Amazon, Hachette, Michael Corleone and Me

@jamesscottbell

Unless you’ve been on the surface of Saturn for the last couple of months, you have no doubt read at least something about the clash between Godzilla and Mothra.

By which I mean, of course, the strained negotiations

between Amazon and Hachette. There is a whole lot out there on the internet about this. Just tickle Google and you’ll find hours of reading pleasure.

On the macro level, this is about nothing less than the future of publishing. If Hachette “wins,” things will look brighter for the entire traditional publishing industry. If Amazon “wins,” traditional publishing will face ever-increasing challenges to its relevance and perhaps even its survival.
So this is a very big deal indeed, which is why both sides are entrenched and why so much acid is being hurled from advocates of either side. For a bit of this, consider James Patterson (Hachette advocate) versus Joe Konrath (Amazon advocate).
Which brings me to  Michael Corleone.
You’ll recall that Michael is the good son, the Army vet who comes back from the war determined not to get involved with his family’s enterprises.
That all changes when his father, Don Vito Corleone, is nearly assassinated. Michael comes to the hospital one night and foils another attempt on his father’s life. Outside the hospital he confronts the dirty police captain, McCluskey, who proceeds to break Michael’s face.
At a meeting of the Don’s inner circle, Sonny Corleone rants and raves. Michael then quietly suggests a plan to take out the traitor, Sollozzo, and the dirty cop. He, Michael, will be the shooter. (This, by the way, is the “mirror moment” for Michael).
Sonny rejects Michael’s suggestion. After all, Michael is just a “nice college boy.” What does he know about such things? He’s mad just because a cop slapped him around? “You’re taking this very personal,” Sonny jokes.
But Michael lays it all out in further detail, convincing everyone to go along with it. Then he looks at his brother and says, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s just business.”
And that’s what’s going on with Amazon and Hachette. It’s business. Big business. Really, really big business.
But it’s not personal. This is what businesses do: jockey for the best position in a competitive marketplace. (Of course, if a business runs afoul of anti-trust law in this competition, the Department of Justice is liable to step in).

This time, we assume everyone’s playing by the rules. How does the game look?
Amazon does not owe Hachette a profit and Hachette does not have to do business with Amazon.
If Amazon loses Hachette’s business, it will not have a huge affect on Amazon’s bottom line (one that is fed by other items than books). If Hachette walks away from the world’s biggest book seller, Hachette will suffer a major hit.
On the other hand, Hachette believes that if it accedes to the current offer by Amazon it is accepting a long, downward trendline.
But it’s not personal. Except for authors. Because right now Hachette authors are being squeezed out of the Amazon store, and that means real harm to actual careers. This week Hachette revealed just how much they are being impacted in the Amazon dispute. And several Hachette authors have gone public on said harm, often making Amazon the villain in very Godfather-like terms (“Amazon stabbed me in the back!”).
So when I see frothing and vitriol from authors over this fight, I am not surprised. I’m even sympathetic. Yet I remind myself that such fights are just business as usual, and fuming does not put steak on the table.
I am a Hachette author and I am an indie author.
But I am also a cork riding on top of the roiling sea. No matter what happens around me (most of it out of my control), my job is to keep writing and then find the best place for what I write.
Which is why, as Godzilla and Mothra decimate Tokyo, I sip coffee in Los Angeles writing my next novel.

So how do you view the Amazon/Hachette kerfuffle? Do you see villainy here or simply the free market at work?  
0