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Amazon Versus The Book Publishers

Internet giant Amazon and big publisher  Hachette Book Group are in a bitter dispute over e-book pricing and it is getting dirty. We’ll look at what it means for readers, for writers and the book business.

In this Thursday, May 29, 2014 photo, visitors walk through the Hachette Book Group's exhibition at BookExpo America, the annual industry convention in New York. If you were part of the book business, "Amazon" was a dirty word and "Hachette" an applause line as editors, booksellers, writers and agents pondered, fretted and largely refused to discuss the well-publicized and sharply-worded standoff in negotiations between the online retailer and Hachette Book Group. (AP)

In this Thursday, May 29, 2014 photo, visitors walk through the Hachette Book Group’s exhibition at BookExpo America, the annual industry convention in New York. If you were part of the book business, “Amazon” was a dirty word and “Hachette” an applause line as editors, booksellers, writers and agents pondered, fretted and largely refused to discuss the well-publicized and sharply-worded standoff in negotiations between the online retailer and Hachette Book Group. (AP)

Gigantic Amazon controls a huge portion of all book sales in America now, and right now it’s using that power “bare knuckles” with one of the country’s biggest book publishers, Hachette.  If you’re looking for the latest from J.K. Rowling or James Patterson or Stephen Colbert on Amazon, good luck.  The Internet giant is playing real hardball in negotiations over who gets what in e-book sales.  At one level, it’s just business.  At another, it’s about how the Internet can concentrate power, in this case in the realm of books – ideas. This hour On Point:  Amazon versus the publishers, and the future of ideas in America.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Jeffrey Trachtenberg, book publishing reporter for The Wall Street Journal. (@JeffreyT1)

Roxana Robinson, novelist and author of “Sparta,” “Cost,” “Sweetwater” and many others. President of the Authors Guild.

Porter Bibb, managing partner in corporate finance at Mediatech Capital Partners. (@porter3)

Ben Edelman, associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. (@bgedelman)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Goes Back to Publishers on Prices — “Two years after three major book publishers settled a major civil antitrust lawsuit with the federal government, the Justice Department has gone back to the publishers asking about any recent pricing discussions they may have had with others in the industry, say people familiar with the situation.”

Reuters: Amazon/Hachette dispute unlikely to provoke regulators, experts say — “The U.S. government’s unwillingness to stop Amazon.com from using hardball tactics in fights with book publishers has angered book lovers but antitrust experts say regulators are unlikely to intervene in what appear to be business disputes. Amazon has delayed the delivery of some Hachette Book Group titles and even removed an option to pre-order ‘The Silkworm,’ by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith. ”

New York Times: Amazon Absorbing Price Fight Punches — “Hachette is the first big publisher to enter talks with Amazon since the last round of negotiations, and book people have rejoiced watching the bully get sand — a heap of negative press — kicked in his face. Amazon, beloved by Wall Street (until recently) and its customers for putting growth and low prices ahead of profits, is getting a bit of an image makeover right now, and the results have not been pretty.”

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  • AC

    i’ve been reading mostly online books for most of my life. they used to be free or 99 cents, then it slowly went up to 3, then 5 dollars. it seems like the jump in price has been over the last ~5 years or so. i get annoyed when asked to pay $10-12 for an ebook. what am i paying for? you have no warehouse, store, clerk to pay. no paper, no truck driver to take it to a store. i guess i am paying for the cover art (which should really become more than it is since most ebooks tend to open on page 1) and the author. i suppose with the cost of living, i can’t begrudge the price too much, but why can’t i pay the artist and the writer directly? who else gets a share of that money and why are they necessary?

    • DeJay79

      I was just thinking that we should set up a writers Co-op. A place where they can ‘publish’ and sell their books on their own. The co-op would be nothing more than a directory of the authors own personal sites. no middlemen needed.

      • AC

        there used to be sites for this, often pdf formats, but i think people were copying them for friends or something. also, there were issues with adobe loading them correctly in some cases – a lot of formats have changed/disappeared. it seems more uniform now…

        • DeJay79

          formatting is an issue. But I have to imagine now that Amazon (and others) have created viable e-book formats that those could just be piggy backed.

    • J__o__h__n

      You are paying for the most important part of a book – the content.

  • Coastghost

    With Roxana Robinson on the guest list, will there be time for mentioning the further dispute between the Authors’ Guild and the Authors’ Alliance and her take on the nature of the differing approaches of the respective groups?
    http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/06/the-authors-alliance.html
    –and could another guest speak to the nature of any tension that exists between Amazon and Google in this environment? Is it possible to have “a favorite behemoth” here? (Truth in advertising: I NEVER shop with Amazon, for anything.)

    • skelly74

      Where do you buy your books?

      I try to buy from Independents, and used shops, sometimes B&N, but they rarely carry the titles I’m looking for.

      Amazon always has availability of what I’m looking for.

      • Coastghost

        As you: independents (usu. out-of-state orders shipped to me), univ. bookstores, sometimes B&N, sometimes directly from publisher, sometimes used shops.
        (I do sometimes consult Amazon’s website for ISBNs.)

  • Human2013

    Yet another example of a doomed free market. We like to boast the tenets of the free market economy – easy entrance, private factors of production – but what we are seeing is hardly a free market. As we continue to see what’s unfolding in the business sector, it is so obvious that there will be just a few players in this supposed free market. Monopoly is the name of the game…endless mergers, buyouts, companies with more cash than we can even fathom.

    “…But in your existing society private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths.”

