for “co-op,” which is like advertising money that publishers pay to retailers so that the retailers will spotlight a book on their website or in their store. Hachette, naturally, doesn’t want to pay more.”
In a strange move according to Publishers Weekly, VP of Kindle content David Naggar reportedly sent a letter to literary agents, president of the Authors Guild, and Hachette authors proposing that Amazon and Hachette “forgo all revenue on e-books sold through Amazon and, instead, give them directly to the authors.” It sounds good on the surface but it’s a passive-aggressive move to turn authors against the publisher and ultimately destroy Hachette leaving Amazon to pick up the remains like a hyena. Of course Hachette responded in snarky schoolgirl fashion. Amazon returned with “nanny nanny boo boo,” and claims that Hachette can afford the proposal, as it is a part of a huge conglomerate.
Is Hachette a huge publisher? Yes. Is it part of a larger corporation? Yes. But one business in a corporation cannot simply take money from another to supplement a bad deal. Hachette is a publishing company and Amazon is a retailer. Hachette makes money from print and eBook Amazon makes its money from books, MP3s, DVDs, clothing, jewelry etc. Amazon controls 50% of U.S. book sales and still has existing deals with other publishing houses. They can certainly afford Naggar’s proposed offer, though he knew it would not be acceptable and would never have to follow through, Hachette cannot long term.
Print books are becoming far too rare and eBooks continue to grow. If Hachette were to give up profits from Amazon sales they would be extremely limited in the ways they can makeup for that income. It would just be a matter of time before Amazon’s deal left them broke. But that’s what they really want isn’t it?
It’s no wonder HarperCollins decided to add print books and audio books to its website for direct sales. If it works out perhaps they won’t renew contracts with Amazon.