Wednesday News: Amazon scores a point against Hachette, the Pentagon is watching us, Torstar shareholders okay Harlequin sale, and re-visioning the ‘bodice ripper’
Amazon Offers Authors 100% of eBook Sales During Dispute with Hachette – You’ve got to give it to Amazon and Hachette – both are doing a good job of keeping attention focused on the dispute. Frankly, I think Amazon is winning the public relations aspect of the battle, and it’s because of strategies like this. Apparently Amazon floated a letter to a number of Hachette authors asking their opinion on prospective strategies to solve the dispute. There’s a lot of legitimate speculation that Amazon isn’t really serious with this letter, but I don’t think it really matters, because they knew it would be leaked, and it does a pretty competent job of making it look like Hachette is the stalling, uncooperative, insensitive party. Your move, Hachette.
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. 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. –The Digital Reader
The Pentagon Funded Study of Lady Gaga’s Tweets – Despite the execrable title of this post, it’s a worthy read because of the revelations about the way in which the US government is both studying and potentially manipulating social media for reasons that may be even creepier and more troubling than Facebook’s. I don’t think anyone really believes that world governments are oblivious to or uninterested in social media and in the online communication patterns of people more generally, but it’s starting to feel like we’re just beginning to crack the seal on all sorts of icky, intrusive experimentation in the name of ‘science’ or ‘critical knowledge.’
It’s not just Facebook who’s interested in studying your status updates. The Pentagon, it turns out, has been studying social media use with a series of research projects reminiscent of Facebook’s controversial emotion manipulation study for years.
Some of these programs, described in a Guardian report on Tuesday, were funded by the Pentagon’s cutting-edge research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), mostly known for far-out ideas such as mind-controlled robotic arms, dystopian-looking war robots and laser weapons worth [sic] of Star Trek or Star Wars, [sic] –Mashable
Torstar Corporation Special Shareholders’ Meeting – Torstar has taken another crucial step toward closing the sale of Harlequin to Harper Collins by securing the approval of its Class A shareholders to move forward with the transfer (different classes of shareholders have different types and levels of voting and other rights). I sure hope Harlequin’s sale doesn’t portend the end of everything unique and reader-focused the company has brought to the Romance genre.
The transaction remains subject to certain customary approvals and closing conditions, including certain regulatory approvals. The parties continue to work towards satisfying these conditions and obtaining the necessary approvals. –Yahoo Finance
Bodice Ripper: Dress made from romance novels. – Now here’s a clever, even beautiful, re-visioning of the “bodice ripper.” –Open Road Media
I believe Amazon did this once already with a publisher and authors during a negotiation, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t be serious this time around.
@Isobel Carr: Except that Amazon knows perfectly well that no publisher would ever agree to such a proposal. That makes it a pretty obvious PR ploy rather than genuine offer to ease the financial woes of Hachette’s authors.
The only thing better about that dress would be if it were wearable.
Large businesses usually don’t make public offers (and almost every offer is a potential public offer in today’s world) that they aren’t serious about. Not honoring these offers can cause too much damage to their brands.
People tend to buy from companies they trust. Without trust, the company will have very few sales.
I disagree that Amazon is winning the hearts and minds battle with the leaked letter. Click around to non-book news sites and the comments run 4-1 against Amazon. Most agree with @Jackie Barbosa – this is a PR ploy, and a rather transparent, disingenuous one at that.
@Isobel Carr: I think you might be referring to the Amazon/Macmillan author pool, set up during the initial agency pricing negotiations. Amazon made the same offer to Hachette, in May: “fund 50% of an author pool — to be allocated by Hachette — to mitigate the impact of this dispute on author royalties, if Hachette funds the other 50%. We did this with the publisher Macmillan some years ago. We hope Hachette takes us up on it.”
That’s a different offer than the one in the leaked letter. Not sure why Hachette didn’t agree (or at least, I’ve seen no reference to it).