    Marx

    Someone tell me where the “right” is on protecting small business, the “little guy.” I have yet to hear a conservative leader point out the real threat to small business — and it ain’t taxes, folks.

    • skelly74

      Amazon is basically a broker for small independents. The books I buy come from Amazon, but the book was more often than not, pulled from an Independent seller that I have no access to otherwise.

      I decide to use a broker.

      • Human2013

        Ah, the broker….the broker is always the winner….not the buyer or the seller.

        Just think of some of our wealthiest citizens like hedgefund managers, they’re all brokers.

        • skelly74

          There is a benefit to the sellers and buyers that the broker provides, customer service, logistics, to name a couple. Yes, these raise costs. But brokers have been historically successful because of the benefits they provide.

          • Human2013

            I agree, but what portion of the pie is owed to the broker. The “market” in nothing more than a unification of lenders and borrowers, but the broker (goldman sachs, JP Morgan, Fidelity…) is the best paid entity – that’s not good for the lender (401K holders), the borrower (99%) or the economy at large.

          • skelly74

            Yes, but most people contribute to the institutions and they provide a service of managing your money or in the case of solo investing as a day trader, providing access to the floor so you can make your plays.

            I think a good broker, in any service, will give you many options to match sellers and buyers.

            A financial broker is sophisticated because you can’t just buy 20 shares of a stock at will, the 20 shares will need to be bundled with other investors and the broker will buy a lot.

  • Unterthurn

    The second-hand market is thriving!

  • Michiganjf

    I buy quite a bit from Amazon, and have long felt guilty about not supporting more local venues to also support local jobs and the local economy.

    This issue puts me off Amazon enough to stop shopping with the company altogether… I truly despise these “Walmart” style, monopolistic tactics.

    It’s the worst kind of bullying, “steamroller” practice.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      They treat their workers – and their subcontractors also – their workers *so* well!

  • http://alchemicalreaction.blogspot.com/ Alchemical Reaction

    Will NEVER buy from Amazon again.

  • andrewgarrett

    Again the simplistic narrative of evil Amazon destroying the small bookstore. Who is stopping anybody from going to their local bookstore? I was at mine recently on the off chance that they might actually have what I wanted. “We can order it for you,” they said, but I can order it myself, which is what I did.

    Before Amazon one could spend years looking for old and obscure titles. Now we can buy them from a “local” bookstore that happens to not be local for us.

    Amazon has helped make getting books much, much easier. All the people worrying about their local bookstores presumably also worry about their local cobbler, blacksmith, and barrel maker, and are also shopping there to make sure they don’t go under.

    • adks12020

      Your narrative is also oversimplified. Amazon is so large it can control pricing, publishing and sourcing making it nearly impossible for smaller retailers to compete. They are already making deals with publishers to sell exclusively on Amazon. Amazon doesn’t have to choose what to stock either. They can stock literally anything in their massive warehouses knowing someone, somewhere, will want it eventually and it doesn’t hurt their bottom line because they sell so much volume. Small retailers don’t have that luxury. I’m not saying they are evil but they are certainly pushing small retailers out of business.

  • http://www.karenchristensen.org/ Karen Christensen

    I am an academic publisher as well as an environmental author (with one book published by Hachette, in fact). My company is very small. Amazon.com has a market cap of $US141 billion. “They have infinite resources,” said a friend when I told him that I had received an angry phone call from Amazon.com’s legal department. The telephone call wasn’t to discuss terms, but to threaten me for “telling lies about Amazon.” What I had written is that if we had to stop supplying Amazon I would have to write to all my customers, authors, and colleagues to tell them why. In fact, Amazon is destroying competition and innovation because it is not letting the market determine winners and losers, but is instead making the selection itself, deciding arbitrarily where to take its pound of flesh and shore up its feeble margins. Hurrah for Hachette and to everyone who is now standing up to Amazon. (I’ve written more about this for my authors and publishing colleagues, and linked to various past stories that broke ground – especially the series in the Seattle Times: http://www.berkshirepublishing.com/blog/2014/06/04/how-amazon-com-is-hurting-readers-authors-and-publishers/. Karen Christensen, CEO, Berkshire Publishing Group, Great Barrington, MA.

    • Human2013

      Why would you expect in a country that pays some as low as $2.25/hr and others as high as $50,000/hr, would have a fair business playing ground. This is much larger, corrosive issue than your particular business. If you can’t stand for more equality in the system, it is certainly not going to trickle down into your particular market niche. Many find themselves disconnected from the minimum wage laws because they don’t impact them, but I can assure you that this is a much bigger issue than just min wage. It’s not only a economic issue, but it’s a symbolic and a momentous change that needs steam before we all get rolled over by big business.

      I feel I must cite Marx Again:

      “The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.”

      • harverdphd

        I thought we were all supposed to be wage laborers, comrade. You mini-marxists still want to be in the elite; to hell with the proletariat…right?. ( shhhh don’t tell the posters who want to be union protected wage laborers like their grandfathers )

  • John Cedar

    The way to get around these archaic antitrust laws is for all the companies to just merge into one giant conglomerate. We know that the contemporary GOP will never object to an M&A and we know that no democrat would today, nor has historically either.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/06/04/sprint-t-mobile/9978447/

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    “Infinite” resources and not 20 years old. Adolescent with Superman powers: how well is that going to end?

    • AC

      it will end with alibaba!

      • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

        A name stolen by the Chinese from the Persians. The New Capitalism. Hoober Doober

    • Coastghost

      Now it owns WaPo and wants its own drone air force . . . .

