amazon is not a white knightIt’s human nature to want to find good guys in just about any conflict, and most of the coverage about Amazon and Hachette just reinforces that.

Hachette authors have been yelling that Amazon is the bad guy, and their assumption is that Hachette has been looking out for their best interests. As a recent comment from David Gaughran on a post on The Digital Reader demonstrates, that’s not necessarily the case. He posits several scenarios stemming from recent Hachette leaks and shows how they might be interpreted, and not in Hachette’s favor.

The flip side, of course, is people calling Amazon the good guys. However, Amazon isn’t the white knight in this issue, and not just because Germany publishers have now filed an antitrust complaint against Amazon. Businesses frequently push both legal and ethical lines in pursuit of their goals. I’m not condoning the practice. I certainly don’t like it, but it’s what happens, which is why it’s short sighted to try to find heroes in business negotiations. Looking for the “win” can bring out the worst in anyone.

It’s important to keep this in mind as you read stories and make decisions about which companies to do business with. Just because publishers and Apple were shown to have illegally fixed prices doesn’t automatically make Amazon good. If Amazon is shown to have engaged in antitrust behavior, that doesn’t make the publishers good either. It’s possible for both sides in a conflict to behave badly.

So what’s a reader or author to do? Readers need to consider the whole picture: ethical (or not) practices, price, convenience or what ever other criteria you use to decide who to buy from. If you use those criteria and decide not to buy from Amazon, that’s a rational decision and shouldn’t be criticized by others. If you decide to buy from Amazon, based on your criteria, that’s also rational.

Authors? Treat your writing as a business. Keep your options as open as you can and remember you’re in this for the long term. It’s likely Amazon will change their payment structure to authors. It’s likely traditional publishers will change their royalty structure. Either change could go up or down. We don’t know yet. When possible, use as many channels as you can. Then you’ll be best positioned no matter what happens.

Authors (and readers), above all remember that Amazon isn’t your friend. Nor are traditional publishers your friends (though individuals in the respective companies may be). Ultimately the only one who has your best interests at heart is you, and don’t believe anyone who says otherwise. In business, the only thing you can count on is change.

Image credit: Petr Novák, Wikipedia under a Creative Commons license