Guest: Bigfooted by Amazon the giant
Authors are trapped as Amazon.com, the giant, and the king of Hachette battle it out, writes guest columnist Nina Laden.
Special to The Times
Join book authors Frank Schaeffer and Peter Brown for an online live chat Wednesday at noon about the dispute between Amazon.com and Hachette and how it’s affecting them. To join the chat, go to: seati.ms/amazon-op-chat
ONCE upon a time there was a children’s-book author who wrote a book called “Once Upon A Memory.” It started as a poem she wrote while walking next to the Salish Sea. After many revisions, the author donned her black riding hood (no one wears red hoodies in Seattle) and sent it to her literary agent, who sent it to a big publisher in New York City called Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, which is owned by the kingdom called Hachette Book Group.
The book publisher Little, Brown invited the children’s-book author into its house by offering to publish her book. The author was thrilled, and even though the publisher had big teeth and didn’t eat her, “Once Upon A Memory” was published on Dec. 3, 2013, launching in Ballard’s own Secret Garden Books store.
But then a giant came knocking on Hachette’s door. The giant’s name was Amazon.com. Amazon and the king of Hachette began to fight, arguing over who should keep the spoils from the sales of e-books. The authors became trapped in the middle as Amazon restricted access to sales of books by Hachette’s authors. I, the author in the black hoodie, became trapped between the giant and the king.
My book did well when it was released, selling out the first printing in three weeks, and it even won a Crystal Kite Award for the Northwest Region, an award given by my peers.
Months went by and “Once Upon A Memory” became a memory as Amazon refused to ship it, wouldn’t discount it and told shoppers to buy other books instead. It did this to all of Hachette’s books, not just this one. Amazon thought this would secure a win, but the little authors fought back. So Amazon sent a Trojan Horse — 100 percent e-book royalties to the Hachette authors to try to make them happy.
But this little author’s book, “Once Upon A Memory,” was not in e-book form. It hearkened back to a day when children would curl up with their parents in bed and say “read to me,” and nothing needed batteries or recharging.
It was from a simpler time when people talked to each other face-to-face in a place called a bookstore, and they asked what was good for a boy or girl of a certain age. No one asked for free shipping and everyone paid their taxes to the state, unless they lived in Oregon. Other people went to a wonderful place called the library and borrowed it.
What the giant, Amazon, didn’t understand was that a book was something magical and real at the same time. It was not a “unit” or “one click.” The author in the black riding hood (that would be me) was very sad that Amazon was hurting her book sales and there was nothing she could do, except stay away from the mean giant. Hachette wasn’t offering any condolences either, and the little black riding hood was getting threadbare.
The author wishes this tale could have a happy ending, especially for children who need real books, not just devices. And if there could be a moral to this story, perhaps it would be: If giants and kings want to fight, let them keep their content providers’ content, or they will call for an even bigger giant to come along and sort things out. That giant lives in a kingdom called The U.S. Government. That is a giant you don’t want to upset.
Nina Laden is a children’s book author and illustrator who lives in Seattle. She has been creating best-selling, award-winning children’s books for 20 years.