  • MrNutso

    There are no independents in my area (that I’m aware of). There was a great store in at the King of Prussia Plaza called Gene’s books that had everything, but they closed over a decade ago. My choices are B&N or Amazon. Since I have a Kindle, most of my purchases are ebooks. There are a few that I have purchased in paper (and will continue to do so from time to time). Most of my paper book purchases are either older books that are catch up’s in a series to the current release and not available as an ebook or locally; or things that are never were carried in local stores anyway such as railroad photography books.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    I must be an offender. I put everything on my Amazon business card.* Plus they have points that result in discounts on purchases. Hard to beat especially when any surviving local book stores are swamped with the usual junk: comics, cook books, How Tos, gossip.
    * I Ieft ITunes for Amazon downloads years ago. Leaving PayPal now because of EBAY hacking problems.

  • jefe68
  • Jeff

    Won’t these tactics lead to lower prices for the customer in the end? I mean seriously why are we still paying $10+ for books that don’t have a physical presence? Same with movies…why do they still cost $6 to rent/watch one time (online) when that’s the same cost we had at Blockbuster to rent movies?

    • jefe68

      You are aware that publishing is a business that has overheads, right? That authors do deserve to be paid for their work? Right?

      • Jeff

        I agree that authors should be paid, not so sure if the publishers are doing much of anything if Amazon (or any other online retailer) is doing the selling and the author is creating the work. The publishers remind me of the record executives that used to bleed music artists dry before that revolution happened and now we have songs for 99 cents.

        • jefe68

          Publishers do a lot. A good publisher develops it’s writers and there is a lot more that goes into book publishing than meets the eye. Just because you don’t see it, does not mean they don’t have function in the literary world.

          • creaker

            If publishers provided no added everyone would use sites like Lulu, or market directly and avoid publishers and Amazon altogether.

          • jefe68

            So you don’t think writers need editors?
            That they don’t need good publishers?

          • Jeff

            Editors are different than publishers, many authors hire their own editors and don’t use the publisher’s recommendations.

          • jefe68

            True. My point is Amazon is not a good company either to work for or for the market place in the long run. Right now most people use them because they are so huge and sell so much stuff. Behind the curtain, this company makes Walmart look like a great place to work.

          • Jeff

            Perhaps publishers should work like agents do in other industries, taking 10% of the author’s revenues (royalties) in order to provide those services. If they’re truly putting in the development effort you suggest then they should have no problem recruiting authors to go through their development program and give away 10% of their royalties.

    • creaker

      Because there’s enough customers willing to pay that much – they’re not there to provide you cheap stuff, they are there to make money – whatever the market will bear.

      • Jeff

        And then Amazon is allowed to negotiate using whatever tactics it chooses to lower the price, aren’t they?

        • creaker

          That is the way the market works.

          I can do a single search online and price a book among many resellers. Amazon has no monopolistic control on the market. If they don’t have it or it’s priced too high, they likely won’t get my business.

          This would be like putting Walmart under government controls not because they control the market but just because they have a lot of stores.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    A big scam is the renting of college textbooks (ebooks) on Amazon and Barnes & Noble sites. Four or five short-term rentals and you have your monthly mortgage payment.

  • Human2013

    So now publishers and authors find themselves in the same conundrum as wage workers….well, welcome to America. When will we realize we are on the same side. There are the workers and producers on one side and the investor class on the other. As soon as you can find your way to the appropriate side of the fight, then we can get about the business of real change — revolution style.

    • Coastghost

      On the other hand, back in the day, I was obliged to buy a copy of William Morris’s News from Nowhere for a univ. class. This socialist propaganda novel by Morris (he of the craft-and-quality movement) was published by an overseas Soviet-subsidized imprint: I didn’t finish reading the crumby novel before the perfect binding gave way and the pages flew to the floor. A distinct pity Marxists never mastered the formula for binding glue, a distinct pity the publisher was committed to shoddy production values.

      • J__o__h__n

        I found a pair of Gogol books that were printed by a Soviet press for export. I think they were published in the mid 80′s but the cover design looked like 70′s. They were fairly well constructed, just kind of ugly, but I like them as artifact.

  • creaker

    Walmart, as their business model, has been bullying their suppliers for years and years. Why is Amazon being treated like they are doing anything unique?

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    I’m rooting for China. They’re going to end up owning it all one day, anyway.

  • AC

    i would go to other sites run by independents, but i would want some form of guarantee on my library – i have lost money and books because formats have come and gone in the past decade…..

    • jefe68

      Except that there are very few or none. Why?
      Because Amazon has destroyed this market.

    • J__o__h__n

      If Amazon goes out of business, my actual books will be good for decades.

      • AC

        true-ish, except for paper-fleas, killing trees, using chemicals for print that goes into our water, fuel used to ship it and the pollution to the air…..ha!! yin and yang (?) for everything…

        • Jill122

          which part of your argument is yin and which is yang? I know, your remark is off-hand, casual, wrong and all the rest. And I’m just making the point that yin and yang are gender related not good and bad.

          • AC

            that’s what the ? was for – i knew i was getting it wrong…., so what is the correct form?

          • Jill122

            ?? oh, well, that fixes everything?

          • AC

            if you can’t help, just say so!

      • Potter

        my e-book is on by iPad mini regardless, but my actual books are getting yellow dusty and moldy.

        • Potter

          The problem is also that not all books are available as e-books.

          • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

            And, you cannot lend your e-book to anyone, effectively. They say you can, but it is almost totally useless. I am all for saving paper, but the author needs to benefit equally from sales of e-books and paper books.

          • Potter

            Let a thousand ( or ten thousand) flowers bloom!

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    We’ll all be saved from big business skullduggery when HRH Hillary is coronated. After all, who’s abjured hoovering up the big bucks like she has?

    • DeJay79

      I can go way off topic to just to get a raise…

      amazon is evil and it is all D. Chaney’s fault becuase he hates his daughter.

  • Potter

    But more people will read an e-book. Isn’t that a benefit to authors and publishers?

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    Royalties should be the *same* no matter the form that it is published in.

    The cost savings for publishing e-books should be passed along to the consumer.

  • Human2013

    So it sounds as if authors and publishers are losing ground….welcome to Capitalism! Up next MDs, Professors — oh wait, the adjunct professors are already living out of their cars.

    • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

      When Charles Princeps, heir to the empire, gives an interview/speech denouncing the New Capitalism you know the spit has really hit the spam.*

      * This week, online.

      • Human2013

        Don’t forget the Pontiff…..heir to the largest Empire this world have ever seen.

  • DeJay79

    With a greatly reduce overhead cost the end price could drop on all sales and the Authors share should go up. Other than creating a uniform e-book format, I see no need for a Money taking middleman!

    E-Books should be a win for Authors, big and small. People who could not get published before now can and big number authors should be making more money not less.

  • Paul Meade

    Just a thought here: Amazon markets an publishing service (vanity publishing?) for a fee and as part of this service will offer the said book both online and in print if wanted. Could this be a work around by Amazon to garner more direct publishing and eliminating the existing author/publisher paradigm?

    • Carolynn Gockel

      Actually, there is no fee. It’s free to self-publish with Amazon.

  • Human2013

    To the last caller: CANT have new anti-trust laws in the age of Citizens united. Remember our government lawmakers are servants of big business, not the public.

  • Gary Welch

    Why doesn’t Amazon boost their PR image by using their retailing muscle to drive down textbook prices? Some college subjects like math have been established for decades, so why should a new textbook cost more than $100 or $200?

  • James

    Imagine a world where we could get college e-texbooks for less then $200
    If I was the professor, I would want the government to regulate Amazon too.

    • Jeff

      Now that’s the real scam…requiring students to buy new text books every other year so the costs keep going up.

    • jefe68

      Professor’s don’t make money off of text books.
      Even if they are the authors their share is a very small part of that pie.

      • James

        Well someone is making a lot of money off these things.

        • jefe68

          The education publishing houses and the colleges.

          I’m curious, how did you arrive at the belief that college professors were making money off of text books?

      • Charles

        While professors don’t make regular income from textbooks, there is an intricate system of kickbacks to certain preferred dons who ‘recommend’ the newest edition of texts. ‘Honoraria’.

        But seriously, the textbook thing is such a scam. Like introductory Calculus has changed so much in the past two years that we need an updated text for it. The real key is that they change the problem sets ever so slightly to FORCE students to buy the most recent copy.

    • Ray in VT

      Why would the professor be scared?

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Anything exchanged for bitcoins or cowry shells is a commodity.

  • Lawrence

    I thought monopolies were illegal?

    • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

      Only under law. Ask Eric Holder if he’s read it lately. HD.

    • TyroneJ

      They are. Apple is still fighting their eBook price fixing conviction of last July. All of the publishers they colluded with settled. Apple does not deny the price fixing which resulted in everyone overpaying for eBooks for years. They simply are arguing technicalities about whether they violated anti-trust law. Yet another result of Job’s infamous “reality distortion field”.

  • Jo Bleaux

    I think publishers deserve to make back their expenses and earn a profit on top, but think in a way they are shooting themselves in the foot by keeping ebook prices so high. For instance, a couple of years ago I wanted to read a 20+ year old international best-seller, and the kindle price was $12.99! (I think it’s gone down a bit since). Its expenses had been paid scores of times over. I complained to Amazon, who blamed the publisher. I complained to the publisher and they gave me some lame line.

    They need to look at Apple’s iTunes model, which gave consumers a reasonably priced alternative to pirating. The price is made up in volume. If iTunes prices go too high, more and more people will go back to pirating.

    In my case, I took a pass on the convenience of downloading the book right away, and got it a couple of days later at the public library for free.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Thanks to Bernanke inflation, even free isn’t free anymore. Zero now equals 0.783333.

  • AC

    some countries don’t believe in ‘intellectual property rights’…..i don’t know why they think this way, you must have to be raised from a young age to understand it….

    • creaker

      copyright has gotten crazy in this country – it was intended to be like a patent, just a limited amount of time before someone could copy your product – it was never intended to perpetually line the pockets of corporations and author’s great great grandchildren.

      • AC

        that’s fine, but having none at all? i can’t quite grasp it…

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    China: where theft isn’t even a thought crime. Thank goodness, or every other Hu Wu would be in prison.*

    * We know what China feels about thought crime. Ask Falun Gong or the folks commemorating May 35th.

  • creaker

    used books – Abebooks is a great website for new and used books.

    • Ray in VT

      They have some great deals, especially on shipping, and I hear that the sellers get a better deal than from Amazon.

  • Potter

    Roxannna- but more people will read your books if they can buy them used and that will be good for you in the end; they may buy your next book new as opposed to not knowing your work at all.

