Transcript: Picking Sides in Hachette-Amazon “War”

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For podcast release Monday, June 16, 2014

KENNEALLY: At Book Expo America last month, the buzz at the show wasn’t about any new titles or even any new apps, but about the bareknuckle brawl between Amazon and Hachette over eBook pricing.

Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for Beyond the Book.

Now available at is a new series of Beyond the Book “micro-casts” – brief audio recordings with pointed answers from journalists and analysts to important questions facing the publishing industry.

To kick off the series, we wondered, “As Amazon and Hachette exchange blows over eBook pricing, whose side are you on?”

Calvin Reid, Publishers Weekly senior news editor, made note of the story’s context. The book business in 2014, says Reid, is just like any other facing digital disruption.

REID: This is not the first time that a national retailer faces off against one of their
suppliers over pricing and terms. Let’s look at both sides and I think what you’ll find here is an industry in transition.

KENNEALLY: Andrew Albanese is Calvin Reid’s colleague at Publishers Weekly and our Beyond the Book weekly guest, Andrew sounded just a little surprised by the question.

ALBANESE: I think to frame the battle this way is a little dangerous because it ignores the systemic problem that’s been plaguing the book business for so long, which is consolidation…

Since the 1980s, we’ve watched the publishing industry consolidate to the point where five companies now control 90% of the bestseller list and last year, the industry collectively yawned when the two biggest companies merged and now control as much as 50% of the best seller list. That’s 50% of the bestseller list controlled by one company.

KENNEALLY: Caught in the fray of publishers against Amazon are trade book authors – who may lose if Amazon’s tactics make book publishing less profitable.

But Calvin Reid, at least, wonders whether publishers and authors share common ground.

REID: Let’s not forget, Hachette and other big five publishers don’t have the best relationships with their authors. They have great relationships with the most successful authors, but many authors and including some of the successful authors are dubious of the eBook royalty rate and other unfair tactics that they consider.

KENNEALLY: Amazon, too, has a complicated relationship and a mixed reputation when it comes to books.

REID: We’re talking about, a platform that has transformed reading in this country, made it easier to get books, created more access to books, created a bigger revenue pie for publishers, and literally, they changed the way we read.

ALBANESE: Now, none of this, of course, absolves Amazon’s truly brutal negotiation tactics here. Amazon, definitely is a real danger here, especially because it’s not just a retailer, but it’s a platform.

KENNEALLY: A story like the Hachette-Amazon standoff is tailor-made for a media frenzy. Overlooked in the heat of the battle are many other important stories. Orna Ross of the London-based Alliance of Independent Authors says her BEA experience hinted at a new direction in publishing.

ROSS: Something equally or perhaps very much more – or actually, very much more exciting was happening at BEA this year. That was the arrival for the first time at BEA of the Author Hub, which was floor space given over to independent authors.

It was just wonderful to see those writers meet their readers directly at BookCon day on Saturday particularly, but also networking with each other on the other days and with other people in publishing. I think that that actually is a much more significant shift than this, if you like, in-house struggle between two corporate publishers. I think the arrival of the Author Hub is something that is going to be far more significant for readers and for writers in years to come.

KENNEALLY: To hear the complete micro-casts from Orna Ross, as well as Calvin Reid and Andrew Albanese, follow “Beyond the Book” at

Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought after materials, including millions of books and ebooks, journals, newspapers, magazines, and blogs, as well as images, movies, and television shows.

You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, find Beyond the Book on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at the Copyright Clearance Center Web site – just click on “Beyond the Book.”

Our engineer and co-producer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing; my name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.

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