Authors United appeals to Amazon board

Authors United appeals to Amazon board

Authors United is appealing directly to Amazon’s board to get the online retailer to resolve its dispute with Hachette Book Group in the US.

In a letter published today on the Authors United website, the group has warned the board that Amazon’s reputation, and the reputation of its directors, is at risk because of Amazon's actions during the dispute, which include removing pre-order buttons from some titles and delaying shipping on others.

"Amazon is undermining the ability of authors to support their families, pay their mortgages, and provide for their kids' college educations," the letter reads. "We'd like to emphasise that most of us are not Hachette authors, and our concern is founded on principle, rather than self-interest.

"We find it hard to believe that all members of the Amazon board approve of these actions. We would like to ask you a question: Do you as an Amazon director approve of this policy of sanctioning books?

"Efforts to impede or block the sale of books have a long and ugly history. Would you, personally, want to be associated with this? We feel strongly that such actions have no place in a common commercial dispute. Amazon has other negotiating tools at its disposal; it does not need to inflict harm on the very authors who helped it become one of the largest retailers in the world."

The letter will be delivered to each of Amazon's 10 board members, and writers have until Wednesday to sign it.

Authors United says in its letter that it is not against Amazon and that its signatories have "made a great effort not to take sides". It also acknowledged "that Amazon has spurred important innovations in publishing, including a wonderful self-publishing model that has given many new writers a voice".

"But Amazon has repeatedly tried to dismiss us as "rich" bestselling authors who are advocating higher e-book prices—a false and unfair characterisation, as most of us are in fact midlist authors struggling to make a living," the letter says. "And we have not made any statements whatsoever on book pricing. Our point is simple: we believe it is unacceptable for Amazon to impede or block the sale of books as a negotiating tactic.

"Amazon has every right to refuse to sell consumer goods in response to a pricing disagreement with a wholesaler. We all appreciate discounted razor blades and cheaper shoes. But books are not consumer goods. Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to China. Books are not toasters or televisions. Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on that book finding readers. This is the process Amazon is obstructing."

The letter is the second from Authors United. The first appeared as an advert in the New York Times, and asked readers to contact Amazon c.e.o. and founder Jeff Bezos to urge him to resolve the dispute with HBG.

The Amazon board includes Thomas O Ryder, former chairman and c.e.o. of Reader’s Digest; Patricia Q Stonesifer, a former c.e.o. of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and William B Gordon, co-founder of the games company Electronic Arts.

The letter ends: "We are certain that you, as an Amazon board member, prize books and freedom of expression as much as we do. Since its founding, Amazon has been a highly regarded and progressive brand. But if this is how Amazon continues to treat the literary community, how long will the company's fine reputation last? We appeal to you, with hope and goodwill, to exercise your governance and put an end to the sanctioning of books, which are the very foundation of our culture and democracy."