  • henrietta11

    There are quality of life issues,e.g working conditions in factories vs book stores,brousing vs clicking.

  • Coastghost

    One ill-timed X-40 class solar flare and CME event, and we could lose decades’ and centuries’ worth of effort . . . .

    • Kathy

      A collapse of civilization isn’t going to do much for paper books either.

      • Coastghost

        That might depend in part on the quality of the surviving paper: acid-free paper is not the norm but is no longer uncommon.

        • J__o__h__n

          Unfortunately paper quality is generally getting worse. I have some newer books that are yellow compared with ones that are decades old that look great. Books published in England are almost all of poor paper quality now.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Barnes & Noble and Amazon both priced Thomas Piketty’s book (ebook) at the same price. $21.99 I think it was/is. Someone must have decided to do that, perhaps the publisher. Or it was collusion.

  • Potter

    Used books may otherwise wind up in the trash or forever on someone’s shelf…. this is a way to sell them.

    And Amazon used books also matches obscure or hard to find books to people who want them.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Well done, that self-published author. So THAT’S the guy!

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Amazon + Washington Post. “Combines the best of northern charm and southern efficiency.”

    * JFK (talking about D.C.)

  • Kathy

    The current caller babbling about Amazon threatening indie authors or cutting royalties is spewing total nonsense. These things simply aren’t happening. The royalty from Kindle Direct Publishing is 70% and they don’t care how little or much you promote or sell. (They have developed a nasty habit of censoring sexual material though.)

  • https://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

    Ah, the “cooperative relationship”… she means between publishers and booksellers, to screw the consumer. I look at it this way: back in around 1990, I couldn’t get a new release in hardcover for less than $20. They were generally priced at $24 or $30, and rarely had a discount of more than $2 or $3. Nowadays, even hot brand-new releases are well under $20 as E-books, frequently close to $10, and this is with over 20 years of inflation in between. Sounds like progress to me. Please, Amazon: keep it up.

    So while I’m really sorry her fat margins are disappearing (world’s smallest violin playing over here), but as we’ve seen in the music industry, there is little reason to believe that content creation or variety will disappear when margins go down.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    In the short run, we’re waiting for Godot.*

    * AKA Barack Obama, same guy.

  • Yar

    Should amazon be treated as a common carrier? What would this mean?

  • Potter

    Roxanna wants the publisher’s label, the publisher’s curating her book versus paying Amazon to publish it. So the publisher gets to say what has literary value… a gatekeeper.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    The outfit that published Kitty Kelly* didn’t care about literary quality. Since when was that ever a concern?

    * Or any politician’s memoir (i.e., stroll through the public treasury).

  • X Y & Z

    I can remember when Borders Bookstores used to advertise on NPR. I enjoyed browsing in their spacious bookstores. Then Obamanomics came along and Borders Bookstores shut their doors and went out of business.

    • DeJay79

      seriously… Borders could have made it if only it weren’t for Obama?

      I cant believe I’m even bothering to respond to this.

      • X Y & Z

        You’re saying that the negative economic growth this country is experiencing has nothing to do with Obama’s economic policies?

        You’re in some serious denial.

    • Charles

      Per Wikipedia:
      “In March 2008, Borders Group announced the intention to sell the chain because of financial difficulties”

      By my admittedly hasty estimate, that would be about 10 months before Obama took office.

  • DeJay79

    I want to know how many great authors have he never heard from in the past because some elitist publisher snubbed thier nose and told them to get lost?

    • Eric

      This is exactly the right question. Roxana Robinson seems to be missing this point, perhaps because she was fortunate enough to be chosen by publishers.

      I wish I could up vote this 1000 times.

  • Yar

    The editor is the most valuable aspect of print. We need to trust the editor and we need them to edit. We simply can’t digest everything written.

    • http://bookclubreading.com/ BookClubReadingList

      Today, anyone can hire an editor. Not every editor does a good job. We are living in the age of the individual – the voice of the individual matters more today than ever before. That’s why book reviews are so important to help other readers weed out poor quality literature.

    • tbphkm33

      What happens when the editorial process has been watered down to the lowest common denominator? Through cost cutting, left up to individuals who are not qualified to perform the job they are tasked with.

      • Carolynn Gockel

        This happened to a writer I followed who left traditional publishing for the self publishing world. He found errors in his traditionally published books because they were cutting on editing.

  • J__o__h__n

    Amazon isn’t claiming that the readers’ reviews are professional criticism. The positive blurbs selected by the publishers for the book jackets aren’t objective criticism either.

  • Jim Meskauskas

    Amazon’s appeal to populist narcism is what is going to ensure the debate between the accomplished craftsperson (elite) and the “look at me” obsessed hoi polo (the masses) who can now, in the internet age, grasp the microphone that heretofore was accessible only to those who have earned that access. It’s the same phenomenon that has made reality Tv popular.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Border’s wasn’t ready for the new century. And even Barnes and Nobel who went public once (The online presence only: I had their stock in its run-up) sold itself off and went into private hands some years ago.

    • Kathy

      I think Borders and B&N over-expanded. When I was growing up, I had my choice of four or five small “strip mall” sized stores to buy books at. By the late 90s, each of these had been replaced by a big box Bounders and Buns & Noodle. The book market simply hadn’t expanded that much.

      • Carolynn Gockel

        Yes and sometimes a Barnes & Nobles would literally be right next to a Borders! I thought they drove each other out of business.

