How Do Amazon-Publisher Disputes Affect Authors and Readers?

By Mercy Pilkington

It was only a year ago that the publishing industry sat riveted as it waited to see how the storm between Amazon and publisher Hachette was going to play out. Hachette wanted new terms in light of the DOJ price fixing investigation, and Amazon wasnÔÇÖt about to budge. And with a 95% control of the ebook market, itÔÇÖs easy to see why Amazon didnÔÇÖt think freezing its sales of Hachette titles could possibly spiral out into a flaming pile of contract negotiation.

Once that fiasco was resolved, other publishers were quick to jump aboard the ÔÇ£we set our own pricesÔÇØ bandwagon, and other issues between Amazon and members of the Big Five arose. But the latest in the battle parade, HarperCollins, doesnÔÇÖt seem as keen to accept the deal that Amazon is holding out.

While both groups have been stereotypically mute about what exactly this contract involves, Amazon has stated that itÔÇÖs the same contract terms that the other members have agreed to. HarperCollins is holding out for something else, something that a few sources have said may involve access to the sales data that Amazon gathers. Amazon does not release customer data, and with good reason; HarperCollins has been steadily building an ebook sales channel while encouraging consumers to shop at other outlets besides Amazon. With access to the names and email addresses of AmazonÔÇÖs customers whoÔÇÖve bought HarperCollinsÔÇÖ titles, the publisher could make a run for selling directly to the consumer with the push of a MailChimp button.

But this begs the question: how are authors and readersÔÇôthe very people who are supposed to be at the core of the publishing industryÔÇôaffected by these types of negotiation disputes? Last summerÔÇÖs Hachette dispute resulted in open letters from authors and celebrities begging, nay demanding, that consumers stop spending money on Amazon. At the same time, authors spoke out about their livelihoods being disrupted, although most leveraged their complaints at Amazon rather than at the publishers who were taking a hefty percentage of their royalties.

As if authors hadnÔÇÖt already found enough reason to self-publish, reasons such as creative control, higher royalties, and freedom to publish any type of content they wish, these constant battles with retailers may provide enough reason for more authors to move on. Higher caliber authors who are still commanding large advances, ambitious marketing budgets, and multi-book deals will probably stay comfortably put, but even the midlist authors may have found yet another reason to stop playing around with traditional publishing and go after their own careers.