hachette gagging authors?As some may know, there’s a fascinating spat going on between Lee Child, recent star of a BBC Newsnight anti-Amazon segment, and the The Passive Voice‘s readers and creator – a.k.a. David Vandagriff, recently cited, along with Chris Meadows and yours truly, as one of The Independent Publishing Magazine‘s “12 Publishing Shakers You Should Be Following.” As well as the extensive and very detailed interchange between Child and his critics on many points of the pro- and anti-Amazon debate, where Vandagriff himself steps repeatedly into the fray – mostly against Child – one claim stands out – at least for me. It’s from Vandagriff himself:

I’ve heard directly from Hachette authors that they have received strict instructions not to talk about Hachette/Amazon because Hachette is controlling the message and the messengers.

So Hachette, which is being cited elsewhere as the defender of civilization, cultural values, intellectual life, etc., is actually gagging its authors, curbing their free right as writers to speak out on the issue that most affects them – sales of their books and terms of sale. Except, presumably, for sanctioned allies like Authors United, who, according to Vandagriff, are likely being fed messages and briefed on what to say, because “publishers regularly tell 99% authors what and what not to say.” And if this is supposed to be a matter of public interest rather than a trade dispute between two sometime business partners, why is one key constituency on one side of the debate being gagged?

I don’t believe for one moment that Vandagriff, who is after all a lawyer, is making this up. Of course, I’d very much like to hear more about those claims, and I’ll be asking him in due course. But this is one that couldn’t pass unremarked for another second.

We already have commentators on The Passive Voice thread stating that, “the hypocrisy of Lee Child et al continuing to sell their books through Amazon gets sharper every day.” Well, at this rate, the stench of hypocrisy from Hachette’s defenders who claim to be protecting literature while getting in line behind the gagging of authors is even more rank.


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Paul St John Mackintosh is a British poet, writer of dark fiction, and media pro with a love of e-reading. His gadgets range from a $50 Kindle Fire to his trusty Vodafone Smart Grand 6. Paul was educated at public school and Trinity College, Cambridge, but modern technology saved him from the Hugh Grant trap. His acclaimed first poetry collection, The Golden Age, was published in 1997, and reissued on Kindle in 2013, and his second poetry collection, The Musical Box of Wonders, was published in 2011.


  1. Calm down Paul. You’ve got a bit of a double standard brewing upstairs. What Amazon executive or employee has gone public with criticism of a policy that, we suspect, must have its critics within the company. Censorship? No, not really. Just an expectation of loyalty before the public.

    It’s also silly to accuse some of hypocrisy it they sell to, buy from, use or have anything to do with a company that has policies you dislike. If we did that, our lives would be rather empty.

    Besides, one of my complaints about Amazon is that it underpays authors in comparison with Apple. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pay authors at all. If it didn’t pay at all, that would be the time to quit.

  2. “Besides, one of my complaints about Amazon is that it underpays authors in comparison with Apple. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pay authors at all. If it didn’t pay at all, that would be the time to quit.”

    When Apple has a platform that allows authors to sell as much their as they do on Amazon, they can tout their higher royalties.

  3. Are authors “within the company” ? Are they not free agents with a contract to sell a book or books with a publisher ? Did they sign their autonomy away with their contract ? Do authors rally have to pledge loyalty to publishers, is the system really that feudal.

  4. Francesco, it looks like the answers to your questions are – from Hachette’s POV at least – yes, no, yes, yes, and yes. That’s exactly the point. And David is hardly one to talk carelessly.

  5. I believe what will happen is those publishers who have or sign new agreements with Amazon will begin taking the next book(s) from authors and agents being penalized financially by staying with the publishers without an agreement. The Hachette authors and their agents are stuck there for now with current contracted books but how will this affect future auctions for big books? I would certainly prefer as an author a publisher doing business with the world’s largest reseller. Loyalty only goes so far in business matters. And do not believe for one second those lost Amazon sales will be totally recouped through other sales channels/resellers. It does not work that way. Ask any business that has lost Walgreens, Walmart, or Best Buy as a customer.

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