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AG’s President Stands Up For Writers as Authors United Prepares Second Amazon Letter

The Amazon-Hachette conflict returned to the news this week, with two Authors Guild members playing prominent roles. Monday brought news that Authors United, the grassroots group formed this summer to support writers caught in the middle of the Amazon-Hachette dispute, unveiled its second initiative: an open letter to Amazon’s board of directors. The group, founded by Authors Guild Council Member Douglas Preston, but unaffiliated with the Guild, has grown to 1,100 authors.

Following this announcement, on Tuesday morning Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson appeared on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop” to discuss the potential effects of the letter and whether Amazon’s poor treatment of authors has endangered its reputation with consumers. Robinson argued that Amazon’s “targeting” of writers during its dust-up with Hachette threatens to erode the public’s confidence that Amazon is a author- and reader-friendly company. “People who buy books often tend to be people of conscience, and they recognize what Amazon is doing and they don’t like it,” Robinson said. “It’s very easy to find another source of books.”

The broadcast became heated over the question of whether books are products like any other in the marketplace. Robinson’s tablemate on the program, Bloomberg Contributing Editor Paul Kedrosky, took issue with Robinson’s claim that “a book is not like a brick.” He proceeded to mock authors’ conceptions of themselves as “special snowflakes.” Robinson took issue with the demeaning phrase, and then defended writers as “creators of serious intellectual property that support our culture and have done so for thousands of years.”

The Authors United letter, which will be sent to the Amazon board on Wednesday, takes exception to Amazon’s “sanctioning” of Hachette authors’ books during contract negotiations with the publisher, which has cut down Hachette authors’ sales at “by at least 50 percent and in some cases as much as 90 percent.” The authors then make a personal appeal to each board member, asking, “[d]o you as an Amazon director approve of this policy of sanctioning books?”

This new effort aims at the board’s conscience as much as its business sense: “Efforts to impede or block the sale of books have a long and ugly history. Would you, personally, want to be associated with this?”

Preston sees the effort as a bulwark between the retail colossus and the authors who depend on Amazon for the majority of their sales. “If not for our effort, I believe Amazon would have started targeting Simon & Schuster books by now, as they are reportedly involved in similar tough negotiations,” he told the New York Times on Monday. “I can only hope Amazon will think twice before they employ these scorched-earth tactics again.”