Minnesota author on Amazon/Hachette feud: "It's just heartbreaking"

Categories: Pop Culture

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Nicole Mary Kelby

When Nicole Mary Kelby's new book, The Pink Suit, was released in late April, things couldn't have started any better. Entertainment Weekly picked it as the number one book for Mother's Day. It was highlighted on Oprah Winfrey's website. And sales were good.

"I noticed that I was selling really well right when the book came out," said Kelby, from St. Paul. "I mean it just started going right up the charts."

But for the novel, which tells the fictionalized tale of the outfit Jackie Kennedy wore on the day her husband was assassinated, it all went downhill from there. The next week, sales of the book plummeted, falling from thousands down to the low hundreds, according to Nielsen BookScan numbers from Amazon's site (those numbers don't tell the complete story, as they miss some retailers, but they're relatively reliable).

"And to see that, it's just heartbreaking," Kelby said.

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Two big factors helped cause that decline, Kelby says. The first was that the book was originally sold at a discounted price, but Amazon removed the discount after the first week, making The Pink Suit more expensive. In addition, Amazon also increased how long it took the book to ship, going from days to multiple weeks. (We reached out to Amazon to get their response but didn't hear back.)

"But I was befuddled," Kelby said. "If a book is selling well, wouldn't you want to keep it selling?"

As it turns out, those declining sales didn't just have to do with Kelby. She just happened to be releasing her book at the start of a fierce negotiating battle between Amazon and Hachette Book Group, the parent company of her book's publisher.

The reason for the Amazon/Hachette conflict has stayed mostly private, but according to recent reports, it's believed the battle revolves around Amazon's desire to charge for services like personal recommendations or a pre-order button, which it provides for free right now. As part of the conflict, Amazon has made it tougher for Hachette authors to sell their books on the website by delaying shipping times and changing search results, among other tactics.

Other Minnesota authors who've had books published under Hachette are feeling the effects, too. One is Minnesota State University Professor Lin Enger, whose 2008 novel Undiscovered Country was published by the Hachette-owned Little, Brown and Company.

"I can say that someone who wants to purchase my Hachette-published novel on Amazon is told on the web page, 'book ships in three to five weeks,' which is certainly a disincentive to buy the book through that site," Enger wrote in an email. "Amazon used to keep copies of the book on hand to ship immediately."

Wendy Webb, whose most recent novel, The Vanishing, was published by Hachette-owned Hyperion Books in January, is seeing the same thing.

"I don't know why anyone would continue to do business with a retailer that makes it difficult for their customers to get the products they want," Webb wrote in an email. "If I went into Target and learned I'd have to wait three weeks to get toothpaste, I wouldn't shop there anymore."

But it's Kelby who's seen the worst of it. Her book went on sale right as the Amazon/Hachette feud heated up during the novel's first month of release, a crucial sales period. While she's turned to other outlets like Barnes & Noble to pick up the slack, Kelby says Amazon traditionally makes up at least 50 percent of sales. Now, she's not sure she'll even earn back her advance, the kind of failure that she says can make an author "kind of tainted."

"That's how you make money, getting those five, six figures from Little Brown," Kelby says. "And It feels impossible, and if you don't earn it back, they're not that keen...it's really important."

As of now, Amazon and Hachette are still feuding, with Hachette this week acquiring the trade publication Perseus Books Group to gain some negotiating muscle. But with the fight ongoing, those long shipping times aren't about to end.

Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter at @robbiefeinberg.


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13 comments
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catherinealamar

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Kathy Yoder
Kathy Yoder

Another reason to buy from Powell's. Independent book store and they ship.

chasmosaur
chasmosaur

This isn't just "Amazon bad, Hatchette good".  This is a complex situation.


There's a great write-up here, and it also links out to several other excellent articles.


http://www.hughhowey.com/more-thoughts-on-hachette-amazon/


Mostly, both consumers and authors should be pissed off.  Authors are getting screwed out of book sales - both because of Amazon chicanery and Hatchette slowing down the distribution process.  Consumers are getting screwed because they can't get the books they want in the manner to which they've become accustomed.


Amazon and Hatchette, however, are just toddlers holding their breath and stomping their feet until they both get the biggest piece of the pie.  There's money to be made in the selling of books, and with the rise of digital distribution, that model does need to be revisited.  It's not the same as figuring out the logistics solely of a first printing and physical distribution anymore, when one person in Maine and another in California can order the book at the same moment from the same seller and receive it at the same time.

Jeremy Deysach
Jeremy Deysach

So she made a poor distribution partnership deal. Not sure why we should feel bad for her...

nmkelby
nmkelby

Thanks so very much for the support. I'm actually not taking sides. I feel like that poor guy on the street in NYC, just trying to get his groceries home to feed the family, and Godzilla's foot comes out of nowhere. Squish.  LOL. I'm sidewalk debris. 

If you go down to when they mention PINK in this CNN link, you'll see the Reuters video where I say that. I've been trying not to take sides the whole time. 

All of us here, and those who are not mentioned like first time author Stephan Eirik Clark and his book SWEETNESS #9, are not 'Hachette authors'... we're writers who have contracted with a Hachette publisher to print our book and deliver it to our readers. 

We are Minnesota authors, because we are of this place. This is our home. We are not of Hachette. Again...so many thanks for caring about this issue.  http://money.cnn.com/2014/05/29/news/companies/amazon-hachette-books-list/

sbbrowning
sbbrowning

Shame - I just read "The Pink Suit" and have a review set to post on the literary website I write for; I'd heard of this conflict before, but seeing how it affects the authors that are local slams it home.  BTW - "The Pink Suit" is a fantastic read.  Pick one up locally or shop at B&N.  It's worth it.

Steve Kroll
Steve Kroll

My advice: buy the Kindle version, which is available for immediate download, or go someplace other than Amazon for the hardcover version. It's available for $16.85 on Barnes & Noble, and ships within 24 hours. If you want it faster, it's available at all of BN's locations around the Twin Cities. Amazon is NOT the only bookseller out there.

k2yeb
k2yeb topcommenter

This is NOT on amazon. The big publishers are trying to be bullies. Don't listen to people like Colbert that are either uninformed or never cared in the first place to be unbiased.

k2yeb
k2yeb topcommenter

Absolutely good advice. If you don't like Amazon, don't shop there. There are so many avenues these days. I haven't bought a book from anything but a local bookstore since I could afford it. 

sbbrowning
sbbrowning

@k2yeb Should I not listen to the authors themselves - not just the ones in the article, but the ones I follow both personally and professionally, such as Mary Robinette Kowal or John Scalzi?  Or the editors such as esteemed Ellen Datlow?  This is Amazon, I'm afraid.

k2yeb
k2yeb topcommenter

@sbbrowning @k2yeb I would not listen to one side in an argument. It never works. Politics are a perfect example. The big publishers don't quite have the power of say an Amazon (and calling me Jeff Bezos is stupid. I work at Target) but this is a perfect example of skimming headlines. 


Hatchette is being made to look like a helpless victim. Publishers have illegally colluded with organizations like...say...apple on price fixing on e-books. That's not the only reason. But seriously people...read if you are going to pretend to be readers. 


90% of our media today is controlled by 6 companies. And 2 (TW and Comcast) are merging. 

k2yeb
k2yeb topcommenter

@A1batross @k2yeb Um. Ok. I don't even shop there as I get a discount that beats their prices at my job. Don't have prime, never did. But pretty smart comeback I guess. 

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