At a writer’s conference I attended a little less than a year ago, the general consensus amongst editors was that ebooks were nothing to fret about. The chorus went something like: parents will never read to their kids from a Kindle. Maybe. But as the feud between Amazon and Macmillan has shown, publishers have started to pay a whole lot of attention to them.
One of the most surprising things about the scuffle was how much it went largely unnoticed by just everyone who isn’t a writer, agent, editor, or publisher. In casual conversation over the course of the week, I met no one who knew about it. I live in Seattle, home of the mighty beast. The husband of one of my coworkers works at Amazon. I asked what he had to say about the delisting, and apparently, nada. It was news to my coworker. The battle didn’t even buzz throughout all of Amazon, though it’s hard to imagine a single Macmillan employee who didn’t follow it closely.
This seems to be what Amazon counts on. They only mentioned the delisting of Macmillan titles in their Kindle boards, presumably assuming that only Kindle customers were likely to notice. Author blogs brought some attention to the tactic, but it’s still surprising how much it flew below the radar. To counter, the Writer’s Guild just launched a site to help authors monitor their own buy buttons. It also details how Amazon has used this technique in the past:
Amazon often chooses to instill fear in a publisher by selectively removing only a portion of a publisher’s list from its online market. It can do this silently, changing the titles that are unavailable on a regular basis, so that only the publisher notices. Both Amazon and the publisher have solid reasons to keep the unpleasantness quiet: Amazon doesn’t really want to be seen as a bully, and the publisher doesn’t want to betray weakness as it succumbs to the pressure.
Macmillan buy buttons returned to Amazon pages last Friday, almost exactly one week after they were taken down. It’s not clear what, if any, concessions Macmillan made, but the impact on them isn’t finished yet. Their titles will take some time to make their way back on top seller lists, customers who bought this… also bought, and all the other automated promotions on the Amazon site. Big titles will return quickly, but what about the backlist? They may take months to recover. Both HarperCollins and Hachette also added their voices to the debate, indicating that they too will soon be moving to the agency pricing model for ebooks. This gives Amazon little room to maneuver. Would they delist half of all the major publishing industry to elicit concessions? No, but “selective” delisting seems a possibility.
Perhaps Amazon overplayed its hand this time. The backlash from authors was probably not expected, and the birth of a new web centric tool to monitor it as an ongoing practice seems wholly out of keeping with the somewhat rarefied Author’s Guild. It’s also interesting that Amazon’s continuous plea for writers to leave their nasty publishers, and bring their books directly to Kindle doesn’t just go unheeded, it gets outright rejected. Writers came come out almost universally in favor of those “nasty” publishers that Amazon is trying so hard to disenfranchise.