I have read with interest the ongoing battle in the press between Amazon and Hachette. The economic system embraced by businesses in the United States is one that offers the freedom to determine what products they will offer to the public and for what price. The public is not forced to purchase their products, and the company is free to succeed or fail based on market conditions and acceptance of their products.
There are arguments on both sides describing each behemoth—Hatchette and Amazon– as rich and not caring about the authors, just the bottom line. The truth is, if a company doesn’t care about the bottom line they will eventually go out of business.
Borders was one of the big dogs in the retail book business, possibly too big to fail, but they did. And what happened then? Did Hachette increase their author royalties because with Borders no longer available to sell books their authors would have lower sales numbers and therefore have a problem paying their bills? Did Amazon reduce prices because now they would get more sales that used to go to Borders? I don’t remember seeing the memo.
Business in a free society is a risky proposition in any situation. There will always be an ebb and flow, and the publishing and selling of books is no different.
If all retail stores disappeared tomorrow, what would happen to the book publishing business? It would evolve. Someone with an idea would come out with a solution to the needs of the masses and we would all celebrate them until they became too big and offended people. This is exactly what is happening right now with Amazon. It has happened with Wal-Mart. It has happened with the huge conglomerate publishing companies. A company on the way up is admired but once on the top, it is considered the bully of the playground that everyone loves to hate.
I celebrate the opportunity Amazon has offered for additional sales to our authors due to its development of the Kindle. However, that source is not as great as it once was. The explosion of more writers and more books has diluted the pot for e-books greatly over the past two years. A publisher must watch for changes in the market and be prepared to adapt. We cannot base our decisions on what we wish would happen, only on what is actually happening. Evaluate what is going on in the marketplace and take action.
Both Hachette and Amazon are looking out for their own companies and using the most vocal (authors) as their spokespersons to win others to one side or the other.
To the Hatchette author who says Amazon is holding them hostage by not offering their books for sale: Welcome to the real world. No one has to offer your book for sale. Ask the small publishers like WiDo, and their authors, if any bookstores have turned down their books, refusing to accept them for sale even on a consignment basis. You’re not going to see a lot of sympathy here for big ticket authors complaining about a bookstore, even if it is Amazon, not taking or promoting their books.
To Amazon: You are now the symbol of change for the publishing industry. At WiDo we have listened with interest to the arguments on both sides and have wondered if the current attacks against you will create changes significant enough to impact us. We and our authors have benefitted from the marketing and promotion services offered through Amazon. If you were to disappear, so would many publishers large and small.
WiDo has always been fiscally conservative and careful about jumping on any particular bandwagon. We watch the marketplace carefully and make decisions based on what we feel works best for our small company and our authors. We currently offer our titles on e-book through Amazon and in print media distributed worldwide through Ingram. At this point, we have no plans to change our distribution channels for either print or e-books. We encourage our authors to promote their books in both formats. We have seen that some books sell better in print, others do better as an e-book.
As a company, WiDo will continue to be as thoughtful in our strategies in the future as we have been in the past. Regardless of what happens as a result of the Hatchette and Amazon dispute, we look forward to a bright future in book publishing.
S. Bruce Gowen, owner of WiDo Publishing, has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Masters in Business Administration. He has worked for over forty years providing sales management in the manufacturing, insurance and finance industries, and for the past five years in the book publishing business.