The dispute over e-book terms between Amazon and Hachette Book Group USA generated headlines around the world when the e-tailer stopped accepting preorders on HBG titles and delayed shipments on some print titles. As the dispute dragged on—it took nearly seven months to reach a deal—it put the spotlight on a number of industry players, whether those people wanted the attention or not.
HBG CEO Michael Pietsch was the point person for the publisher. Not only was Pietsch heading up negotiations for HBG but he also kept in touch with HBG’s authors and served as the company spokesman. As one tactic to move negotiations along, the Amazon Books Team asked customers to email Pietsch directly about keeping e-book prices low. Pietsch responded to all the inquiries he received as a result of the post. The CEO didn’t spend all his time dealing with Amazon: he also led HBG’s efforts to buy the Perseus Books Group in a complicated deal in which the company planned to sell Perseus’s distribution arm to Ingram. The purchase fell apart in early August, however. In mid-November, HBG rebounded from that setback by acquiring Black Dog & Leventhal. While a smaller purchase than Perseus, the BD&L acquisition continued HBG’s efforts to expand its presence in the nonfiction market.
Amazon, as is its preference, had its executives keep a low profile in the discussions, although two names popped up frequently. David Naggar, v-p of Kindle, was the person who was quoted in the joint announcement from Amazon and HBG about the signing of a deal. It was also Naggar who sent a letter to various Hachette authors, literary agents, and Authors Guild president Roxana Robinson, proposing that the e-tailer and publisher forgo all revenue on e-books sold through Amazon and, instead, give it directly to the authors. The offer was seen as a nonstarter, but a few weeks later Amazon senior v-p for Kindle Russ Grandinetti floated a modified version in a letter to author Douglas Preston, which proposed turning over the proceeds Amazon and HBG would normally earn from the sale of e-book titles to an agreed-upon literacy charity while the sides continued to negotiate. That offer, too, never gained any real traction. Grandinetti also appeared in a few press accounts explaining Amazon’s position in the dispute, including interviews with the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Preston entered the dispute in the summer when he formed Authors United, a loosely knit group of writers (with no ties to HBG or other publishers). The organization got its start in June, when Preston circulated a letter to friends, prompting them to email Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who is known for responding directly to customer inquiries, to ask him to take authors out of the middle of the negotiations. “Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon,” the letter stated, “we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business.” The letter became a catalyst for Preston to found Authors United. Signed by more than 900 authors, the letter was reprinted in a full-page ad that appeared in the New York Times on Sunday, August 10.
Even with the settlement, Authors United is moving forward with a plan announced in late September to ask the antitrust division of the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon’s activities. “Our letter, and our behind-the-scenes work, is well in process and we feel it makes sense to see it through,” wrote Preston to Authors United members on November 19. “I hope you will continue to support us. When the time comes (and it may be a while yet) you will have a chance to see the DOJ submission and decide if you want to sign or not.”
Although her name was never attached to any part of the negotiations, Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy may have had as big a part in ending the impasse as any of the primary parties did. After her boss, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, told a media conference in July that S&S was in discussions with Amazon, the publisher reached a new sales agreement on print titles and e-books in late October. The agreement, which Reidy described as moving the company to a “version” of the agency model, was the template for the subsequent deal with Hachette.