Small businesses

This is Small Business Week, celebrating American entrepreneurs.  Which makes for a nice irony, in that the business practices of Amazon against Hachette books has recently come to light.  I am not published by Hachette, but many of my friends are, and many of the books on my shelves come from that house.  However, contract negotiations between The Great River and Hachette have begun to affect writers, in a way that makes one wonder about the laws of monopoly.

To be clear: I do use Amazon, although I don’t shop there much.  I sell a lot of books through Amazon, and have had reason to be grateful for the ease in their Kindle publishing software.  They have shown me nothing but respect and professionalism.

But were I an Hachette author?  Books from those writers are mysteriously delayed, or fail to be reordered, or raised in price.  And then there’s this:  how many Hachette authors, compared with, say, Random House, are displayed beneath a banner suggesting OTHER books that are available at a cheaper price?  More or less at random, click on the links and compare these:

Random House:

Never Go Back, Lee Child

Hachette:

It is not 100%, in that some Hachette books lack the banner, and some books from other publishers have it.  Still, it makes me nervous, because it’s the kind of invisible business practices that most of us don’t see.
What is the answer?  I’m not about to suggest a boycott of Amazon, any more than I am about to withdraw my books from Kindle.  But perhaps, just this week, a shopping expedition at a small local business might make things just a little better, for us all.

Comments

  1. Leaving aside the highly questionable ethics of the suggestion that “similar” books are available at a lower price, the suggestion is on its face ludicrous. Novels are not fungible, like rolls of paper towels. If you want to read about the further adventures of Mickey Haller, in the style of Michael Connelly, reading about Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is not going to satisfy the want. It might (or might not) introduce you to another author to like (and another fictional character to care about), but it is not a “similar” experience.

  2. Em Frothingham says:

    Wow, I hadn’t known about the Hachette/Amazon problem, thanks for posting! My husband works with big data, though, so I am extremely aware (and paranoid) about its increasingly unsubtle market manipulation. Of course, I’m old-fashioned and still think that nothing compares to walking out of a neighborhood bookstore or library with an actual book in your hand. And hearing recommendations from friends is always more satisfying than seeing Google or Amazon or Netflix try to use my past searches to come up with some crazy “recommendations”!

  3. MYRA KONG says:

    i AGREE WITH EM. WHY DOES THE BIG FISH HAVE TO SWALLOW THE LITTLE FISH. IN HONOLULU WE HAVE A BN, A USED BOOKSTORE IN SHIROKIYA , A jAPANESE DEPT STORE, THE WINDWARD
    SIDE IS FORTUNATE TO HAVE BOOKENDS IN KAILUA AND TWO BRANCH LIBRARIES OF THE THE
    STATE LIBRARY, KAILUA AND KANEOHE HAVE .BOOKSTORES RUN BY DEDICATED VOLUNTEERS
    tHE HAWAII KAI LIBRARY ALSO HAS A NEW BOOKSTORE AND AINA HAINA HAS AN ONGOING BOOKSALE AND SALES AT INTERVALS. WHILE AT CALAMARI CRIMEFEST IN MONTEREY, CA
    THERE WAS A NEW BOOKSHOP IN THE CROSSROADS, I HOPE IT IS THERE WHEN I VISIT AGAIN!

  4. It is disturbing. I depend on Amazon, although not completely, as both a reader and a writer. There simply are no good local bookstores less than 30 minutes away.

    Yet I too have friends published by Hachette—and even if I did not, I would be appalled at this kind of strong-arm tactics. Bullying is bullying, whether the bully sees it that way or not. It is the kind of behavior I have feared that Amazon would embrace if it became too big. It doesn’t help authors, however they are published, or readers either.

    Thanks, Laurie, for shining a light on the problem. I read the story in the “New York Times,” but it bears repeating.

  5. Merrily Taylor says:

    I had heard about this from another source and think it is indeed, dirty pool, although I suppose similar business practices go on in many industries on the “all’s fair in love and war” theory. Which doesn’t make it right. I’ve at least done my part this week by shopping at several independent bookstores, most recently in Chapel Hill, NC…

  6. Laraine says:

    I am NOT a fan of Amazon, Walmart, etc. doing what is essentially price-fixing and price-depression. It is brutal on the recipients, and not good for the general public.
    Having said that, I also think that it is wise for all manner of makers, manufacturers, distributors and sellers to keep an eye to appropriate pricing, as opposed to the ‘I want to get rich!!’ or ‘our investors have to be very rich!’ mentality of pricing things as steeply as the market will possibly take. Looking at a $15 piece of fabric whipped into a pleasing skirt and priced at $400 at the local retailer, makes me wonder just what the heck is happening in our marketplaces. Looking at a 90-page book that is priced at $50 (in any market), again makes me wonder what the heck are they thinking??

  7. I’m in Chicago 23rd-26th – in the vague hope that the 20th Anniversary edition of Beekeeper’s Apprentice is in stores a day early, any suggestions of somewhere local I can go? (If I can nip away from colleagues for ten minutes, that is!)

    Chris;-)

  8. Louise Chambers says:

    I do understand the frustration that these circumstances can create. However, I have an different understanding of Amazon.
    I am disable and have no car to do shopping in. I cannot even take a taxi because I cannot walk and carry.
    Amazon is my grocery store, my clothing store, and much else. I do not find it much different than shopping at Safeway or Macy’s or other large chains.
    I experience the “hidden nature” of many products on Amazon, and only by “drilling down” for many hours with many different search terms do things become available.
    I’m not saying that these authors and publishers may be hidden, but take Balducci for instance: he was always available at the Denver Public Library and Tattered Cover. He is well known and so shoppers may not be demanding him.
    So much of what shows on Amazon is based on Google-like algebraics of whoever searched it causes it to show.
    I suggest that we all go in and make book wishlists of all of the little authors to begin to skew the algebraics.
    And, in addition, go to Amazon Feedback and demand the smaller publishers!

    Also: has anyone else tried and bought from BookBub? I love it and have found lots of new authors there.

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