How Hachette Can Win Its Negotiation With Amazon
Before you read any further, know that this opinion does not represent those of my employer, friends, family, anyone else in publishing, my doctor, my accountant or my lawyer. This opinion is mine alone — and it’s a little crazy.
Okay. Deep breath.
As many of you know, Amazon and Hachette are in the middle of contract negotiations. Part of the process has involved Amazon putting increasing pressure on the publisher in various ways, like encouraging customers to buy books from other publishers and ceasing discounting on some Hachette titles, to name a few. Here’s a better summary of the issue.
It seems from dueling statements from Amazon and Hachette that went public earlier this week that both sides are ready to dig in for a long struggle. If it’s a long struggle that ensues, I see the advantage going to Amazon. It’s a bigger company, one that has shown a willingness to lose money to get what it wants, and, ultimately, it needs Hachette less than Hachette needs it.
So, how can Hachette as David beat the Goliath of Amazon? (And, yes, I’m aware that Hachette is owned by Lagardere, a $10 billion media conglomerate and not some small, defenseless start-up; at the same time, Hachette is David in this instance because it has little in the way of weaponry it can deploy against Amazon whereas Amazon has much it can do to damage Hachette.)
The same way the real David beat Goliath: Do something unexpected and bold.
I think that if Hachette wants to have a shot at beating Amazon in this round of fighting, it has to pull its books and ebooks from the retailer. And it has to do so publicly, explaining to its authors, the industry and as many readers as possible why it’s doing what it’s doing.
And what would that “why” be?
Well, knowing little of the inner workings of the negotiation, maybe something like, “we have decided to discontinue selling our books through Amazon because the retailer will not agree to a deal with us that we believe allows us to continue publishing the books you love.” Simple, glossing over the details.
At the same time, Hachette should offer a deal to Barnes & Noble and Nook, giving the retailer slightly better terms than it had before but demand very special treatment in stores and on the Nook. Hachette would make Barnes & Noble its exclusive nationwide retailer.
The publisher would also have to have its authors go on an aggressive public relations campaign, urging readers to abandon Amazon and buy their books at Barnes & Noble and on Nook.
It’s possible, perhaps, for Hachette to survive without Amazon. One can imagine Hachette launching its own direct sales, or helping Barnes & Noble or other supercharge the sale of its books. But the “Everything Store” isn’t the “Everything Store” without thousands of titles from a major publishers.
It’s a crazy idea, but it might give Hachette the best chance to surprise and shock Amazon, and ultimately force it to terms Hachette can live with.
There are many obvious drawbacks to this negotiating tactic. Maybe I think it’s a good idea from my poker playing days, where risk, boldness and creativity were often rewarded. The stakes here are obviously much higher.
So, what do you think? Tell me why this is a terrible idea…but what would you do?