With author Douglas Preston’s two-page ad urging readers to email Jeff Bezos to tell the Amazon CEO what they think of the company’s dispute with Hachette Book Group appearing in the August 10 New York Times, Amazon launched its own letter-writing campaign. On Friday, the e-tailer posted a note, on the new domain readersunited.com, asking KDP authors and others to email HBG CEO Michael Pietsch to tell him what they think of the publisher’s attempt to, according to Amazon, keep e-book prices artificially high.
Comparing the launch of e-books to the debut of mass market paperbacks, the Amazon Books Team said both formats were initially opposed by “the literary establishment,” which claimed they devalued the book. E-books, like paperbacks, were something publishers said would harm their bank accounts, Amazon claimed, even though both formats meant lower prices for consumers.
The Amazon letter--which was also emailed to KDP authors--claimed that George Orwell came out against paperbacks, although the accuracy of that statement was subsequently challenged in the New York Times by David Streitfeld.
Putting aside the Orwellian rhetoric, the letter only increases the acrimony between Amazon and Hachette. Repeating its argument that there is no valid reason why e-books should not be priced at $9.99, Amazon made a number of references to HBG being found guilty, along with other Big Five publishers, of colluding to raise e-book prices. Amazon stressed that the company will "never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices.”
To help achieve the goal of establishing cheaper prices for e-books, Amazon readers to contact Piestsch directly--and provided the executive's email address (mimicking Authors United's move of including Bezos’s email address in its ad)--and say they oppose HBG’s attempt to keep e-book prices. Amazon also asked that all e-mailers who send protests to Pietsch copy the e-tailer at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Amazon Books Team also included talking points for readers to cite:
- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
- Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
- Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
- Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.
Pietsch began replying to emails from KDP authors over the weekend, thanking them for caring enough about books “to take the time to write.” His reply features what Pietsch called “a few facts” on the issue that readers might not know. These facts include:
* Hachette sets prices for our books entirely on our own, not in collusion with anyone.
* We set our e-book prices far below corresponding print book prices, reflecting savings in manufacturing and shipping.
* More than 80% of the e-books we publish are priced at $9.99 or lower.
* Those few priced higher—most at $11.99 and $12.99—are less than half the price of their print versions.
* Those higher priced e-books will have lower prices soon, when the paperback version is published.
The invention of mass market paperbacks was great for all because it was not intended to replace hardbacks, but to create a new format available later, at a lower price.
Pietsch said the dispute with Amazon started “because Amazon is seeking a lot more profit and even more market share, at the expense of authors, bricks and mortar bookstores, and ourselves. Both Hachette and Amazon are big businesses and neither should claim a monopoly on enlightenment, but we do believe in a book industry where talent is respected and choice continues to be offered to the reading public.”
“Once again,” Piestch continued, “we call on Amazon to withdraw the sanctions against Hachette’s authors that they have unilaterally imposed, and restore their books to normal levels of availability. We are negotiating in good faith. These punitive actions are not necessary, nor what we would expect from a trusted business partner.”