My Letter to Douglas Preston

A bunch of literary heavy-hitters have taken out a $140,000 advertisement/open letter, written by author Douglas Preston under the auspices of “Authors United,” that’s going to run in the New York Times tomorrow that sides with the publisher Hachette Group in their on-going business dispute with Amazon over ebook pricing. There are lots of points in the open letter that I don’t agree with, or that I believe are mis-represented, but one phrase, one example of hypocrisy, stood out and I had to call Doug on it. I believe it reveals what this dispute is really about. Here’s the letter I wrote to him:

You wrote in your ad: “As writers–most of us not 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.”

Does that same sentiment also apply to the brick-and-mortar bookstores, from big chains to indies, that refuse to stock paperback books from Amazon Publishing’s imprints Thomas & Mercer, 47North, Montlake, etc? If so, why don’t I see the same level of outrage from Authors Unhachette-book-group-logoAmazon-logoited, or the Authors Guild, over this widespread ban, which has been going on for years and harms hundreds of authors?

The list of authors, many of them ITW and Authors Guild members, directly affected by bookstores refusing to carry Amazon-imprint titles includes Marcus Sakey, Kevin J. Anderson, Ray Banks, Alan Russell, Greg Bear, Ian Fleming, Ed McBain, Max Allan Collins, Stephanie Bond, Dana Cameron, Leslie Charteris, Diane Capri, Orson Scott Card, Sean Chercover, Deepak Chopra, John Connolly, Bill Crider, Ed Gorman, Peter David, Nelson DeMille, Aaron Elkins, Christa Faust, Stephen W. Frey, Jim Fusilli, Joel Goldman, David Hewson, Jonathan Maberry, Penny Marshall, Robert R. McCammon, Marcia Muller, Susan Orlean,Julie Ortolon, Tom Piccirilli, Daniel Pinkwater, Steven Pressfield, Robert Randisi, Christopher Rice, John Saul, Tom Schreck, Neal Stephenson, and R.L. Stine, to name just a few.

I have enormous respect for you and the authors who signed your ad. Many of them are also friends of mine. But the fact that you, and the other authors listed in the ad, are upset by the Hachette situation and haven’t shown any concern over Amazon Publishing titles being banned by bookstores speaks volumes about what the real issue is here.


41 thoughts on “My Letter to Douglas Preston”

  1. I agree completely with your letter. Prior to e-publishing, did we boycott a brick and mortar bookstore because they chose not to carry books by a certain author? I don’t think so.

  2. As a Montlake and self-pubbed author, thank you for this. This has been my thought from the start. I’ve been the victim of an organized boycott for years now. I recently joined the Authors Guild. As a paying member, how much attention do you think they’ll give my plight? I’ d really appreciate them bullying B&N into carrying my books.

    • Hey, Dee! I’m glad to see your post. I, too, am a Montlake author and indeed my books are not carried by Barnes and Noble. However, I was involved in a local literacy event and they did manage to get some copies for that signing. But point being our books are not carried by the big retailers and in addition our Amazon sale numbers are not, as far as I know, being counted towards the national best seller lists either. No one seems to want to discuss this openly. So thank you, Lee Goldberg for putting this out there!

    • I have been tempted more than once to resigned from the Authors Guild. That temptation comes every time Richard Russo or Scott Turow write a stupid letter to the membership saying that Amazon is ‘destroying authorship’ and is ‘anti-author.’ Increasingly, the Authors Guild has become out-of-touch with members who aren’t in the upper 5% of the earnings & sales bracket.

  3. I wonder if the fact that many of Amazon’s print books are POD has anything to do with it.

    I know our local B&N rarely carries POD books on their shelves, regardless of who the “publisher” is. Although most can be special-ordered. That’s how I had to order GOLDFINGER last year (Amazon scooped up the rights to Fleming’s James Bond books a few years ago).

    Sure, I could have ordered from Amazon, but I’d rather support a local business that employs local people, pays local taxes and all that.

    But there’s another, so far unmentioned issue at stake here: Amazon’s exclusivity incentives, wherein authors are urged to sign exclusive deals with Amazon over various formats or prices or whatever for various periods of time.

    These “deals” are not forced on authors, although Amazon certainly makes them seem attractive. But if writers sign exclusivity deals with Amazon (over ebook or audio rights, for example), should they be acting all surprised when some brick-and-mortar stores (many of which also sell, for example, ebooks and audiobooks) won’t devote valuable and limited shelf space to their competitor’s print books?

