Are Publishers’ Losing Their Best Bargaining Chip Against Amazon?
I try not to be a proponent for or against Amazon. Emotionally investing in a corporate entity is a little silly, to my mind. But I have to say, I was a bit worried after reading David Streitfeld's article in The New York Times a few days ago, "Amazon, a Friendly Giant as Long as It's Fed." If the title wasn't ominous enough, the sentiment of one of Amazon's authors, Vincent Zandri, was.
Zandri, who is edited and published by one of Amazon's book imprints, Thomas & Mercer, has cast his lot with the Giant. Despite some authors passionate disavowal of Amazon -- most notably Stephen Colbert and J.K. Rowling -- Zandri says that Amazon, at least, has his best interests at heart.
"They ask: 'Are you happy, Vince? We just want to see you writing books,'" says Zandri in the Times article, "That's the major difference between corporate-driven Big Five publishers, where the writer is not the most important ingredient in the soup, and Amazon Publishing, which places its writers on a pedestal."
I had to raise my eyebrows at "corporate-driven publishers," -- talk about the pot calling the kettle black. But regardless, this sentence should sound the alarm for publishers. If authors -- who are the most important ingredient in the soup -- see Amazon as their best representatives, than the industry has a big problem.
Amazon already has an intimidating amount of power with its near monopoly of online books sales. But one of the few bargaining chips publishers have managed to hold onto is the author. Many authors have rallied behind Hachette as contract disputes with Amazon rage on. Those authors still see publishers as the protectors of their rights and incomes. But Amazon is poking holes in that perception with its recent offer to Hachette, proposing that authors receive 100% of profits from book sales until a final contract agreement is reached. Though Hachette rejected the proposal (Mike Shatzkin wrote a good blog on why it was terrible deal for Hachette and their authors), the gesture may have influenced some authors in Amazon's favor.
As I wrote in my last blog post, publishers need to provide authors with the better services and compensation if they hope to survive. Without author backing the health the entire industry, not just the Big Five, is at risk.
While I would like to believe Zandri that Amazon puts all of its authors on pedestals and that it is defending the integrity of the book better than publishers, it's a difficult concept for me to swallow. With only 7% of Amazon's revenue earned from book sales, how truly vested can it be in the book industry? Can a retailer who can survive quite well without the book be the savior of our industry? Sounds like wishful thinking to me.