Lilith Saintcrow describes how the Amazon-Hachette dispute–or any dispute between big publishers and retailers–impacts those at the bottom of the content production pile, i.e. midlist (and new/unsigned) authors:
The full, nasty effect of Amazon removing buy buttons […] and removing the ability to preorder a publisher’s upcoming books doesn’t hit the publisher. Sure, the publisher is who Amazon can blackmail most directly–Amazon’s a huge distributor, and if they decide not to distribute, that’s lost revenue, since ease of buying is a component of consumer activity. (Translation: every time you make a consumer go somewhere else, they are fractionally less willing to buy the damn item that’s costing them time and headache.) There’s also lost revenue from people who buy only through Amazon (they have their reasons, natch) and that means a publisher can’t afford to take a chance on certain authors. The publisher takes the visible hit, but the ripples spread out and hit midlist authors, or debut authors. And while I am not the latter, I am most certainly the former.
In other words, Amazon’s behavior right now is impacting my ability to sell more books to [Hachette imprint] Orbit, since when preorder numbers take this kind of hit it’s harder for [Orbit editor Devi Pillai] to fight for me in acquisition meetings. […] This impacts my ability to write full-time, to continue producing those stories you love (or love to hate) at my accustomed rate. Because I have to pay my mortgage and feed my kids, and if this won’t do it, I will have to spend my time doing something else that will.
This is, of course, Good Business for Amazon; the more Amazon puts the squeeze on publishers, the more cost-cutting said publishers are going to have to do, which translates into “taking less risks with content”. That means signing less new authors or buying fewer titles in “marginal” publishing spaces (i.e. litfic, minority-led genre books like yours truly’s, and so on). The publishers themselves will be fine. They’ll shift their business models to focus more on pushing big multi-media blockbusters–the Harry Potters and the Game of Thrones and so on–as well as investing more in rights acquisitions of proven indie brands, be that p2ps like Emily Baker or indies like Hugh Howey.
Except the slushy midlist is still going to have to go somewhere. In this case, that “somewhere” means (drumroll, please) Amazon. Sure, Amazon isn’t the only name in self-publishing, but it’s a pretty damn big slice of the pie. And getting more of that slice minus the meddling of New York? You can’t think Amazon doesn’t want that.
The thing is, publishers have at least some clout with the ‘Zon. It might not be much, but it’s something and they can and do negotiate contracts and haggle over terms. Individual indie authors? Not so much, hey. To them, Amazon has 100% of the power in the equation; whatever terms Amazon imposes, the only “recourse” an indie has against them is to walk away… and walk away from something like 60-90% of the market while they’re at it. Not to mention indie books–particularly indie ebooks–sold via Amazon are nearly pure profit for the company, because digital storage is negligible (Amazon itself is one of the biggest bulk sellers of that, too) and all the costs of marketing and production are offset to authors. Individually to authors, as opposed to shared/cross-subsidized as in traditional publishing houses.
Basically, all of this stuff–from pushing self-pub to playing hardball with New York–is Amazon is reshaping the publishing industry to suit its business model. And its “business model” involved depowered, decentralised workers frontloading all the costs of producing zero-risk-pure-profit content, with no power of collective bargaining or other way to pushback against the terms Amazon hands out.
Welcome to the new world order.