The views and opinions expressed on this site are my own, and not those of my employer. I have no insider knowledge about the negotiations going on between Amazon and Hachette — all I know is what’s out in the public sphere already. Okay? Onward.
Just about two weeks ago, readers who went on Amazon looking for certain current Hachette Book Group titles and backlist bestsellers discovered odd 2-5 week wait times listed on the site. These books included bestsellers like Stephen Colbert, James Patterson, and Malcolm Gladwell, but also hit midlist authors, books on the children’s list, Orbit titles, and even J.D. Salinger (not The Catcher in the Rye, though whether that will change if their stock runs low will be curious to see.) As HBG spokespeople have said, the books are in stock, and if Amazon were to reorder them, they’d ship right away.
Amazon also removed or lowered the discounts on HBG books. They implemented a new “feature,” pointing out books that are similar in theme to the Hachette title you’re looking at, but are cheaper.
The backstory’s backstory:
This isn’t the first time Amazon’s thrown its weight around when a publisher wouldn’t give it what it wanted. Back in 2010, Amazon pulled the buy buttons from Macmillan titles in a dispute over ebook pricing.
Now Amazon has pulled the pre-order buttons for Hachette’s forthcoming titles. Go ahead and search for James Patterson’s Burn, his September release. Can’t pre-order it. Can’t pre-order Cibola Burn, the next book in James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series, the acclaimed space opera that’s being made into a SyFy show. Can’t pre-order Ancillary Sword, the sequel to Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice — y’know, the book that’s taken every major SF award this year so far, and is a Hugo nominee for Best Novel?
What it means for authors:
Amazon is not afraid to harm authors to bully a publisher into doing what they want. Pre-orders matter to writers. If you follow your favorites on social media, you’ve probably seen tweets and posts saying “Hey, pre-order my book!” in the months leading up to publication. It helps the publishers know there’s demand ahead of time, gives them a heads-up that there’s early excitement and buzz. It lets them know if they’ll need to order another printing earlier than they’d anticipated.
Authors who have self-published, especially those who only do so through Amazon, ought to take note of this as well. Every now and then I see someone prematurely dancing on bookstores’ graves and hailing the age of Amazon. While I am on the record all over the place stating my doubt that bookstores will actually ever go extinct, if they do, don’t act surprised when Amazon eventually pulls this shit on you.
At the very least, self-pub/indie/author-publisher writers, don’t put all your eggs in Jeff Bezos’ basket.
What it means for readers:
Couple-few things. Amazon is not doing this for you. Don’t think that if they wear Hachette down, you’ll reap the benefits.
Those cheaper alternative books still aren’t the ones you were originally trying to order, the ones you came to them wanting to read. I’m not sure what their play is here. I mean, hey, maybe some buyers tried something new in the meantime and discovered a new author to like. Great! But Patterson fans will still want to know wtf happens to Alex Cross. Fans of both Harry and Pseudonymous Bosch will want to keep following their adventures.
Also, readers, kindly remember this is not on the authors. They have no say in what Amazon’s doing to their books’ availability. Don’t leave 1-star reviews because Amazon’s being a shitheel. Don’t pirate their books to make a statement. Don’t swear off their series.
What you can do:
Go to your local bookstore and buy books there. If you don’t have a local bookstore, visit IndieBound and make a new friend. If free shipping’s a dealbreaker, Barnes & Noble offers it to members with a $25 purchase, and their membership fee ($25/year) is cheaper than Amazon Prime ($99/year). I mean, talking about cheaper alternatives is a fair tactic, right?
Follow the #ReadHachette hashtag on Twitter. Recommend Hachette books you dug, maybe discover new ones. Pick ’em up at your local indie, or B&N, or library.
A reminder: delaying shipment of currently available books, or keeping customers from being able to order forthcoming ones is simply not what good booksellers do. A bookseller’s job, their #1 priority, is to get books into readers’ hands. What does it say about Amazon that they are actively, willingly, keeping books out of readers’ hands?