Child hits back at indie authors in Amazon debate

Child hits back at indie authors in Amazon debate

Author Lee Child has come out swinging in the manner of Jack Reacher on The Passive Voice website after his comments about Amazon on BBC2’s “Newsnight” were heavily criticised by some indie writers.

Lawyer David Vandagriff, who runs The Passive Voice and who comments using the handle Passive Guy, said it was “interesting how little many of these big-selling trad pub authors understand about the book business”, claiming that this came from “listening to what their publishers and agents tell them”. The thriller writer Barry Eisler, questioned how Child could claim to love Amazon, while also attacking the firm over its negotiations with Hachette and for wanting to “take over the world”: “The hypocrisy of Lee Child et al continuing to sell their books through Amazon gets sharper every day.”

But Child responded in a comment directed at Vandagriff, “I get that it feels all smug and gnostic to say that authors like me understand little about the publishing business, but – with no due respect at all – it’s absurd. I have navigated through it for twenty years, in 99 global markets, learned from both success and failure, and I’m still vertical and still in print. By definition I was a debut, and then a midlister, and finally a bestseller. I’ve seen it all, and you’ve seen none of it. Again, with no respect at all, you’re full of it.”

Child sought to explain his comments about Amazon wanting world domination on Newsnight, saying he hoped “to be excused for minor hyperbole in a 4-min pop-TV chat, during which the presenter spent most of her time butting in”. In response to Eisler, Child wrote: “To clarify – and I think the context was at least fairly clear – by ‘take over the world’ I meant ‘Amazon hoped e-reading would become massively dominant very quickly’. I’m sure you’d agree with that, given what you know about Amazon’s internal culture and the (hyperbolic?) ambitions the Jeff-bots feel they must display.”

Child appeared on the "Newsnight" programme on Tuesday (12th August) to speak about why he had signed the Authors United letter calling on Amazon to settle its dispute with Hachette Book Group in the US without harming authors further. During the interview, he spoke about how the Kindle had not done as well for Amazon as the retailer had hoped, and also addressed the cost of books, saying books were already “extremely cheap”.

A series of heated exchanges also took place on the website between Child and author Tom Simon, who accused Child of rudeness and of being out of touch with many authors. The most bizarre exchanges between the pair focus on Simon’s request that Child not call him by his first name, an instruction Child has not taken notice of. In one exchange, Simon said: “Your bad manners are exceeded only by your bad manners.” Child later responded: “Tom, you’re very boring. There, I said it. Now we can all breathe a sigh of relief.”

In response to one commentator, Melanie A, who said the “publishing business is corrupt, sick and almost dead”, Child stated: “When you say the publishing business is corrupt, sick, and almost dead, you’re completely wrong. Yes, it’s cautious and careful, as a result of the recession you mention, and the changing entertainment environment you note, and contracts are certainly stricter, but it’s vibrant, optimistic, profitable, energetic, full of very smart people, most of them young, most of them women, and I find it a very pleasant place to work (but then, I came from television.) No publisher I know is cheating anyone, or screwing them. I understand disappointment, and blaming the messenger and so on, and I know plenty of writers fail, but really, the institution ain’t that bad.”

Explaining his appearance on the blog, ahead of flight back to the US, Child said: “I read blogs like these and comment occasionally because, yes, I really do care about these things, am endlessly fascinated by new developments in anything, and – again – feel privileged to be watching the self-publishing revolution, which I truly feel to be the biggest single radical act in arts history. Plus, I’m fascinated by the psychological dynamics on display from certain quarters … how could a novelist not be, about any of those things?”