    It does seem a little disingenuous. Maybe neither side has an exclusive on hypocrisy.

    We know that the print editions of this fine new imprint, Brash Books, for example, are printed by Amazon’s CreateSpace. But will the digital versions be made available for Barnes & Noble’s nook? Or the Kobo, which has a deal with 100s of indie bookstores? Or Apple’s iPad, for that matter? Or are the digital versions of their titles going to be exclusive to Amazon’s Kindle?

    There’s far more to this dirty little spat — and the various factions that are pitting author against author — than Amazon just trying to “convince” Hachette to lower their ebook prices.

    You can’t butter only one side of the bread and then complain there’s no butter on the other side.

    • One correction, Kevin — Amazon Publishing’s books are NOT print-on-demand and have the same discounts / return policy that S&S, Hachette, etc. do.

    • Kevin wrote: “These “deals” are not forced on authors, although Amazon certainly makes them seem attractive. But if writers sign exclusivity deals with Amazon (over ebook or audio rights, for example), should they be acting all surprised when some brick-and-mortar stores (many of which also sell, for example, ebooks and audiobooks) won’t devote valuable and limited shelf space to their competitor’s print books?”

      I mean no offense, my friend, but I don’t understand your argument here. If I offer my ebooks exclusively to Amazon, or exclusively to Apple, or to every e-retailer, what does that have to do with the paperback books of mine that a brick-and-mortar store chooses to stock? The majority of brick and mortar stores don’t stock ebooks… so why would they care if my ebooks are exclusive to a particular e-retailer or device? It shouldn’t make any difference at all.

      The argument Doug Preston made was clear: “As writers–most of us not 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.” What he didn’t say was, “except if they are published by one of Amazon’s imprints.” But we know that’s the case, since neither he, nor the Authors Guid, nor (to my knowledge) anyone who signed his open letter has cried foul about the bookstore ban on Amazon Publishing titles.

      In the case of Brash Books, we are a wholly independent publisher, funded out my pocket and Joel’s pocket. Our paperbacks are produced by CreateSpace, solely as a manufacturing entity. Even if we offer the same discounts and returns policy that Hachette does, many bookstores will refuse to carry the titles simply because CreateSpace is an Amazon subsidiary. So how does that fit in with Author United’s stance that “no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want.” It doesn’t.

        • To offer my ebooks on Kobo so those few indie bookstores who offer the service would be asking me to take a significant cut in earnings. It costs the bookstore nothing (I presume) to offer Kobo downloads in their stores. On the other hand, does cost ME money… in terms of dramatically fewer sales… to make that symbolic gesture of support. For most authors, neither the bookstore nor the authors sell enough copies on Kobo to make it worthwhile for either one of us. I’ve tried that route before. The market just isn’t there to support the effort. Yes, Kobo is available in Canada, South America, etc. and in some indie stores, but the sales for the majority of authors on that platform are pitiful…to non-existent. I was actually losing thousands of dollars a month by making my ebooks available on that service (as well as Apple & B&N). I earned more in one month, on just one title, on Amazon borrows alone than I did from the combined sales of ALL of my sales on Apple, Kobo, and B&N.

    • “Sure, I could have ordered from Amazon, but I’d rather support a local business that employs local people, pays local taxes and all that.”

      Barnes and Noble is NOT a “local business.” Indie bookstores are, and Barnes and Noble (and Borders, and B. Dalton, and Walden books, and Crown) drove them out of business long before Amazon was even on the radar.

      Your argument is buttered with bias and unsubstantiated opinions you attribute as facts. This reveals your bias to outweigh the value of your case. Your logic is flawed by your need to hate Amazon.

  4. Very thoughtful and helpful, Lee. Thanks. This is such a tangled issue. Like you I have friends with Hachette and friends with Thomas & Mercer. After reading your blog, I checked to see whether Amazon sells books from the publishing arm of Barnes & Noble. They do.

  5. Is there an actual ban, though, on Amazon imprint books? Or just a perceived ban? It’s so hard to keep track of all the conspiracy theories.

    But if there is a conspiracy, it’s way above my pay grade.

    Or is being published by Amazon just one more mitigating factor when it comes to what book stores chose to stock or not stock? Things like projected sales, return policies, past sales, name recognition, ability to deliver, promotional considerations and many other factors come onto play as well.

