Well, he’s at it again.

Long-time TeleRead readers might remember Douglas Preston as the author who complained about readers’ “sense of entitlement” for wanting cheap e-books, only to backpedal rather hastily when the complaint sparked a reader backlash.

Yesterday, Jeffrey Trachtenberg reported in the Wall Street Journal that Preston has been circulating an open letter among various authors complaining that Amazon has been unfairly targeting Hachette authors in its recent contract negotiations with their publisher. He has reportedly received support from a number of big names (including, predictably, James Patterson) and will be posting the letter to his website sometime soon.

Amazon’s response is the expected regret that terms disputes can hurt authors and that they “look forward to resolving this issue with Hachette as soon as possible.”

Let’s not forget that it takes two sides to make a negotiation. If they’re upset with Amazon for not yielding, perhaps they should be equally upset with Hachette for not yielding either. Amazon is the one who removed the pre-order buttons, but it did so in response to Hachette’s intransigence. And, as Bob W reminds me in the comments below, Amazon offered to fund half of a compensatory fund to reimburse authors for damages suffered during the negotiation, and Hachette said thanks but no thanks.

And let’s also remember that Amazon is still selling Hachette books, just not making them available for pre-order. (And despite what Preston might think, Amazon is under no obligation to carry his or anyone else’s books if it doesn’t want to.) And if it’s charging more for those books than it is for books from other publishers, well, it’s honoring the suggested retail prices that Hachette itself put on them. (And gee, didn’t most of the big publishers band together and break the law in order to get Amazon to charge more for their books?)

Trachtenberg writes:

Mr. Preston’s agent said the dispute could have significant lingering financial implications for many authors, as Amazon’s tactics will likely depress sales results. "An author carries his sales track record forever," said Eric Simonoff, co-head of the book department at WME. "This will unquestionably affect future contracts."

Perhaps Mr. Preston should consider getting free of Hachette and self-publishing, like J.A. Konrath has. Given that he has a “sales track record” of traditionally-published works, and presumably a good number of fans who will buy his next book wherever it comes from, Preston could be making 70% of cover price rather than 17.5%.

I’m not sure who Preston’s letter is supposed to convince. We’ve already seen that most consumers seem to be firmly on Amazon’s side. It’s not clear why they should want to support an author who at one point said he considered them to be entitled whiners. Especially when he seems to be acting more than a little “entitled” himself.

Updated: Preston has posted the letter (PDF). It’s replete with all the usual whiny Hachette author talking points, complaining about Amazon removing the pre-order buttons, not discounting Hachette titles, and slowing the delivery of its books, It’s amusing that he sees nothing wrong with ranting at Amazon and then claiming he’s “[not] taking sides.”

Where are the rants at Hachette for being slow to ship orders to Amazon, or for demanding e-book pricing practices that not only cut the royalty amount per e-book authors earned but also caused a statistically proven decrease in sales? Where are the complaints about his publisher colluding to break the law of the land and force consumers to pay higher prices and hence be able to buy fewer of his e-books?

Joe Konrath has a great point by point defenestration of the letter on his blog.

There’s another open letter that’s been posted by Hugh Howey that makes a great counterpoint to this one. That’s the one I’ll be supporting.


  1. Amazon is not a monopoly and readers are smart enough to chase down a book they really want. If they are only interested in looking at the book, then yes it may be a loss in sales for that author but with plenty of choice, it probably is a sales opportunity for another author.

  2. No mention in the WSJ that Amazon offered to setup a 50/50 fund with Hachette to compensate impacted authors and Hachette has thus far refused. How shocking.

    The examples given are actually beefs he should be having with his publisher. Loss of preorders means that authors have lower sales rankings so the publishers give them worse contracts … and that’s Amazon’s fault. Maybe he should directly ask Hachette if Amazon would sign a wholesale deal today without these conditions. I’m convinced that this is about Hachette insisting on agency and Amazon pushing for wholesale.

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