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The East African : July 14th 2014
The EastAfrican MAGAZINE JULY 12-18,2014 books Amazon woos ≥ival’s autho≥s to its side It is ≥a≥e to see billion-dolla≥ conglome≥ates engage in this so≥t of invective, w≥ites DAVID STREIFEL pute among reasonable people. Amazon has proposed giving Hachette’s T not us Hundreds of writers, including Stephen King and John Grisham (pictured), have signed a petition that maintains it is not taking sides but is clearly directed at Amazon. authors all the revenue from their e-book sales on Amazon as the parties continue to negotiate a new contract. Hachette’s response last week was to suggest that the retailer was trying to make it commit suicide. “We call it baloney,” the retailer fired back. It is rare to see billion-dollar conglom- erates engage in this sort of invective. Amazon, in particular, was famous until very recently for saying as little as possible in the media. But as the dispute has dragged on, it is trying a new tactic. For more than six months, Amazon has been trying to wring better ebook terms out of Hachette. The publisher, which is the fourth-largest in the US and whose imprints include Little Brown and Grand Central Publishing, is energetically resisting. Amazon has responded by delaying shipments of Hachette books and making it harder for customers to order them. Hachette authors have responded by publicly excoriating Amazon. With its newest proposal, Amazon is trying to break the impasse by getting Hachette’s writers to switch allegiances. That would take the heat off Amazon, which has never suffered as much sustained criticism as it is getting now. Which might also be the reason Hachette summarily rejected it. The offer came in a letter to a few writers and agents from David Naggar, an Amazon executive who works with publishers and independent authors. It proposes “a big windfall for authors” by taking them “out of the middle” of the conflict. On Tuesday, Amazon sent the proposal to Hachette itself. The proposal “has several real benefits — to motivate us and Hachette to reach an agreement sooner rather than later and to insulate the authors,” said Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s senior vice president for Kindle content. The packaging department at Amazon’s Fulfilment Centre in Peterborough, in the UK. Many mainstream writers have rallied to Hachette’s side, tweeting and editorialising and blogging against Amazon. Picture: File “It would make things better for readers, too,” he added. But Roxana Robinson, president of the Authors Guild, dismissed the proposal. “If Amazon wants to have a constructive conversation about this, we’re ready to have one at any time,” she said in an e-mail. “But this seems like a short-term solution that encourages authors to take sides against their publishers. It doesn’t get authors out of the middle of this - we’re still in the middle.” The standoff has prompted a debate over the future of books, reading and American culture. Many mainstream writers have rallied to Hachette’s side, tweeting and editorialising and blogging against Amazon. Hundreds of writers, including Stephen King and John Grisham, have signed a petition that maintains it is not taking sides but is clearly directed at Amazon. “We encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business,” it says. “None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage.” But Amazon has its own constituency. About 6,500 writers who use its system to publish their books have come up with their own petition on Change.org. “Major publishers like Hachette have a long history of treating authors and readers poorly,” the petition proclaims. “Amazon, on the other hand, has built its reputation on valuing authors and readers dearly.” In Naggar’s letter, Amazon took the op- portunity to portray Hachette as unwilling to compromise or even talk to the retailer. “We heard nothing from them for three full months,” it says. “After our last proposal to them on June 5, they waited a week to respond at all, promising a counteroffer the following week. We are still waiting a month later.” It added, “Unless Hachette dramatically changes their negotiating tempo, this is going to take a really long time.” A Hachette executive familiar with the negotiations denied the publisher was unwilling to negotiate. “We made an offer in April that was the largest we’d ever made any retailer, and in May made another that was higher still,” said the executive, who refused to be quoted by name because of the negotiations. “Both offers were rejected.” On the evidence of their statements, the parties appear light years apart. Amazon wanted to cut the publisher off entirely from “its own revenue from e-books sold by Amazon, which would be a suicidal action,” Hachette said. “Once again, Amazon acknowledges that their unilateral actions, in trying to extract much higher terms from Hachette, are harming authors.” Nonsense, Amazon responded. “Hachette is part of a $10 billion global conglomerate,” said Amazon, which will achieve $100 billion in revenue this year. “It wouldn’t be ‘suicide.’ They can afford it.” Many writers are in a third camp. Rob- inson, whose books are not published by Hachette, said that “what writers want is a long-term healthy publishing ecosystem, not a temporary windfall.” That applies to both parties, she added. “From our publishers, we want a fairer share of e-book revenues; from Amazon, we want an end to predatory practices that unfairly threaten their competitors, as well as the continued existence of the printed book.” he confrontation between Amazon and Hachette is growing louder and meaner, as the combatants drop all pretence that this is a reasonable dis- III BOOK SHORTS The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville By Clare Mulley Granville (1908-52) was one of Britain’s most highly decorated special agents of World War II; her feats of derring-do included parachuting into France in support of the Allied invasion and rescuing three comrades from certain execution. Mulley’s admirable biography gives this courageous and complex woman her due. A House in the Sky: A Memoir By Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett. In August 2008, Lindhout — a 27-year-old Canadian traveller and fledgling television reporter — was kidnapped in Somalia along with a photojournalist named Nigel Brennan. This account of Lindhout’s 460 days in captivity is more than a gonzo adventure tale gone awry; it’s a powerful comingof-age story and a narrative of forgiveness and spiritual triumph. Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father by Alysia Abbott. After her mother’s death in 1973, Abbott and her father, Steve left Atlanta for San Francisco, where he delved into the local literary scene and shed the last pretence of heterosexuality. “Fairyland” is Alysia’s clear-eyed reckoning with this truth and many others that defined her girlhood at the dawn of the gay liberation movement. Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein (Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe) By Mario Livio Science is messy, so Livio profiles five great scientists — Darwin, Einstein, Lord Kelvin, Linus Pauling and Fred Hoyle — each of whom stumbled while making groundbreaking contributions in his field. Doctor Sleep By Stephen King. Dan Torrance, the little boy with psycho-intuitive powers in The Shining (1977) is a man now, but the ghosts of his past have kept him drifting for decades. Trying to get his life together in a New Hampshire town, Dan becomes the protector of another magic child: Abra, whose gifts draw the attention of an otherworldly tribe of parasites who feed off children with the Shining.
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