    Most stores offer the ability to at least special order Amazon’s print books — but you can’t order the ebook versions of those same titles to read on your device (unless, of course, you have a Kindle).

    I love some of those authors you mentioned (the living, the dead, the decidedly mid-list) but a lot of them were never on the shelves even before they were “published” by Amazon. And frankly, most of the output from Thomas & Mercer, Amazon’s crime imprint, has been so-so, or at least the ones I’ve been sent to review.

    Plus, just to show how murky this all gets, at least a few of the authors you mentioned as being victims of this “ban” have in fact signed Preston’s letter. So what’s that about?

    I notice you didn’t mention the POD issue, either, which is the preferred format of Amazon’s CreateSpace. Perhaps it’s a misguided or outdated policy, but many real-world bookstores, including B&N, still don’t generally stock PODs on their shelves, regardless of the “publisher,” be it Amazon or iUniverse or PublishAmerica.

    And ebook rights (and increasingly, audio rights) do come into play in an increasingly competitive business. It would be silly to pretend they don’t. Both Barnes & Noble and many indie bookstores (through an arrangement with Kobo) sell digital titles online. But not those that Amazon won’t let them sell.

    So, on the digital side, you’re snubbing these non-Amazon retailers, but on the print side, you expect them to carry your books? You’re free to sell your books through whichever retailers you wish, of course, but hey, sometimes choosing sides does mean choosing sides. And having to live with the choice.

    With Amazon apparently wanting to become the dominant retailer/publisher/printer/distributor in the business, and its increasingly aggressive demands for fealty and exclusivity among its “authors,” coupled with a growing resistance among publishers and authors to their demands (look outside the U.S.), we’re going to see a lot more of these kinds of fracases.

    As a reader — and a writer — it’s not necessarily a happy prospect.

    • You can read the e books in Amazon cloud or download a PDF for your computer, but I do prefer the Kindle when reading the e books.

      Indie Bookstores are thriving while the biggies duke it out and will be entrenched before the dust clears.

      I would like to say eons, but know it is not that long; however, once my training wheels came off, Amazon, B&N, and eBay were markets of choice.

      At that point, I was only that commodity all authors seek, a reader. And, an eclectic one that now enjoys the ability to read a sample of the book before handing over the cash. I will know within pages, whether or not I will buy. It does not matter to me, as a reader, if you are Traditional, Indie, or ride both sides of the fence.

      My issue with a writer is, “Will I enjoy? Will I learn what I’m looking for?” If either of those questions is yes, then I’ll read. I’m also a glutton. If I like a writer’s style, I will plow through the books, and watch for new ones. I have hundreds of favorite authors, none that I hate – no time for that. Amazon has given that tool to the readers, and wise ones, use it.

      Now that I am writing, Amazon has been an easy doorway – I was a bit more advanced in technical issues, such as proofing until your eyeballs bleed, and then doing it again. Layouts, etc., but the hardest job an Indie must learn is marketing. Getting around lock-ins that Amazon may imposed, is done with other self-publishing companies having a healthy relationship with Amazon and B&N. There are more choices than Traditional wants to admit.

      The Indies are banding to make a stronger product and I have found many I am glad to say on the ground floor, I will be willing to follow as they stay the course, and then, Traditional comes and offers a contract, which may, or may not be attractive.

      There is room for all with a lot less drama. We readers don’t pay attention to it, us writers…. Well, I hope it does not turn out to the same ending my three Siamese endured when they finally decided to become friendly with the Cocker Spaniel. After several years of being hissed at, the first overture of friendship was met with a haughty throw of her head, as she sashayed by them.

    • “Is there an actual ban, though, on Amazon imprint books? Or just a perceived ban? It’s so hard to keep track of all the conspiracy theories.”

      It’s an actual ban. One very publicly stated. Not a conspiracy theory.

      B&N chooses not to carry books by Amazon Publishing authors, and the ABA has also advised its member stores not to. Also Chapters/Indigo in Canada (only remaining national chain of book stores in Canada) has also publicly stated their choice not to carry APub books.

      While choosing to exclude our publisher’s books (I’m with APub’s Skyscape imprint for teen and young adult fiction) is those retailers’ right… It also follow’s that it’s Amazon’s right to choose not to carry certain publishers’ boos too. So casting one as evil and using authors as pawns and not the other is biased.

      Thanks for the post, Lee!!!!

