Amazon.com sure has been taking a lot of heat lately. I’ve dumped my share of complaints on the company, too. In my April 2014 article, “How Amazon Has Changed Your Connected Home,” I asked: Did you know that Amazon pressures its suppliers to provide certain discount levels, and when they don’t, Amazon makes it harder for you to buy items from those suppliers? That question is now at the heart of a raging industry war between Amazon and publishing conglomerate Hachette, one of the largest publishing interests on the face of the earth.
You know the debate. For ages, publishers and booksellers have negotiated the prices at which retailers (bookstores, Wal-Mart, Target, and others) will sell books and have brokered deals for actually carrying and displaying titles in stores. These deals have evolved with the industry to apply to the way both physical books and ebooks are sold and made visible online. Negotiations can be brutal and can equate to millions of dollars on either side. The recent brouhaha reached a fever pitch not too long ago when Hachette (one of the “Big Five” publishing conglomerates, which includes Harper Collins, MacMillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Shuster) threw up its hands, refusing to agree to Amazon’s rather cutthroat terms.
As a result, many Hachette releases—including the J.K. Rowling pseudonymous mystery The Silkworm, to mention a high-profile example—were listed as unavailable on Amazon, with just a button to click so that you could be notified when the book became available. In other words, the books had pages devoted to them on Amazon, but traditional Amazon services such as Add to Cart and Amazon Prime were absent on the page. Translation: You either couldn’t buy them, or the service had slowed down significantly. The net effect was an extremely deep and negative impact on sales. Naturally, people (and most significantly, authors and readers) were upset—at Amazon.
Given some of the tactics that I outlined in my previous article, it’s hard for me to have much sympathy for Amazon, which is just as much a multinational, some-might-say-soulless, corporate conglomerate as Hachette. But it’s also difficult to side solidly with Hachette, which has done its hungry share of gobbling up smaller imprints on its way to behemoth status. Both corporations are in the game in the name of the bottom line. Step back and you’ll see that Amazon is simply a marketplace with its own rules: It doesn’t have to sell Hachette’s books. I end up seeing two Goliaths at each other’s throat. So I don’t fall automatically to one side in this raging debate.
Yet, as a writer and published novelist myself, I edge toward defending Amazon.
(Read the rest at Residential AV Presents: Connected Home.)