Dog-Eared and Dispatched: July 13, 2014
Summer is in full swing and we’d like to settle into our hammocks and doze with a new book, but the literary world does not rest—there’s still some news this week, though things are a bit slower. In this week’s dispatch from the wild world of book culture, we look at Amazon’s offer to Hachette’s authors, and consider the finances of the deal; speaking of finances, we also take a quick peek at HarperCollins’ new website. Shakespeare and Company, Harry Potter, the Warburg Institute, and some general crankiness round things out for the week. Stay cool—and keep reading.
As you might have heard, Amazon has suggested a deal to pay 100% of the price of every Hachette ebook sold directly to the authors of said books. This is presumably an attempt to show that Amazon cares about authors. The Authors’ Guild is skeptical of Amazon’s intent in offering the deal, as shown by AG president Richard Russo’s open letter to Amazon: “it is the writing life itself we seek to defend, we’re not interested in a short-term windfall to some of the writers we represent. What we care about is a healthy ecosystem where all writers, both traditionally and independently published, can thrive. We believe that ecosystem should be as diverse as possible, containing traditional big publishers, smaller publishers, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores, as well as both e-books and print books. We believe that such an ecosystem cannot exist while entities within it are committed to the eradication of other entities.” Mike Shatzkin sums up some further reasons to be dubious of the offer: “So we have a $10 ebook. Normally, Amazon would pay $7 to Hachette and keep $3. Hachette would notionally divide the $7 as $5.25 to Hachette and $1.75 to the author. What Amazon proposed was that the author would get the whole ten dollars, Amazon would give up its $3 and Hachette would give up its $5.25. Not quite fair, and, to be honest, I hadn’t even done that math when I spoke to the reporter. But the math is worse than that because Hachette has already paid the author’s $1.75 in the advance for the lion’s share of the sales that would be made under this deal if it were agreed to. So Amazon is giving up $3 and Hachette is giving up $7 on most of the books. And many of the authors, frankly, aren’t entitled to even their own share on those sales (they already got it), let alone Hachette’s (or Amazon’s).” So. Not a particularly successful publicity stunt, then. In other Amazon related news, children’s book author Allan Ahlberg turned a lifetime achievement award because it was sponsored by Amazon; two Hachette titles make the top five ebook bestsellers for the past week. [MobyLives!, Authors’ Guild, Shatzkin Files, MobyLives!, Shelfawareness, Digital Book World]
selling direct to consumers: “Many in the book publishing industry will see this launch as a preemptive move to counter Amazon’s influence. As publishers become more reliant on Amazon as a retailer, it gives Amazon more power in its contracts with those publishers. The same is true for any other retailer. If HarperCollins can develop its own sales channels, it will give it more power in negotiations with retailers.” Selling direct to consumers has always been a tricky business for publishers, and there is perhaps more at stake than just HarperCollins’ attempt to make a go of a new business model: this is a glimpse of different publishers’ strategies to prepare themselves for the battle to renegotiate their contract with Amazon. We’ll keep an eye on it for you. [Digital Book World, Publishers Weekly, MobyLives!]
As we settle into the summer doldrums—and give way to our depression over the end of the World Cup—it is tempting to cast all aside and move to Paris and live in a bookstore. They apparently understand the book business there, and independent booksellers are thriving. Although the current iteration of Shakespeare and Company is not in the same spot as the original, it still fosters the same sense of community: “out front hung a shingle bearing a portrait of the Bard. The front windows displayed rows of covers bearing the names Chaucer, Shakespeare, Eliot, and Joyce. Inside, the store presented the air of a domestic parlor. Beneath the rows and rows of books stood a warm stove, squashy chairs, a table scattered with current magazines. The walls bore likenesses of Blake, Whitman, and Poe, as well as Oscar Wilde in his usual Byzantine splendor. A small kitchenette stood just out of view, ready to discharge refreshments. For some twenty years, this was the destination if you wanted English books in Paris, but it was also a locus of drink and conversation, a place, on days when your writing ran dry, where you could go and be seen to be a writer.” This is not news, but it sure sounds nice. [Buzzfeed, MobyLives!, NY Times, The Modernism Lab]
- What rundown of the week’s literary news would be complete without a little bit of Harry Potter?
- Slightly old news, but there’s a petition going to preserve the Warburg Institute, which is worth reading about even if you haven’t heard about it.
- Politics & Prose is the official bookseller of the National book festival in August.
- On Amazon’s ruthless efficiency.
- If you are a self-published author who was going to offer your books for free in order to drive up sales, it looks like you might have missed the boat: “FREE still works great, but it’s losing some mojo.”