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Prall: Authors strike back

BY JACOB PRALL | OCTOBER 02, 2014 5:00 AM

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In the digital era, authors have a new age battle on their hands.Print is disappearing, and the protection of intellectual content rights has become hazy and outdated. It is no surprise, then, that authors band together when a few are bullied by an online entity. The bully’s name: Amazon.com. Its beef is with Hachette Book Group, and its victims are the authors published by the group.

Pre-orders are everything in the publishing world, especially for new or undiscovered authors. That’s what makes Amazon’s transgressions so harmful. Amazon and Hachette, competitors in publishing, were in a battle over profits and distribution when Amazon made it difficult to preorder or purchase books published by Hachette on Amazon.com. Treating the authors as a bargaining chip has backfired in a major way, and public awareness of Amazon’s shady dealings can be attributed to Stephen Colbert.

Colbert’s three books, I Am America (And So Can You), I Am A Pole (And So Can You), and America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t, were all published by Hachette. As a consequence, his books were among those being made difficult for consumers to purchase on Amazon. So Colbert did what he does best; took to the airwaves and rallied support from the Colbert Nation.

“We will not lick their monopoly boot,” blared Colbert. It started as a segment condemning Amazon, but turned into something more. Colbert implored his audience to support new authors published by Hachette through independent bookstores. The end goal was to create a No. 1 bestseller. His first promotion was of Edan Lepucki, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, for her novel California. Previously, she had been allotted a measly 12,000 copies to print, an inexperienced editor, and no marketing budget. Then the Colbert Nation sent her to the No. 1 New York Times bestseller list.
Now, authors from other publishing companies are rallying against Amazon, well-respected ones too. The formal coalition that has taken shape, Authors United, has the estates of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Ursula K. Le Guin, and many others pushing for a federal investigation of Amazon’s monopoly-esque business practices.

What you can in do in this fight is simple. Leave the digital world and visit your local bookstores. Support your community, your local economy, and your local book dealers, at the same time. By and large, book dealers have been hit harder than most by the information economy, as their business has been sucked up into the cloud, and it’s not raining back dividends.

What we are seeing is the death of a culture, but what we can do is breathe some life into it. Now, there is a bit of moral incentive to skip Amazon, maybe enough to outweigh the conveniences of online shopping.  Ultimately, we are the ones who grant power to the companies that provide for us.


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