By ALICE BALDYS
In recent months, author Douglas Preston has mounted a protest against Amazon eBook publications, a program that has grown to include over 1,000 authors. Philip Roth, author of “Goodbye,” a recipient of the National Book Award for Fiction, and Urusla LeGuin, author of “Earth Sea” and recipient of the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, are among the authors who have joined Preston’s efforts to confront Amazon over unfair practices toward authors and publishers.
Authors United, the resulting protest group, is moving forward with plans to request the U.S. Justice Department to consider a case against Amazon for violating antitrust laws. In addition, Authors United is in the process of writing letters to each CEO of Amazon requesting a resolution to a dispute over the harsh tactics that Amazon used in its negotiations with Hachette publishers.
Amazon has boycotted authors published by Hachette by refusing to accept pre-orders for books, unfairly pricing books and slowing the delivery of Hachette books, making it more difficult for consumers to obtain books by publishers that oppose Amazon’s cut rate tactics in eBook sales.
It is estimated that Amazon sells roughly 65 percent of all eBooks in the U.S. and takes in about $5.25 billion in book sales annually. Given Amazon’s dominant control of the eBook market in the U.S., its aggressive and openly abrasive treatment of Hachette is very troubling. If this public attack of the Hachette publishers and their authors continues, one wonders what will stop Amazon from going even further to control publishers.
As Vahuni Vara writes in The New Yorker, “A modern multi-billion-dollar corporation, with its phalanx of shareholders and P.R. gatekeepers can be harder for a lone correspondent to reach.”
That is why many high profile authors have banded together as part of Authors United to challenge the status quo as they see it and demand better, fairer practices that do not victimize authors or undercut publishers in an effort to sell cheap books.
What seems on the surface to be an isolated incident between one publisher and one mega bookseller has turned into a discussion of monopolies and freedom of speech. It speaks to a larger question of whether corporations should be allowed to wield such power in the publishing market. Amazon’s practices have in part led to the downfall of typical bookstores and could put publishers out of business. Not only that they have gone so far as to directly lower the sales of books by authors who are not compliant to their terms. Amazon’s negotiations with Hachette books have been underhanded to say the least.
Defenders of Amazon, like author Neal Pollack author of “Neal Pollock’s Anthropology of American Literature,” contend that Amazon has opened new doors for authors in electronic publications by allowing them to churn out cheap eBooks, favoring quantity over quality.
Recently, established authors are levying their power against the Amazon corporation in a way that is no less surprising than can be expected. While neither opponent seems powerless in this dispute, Hachette publishers and many authors are making a move for the best to protect writers from exploitation.
If you want to promote quality fiction by authors who are adequately paid for their work, like I do, then you should support Authors United too.
We students, as major consumers, can aid in diversifying book revenues by buying from small presses, directly from publishers and patronizing local bookstores. While it may seem like a drop in the bucket, the opinion and buying habits of consumers help drive the policies of companies like Amazon. Consumers that make their opinions heard and support efforts like Authors United can make meaningful change. And as authors like Philip Roth and Urusla LeGuin are proving, individuals do have a voice.