Lee Child: Amazon's Readers United letter 'disingenuous'

Amazon is using “authors as collateral damage and using customers as pawns”, author Lee Child has said.

Speaking on last night’s (12th August) BBC2 "Newsnight" programme, Child, who is published by Penguin Random House’s Transworld division in the UK and Penguin Random House in America, explained why he had signed a petition urging Amazon to settle its dispute with Hachette Book Group (HBG) in the US.

“I love Amazon,” he said. “I have got a lot of good friends there but the point is exactly that.

“If you have a good friend who is misbehaving, you don’t immediately shoot them in the head and bury them in the woods. You take them aside and have a quiet word with them. You say, ‘come on pal, you’re out of line, shape up and behave properly’.

“And that is what those authors are doing. That’s what we’re saying.”

Child accused Amazon of being “disingenuous” with its Readers United letter, questioning the calculations the retailer made regarding the number of e-books which would sell at a lower price of $9.99 compared to $14.99. He also criticised it for failing to deliver books to customers.

“The customer wants the books that she wants to read,” he said. “Amazon isn’t delivering them right now because of this row.

“They came out at the weekend and admitted they have taken steps to reduce the supply of books…which is very weird for a customer-centric company.”

The Kindle has not been the success Amazon hoped it would be, said Child. "Amazon is fantastically ambitious, they want to change the world and dominate and the Kindle simply hasn’t," he said. "It hasn’t worked as well as Amazon wanted it to work. It’s settled into a good, solid niche, which is fine from a business point of view, but not for Amazon. Amazon wants to take over the world."

He said he did not care how his books were delivered to readers. “They can hire Scarlet Johanssen to go around and whisper it in your ear,” he said. "That’s fine with me as long as you hear my stories, but the point is that books cannot get any cheaper than they are now.

“It isn’t really feasible to make them any cheaper, they’re extremely cheap right now.”

Novelist Gillian Slovo, who has published a number of books with Hachette UK imprint Little, Brown, told Newsnight she thought negotiations between Amazon and HBG were “fair enough”.

“But what Amazon has done is use authors and to the detriment of writers’ sales,” she said. “Amazon’s argument is predicated on the fact that all books will sell the same amount and perhaps it’s true that a better selling author will, if you lower the price to below $10 even then will earn more, but that isn’t true of the broad range of the industry.”