GaimanWell, here’s another Salon Amazon hit piece, at least sort of. Salon chose to headline it, “Neil Gaiman: ‘I’m obviously pissed at Amazon’” but if you read the actual article, you find the quote was taken out of context. Gaiman feels that the anti-trust prosecution against the five major publishers and Apple was a bad move, but on the matter of Amazon versus Hachette, he is actually ambivalent:

I’m a weird mixture right now, because on the one hand, I’m obviously pissed at Amazon. I’m a Hachette author in the U.K., my wife is a Hachette author now, and I’m very aware that Hachette is the first of these publishers that negotiations are going to happen with, and that HarperCollins [Gaiman’s U.S. publisher] will be coming up in six months’ time or whatever. On the other hand, I’m just as aware that what you’re seeing right now, is huge, giant-level dealings between huge corporations both under non-disclosure, and every time I try to actually read enough stuff to figure out what’s going on here, what I run into is lots of “We can’t say anything, but he says,” and “We can’t say anything, but she says.”

There was a thing I read yesterday where somebody, apparently from Amazon, speaking off the record, was saying why this whole three-to-five week delivery [delay] thing was happening with Hachette Books was that Hachette was playing hardball and they weren’t delivering the books to Amazon. Was that true? I don’t know. I have no idea.

So, unlike most of his Hachette compatriots who’ve spoken out (including, most notably, Stephen Colbert), Gaiman isn’t immediately inclined toward the mindset “My publisher right or wrong.” That’s something, anyway. He continues:

What is obviously problematic is that Amazon has, whatever it is, 30 to 40 percent of the book market. Which is not a good thing. The point, I think, where I would go incandescent is if Amazon ever repeats the number it pulled, I think a few years ago, with the Macmillan books — which is basically saying, we are not selling you this book. At that point, they’re doing the equivalent of what Barnes and Noble did a couple years ago to me, when they were arguing that they were having one of these, again, corporation-to-corporation arguments with DC Comics, and they said, “Well, the Sandman books aren’t for sale, you can no longer buy them at Barnes and Noble.” And I was fuming.

The odd thing here is that, even after Barnes & Noble did the exact same thing to him, he’s still inclined to be angry specifically at Amazon for it rather than realizing that this is something endemic to the way that big bookstore chains work in general when it comes time to renegotiate contracts. The B&N dispute with Simon & Schuster last year is another example.

Later on in the piece, he lectures an imagined Jeff Bezos that books are special snowflakes, and that dealing in books is “treading on sacred ground.” The funny thing to me is that this is the exact argument that industry after industry—including Apple in the recent trial under Judge Kote—has made to explain why it should be exempt from anti-trust laws. The courts have universally been unimpressed. You don’t get to gang up on a retailer who’s doing something you don’t like just because it’s about something “special,” and I’m pretty sure the appeals will bear me out in that.

Gaiman concludes that the dispute is “terribly bad for authors’ rights now,” though of course I’m sure folks like J.A. Konrath or Hugh Howey would argue with him on that score. Independent authors are, after all, having the time of their lives.


  1. The odd thing is that I have such mixed feelings about the negotiations. As an indie author, yes, I’d like the Big 5 to raise prices to stupid levels to make my books look far more attractively priced. And yet, I’m also a reader, and I don’t want to go back to agency. I like being able to price shop and wait for deals. Sigh. I guess if agency comes back, I’ll just have to reinvest my writing profits to feed my reading addiction. Thanks goodness for Scribd!

  2. With digital, price fluctuation should be far less than it was in he paper era because there are no unsold eBooks. An eBook is only created at the moment of sale so discounting to minimize loss and returns to the publisher no longer factors. I haven’t seen one of those “All books under $3” signs in a long time.
    So, what’s left? Tiny margins, minimal overhead and high volume – a game that can only be played by titans. What will the world of eBooks be like when there is only one titan standing?

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