Dear Friends of Press 53,
The Amazon v. Hachette dispute has gone viral with posts on Facebook and Twitter, with an email sent to millions from Amazon decrying Hachette’s pricing of their e-books as “unjustifiably high,” and with a two-page ad in the New York Times signed by 900 authors calling on Amazon to stop punishing authors and get back to the business of selling books. So far, neither Amazon nor Hachette have budged.
As the owner of a small press, who owes much of our success to Amazon for selling our books when most bookstores showed no interest, I hope Hachette doesn’t budge. And I hope readers will stand beside them and think about where they buy books in the future. Hachette is only one publisher out of many who have had to deal with Amazon’s games and bully tactics. This includes Press 53.
Until I read Amazon’s email, I struggled to understand why so many of our titles at Press 53 began showing up on Amazon last October as “Temporarily out of stock” or “Usually ships within 1 to 3 weeks,” even though our printer, Lightning Source, Inc., can print and ship any of our books ordered from Amazon within 24 hours. I now understand that Amazon’s mission is to push readers to purchase e-books. Print books no longer fit their business model. As the Amazon letter said, “With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs…”
So this scrum match with Hachette is really about Amazon using its position as an industry giant to sway readers toward e-books, a medium that is more profitable to Amazon. It’s about Amazon flexing its muscles to prove dominance over “a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate” to fall in line with Amazon’s vision or suffer the consequences. And since Press 53 e-books are priced lower than our print books, Amazon is passive-aggressively nudging our readers toward the e-book by listing our print books as out of stock.
Large companies like Amazon and Walmart derive their power from consumers who voluntarily support them. My family no longer shops at Walmart because we refuse to support a company that pays its employees poverty wages, leaving many to rely on government assistance programs to survive. In essence, we, as taxpayers, are subsidizing the Walton’s, America’s richest family.
Shoppers have a choice to continue buying goods from these large low-margin, high-volume businesses like Walmart and Amazon, while we all watch them continue their march toward complete control of the marketplace, or they can choose to spend a little more with companies who appreciate their business and only want to co-exist in this world, not control it.
Hachette should be free to set e-book prices that are in line with their own goals, not Amazon’s. And Amazon is free to leave the print book market to other booksellers and focus on the more lucrative e-book market, should they choose to follow their own advice. But using its position and power to force other businesses to get in line or go down should earn Amazon a time-out from people who value fairness and choice in the marketplace.
What we are witnessing with Amazon v. Hachette is not a battle for lower e-book prices for the good of readers. We are witnessing the corruption of power, where almost having it all isn’t the same, or as satisfying, as having it all. We are seeing how the desire for complete control will allow someone to set conscience aside while the lives and careers of others are toyed with like chess pieces, all while telling the world with a straight face that this power-move is for the good of us all.
Kevin Morgan Watson, Publisher