  • AC

    wait. this is sounding strange. language changes; the way to communicate changes too…if people have a hard time getting through more historical novels, that is some times the reason….just because it’s not ‘classic’ does not mean it is worthless…
    ps – i loved the hunger games…

  • http://www.openeyesvideo.com/ Glenn C. Koenig

    Great Literature? Bull! There is no such thing. That is pure snobbery. I read Dickens. Pure crap. But, hey, that’s just my opinion. I’m glad the world of written work is becoming ‘democratized’ where you can just look for what *you* think is ‘great literature’ instead of some academic snob telling you what is good and what isn’t.
    Hopefully, we are going to democratize schools as well. I’ve been waiting since I was a kid in the 1950s and 1960s. It can’t come soon enough. All those professors, teachers, etc. stripped of their power to strangle the flow of information. I’m not saying knowledge is worthless. I’m saying it’s high time that we all get to decide what knowledge we want, to listen to the debates about what’s worth knowing and decide for *ourselves* what’s worth it, listening to the opinions of each other, not some high and mighty ‘authority’ figure with the power of grades (schools) or access (the old line publishers).

    • jefe68

      You think Dickens is pure crap. The knowledge you want… which would be what exactly? How do you know what you want when your 8 years old? Or 18 for that mater?

      One has to wonder what you think if Shakespeare…

      “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
      ― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

      • http://www.openeyesvideo.com/ Glenn C. Koenig

        You ask, “How do you know what you want when your [sic] 8 years old?” I think 8 year olds do just fine in figuring out what they want. I think 18 year olds also do just fine. Young people are born curious, for the most part. I believe that it is erroneous academic theories and a wholly obsolete school system that crush curiosity, creativity, and a zest for learning and render many youth to appear apathetic and disinterested. Your idea of great literature may not be their idea, and who is to say who is right?
        You quote the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities. It may give you a thrill to read that, but not me. I stopped reading that book half way through and never went back. I thought it was awful! Later, I found out that Dickens was paid by the word, to publish his stories in serial form, so they were filled with all kinds of unnecessary description, foreshadowing, and the like. To me, it was confusing and boring.

      • Carolynn Gockel

        @jefe68:disqus I love Dickens, though I don’t particularly care for Shakespeare’s plots. I also love Steinbeck, Dostoyevsky, Ralph Ellison, Vonnegut, and Marquez. But I understand what Glenn is saying. Everyone has different taste in literature, and the Big 5 telling us what is “Great” is well… they would say that about the books they publish, wouldn’t they?

  • http://bookclubreading.com/ BookClubReadingList

    In 2011, there were roughly 30,000 new titles added to Amazon each month (Last 30 Days). Today, there are roughly 100,000 new titles added each month. Amazon has removed the old gatekeepers, opening up access to the market for more authors, and providing more literature for the consumer. This new model has also spurred the creation of many niche services to support the new industry – marketing, editing, cover designers, and niche publishers. It seems to be a win-win for everyone except the traditional publishers.

    • http://bookclubreading.com/ BookClubReadingList

      In today’s environment, the advances paid by publishers are very low. If you are “lucky enough” to be picked up by a publisher, you will still need to do most of your own marketing. The advance often won’t cover a publicist. In reality, you are giving up a large % of your royalty in exchange for a ‘stamp of approval’ by a publisher. For some people, you might need this stamp of approval for your career (resume). However, for the rest of us, it’s meaningless.

      Instead, an author can pay roughly $1,000 to have a cover designed and manuscript edited … and keep 100% of the profits. Given that marketing is 70% of every author’s job, and you will be the one doing most of the work, why not keep all of the profits.

      Once you learn to successfully market a book, you’ll have built a marketing platform from which you can launch your future books. At this point, publishers will come looking for you … and, you won’t need them.

  • J__o__h__n

    For another topic on book publishing, On Point should interview Chip Kidd.

  • Julie Christensen

    I am very sympathetic with the publishers and authors who are being squeezed by Amazon. However, your guest Roxana has completely misrepresented the relationship between Amazon and self-published authors. First, they have never changed my royalties, as Roxana claims, and I actually get a much better deal than traditionally published authors, because I don’t split my royalties with anyone. I earn 70% of each sale, which is true for all self-published authors on Amazon. Second, they don’t charge authors $1000 to publish a book. The caller chose to pay
    their affiliate to do this, but I have published five books on Amazon and never paid them a cent. Finally, she trots out the tired argument that self-published authors must not be good, because the gatekeepers of publishing didn’t chose them. As one of your callers pointed out, few publishing houses really care about merit. They care about sales (note the Twilight series). When they reject someone like me, who then self-publishes and sells more than 20,000 copies on Amazon in my first ten months (and about that same number with each new release with almost no marketing), it shows that the publishing industry doesn’t know what people want to read. This was a
    great show, but it was frustrating to hear how little your guest knew about the self-published aspect of Amazon. You
    really should have a self-published author on if you decide to revisit this topic.

    • http://heathersunseri.com Heather Sunseri

      Completely agree with Julie. The show was one-sided, and no one seemed to understand the indie side of things at all, which I would have understood if this had been 5 (or more) years ago.

  • J__o__h__n

    If it weren’t for Amazon, we wouldn’t know about the three wolf moon shirt.

  • http://heathersunseri.com Heather Sunseri

    This show really amazed me. And not in a good way. First of all, an author doesn’t have to spend a dime to publish on Amazon. You can pay Create Space to produce a book for you, OR you can publish your work yourself using Create Space for a very nominal fee. There is a big difference. Amazon is not running a “Vanity Publishing” shop.

