In the Amazon-Hatchette dispute, the readers hold the power

Dueling letters from Amazon and Hatchett
Dueling Letters

Yesterday, I got a long email from Kindle Direct Publishing with the subject line “Important Kindle Request.” It was Amazon’s response to their conflict with Hatchette, which had published their own missive in response to Amazon. I could talk about what this conflict means to authors. Instead, I’d like to talk about what this means to me as a reader. (After all, both letters were addressed to us readers.)

This conflict strikes me as one of those periodic spats that cable and satellite providers have with television networks.

The way cable and satellite TV works, at least in the United States, is that the cable or satellite provider pays a fee to a television network for the rights to carry its broadcasting. Those fees are passed along to customers in their monthly bill. Some networks charge more, so the provider charges more to customers to add that network to their service. HBO is one of those channels, which is why we pay more to get our weekly dose of Game of Thrones and True Blood.

Every so often, the television network and provider get into a dispute about how much those fees should be. The network usually wants to charge more, and the provider (not surprisingly) wants to pay less. When they can’t resolve the dispute, the network pulls its programming and then starts placing advertisements saying “If you want to be able to watch our shows, tell the provider to play fair with us!” The provider responds with their own ads, “If you want to be able to watch their shows, tell the network to play fair with us!” This goes on for a few days until both sides realize how foolish and self-destructive this is, come to an agreement, and give the viewers back their TV shows.

There is a major difference between the spat between a publisher and a bookseller and the spat between television networks and cable and satellite providers. In the United States, cable providers have regional monopolies, and changing satellite providers isn’t easy to do. If your provider gets into a battle with your favorite television network, you may be stuck until that dispute is resolved. But when it comes to publishers and booksellers, we have choices. If you can’t buy your favorite Hatchette book from Amazon, you can buy it from other booksellers — especially your local independent bookstore. Amazon isn’t the only game in town.

Hatchette isn’t the only game in town either. If readers don’t want to pay a premium price for Hatchette eBooks, there are other authors with great books to read. You can find excellent eBooks for USD 2.99 or less.

As much as I would like watching Game of Thrones, I wouldn’t want to pay the premium for HBO. I could always wait for the box sets to come out. (Of course, there are the books.) As a viewer, I have choices. So do readers. I don’t have to be locked into a specific bookstore when it doesn’t have the book I want. I also don’t have to pay a premium price to find a good book to read.

The lesson in the Amazon-Hatchette dispute is that readers hold the power. Readers don’t have to post letters online to be heard. The wallet is their voice. As readers, authors, publishers, and booksellers, we have to respect that voice. In the book publishing business, it is the only voice that matters.