For readers: Making sense of Amazon's battle with Hachette
When the dispute flared into the open a few weeks ago, I did not consider for a nanosecond weighing in. Authors with more books to their name, and more clout, were stirring the pot quite nicely. Since then, however, enough potential readers have expressed their frustration about the unavailability of Annie's Ghosts on Amazon (except through third-party sellers) that I thought it might to wise to post a note with alternatives. Here's a set of options for readers accustomed to buying their print books through the world's online king.
Option 1: Independent bookstores love their customers, and would like you to be one of them. Many sell books online, just as Amazon does, if not at Amazon's prices. (Some even offer discounted prices, just like Amazon.)
Option 2: If you can't bear to pay the shipping costs, order Annie's Ghosts (or other Hachette titles) to your local bookstore. On your way to somewhere else, stop by and pick it up. The bookstore will welcome you with open arms. (The indies have recognized the opportunity that Amazon has handed them, starting a campaign with a slogan, "I didn't buy it on Amazon.")
Option 3: Libraries don't charge at all. I love libraries. They give authors a permanent place for their books, and sometimes, a place to talk about our craft. I'd rather have the book in the hands of readers than to see them frustrated.
As an author with a book published by one of Hachette's divisions, my self-interest makes it's hard for me to endorse Amazon's hardball tactics. Even if Amazon has a point in demanding better terms from Hachette -- reportedly, Amazon wants to sell e-books at prices below what Hachette prefers -- the company is risking its trusted name. It is assuming that its customers will return with no hard feelings. A lot of businesses have made that mistake, and later regretted it. If Amazon brings Hachette to heel, some may award the retailer an A for acumen. But it also will earn an A for arrogance. That's a dangerous report card for the company's long-term health, whatever the shorter term benefits.
Amazon is entitled to employ whatever (legal) strategy it chooses to build a stable business. It's not entitled to sympathy or support from authors or readers who, like me, cling to the notion that such disputes can be worked out without escalating to the equivalent of retail warfare and the accompanying collateral damage.
Now, back to the sidelines.