The dispute between the online retailer Amazon and the publisher Hachette has been playing out in public since May, with Amazon delaying the delivery of books by Hachette authors in a bid to pressure Hachette in contract negotiations. This week, the Authors Guild joined the fray, as the association’s leaders rejected an Amazon proposal that would have funneled income directly to authors while the dispute continued.
On Tuesday, Amazon proposed to the Guild and to some authors that Amazon and Hachette forgo all revenue on e-books sold through Amazon and, instead, give the revenue directly to authors.
"We agree that authors are caught in the middle while these negotiations drag on, and we’re particularly sensitive to the effect on debut and midlist authors," Amazon executive Dave Naggar wrote. "But Hachette’s unresponsiveness and unwillingness to talk until we took action put us in this position, and unless Hachette dramatically changes their negotiating tempo, this is going to take a really long time."
In a letter that was posted on the Guild’s website Thursday, the novelist Richard Russo, a Guild vice president, explained why the Guild was rejecting the offer.
"While Amazon claims to be concerned about the fate of mid-list and debut authors, we believe their offer — the majority of which Hachette would essentially fund — is highly disingenuous," Russo wrote. He added that "because it is the writing life itself we seek to defend, we’re not interested in a short-term windfall to some of the writers we represent."
Russo said that writers want a "healthy ecosystem" in the publishing world, and that such an ecosystem cannot exist when "entities within it are committed to the eradication of other entities." Russo said the Guild has a long record of opposing Amazon’s "ruthless" tactics, and would continue to do so.
In an interview Thursday with the Washington Post, Guild President Roxana Robinson was even more direct in her criticism of the online retailer, suggesting that some government or corporate intervention were required to break its hold on the bookselling industry.
"I think, at the moment, that because Amazon has such a huge share of the market, it would be great if there was some other force brought to bear on it to break it up," she said. She added that: "The Amazon letter didn't really take us out of the middle; it asked us to take sides against our publishers."
Later Thursday, Amazon responded to the Guild's statement.
"Given that the Authors Guild are an author's advocacy group, it is hard to believe they don't support this," Amazon said in a statement. "They are the Authors Guild, not the Publishers Guild."
You can follow Hector Tobar on Twitter @TobarWriter
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