    Second, though I came in late to the show (but I don’t think it would have mattered), the guests I heard were completely biased toward New York publishing and completely disregarded the amazing things Amazon has done for 1) the authors who are out there working hard to produce excellent work and amazing stories and 2) readers and consumers who wish to purchase those stories. Readers can now, thanks to Amazon, purchase triple or more times the amount of books they used to purchase with the almighty dollar.

    Third, Amazon is probably the #1 reason authors are now able to make a living writing. Big publishers make about 10 people in the world rich. Amazon allows thousands and thousands of authors to get paid for the stories they create and produce, thereby allowing those authors to pay their mortgages, put food on the table and often times much, much more.

    Last, I encourage anyone interested in the Hatchette vs. Amazon debate to read (or listen) WAY beyond this podcast. Go to the industry blogs and the comments to truly find out what is going on in the world of publishing if you’re interested. Yes, there are varying opinions about this business deal, but at least learn more about the situation before you judge either side.

    • Michiganjf

      Thanks for the info… I will look into this more deeply and perhaps reconsider my criticism.

    • Kyle

      Thank you for this comment. We’re still at a point where most people in general don’t understand what a good thing Amazon has been for authors, so thanks for highlighting.

  • Philip Leiter

    As a writer, I am frustrated by the traditional book publishing market. I am a 30 plus year experienced writer and journalist. I know my work is high quality. Editors love my writing because I use proper punctuation, spelling and grammar. I develop well-imagined characters and interesting plots.

    Because my writing does not fit in any of the fixed genre categories (mystery, romance, sci-fi, self-help, and etc.), I am deemed “not marketable,” which I interpret (counter to the literary gatekeeper model espoused by Big Publishing) as unprofitable.

    Amazon and other e-publishers allow me to compete in the marketplace.

    Now, I have to do my own marketing and promotion, but as I’ve been told by other writers, the traditional publishers are pushing more and more of that responsibility onto the authors – and they keep the lion’s share of the profit! With Amazon, I – as the CREATOR – keep 70% of the profit as opposed to what I calculate as 10% (publisher / printer / distributor / agent / editor fees).

    I think the model is changing in favor of the author and reader. I buy dozens of indie novels and find them just as enjoyable as anything offered by the Big Six publishers.

  • tbphkm33

    Easy equation for me – Amazon has more-and-more become the Walmart of online retailers, complete with arrogant disregard for their workers. As such, it is easy to boycott Amazon. Plenty of honest retailers to spend money with.

  • pm05

    Authors! Authors! Authors! They have a right to get paid! PERIOD! Boycott Amazon. Boycott used books! Pay authors!

    • Carolynn Gockel

      Amazon pays authors very well. 70% if they self-publish with Amazon. Their interface is actually one of the easiest to use of all the self-publishing sites, and the easiest for readers to search.

  • Elizabeth Liechti

    I don’t feel too sorry for book publishers, nor do I particularly support Amazon. I don’t buy books, I can’t afford to do so, I borrow ebooks (which are real books) from the library.

    • Carolynn Gockel

      By doing so you support authors! I would love it if more libraries stocked my ebooks. All the best to you.

  • Peter Lorenzoni

    Perhaps there may be a bigger game coming to town that may counter Amazon. ALIBABA is a name Americans should start paying attention to.

  • Carolynn Gockel

    I publish through Amazon. They provide me with great royalties. I write for a tiny niche (Loki, with dinosaurs, 3rd person present tense!) I never would have gotten published through a traditional publisher, but I’ve still managed to make a few hundred people very happy. That makes me happy. “I Bring the Fire” if you’re interested–first in the series is FREE.

    • TypingMonkey

      Those MONTHLY PAYMENTS rock, right? Getting paid once or twice a year sucks.

  • J. R. Tomlin

    Show me some booklovers outside the industry who are angered. They LIKE that Amazon fights to keep prices low.

  • Kyle

    I don’t ever comment on these things, but this was so biased and so many falsities were thrown around that it was unbelievable. Let’s just chalk it up to some major misconceptions about self-publishing – it’s a VERY different word today than it was ten years ago.

    I am a self-published author on Amazon (and no, self-publishing is not a dirty word). I also publish on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and GooglePlay. I also happen to be one of the top 100 science fiction authors on all Amazon – not out of self-publishers, but on all Amazon, traditionally published or not.

    Self-publishing on Amazon allowed me to quit my day job and commit to writing full-time. Many other writers have similar experiences. And the best part? We keep our rights, don’t get locked into horrible contracts, AND we get 70% royalties. By comparison, a typical publishing contract will get an author substantially lower royalties (at least 4-5 times smaller), and in addition non-compete clauses (meaning the author not being able to publish with another publisher, including his or herself), as well as not having a reversion of rights for life + 70 years.

    Let’s get some things straight:

    1. You didn’t have to pay a dime to self-publish on either Amazon OR CreateSpace (B&N, iTunes, Kobo, or GooglePlay for that matter). I spend about $500 for editing and covers from freelancers that are in no way affiliated with Amazon, and that’s it.

    2. I make over $100 a day on Amazon. These days, something around $200, and it has been so for the past six months. Is this limited to just me? No. For every self-published author like me, there are dozens more that pay bills, including niche authors the Big 5 publishers likely wouldn’t publish. And there are many, many who do much better.

