Allegations that Amazon Seeks New Publishers Terms in UK

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.

Mercy Pilkington (1982 Posts)

is a Senior Editor for Good e-Reader. She is also the CEO and founder of a hybrid publishing and consulting company.

  • Tim Coates

    Mercy – you are right (as you often are!) . If you compare the standard of strategic thinking (in the matter of ebooks) in Amazon to that which appears to have taken place over the past few years in the large publishing houses, then Amazon can only be right to demand terms in the way that they are.
    Where Amazon seem to have thought “how can the new ebook technology provide readers with what they want and give better value for their money, the publishers seem to have combined to think how can we get what WE want and play trivial games with what the technology gives us. They have tried to keep prices high; failed to find a formula that works for libraries and seem focussed only on ridiculous projects about new ways of producing books in new formats.
    In particular they seem to have failed utterly to grasp the importance of digitising back list as fast as they can – which has left the ebook offering to the public woefully short of the extent and quality of work that people love about books, and makes them preferable to film or music. If anyone has ever effectively demonstrated to publishers the importance of their back list, it is Amazon.
    That failure to convert old titles, has, in its turn, opened the door to self publishing as an attraction, which is fine, but is incomparable to what the publishers themselves could have offered in the extent of great work that sits in their out of print files..
    I have every sympathy with Amazon in their negotiation with Hachette and little understanding for the position that the publisher has taken. Their only strategy seems to be to try to use PR to try to persuade the public to worry about the income and damage to the wealth of JK Rowling and James Patterson – which is like asking us to worry if the Mississippi is about to dry up.
    And of course the terms that Amazon wants in the US will apply in the UK and in France and Germany- the logic is the same and the negotiation is worldwide – how could anyone think otherwise?