Yes, John Scalzi, the Amazon vs. Hachette dispute is a football game. A teeth-gnashing, fight for every inch, go for it on 4th down, football title game. We all know that the lawyers and executives working on this negotiation on both sides are tossing around football analogies.
But I agree with John (who I admire greatly) that this is a dispute without sides for any of us. The only two teams are Amazon and Hachette. Everyone else is a spectator, or, in some cases, a contracted player for one team or another. So publishing sports fans, you must want to know what the score is at what I’m estimating is halftime.
When we last left our clashing corporate titans, the score was Amazon: 4, Hachette: 1. That’s not a football score, though, so I’ll put it in touchdown terms: Amazon 28, Hachette 7. But a lot has happened since then.
Amazon drove down the field with a series of offers to pay Hachette authors to hold them harmless from the negotiations, and then went with a deep pass to pay the authors more from each e-book sale. Amazon scores 2 touchdowns for making Hachette looking like it couldn’t give a crap about its authors at least twice.
Hachette came back with a concerted effort by its authors to vilify Amazon. Author Douglas Preston circulated a letter for big-name authors to sign on to decrying Amazon’s treatment of Hachette authors. The New York Times ran a series of articles making Amazon out to be a mafia-like criminal organization. Then Stephen Colbert soapboxed on his show against Amazon because he’s also a Hachette author. Hachette scores 3 touchdowns for making Amazon look like a bully.
Amazon ran a trick play where it unleashed Kindle Unlimited, a subscription service for books. So far, it’s not clear if this has anything to do with the negotiation, or if it’s just a noisy concession vendor in the stands. Amazon scores no touchdowns for that.
Amazon also issued a statement saying that lower e-book prices are a “key objective.” Not only does this violate the NDA it signed with Hachette about negotiating in public, but it fumbled on the e-book pricing argument. It played into the accusation that Amazon treats books as another commodity it wants to price as low as possible. A number of Hachette authors and publishing experts made the case that just because one product is a certain price doesn’t mean a substitute product need be the same price. Personally, I think Amazon will win the fight against artificially inflated e-book prices, but they didn’t do it here. Hachette scores an easy touchdown on the fumble.
Halftime score: Amazon 42, Hachette: 35