09 August 2014

I Emailed Hachette on Amazon's Behalf... Sort of

**Edited to add: It didn't take long (literally, just moments) after I sent the email for me to regret wasting the time of those I copied on the message for the sole purpose of saying "See, annoying, innit?" Please forgive my dumbassery on that point.**
I'm sure by now many of you have heard about the tasteless email Amazon sent out to KDP authors late Friday/early Saturday. I answered their call and emailed Hachette about the ongoing dispute, and I made sure to copy "Readers United" and a small handful of other people, too. Here's what I said:

Dear Mr. Pietsch:

I'm writing to you (and some others) today as a direct result of receiving Amazon's email propaganda in the early hours of the morning. I am appalled and annoyed at being dragged into an argument against my will, especially when the party doing the dragging is quite aware, and even acknowledges, that I'd rather be left out of it. But Amazon asked me to email you with my thoughts--actually, they wanted me to email you with their thoughts, and I decided I liked mine better--and so here we are. Let me make a few things clear before getting to my main points:

1. I am not published by Hachette or by any publisher.
2. I am self-published and my work is available on Amazon, among other places. Amazon is not my publisher. They are one of my retail partners, though "partner" probably isn't really the best word for it.
3. Hachette is a business. Amazon is a business. I am my own business. The first priority of any business is making money, or else they will no longer be in business.

That Amazon would ask me to plead their case to a publisher with which I have no relationship is laughable. As Heidi Cullinan puts it, there are Not Enough Memes in the World For My NO. That they would do it with such poorly written propaganda--and propaganda is truly the only word for it, as Matt Wallace explains--is laughable. Further, that they would do it under the guise of  doing what's best for "reading culture" is downright ludicrous. Because I have no stakes in the specific dispute between Hachette and Amazon, I have not read every last word reported on the issue. I have read a handful of posts about it from people I respect on both sides of the debate and mostly ignored it outside of that. One thing I am absolutely sure of, however, is that this is about money. Period. And that's okay, because as as I said, this is business. But for Amazon to go on about helping "book culture" as though readers are incapable of changing the market by making their decisions about how much to spend (or not spend) is disingenuous at best.

Mr. Pietsch, I may not agree 100% with your side of this dispute (I truly don't know to what extent I agree with any side) but I feel a bit of solidarity with you based on one glaring similarity we share: Amazon thinks you and I (and every KDP author to whom they sent their email) are idiots with our heads up our own asses, apparently. They must think so, if they believe an email full of buzzwords, emotionally-charged imagery, and one-sided spin is enough to get me to fight their fight. To do that, I'd need to ignore a whole lot of common sense.

This is where I'm supposed to implore you to "Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle" while ignoring the fact that by doing so Amazon obviously thinks it's okay to use me as leverage and put me in the middle of this so long as they come out on top.

Or perhaps I should remind you that "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," etc. while ignoring the fact that, although they're obviously referring to large print returns, they make it quite easy to return e-books, potentially to the detriment of the author when that feature is abused. If I'm going to remind you of this, then I should also ignore the fact that as a self-published author with Amazon I am already pigeon-holed into their pricing requirements with no means of negotiation and subject to their whim should they decide to pull my books for any reason they see fit.

Am I convincing you of Amazon's position yet? No? Here, let me keep trying.

It's important to note that Amazon thinks "books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive." I'll ignore the fact that people regularly pay more money for a mobile game than some e-books cost, and then they pay money again and again to buy more features within the game. Let's also ignore how actors are paid more per movie than I can hope to make in many, many years, and that movie tickets are expensive but people still choose to buy them. While we're at it, we should ignore all of the books being made into movies, because they obviously they were only made into movies because the books were too expensive and nobody bought them. And nobody in the history of the world has ever seen a movie adaptation first and then bought the book after, am I right? Movies and TV shows are never adapted into video games, free news sites obviously never post books reviews, and no author in the history of the Internet has promoted their books on Facebook because all of these things are supposed to be in competition with each other! The logical solution is to make all books as cheap as Amazon wants! Um, right?

I should wrap this up soon because I am obviously terrible at doing what Amazon tells me to do in their ridiculous emails. One last thing, though. The thing Amazon is ignoring, and hopes I'm ignoring, too, is choice.

I have friends published by Hachette and its imprints that have been caught in the middle of this nasty fight. I have friends published by other big publishers who have been treated poorly, and others who've been treated like rock stars. I have self-published friends who have been hurt by Amazon's policies and past actions, and others who have made six or seven figures since self-publishing, largely with Amazon. There are so many choices about how and when and where and why to publish these days, and there is no one golden path. Authors have a choice, and as Amazon is so quick to point out, we are not all united. Why they took that to mean we would all fight their fight still escapes me, but that's neither here nor there at this point.

Hachette has choices. Amazon has choices. Is there an amenable compromise to be had here? I be there is, but I also bet one or both parties are unwilling to compromise on a lot of things. Which means there's also the choice to sever the business relationship, as unpleasant as that may be.

As a self-publisher, I have the choice to sell my book where and for the price I want. I choose, currently, to include Amazon in my sales plan. Despite the fact that they give preferential treatment to pretty much everyone else--in the name of "book culture," I'm sure. Despite the fact that in addition to taking a slice of my profits they want me to grant them exclusivity before I can take advantage of their Kindle Unlimited program. That is, unless they handpick me from the unwashed masses or I'm published by a big publisher whose books are priced higher than mine. So much for that "cheaper is better" thing, right? Despite their many shortcomings, I sell my books there. It's a business choice.

Readers have a choice of where to purchase e-books. They have the choice to either pay what is asked, or not. If they choose not, that's a clear signal to a publisher or a retailer that they need to do something differently or risk going out of business. Consumers have a long history of speaking with their wallets without Amazon or anyone else forcing the issue.

Amazon had a choice, and it chose to treat me and others like idiots by sending an email full of out-of-context quotes and cherry-picked statistics in the hopes that we will defend their position in this negotiation, despite the fact that we don't even have the ability to negotiate with Amazon on our own behalf as author-publishers. That was a poor choice on their part. I have to agree with Chuck Wending when he says, in quite possibly the tamest language I've ever seen him use, "I think it's tacky." To say the least. And it has me looking long and hard at my choice to sell on Amazon, which is probably not the reaction they had hoped for.

Mr. Pietsch, I hope Hachette and Amazon can come to a decision that is beneficial for both businesses and for the authors involved. What that decision is, though, is up to you and Amazon. I have no part of it. I hope that I haven't wasted too much of your time today. That goes for everyone who was copied on this message, too. You may not have cared, you may have wished to be left out of it, and you may not have wanted to spend your time reading just another writer's opinions of something in which they have no stakes. But Amazon didn't let that stop them from dragging me along for the ride, and if there's anything I gleaned from their email, it's that they obviously know what is best. Have a wonderful day.


J. Lea Lopez

Needless to say, the whole thing is making feel a little something like this....