Amazon Is NOT the Vladimir Putin of Publishing! Hachette Is Not "Horatius at the Bridge"!

A bold claim, yes, and a necessary one given the way that the New York media world is characterizing the world's biggest bookstore. Amazon is in confidential negotiations with the French-owned publishing conglomerate Hachette over the future pricing of ebooks; the terms of that agreement are expected to set the template for Amazon's relationship with other major publishing houses. While the talks are going on, Amazon has effectively made Hachette titles unavailable to customers, a hardball action that has led observers to liken the retailer to Vladimir Putin and the Mafia.

Hachette on the other hand is being depicted as a gentle, delicate flower—a lonely David facing off against an indomitable Goliath. Or in even more overblown comparisons, The New York Times quotes a literary agent likening the head of Hachette to

"Horatius at the Bridge,"...referring to the soldier of legend who single-handedly saved ancient Rome by fighting off an invading army. "He is carrying the rest of the industry on his back."

That's a real pant-load.

In a new column for The Daily Beast, I argue that when it comes to the selling and buying of books over its 20-year history, Amazon has consistently been on the side of the reader/customer. This current fight isn't any different, especially since it pits Amazon against a publisher that, along with Apple and four of the other largest publishers on the planet, recently settled a lawsuit in which they colluded to force Amazon to raise its prices on ebooks.

As The Wall Street Journal reported when the price-rigging case was settled in 2012, “The five publishers and Apple hatched an arrangement that lifted the price of many best-selling e-books to $12.99 or $14.99, according to the suit. The publishers then banded together to impose that model on Amazon, the government alleged.”

On behalf of authors and publishers, Jobs unveiled what he called his “aikido move,” which would not only change price points but shift to an “agency model,” where the seller gets a commission on each unit sold rather than buying a certain number of units at a fixed price. “We’ll go to the agency model,” Jobs explained, “where you set the price, and we get our 30 percent [commission], and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that’s what you want anyway.”

That’s an interesting line that doesn’t seem to make it into all the love being showered on Hachette by its public champions: Yes, the customer pays a little more, but that’s what you want anyway.

Read the whole thing, which includes a capsule history of attacks by publishers and writers on the practice of discounting books and how most antitrust actions benefit corporations and not customers.

Disclosure: The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is a supporter of Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason magazine, Reason.com, and Reason TV. I have never had any contact with him or anyone at Amazon except as a customer. Although I greatly admire Amazon as a company and, as a part-time resident of a small town in Ohio, benefit greatly from its services, I am not uncritical of it, either.

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  • Fluffy||

    Here's all you need to know about the dishonesty of Big Media on this dispute:

    Amazon can't sell Hachette books without a distribution contract in place.

    Right now, they don't know if Hachette will actually sign a renewal of their distribution contract.

    So if a book is scheduled to come out after the expiration of Hachette's current contract, Amazon isn't offering it for pre-order. If Amazon offered those books for pre-order, they are potentially misleading their customers if the contract doesn't end up getting renewed on time.

    And the media is presenting Amazon's decision to not offer books for pre-order until they sure they can legally sell them as an antitrust abuse.

    Almost every major media outlet is owned by a conglomerate that also owns a Big 5 publisher. Always remember that when they try to bullshit you by reporting on a contract dispute while not reporting the operational details.

  • ||

    You forgot one more detail. They're all a bunch of fetishists.

  • ||

    But Fluffy, Big Media is all that stands between us and the corporations buying all our elections and telling us what to do! They speak truth to power!

  • Bardas Phocas||

    Nice Nick. Shilling for Big Bookmonger!

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Carrying Bezos' water.

  • mr simple||

    It's a real hatchet job.

  • bassjoe||

    Though Hachette is being made out to be some hero of the authors, that's not the case. The publishing houses take a far larger slice of the revenue -- and the authors a smaller -- from eBook sales as compared to regular books. The publishers denied this for years until one slipped up in a shareholder meeting.

    Amazon is going after Hachette's slice. Amazon's tactics aren't ruining authors' income. That was already done by the publishers.

  • DJF||

    “”””The publishing houses take a far larger slice of the revenue -- and the authors a smaller -- from eBook sales as compared to regular books.”””

    You would think it would be the opposite since eBooks free the publisher of the huge cost of printing and distributing physical books. So they do less and want more.

  • ||

    The cost of printing and shipping books have no relationship to the price listed on the book. Amazon would love to sell EVERY single eBook for $5.99, take their cut and sell a lot of books. The publisher would love to have every eBook be priced at $19.99. That's what this is coming down to.

  • UnCivilServant||

    In terms of volume and total income, $3.99 used to be the sweet spot for eBooks, I don't know if that changed.

  • Geoff Nathan||

    I'm sorry Russo is among those defending Hachette. He's actually a pretty good guy (he was a colleague of mine once--and everyone at a university should read Straight Man).

    I hadn't realized how big Hachette were until I rtfa'd. I remember them when they were the source of the French novels I had to read in college.

  • John Galt||

    I admire anyone who can save me tons of cash while still turning a profit.

  • Dweebston||

    Reducing prices to consumers while making a profit for shareholders. You can almost hear the envy dripping from the pens of outraged lefty journalists.

  • John Galt||

    Take away their endless outrage and they'd be without purpose in life.

  • pan fried wylie||

    Screw books. I'm waiting on a violin from amazon today. Much more fun.

  • Jordan||

    Are you going to play it for Hatchette?

  • pan fried wylie||

    It's "Full Size", so I dunno if it'll work the same as a Tinyest Violin.

  • Sevo||

    A local lefty writer was pushing for legal action to force Amazon to sell Hatchette's stuff, claiming they 'had a monopoly'.
    Later the same day he stuck his foot in his mouth, Walmart announced they were going to sell them.

  • The Original Jason||

    Leftist: Make Amazon sell Hatchette books!

    Amazon: We'd love to if Hatchette lets us!

    Hatchette: We won't let you sell our stuff unless you charge people 13$ for it and make people wait a month for it!

    Amazon: Unacceptable! We want to charge 9$ for it and delivery it instantly!

    Leftist: Amazon is using their monopoly power to abuse Hatchette's workers by allowing customers hoard 4$ and allowing them to read the book in seconds!

  • The Original Jason||

    Amazon had a net profit margin of 0.46% in 2013. Meanwhile, Lagardere, owner of Hachette, managed only a measly 17.44%

  • Jordan||

    Yeah, investors get really pissed at how customer-centric Amazon is.

  • The Original Jason||

    Maybe this is motivated by investors wanting to pressure Amazon to increase their profit margin...

  • Rev-Match||

    Hachette on the other hand is being depicted as a gentle, delicate flower—a lonely David facing off against an indomitable Goliath.

    The let them retail their own damn books.

  • pan fried wylie||

    How are they supposed to afford $15/hr for a checkout clerk?!

  • alittlesense||

    Two corporations, Hachette and Amazon, both large. How can one be a saint and the other a sinner? Hachette is just being stupid, greedy, and pathologically nostalgic for the days when print was the only medium for reading.

    Also, am I the only one who noticed that the headline says Hachette is "Horatitus" at the bridge? I really want to make a mammary joke here, but can't put it together.

  • guru||

    Amazon's .5% margin tells us a lot.

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