A longtime client and Newsletter subscriber sent me a recent article on the Amazon and Hachette mishmash that’s consuming, as it should, so much space devoted to book-distributor and book-aggregater relations. Here’s my response, and while it should be judged solely as another person’s opinion, I hope my brief answer is comprehensive enough to enable an honest evaluation.
The problem with everything, as I see it, is that Judge Cote has decided that Apple colluded, which at first pass appears to have nothing to do with the argument between Amazon and Hachette. However, my contention is that it has everything to do with what’s going on between these two concerns. Lower prices benefit the consumer, but should a firm be allowed to use predatory pricing to eliminate competition? If so, how does this explain the accepted practice of gas wars in the ’60s? Shouldn’t a company be allowed to sell anything at any price it desires if this encourages traffic, no different from a loss leader at a supermarket? I wrote a paragraph on this in one of my Newsletters, as the real issue for me is that Amazon, no different from Barnes & Noble, does not buy books, since everything is on consignment. If a book doesn’t sell in a B&N, it’s remaindered or returned. If the books were purchased outright, the same as a gas station’s buying petroleum, then Amazon could sell its products, in this case books, for any price it wants, and this is legally protected as long as this doesn’t continue in a way that it can be determined to be “dumping.” The precedent, I believe, is King v West Bend, a case from the late ’50s or early ’60s. I’ve researched this on the Internet but cannot find the actual case history, but I believe my memory is correct. Regardless, all of this is a matter of degree, and it’s the author and our royalties that are be bounced around like a soccer ball, and for these companies on both sides, how we are remunerated seems to be the least consideration. Very sad, but the most important issue for all writers is, can Amazon really be avoided with 70 percent of all book sales being sold through this conduit?