In Dispute With Hachette, Amazon Aims New Volley At Authors

Amazon fired the latest salvo in its ongoing dispute with the publisher Hachette over e-book rates, suggesting authors get all of the revenue from e-book sales. Hachette was measured in its response.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. A fight between Amazon and the publishing company Hachette is getting nastier. Amazon suggested that while talks between the two companies continue, Hachette authors could get 100 percent of the sale price of their e-books. As NPR's Lynn Neary reports, it was an offer Hachette was quick to refuse.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Amazon's proposal first surfaced publicly after the online retailer floated the idea in a letter to a number of Hachette authors, some literary agents and Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson. In the letter, Amazon said it was concerned about mid-list and debut authors caught in the middle of the dispute. But Robinson says it felt like Amazon was urging authors to take sides against their own publisher.

ROXANA ROBINSON: By asking for our support on this - by asking us to agree to this - they were asking us to put pressure on Hachette to agree to something that might mean - put us in a position of siding with Amazon against Hachette.

NEARY: After Hachette learned of the proposal, it called the idea suicidal, to which Amazon responded - baloney. Sharp words. And Hachette pulled back and issued a more measured response once it received a formal proposal. The publisher then invited Amazon to withdraw the sanctions it has imposed on Hachette books. The online retailer has made it difficult to pre-order Hachette books. It has also slowed down deliveries and refused to discount new releases. Amazon says its new offer would take authors out of the middle of the dispute and also give them a big windfall. Roxana Robinson says that's not what authors want.

ROBINSON: We want partners that trust each other, that rely on each other, that allow each other some leeway to survive. We don't want partners that are at each other's throats and threatening each other's vitality.

HUGH HOWEY: This is a really nasty divorce going on here and it's the kids getting hurt.

NEARY: Hugh Howey is the author of "Wool," which he published independently through Amazon Kindle Direct. Howey says he's worked with both big and small publishers and on a variety of platforms. But in this dispute, his sympathies are with Amazon. Last week, after a number of well-known writers signed on to a letter supporting Hachette, Howey circulated a letter defending Amazon.

HOWEY: We don't agree with everything that Amazon does. In this case, they're fighting for lower e-book prices and better paper authors. And I can't imagine anyone other than Hachette CEOs being on the side of Hachette right now.

NEARY: Howey says his letter already has 7,000 signatures. The letter supporting Hachette is still being circulated and will ultimately be published. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

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