Amazon to authors: Pipe down about publishing war

Best-selling author Douglas Preston is circulating a letter asking Amazon to keep authors out of the dispute

Published July 24, 2014 5:00PM (EDT)

                  (AP/Ben Margot)
(AP/Ben Margot)

The Amazon vs. Hachette war remains unresolved. However, the front is heating up between Amazon and those largely affected by the stalemate: authors. Several hundred authors have signed a letter requesting that Amazon leave them out of the fray.

Amazon has responded by making offers to the authors; it has also asked that the authors quiet their outcry against the tech giant, according to Publishers Weekly.

The man leading the charge on the authors' side is Douglas Preston. In late June, the best-selling Preston began circulating a letter asking Amazon to leave authors out of its ongoing dispute with the publishing group Hachette. He told Publishers Weekly, in early July, that he hoped to persuade "12 courageous authors" to sign the letter and was surprised by the overwhelming hundreds -- including Stephen King, Nora Roberts and James Patterson -- who were willing to sign. The signees are not just those published by Hachette's imprints. Publishers Weekly reported:

"As for the authors who have signed the letter to date, Preston said: 'I think everyone feels this is not the way you treat your friends. Amazon can not treat authors and books the way they treat the manufacturers of toasters and televisions and computer cables.' He feels particularly concerned for struggling debut and midlist authors, who have been caught in the crossfire."

Amazon's tactics include removing pre-order buttons and delaying shipments, which can be used as leverage against a publisher, but also harm authors.

The widely circulated letter seems to be stirring the pot. On Monday, the Bookseller reported that the authors who signed Preston's letter had formed a group, Authors United. The following day, Preston told Publishers Weekly that he had a phone conversation with Amazon's V.P. of Kindle content, Russ Grandinetti. During which Grandinetti made authors a second offer, and asked that they quit their public outcry. From Publishers Weekly:

"In Amazon's earlier proposal, which was a nonstarter, the e-tailer said it would give authors the option to receive 100% of the revenue from sales of their e-books, a sum that would include what both Amazon and Hachette normally earn from each sale. At the same time, Amazon would continue to work toward an end to its stalled terms negotiation with Hachette.

"This time around, Grandinetti suggested a what-if scenario in which Amazon would return to delivering Hachette authors their standard royalties on e-books, and return to stocking of all the publisher's titles. Amazon and Hachette, meanwhile, would continue to negotiate, turning all proceeds each company normally earns from the sale of e-book titles over to an agreed-upon literacy charity. Like the first offer, this one would motivate both companies to negotiate, something Grandinetti accused Hachette of stalling on. 'We tried to talk to them for months,' he reportedly told Preston.

"Preston echoed his response to Amazon's first proposal, saying that this offer from Grandinetti 'has the same effect of crippling Hachette. If [Hachette] wasn't making money for Lagardère, they'd shut it down.'"

According to Preston, Grandinetti also said that when the authors speak up for themselves, it only drags along the conflict. "Every time [the authors] make a statement, it makes Hachette less willing to compromise," Grandinetti reportedly told Preston.

For Amazon, which has been widely and publicly criticized during this dispute -- including by Hachette author Stephen Colbert -- it seems to be an issue of framing.

"You have to look at the parent company -- Lagardère Group -- rather than just the Hachette division," an Amazon spokesperson said to Publishers Weekly regarding the Paterson-Grandinetti call. "Kindle books are only 1% of Lagardère Group's sales. They can afford it, and should stop using their authors as human shields."

The author and publisher relationship seems to be more complex than that of a "human shield." Preston has been with Hachette for 25 years, and has a six-book deal with the publisher currently.

It should be made clear, however, that Preston and the group of authors are "a totally independent effort. No organization, company, or publishing house is sponsoring us," he explained.

Preston and Authors United remain resolute. He is planning to publish a full-page ad in the New York Times with the letter and signatures collected thus far, this week or next.

On the other side -- in favor of Amazon -- are authors, including Hugh Howey, who are petitioning the CEO of Hachette on

h/t Publishers Weekly

By Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email

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