Authors choose sides in the duel between Amazon and Hachette

Some 'old guard' authors are joining forces in a letter criticizing Amazon, even as a cluster of self-published authors is rallying around Amazon, charging that traditional publishers like Hachette mistreat authors and readers.

Mark Lennihan/AP
Visitors walk through the Hachette Book Group's exhibition at BookExpo America in New York.

The battle between Amazon and publisher Hachette over e-book pricing has grown, with dozens of bestselling authors taking sides in the high-profile clash.

“In one corner stands the old guard: established, prize-winning, bestselling writers such as Stephen King and Donna Tartt,” writes the UK’s Guardian. “On the other, the new: the hottest names in self-publishing, from Hugh Howey to Barry Eisler.”

Who stands where? By and large, “the old guard” – authors like Stephen King, Robert Caro, Donna Tartt, and James Patterson – have sided with Hachette, criticizing Amazon for its punitive measures against the publisher. Nearly 400 authors, including many big names in the industry, have signed a letter spearheaded by Douglas Preston, taking Amazon to task for removing pre-order buttons, failing to discount, and slowing delivery of many Hachette titles. In the letter, these authors asked their readers to contact Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and let him know how they felt.

“As writers – some but not all published by Hachette – we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want," the letter states. "It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation.” 

Now another group of authors has responded with its own letter on, launched by Howey, author of dystopian novel “Wool,” and supported by a number of self-published authors like JA Konrath and Barry Eisler. The letter asks readers not to boycott Amazon, which it says liberated authors and readers from the domination of “New York Publishing.” 

"Major publishers like Hachette have a long history of treating authors and readers poorly," the petition states. "Amazon, on the other hand, has built its reputation on valuing authors and readers dearly…. Amazon has done more to liberate readers and writers than any other entity since Johannes Gutenberg refined the movable type printing press.... Amazon is growing overall readership while liberating the voices of countless writers, adding to the diversity of literature.”

Some industry observers, however, have proclaimed themselves perplexed by the self-published authors' vigorous defense of Amazon – and their apparent anger at Hachette.

"Authors who make money from self-publishing trying to ensure that customers who buy ebooks [from Amazon] continue to do so makes sense on its own," notes industry newsletter PublishersMarketplace. However, PublishersMarketplace also notes: "[The group] rail[s] against publishers for 'colluding to raise the prices you pay for your e-books' in a 'price-fixing scheme' with absolutely no apparent awareness that the sole reason Amazon instituted its 70 percent royalty – on January 20, 2010 – was because of the introduction of agency [pricing], as a weapon against publishers. In a rational world, these authors should be thrilled that big publishers moved to a 30 percent retailer commission."

PublishersMarketplace goes on to quote author Chuck Wendig, who has sometimes published with Amazon, who writes on his blog terribleminds that, "some contracts from Amazon that are bad or worse than some of the contracts you get from big publishers."

He adds that, "The reason [Amazon doesn't] take a lot of that coin is because … they don't do anything for you. Like edit. Market. Distribute physical copies."

What matters most, of course, is not so much the opinions of authors but those of the reading public. Authors may ask readers to pick sides and but in the end it will be the public – voting with its pocketbook – that casts the final ballot.

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