    3. Amazon pays me 70% royalties. Had my books been published by Hachette, I would get something around 15% of list price on physical copies, and 25% of net on ebooks. If Hachette REALLY cares about their authors, why not pay them 50% of net on ebooks with their incredibly high margins? The Big 5 are NOT going broke. Their profits are better than ever. Look at their annual reports.

    4. Amazon pays me on a monthly basis. With a bigger publisher, I’d be paid twice a year.

    I could go on, but I won’t. If you want to keep the focus on the authors, then keep the focus on the authors including self-published ones like myself. I am sorry Hachette authors are getting the shaft in these negotiations.

    I don’t feel sorry for Colbert, Rowling, or any other big author who doesn’t need the money. I feel bad for the midlisters locked into horrible contracts they cannot escape them. Amazon offered to fund 50 percent of a pool to help mitigate the damage to authors. Hachette has yet to take them up on it.

    Barnes & Noble did the same to Simon & Schuster and no one batted an eye. Amazon does it to Hachette and everyone loses their minds.

  • tbphkm33

    From your perspective – what is the best way for readers to discover authors? Not the NYT best sellers. Whenever I look, there is such a great cross section. Seemingly we need a better avenue to discover new authors to read.

    • Carolynn Gockel

      There are many book services you can join at no cost: Freebooksy, eBookSoda, FussyLibrarian, and BookBub. All of these services allow you to pick a genre (i.e. Fantasy, Sci-fic, Action Adventure, Literary Fiction, etc.) and then send you a daily email with deals in the genres you selected. All of these services offer multiple places to buy: Amazon, B&N, Apple, and Smashwords. They try to vet their offerings for quality. A lot of self-published authors offer first-in-series free, or for 99 cents so you can stock up at low cost.

    • TypingMonkey

      Seriously?

      I will tell you what I do. I don’t sign up for any services or clubs. I think about what I want to read or listen to (I like audio books as well as print). Then I hit Amazon or Goodreads and study the best reviewed books (reviewed by real readers–not critics, but I do take their account in as well–but remember that critics are paid to write reviews). I have found some famous authors this way; people I have never heard of. I found the Sookie Stackhouse series, and Kim Harrison, and Christopher Moore–oh, and Honor Harrington (the character). I look for books with a solid following. This is free, easy (I like easy), and unbiased. I am not asking any company to tell me what to read, and it is egalitarian. I get at least 8 requests to review books every week from people. People email me blindly begging me to review their books. This is not how I find reading material. I look for what it out there in my field of interest. In the old days (before Borders and Barnes and Noble –formerly Waldenbooks and B. Dalton — KILLED the independent bookstores) I would poke around indie bookshops and ask, but even indie booksellers only know what THEY like. Amazon and goodreads allows me to pick the brains of millions of readers all over the world. I read the bad reviews to see if they have any merit, or if they are just jerks. I read the good reviews to see if they tell me something other than “oh my god I love everything this author does and I want to have their baby!”).

      I hope this helps. Again, free, easy, and it has worked out extremely well for the past ten years.

    • TypingMonkey

      Oh, one other thing . . . (I don’t see the reply I just posted, but hopefully it is there. I forgot to add this. What I like best about ebooks is that they are cheap. If I am unsure about an author’s work, no matter how popular they are, I can save a lot of money by getting the book version, just in case the book sucks. If I really like it, I will buy it in print. The point is that discovering new authors is made easier if their ebook version is less expensive. Less of a financial risk. Also, use use use the “Look inside” feature that Amazon and books.Google.com have. See if you like the information and/or writing style. That is a great resource.

  • Isernia

    An organization to which I belong – the AAUW sponsors an annual book sale to benefit college scholarships for women of Western NY. This year, as in the past, we sold over $70,000 used books in four days. Increasingly, the buyers sell their purchases on Amazon. Hundreds, even thousands of these books which we members laboriously sorted by topic and genre ultimately appear on Amazon’s used book sales. One customer told us he and his friend from Tennessee gave up medical school to earn money selling vintage children’s board games and books. They travel to used book stores throughout the Northeast. They earn $4 for each $ 1 spent and are satisfied with this return on their investment.
    This reminds me that such “bottom feeders”…i.e. bottle collectors, garbage scavengers ( in Third World countries ) keep an underground economy growing. REUSE, RECYCLE, RECOVER applies to books as well as garbage, I suppose. Benefits accrue to the buyer, seller and the student scholarship award winners….and the giant Amazon as well.

  • http://www.publerati.com Caleb Mason (from Publerati)

    Interesting to read all the frustrated writer comments here. My own view is that the current consolidated publishing industry needs to be very careful in yet again overstepping their legal right to fix retail pricing. That is illegal. They just did this and were caught. It was such an obvious violation yet many of the protectionist self-interests of bright people somehow leads them to feel they are exempt from the law. Bottom line is any of the authors or publishers can withhold their books from Amazon if they cannot agree to terms. Same with Walmart, Staples, Best Buy, and Barnes and Noble, who put many a great Boston bookstore out of biz including the old Lauriat’s chain. If you believe competition is good for mankind, then Amazon has opened far more doors while publishers continue closing them on some excellent writers and books that do not fit into their narrowed commercial categories of interest.

  • PolinaWellingsiso

    Josiah .
    although Jacqueline `s stori is surprising, last week I bought themselves a
    Chrysler from having made $5060 thiss month and-in excess of, 10/k last-month .
    it’s realy the easiest-work I have ever done . I started this 4 months ago and
    pretty much straight away was bringin in at least $78 per-hour . why not look
    here C­a­s­h­d­u­t­i­e­s­.­C­O­M­

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