Canadian authors are among the many affected by the protracted fight between Amazon and Hachette, but north of the border they feel the impact in some distinct ways.
Author David Bezmozgis’ Twitter comments drew the media spotlight in late September when he sharply noted that sales of his novel The Betrayers, which is shortlisted for Canada’s biggest fiction prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, are being harmed by the dispute. “Those trying to find the novel on Amazon.com will see they are only offering it in 8 track and wax disk format. To find the book in the US, I suggest your local indie bookstore.”
Bezmozgis declined to comment further on the matter when contacted by PW, but other Canadian authors are dealing with the same difficulties without the benefit of the prize boost and Bezmozgis’ prominence in the U.S. market.
Amazon.com advises that Katrina Onstad’s 2013 novel Everybody Has Everything, published in the U.S. by Hachette’s Grand Central Publishing, “usually ships within two to three weeks.” Although the effect of that delivery delay is difficult to measure, Onstad is certain it isn’t helping sales. “When you put a book out there, you don’t want any obstacles between the book and the reader, particularly in the States, and this is a huge one.”
Onstad added that the situation is particularly difficult for authors trying to break in to the U.S. market. “I know this dispute has been framed as the elite established authors vs. the young upstart self-publishers on Amazon,” she told PW. “But people like me are very much in the middle because we are not established yet but we’re trying to use these conventional publishing channels and being halted. We’re caught in the middle. It’s pretty ugly.”
Claire Cameron’s novel The Bear was published as a hardcover and e-book by Little Brown in February. The e-book, which was discounted by Amazon, outsold the hardcover, which wasn’t, by about five to one in the U.S., she said. Though it is difficult to measure or compare to Canadian sales, where a paperback edition was published by Doubleday Canada along with an e-book, Cameron said she is certain the dispute made a dent in those hardcover sales. On a brighter note, Cameron said that the dispute has had less impact and received less attention in Canada because there is a healthier diversity of e-book retailers.
Cameron said she’s surprised by how long the conflict has gone on. “I don’t like that readers are tangled up in it.” But she added, “I also have a lot of respect for the people at Little Brown, they’ve been great to work with. The heads of that company Reagan Arthur and Michael Pietsch are amazing from a writer’s perspective, so I have to feel that they have my interests in mind.”
The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) issued a public statement calling on Hachette and Amazon “to work in good faith toward an immediate resolution of their protracted and damaging disagreement. As it stands, individual authors are caught in the crossfire, and are seeing incomes and potential future earnings severely damaged.”
Onstad acknowledged that “it’s a very complicated moment, this reinvention of the publishing model,” but she said she hopes both sides can negotiate without putting writers in the middle. “Human shields is what Amazon called the writers… and we don’t want to be human shields. We don’t want to be foot soldiers,” she said. “We just want people to be able to experience the work that we’ve worked so hard and so long to put in the marketplace.”