The authors whining about amazon aren’t doing themselves any favors. They just appear ill informed or naive. Trying to paint Hachette as the little guy fighting the Giant is silly. They are both businesses trying to improve their own business. I have seen more support for Amazon recently.
@Cynthia Sax: Except that this letter/offer wasn’t addressed to Hachette, but to Hachette’s authors and their agents. Amazon knows very well that Hachette would never accept such an offer (what business in its right mind WOULD?), which is why they floated it to the authors/agents–thereby ensuring it would be leaked to the press without Hachette ever having a chance to respond.
Further, the letter is designed to make Hachette look incompetent (“they just wouldn’t respond to us in a timely manner until we did bad things to their books”). If Amazon’s intent were to convince Hachette to agree to these terms, it would be foolish to essentially scold them in public first.
Yes, I think the letter is a PR ploy but I also think Amazon would have been very careful to not include anything in it that wasn’t true.
If Amazon hasn’t had a contract with Hachette since April(?), why in the world wouldn’t they reduce inventory, not discount or not accept pre-orders? And Hachette is referring to those decisions as sanctions? Amazon is still waiting on Hachette for a response to an offer made June 5?
I’ve been sitting on the sidelines over this with the caveat that if Hachette was wanting agency pricing, that I would jump on the Amazon side but with this letter and what I see as a organized media campaign by Hachette has me thinking I’ll be on Amazon’s side by the end of the day.
I’d be a heckuva lot more sympathetic to Amazon if they would honor their OWN responsibilities in a “timely manner.”
I’ve been waiting four days now for an order with guaranteed two-day shipping, and Amazon customer service hasn’t bothered to respond to my queries yet. I normally wouldn’t care, but this particular order included a gift to a child grieving for the loss of her grandmother, and broken promises are a cold comfort.
Maybe Amazon should take a time out from playing head games with Hachette to get their own house in order.
@AlexaB: Yes, that must be what I was thinking of. Honestly, I’m not sure why anyone is picking sides is a fight between two massive companies (and I have three books with Hachette!). Neither side is a “good guy” in this. It’s business.
I completely agree with you re: taking sides – this is a business negotiation, not a holy war or a football game (to paraphrase Chuck Wendig’s and John Scalzi’s recent blog posts on the matter).
But I also agree with @Jackie Barbosa that this letter wasn’t a good faith offer to Hachette, no matter how one looks at it, especially as it was originally couched and sent to third parties in the express hopes that it would leak and cause external pressure on Hachette. My favorite part about it is the language: “ask your opinion about an idea,” “get your feedback,” “would this be helpful,” “discuss by phone” (e.g. no paper trail) – yes, Amazon lays out a plan, but keeps it strictly theoretical. At the office, we call this type of verbiage “weasel words.” And when it gets shot down – as it was – look! Amazon can cry. We tried! It’s all the other side’s fault!
I hope Courtney Milan doesn’t mind my pointing to this, but on kboards she suggests why, legally, Hachette probably cannot accept Amazon’s “offer:”
And Mike Shatzkin does the math and finds it unworkable:
So, not taking a side, but as a marketing executive who has sat through a fair number of distribution negotiations: fascinating to watch!
@Isobel Carr: I don’t understand authors carrying water for either side. They’re both huge corporations involved in a business negotiation/dispute. Nobody’s the good guy or the bad guy; they’re both just trying to get the best deal they can for their bottom lines.
For some reason I can’t figure out what the Pentagon learned. Was that accidentally left out of the article?
I showed the Mashable piece to my husband and he disagreed with this description of DARPA. He says they are mostly known for playing a role in the creation of the internet.
@Janine: Maybe it depends on who you’re talking to, because social scientists have been following DARPA’s social engineering experiments for decades. The agency was fairly quiet in the 1990s after a couple of highly publicized endeavors that received a lot of blowback, but since the War on Terror began they’ve been back with a vengeance.
As for what they’ve learned, if you click on the link Robin provided, there are two studies that involve manipulation of social media (one experimental, one quasi-experimental) that involve spreading information (some of it false). They get statistically significant results, according to the researchers.