It’s an understood truth in publishing that anyone who works for the industry keeps a tight lid on information, especially where sales talk is concerned. From numbers of units sold to overall sales of any given book, no one is going to speak up with specifics unless he has to (or unless he’s a pioneer like Hugh Howey who wants to see transparency in order to foster good decision making about the market).
The end result is industry professionals who only allude to the facts with veiled remarks and allegations from unnamed sources. Rather than be forthcoming about the real issues facing both authors and publishers, the public hears second-hand information but is expected to form judgments and act on it.
The Amazon Hachette battle is a prime example. Reports keep circulating of things Amazon supposedly included in the new contract, reports that stem from “unnamed sources” in middle management at the publisher’s office. Some of the supposed terms coming from Amazon’s proposed agreements with publishers in the UK have now wbegun to circulate, terms which include Amazon’s demand that if the publishers fails to supply a book to the retailer per their guaranteed stock agreement, Amazon can simply fire up its print-on-demand machine and sell copies of its own. Other terms that have brought Amazon under fire include charging publishers for the online retail version of display space, a tactic which has been in practice in brick-and-mortar bookselling since the concept began; Amazon also seems intent on adjusting the price of ebooks in favor of consumers who will have to begin paying a 20% VAT tax next year in the EU. This last term has actually (apparently) caught the attention of investigators who’ve supposedly been meeting with different publishers over Amazon’s “most favored nation” status, a contract term that lets Amazon demand that no one else offer a publisher’s book cheaper, including the publisher itself.
It’s still very confusing that publishers rail against the retail giant and that “unnamed sources” continue to leak tidbits of information that are supposed to sway the court of public opinion against Amazon. If the contract terms are unacceptable, simply reject them and find a new bookselling partner. But trying to force the hand of the the bookselling behemoth that the publishers helped create isn’t going to prove to be very good for business or for books.