Hachazon War: the Battle of Petition Hill

Hachazon War: the Battle of Petition Hill

Amazon and the publisher Hachette have had a very public dispute over terms, which I refer to as the “Hachazon War”.

Rather than calming down, I’d say that the coverage, at least, has been escalating.

In a recent

Wall Street Journal article by Jeffrey Trachtenberg (who I think is the best mainstream reporter covering these issues)

Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s top Kindle content person, said that this is in the best long-term interest of Amazon customers, even if it hurts Amazon’s reputation in the short run.

That reputation is important.

Amazon’s ability to launch something like their new

Amazon Fire Phone (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

(which I have ordered) depends, in my opinion, in large part on the average consumer (not the super techie) being comfortable with Amazon…feeling safe with them.

They may not be reading the details of this dispute, but like an argument overheard through the thin walls of an apartment complex, they can get the gist of it. 😉

Not surprisingly, one battlefield in this conflict is the internet.

Douglas Preston (at AmazonSmile)

a very successful author, has started an open letter to readers, explaining one view of the situation, and asking those readers to e-mail Amazon’s CEO (Chief Executive Officer), Jeff Bezos, at


to express their opinions.

It’s an interesting letter, pointing out how authors supported Amazon, and helped it become what it is today.

The part that many casual observers will hear is the list of authors who have signed the letter (and that is growing).

Even someone who just reads a few books in a year has heard of Stephen King. If all they hear is that Stephen King signed a letter “against Amazon”, it will influence many of them to have a lower opinion of Amazon…it’s sort of like name recognition getting incumbent politicians elected.

It’s an astonishing list of names, including at least one who has been published by Amazon’s own traditional publishing imprints. Here are just a few of the long list:

  • David Baldacci
  • Greg Bear
  • Philip Caputo
  • Robert A. Caro
  • Susan Cheever
  • Clive Cussler
  • John Grisham
  • Barbara Kingsolver
  • Donna Tartt
  • Jane Yolen

That letter has gotten a lot of coverage.

On the other side is this online petition

To Thank Our Readers (on Change.org)

It’s description is much longer than the Preston letter, and it is largely independent writers supporting Amazon (with a particular focus on this dispute).

The petition suggests that this is a fight between the tradpubs (traditional publishers) who have, in the past, controlled publishing, and Amazon, which disrupted that model and enables indie (independent) authors to make a living when they wouldn’nt have been able to do so through tradpubs.

As disclosure, I am an author who benefited through the use of Amazon’s indie publishing platform (now called Kindle Direct Publishing). None of my titles would have been published by one of the Big Five (used to be Big Six) publishers.

However, I don’t think that makes me prejudiced in favor of Amazon. In fact, my sense was that many of my readers were surprised when I first wrote about the Hachazon War, and I indicated that I didn’t like some of the things Amazon was doing.

I would guess that both sides are contributing to the conflict. Conflicts are surprisingly weak organisms: if you don’t constantly feed them, they tend to die pretty quickly. 😉

We now have heard a bit more about what the disagreement.

Grandinetti flat our said it was about e-book pricing (even though p-books…paperbooks…are casualties).

I’ve heard that Amazon may want a bigger cut: 50% rather than 30%, but I don’t know that that is true.

If it was, what would it mean for readers?

Let’s say that a publisher prices an e-book at $10, and Amazon pays them 70% for it. The publisher gets $7, and Amazon gets $3. That’s not all profit, of course…there are costs of sale and of production. Amazon is also likely to discount it, but let’s leave that for now.

Now, let’s say that the split changes to Amazon paying them 50% instead of 70%.

Let’s further say that the publisher’s model is based on getting $7 for that book.

For the publisher to get $7, they have to raise the digital list price to $14.

That is the price you might pay at other retailers.

What does Amazon have to charge the customer to get the same $3 they were getting?

The same $10 they were charging before!

A bigger cut for Amazon means that they can discount more…and at a rate that other retailers might have a hard time matching. As I’ve written before, Amazon doesn’t need to make money on e-book sales (although they’d like to do that)…if the e-book sales inspire other more profitable sales, Amazon does fine.

The way I’ve laid it out above, the readers would pay the same for the book at Amazon, but likely more for it at other places.

This dispute may also encourage more authors to publish independently…like

Hugh Howey (at AmazonSmile)

and other authors who are mentioned on the Change.org petition.

Indie publishing right now is likely to include Amazon, which also benefits the e-tailer.

It’s possible that indies may eventually be able to dispense with retailers at all (selling directly to readers), but we aren’t there yet for most people.

I generally see both sides to an issue, and that is the case here…but I’ll stay with my not liking some of Amazon’s tactics.

What about you? What’s your opinion?

Have more to say to me and my readers about this? Feel free to do so by commenting on this post.

Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


One Response to “Hachazon War: the Battle of Petition Hill”

  1. Amazon offers Hachette authors 100% royalty | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Hachazon War: the Battle of Petition Hill […]

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