  6. Thank you for taking THIS stand, man. Because in this whole bruhaha that doesn’t concern me… THIS is my big problem with the org.

    You got cojones….
    I respect you more than any of those signnatories. By such a long shot..

    It’s going to cost me about fifteen bucks on Sunday to buy a hard copy of the NY Times. I’ve been an online subscriber since they set up the paywall. NP, I’ve been a reader since the 60’s. The sixties. I want that ad. To see who those people are.

    Truly, I believe down the road they’re going to be ashamed of themselves.
    Okay, I hope they are.

    Good on you, man. Good on you!

    • You can go online to their site and see the whole list. I did this morning and I don’t buy or normally read the The Times.

  7. The real issue here is money. That’s it. But you bring up a very important point.

    Hachette and their authors act as though they have an unfettered right to access Amazon’s distribution channel. They have no more right to that than we have to access brick-and-mortar stores.

    By the way, it’s certainly true that there is a big prejudice against Amazon-related books, but that’s not the whole story. Brick-and-mortar shops won’t carry books by indie authors or small publishers, period. There may be exceptions, such as local interest, but generally, it’s the case.

    This battle is about two multi-billion-dollar corporations trying to make money. The authors are irrelevant. That’s really where Preston is missing the point. Authors are no more important to them than the janitor.

    • This:- we print our own books but all the indie stores in our largest city decline to stock our books. Our libraries otoh will buy them from us. Who knew? Until the book stores decide to treat authors alike and release their collusion against selling books produced by small publishers the big 5 will believe they have the control they want.

  8. Awesome point! I am one of those authors with books published by Amazon’s Montlake division. You won’t find me in any brick and motors because they are punishing my publishing house. You are spot on with this argument!

  9. Thank you for saying this. One would hope the general public will clue in eventually and wonder why Hachette authors are not commenting individually. How can they? Their united stance will not bear true scrutiny whereas the multiplicity of indie author viewpoints can and does pass the litmus test for fairness.

  10. I just looked for a 47 North book (The Mongoliad) and found new editions stocked and available at both Powell’s Books and B&N. Is there really a universal, united ban among Amazon’s competition as to Amazon’s non-POD imprints?

  11. Hi Lee — I may be wrong about this, but I had always thought that the reason that BN refused to sell Amazon Publishing print books was because Amazon wouldn’t allow BN to sell their titles via Nook. (Meaning, that Amazon imprints were only available for Kindle owners.) I agree, it’s childish all the way around (both for stores not to stock the print books and for Amazon not to provide their titles for all e-readers.) That was my impression, but if I’m mistaken, let me know.

  12. Way back when there was a big controversy over the price increase on e-books, this author, Douglas Preston, made some comments that prompted me to leave a comment on his web page. He lives in a fantasy, la la land. He is WAY out of touch with reality and has been for some time. I think he is now trying to pit readers against authors and draw lines in the sand that are just not necessary. But, the bottom line is … well the bottom line. Both sides are a business and in the end that is what really matters to them. Having said that, I just don’t think the public is ready to pay the same price for an e book as they do for a print copy. Hachette is just going to have to understand that and learn to compromise for now. I don’t like the tone this whole thing is taking though. However, you Indies and self pubs out there could be the ones who come out on top in all this. So, good on ya!
    Lee, you make an excellent point and I agree you 100%.

  13. Dear Lee: I heartily agree. The level of hypocrisy in the publishing business is gargantuan. I’m one of those hybrid authors with a foot in each world, traditional publishing and digital-first. To a one, the professionals I have encountered on both sides love books, they love what they do and they have been supportive as best they could. I consider them all my friends and colleagues. But, this fight isn’t about them, nor is it about you and me and our fellow writers toiling away at the computer everyday, hoping our stories will find their readers, not is it about the readers.

    No, this is business. Nothing more, nothing less. Big companies carving up the consumer pie. This is Walmart. Or Barnes and Noble and their predatory practices that almost killed the independent bookstores. Whether we agree with it or not, this is how the free market works. And, consumers vote with their dollars.

    The letter from Doug Preston purporting to represent “writers” (although I consider myself such and never got a call asking my opinion) is merely an attempt by those who have a vested interest in the status quo, trying to leverage consumers to take action that, quite frankly, isn’t in the consumer’s best interest (but that’s a debate for another day.)

    And where was the outrage when traditional publishing, one of the largest monopolies in the history of mankind, was colluding and price-fixing, etc?

