Battle with Hachette is a war for the future of reading and writing.
By Alison Levine Sept 5, 2014
By now everyone who is interested in the Amazon vs. Hachette battle has read about the feud ad nauseam. The fighting is all about e-book pricing, and both sides have come up with valid reasons why e-books should or shouldn’t be priced lower than paperbacks. Many well-known authors have weighed in on the controversy and both sides have published open letters to whichever respective behemoth CEO they’re trying to influence, as if Jeff Bezos and Michael Pietsch are going to throw in the towel because now they know that a few hundred authors are angry. Newsflash: these guys knew you would be angry, and they don’t care if you’re angry. They want to make money, and sometimes making money means doing battle. But regardless of which side of the battle you’re on — one thing that cannot be denied is that Hachette authors are feeling the pain. And they’ll continue to bleed while Amazon and Hachette duel it out over e-book pricing.
Amazon has come up with their own rationale as to why e-books should be cheaper than hard copy versions. Their argument is based on the fact that e-books should be less expensive because they’re cheaper to get into the hands of consumers; no paper costs, no printing costs, no storage costs, no shipping costs, and no inventory issues. Sounds logical, right? Wrong! While all of those things are indeed true, that argument is bogus and here’s why: saying that an e-book price should be based only on material, labor, and overhead is as ridiculous as saying that the price of a artwork should be based only on the cost of the paint and the canvas. What about the artist’s blood, sweat and tears? Well, that factors into the price of the artwork too, as it should with e-books. Hachette is absorbing the costs of paying their writers an advance and getting the books into production — that means they have to pay their editorial staff, their graphics department, their legal department and a whole lot of other departments that I don’t even know about because my publisher basically takes care of everything so that I can focus on writing and not worry about anything else.
Amazon claims that they’re looking out for the best interests of readers by fighting for lower prices so that more people can afford books. Well, if Amazon wants to provide a more affordable way for people to get their hands (and eyes) on books, guess what they need to do? Nothing. Because people can already buy used books on Amazon for a few bucks – sometimes less than that.
While the e-book market might be growing, let’s not forget that people still read books in hard copy. E-books make up roughly 30% of book sales, so it’s not like hard copy has gone the way of the dinosaur. And since many self-published books are released only as e-books with no hardcopy available, this throws off the statistics as far as what percentage of readers prefer electronic vs paper. For my book — which is available in hardcopy, e-book and audio — e-books only make up about 7% of my sales.
Will the print book go away at some point? I don’t know. I hope not. People like the feel of printed books and the smell of the pages. People like to take notes in the margins. And perhaps best of all — people like to pass them along to friends or pass them down to younger generations of the family as keepsakes. Readers go to book-signings and wait in line for hours because they want to meet an author they admire and have them sign the title page of their favorite book. This is all part of the human side of both being a reader and being an author who enjoys reaching out to readers and feeling that human connection through live interaction. We want to meet the people who buy our work and we want to look them in the eye and shake their hands and thank them for their interest in our thoughts, ideas and words. I, for one, do not want to give up that experience. I would bet that there are a lot of other authors who feel the same, and that’s why hardcopy books are going to stay.
As a first time author, this feud has opened my eyes to just how cutthroat the book distribution business has become. My book came out earlier this year and made theNew York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists. Amazon even labeled it a “best book of the month” and called it out as a “remarkable read” and listed it at the top of the page along with books by other “influential people” (their words, not mine) such as Robert Gates and Sonya Sotomayor. But alas, the love is gone. Because while my book might be a remarkable read…I am a Hachette author.
As Sylvester Stallone said in First Blood Part II, “To survive a war, you gotta become war.” Well, this is war.
Alison Levine is the bestselling author of On the Edge: The Art of High Impact Leadership.