    Is Amazon the Great Satan? Of course not. But, does that mean it shouldn’t bear watching? Of course not.

    I, for one, am thrilled at the opportunities open to writers and readers alike. Never before have we had such a vast banquet of stories to consume. Never have writers had the open doors, the unfettered chance to find a readership.

    Amazon shoved those doors open and I am grateful. Competition is a good thing.

  14. Before I signed with Montlake publishing, an Amazon Imprint, I hit the NYT’s as an Indie with one of my titles. When that happened my title was available on the Nook, KIndle, Kobo, IBooks… everywhere ebooks were sold. I called my local B&N and asked if they would, 1.) Hold a book signing for me at their store. 2.) Place my title, Wife by Wednesday, on the shelf. This particular book at the time was #5 on their top 100 books. Their reply? NO! When I asked why… I was told, CreateSpace (the print company I was using) is Amazon, and they are our direct competition. I told them I was the publisher, not Amazon. I went on to remind them that my eBook and Print books were available online with B&N what is the difference with putting it on the shelf? Answer: “We don’t sell our competitions books in our bookstores.

    I’m sorry that my readers have to go online to buy my books. I’ve gone on to sell well over a million copies of my titles…outside of the first book when I was an Indie author, I’ve been un-elligable to hit the New York Times or USA Today Bestseller list. It doesn’t matter if I sell three times as many copies as the #1 title on those lists. Why? Because Montlake is my publisher and my books are not sold in the B&N stores. This, of course, is off topic but another reminder that not all authors are treated fairly.

    Thank you for your blog, Lee.

    • I’m with Catherine on this as a Montlake author and also an Indie author. I haven’t sold quite as many books as she has, but I also made the NY Times and USA Today with two my indie books (which have since become Montlake’s.) Do I wish my Montlake books could be available everywhere? Of course. But I’ve also accepted it as the disadvantage of going with Montlake. There are also definite perks. It’s a choice. I wasn’t as clear on the choice and the ramifications when I first started with Montlake. The imprints were newer then, and these things being worked out.

      This great divide doesn’t benefit authors.

  15. Quote: “But the fact that you, and the other authors listed in the ad, are upset by the Hachette situation and haven’t shown any concern over Amazon Publishing titles being banned by bookstores speaks volumes about what the real issue is here.”

    Actually, the bookstore ban on getting titles from Amazon’s affiliate CreateSpace means little. The same interior PDF that a publisher sends can go to Ingram’s Lightning Space (or Ingram Spark) and there’s no boycott there. A little tweaking can also turn a cover for one POD publisher into one for the other. If a publisher wants to go CreateSpace only, the consequences fall exclusively on them. There’s no censorship going on here, even in the loosest sense of the term. It is trivial to have a title that both Amazon and bookstores will buy.

    What’s going one is also quite different from this clash with Hachette over distribution terms. It is a sound business principle not to compete with your clients or customers. Boeing, for instance, could save quite a bit of money running an old 747 as a daily package and passenger shuttle between its different centers. It doesn’t because that would be competing with major customers: airlines and package freight.

    Amazon, with it’s characteristic cluelessness, does not understand that. It wants to retail new books with Amazon Publishing, competing with both publishers and bookstores and perhaps even tilting sales in its favor. Bookstores, struggling for their very existence against Amazon, have good reasons not to put more profit into Amazon’s bank accounts.

    Keep in mind that Amazon is playing a similar exclusivity game. It’s Kindle Select program rewards authors who make their ebooks available no where else. It’s preventing them from being sold by B&N or the iBookstore.

    In short, there’s no moral equivalence going on here. Business is a lot like sports. Sports have unwritten rules. Violate those rules, and others have a right to sanction you.

  16. Lee’s point may or may not hold water, since it seems that the bricks and mortar stores do stock some Amazon titles but it’s also clear that there are tons that they don’t (there are tons of NY published books that never make it into B&N either, by the way). My problem with his letter to Doug Preston is that it comes across as dissing Authors United for failing to mention the issue Lee cites. But does he really expect AU to come up with a prescription for curing ALL of publishing’s ills in order to make their very valid points in support of Hachette? Because that’s unrealistic. And Lee’s two separate references to “what this dispute really is all about” leave me perplexed because I have no idea what he’s talking about. Perhaps if he’d elaborated I could have decided whether I agree or not. Failing that, it came across as kind of paranoid about hidden agendas.


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