Amazon v. Hachette (or Whatever v. Whatever)

By “whatever v. whatever” I don’t mean to imply indifference. I know people care passionately about this. And they’re right to! It’s their livelihood, their passion, their art that’s at stake.

No, by “whatever v. whatever” I mean “traditional v. indie” or “print v. ebook” or “established v. new” or however else you view the transformations in publishing.

I’m not taking sides (except to say I’m on the side of readers and writers). And I’m not an expert in this debate. Frankly I find that most of the commentary reveals more about the person making the argument than it does about the issues. (Hello, Laura Miller!)

But I wanted to point out something I mentioned a year ago, when the debate was about gatekeepers and independent authors. It’s a story with a point, even a moral, but I’m not going to be so heavy-handed as to explain it. It’s offered here for you to take or leave, as you wish.

Here’s the post, in all its glory. Onward and upward, people!


This is a true story:

So the author writes a 30,000-word story and finds himself in literary limbo. Even though he’s achieved some success with his previous books, magazines aren’t willing to publish a story this long. They only have so many pages, after all, and adding extra paper will be expensive to print and ship. For traditional book publishing it’s too short. Asking readers to pay hardcover prices for such a slim novel does not seem viable.

What can he do? The story is what it is. It’s the length it needs to be. The author doesn’t want his readers to get a version that’s been chopped down or padded out. The other alternative is to leave it in the drawer. The readers get nothing.

Fortunately the author has access to a new publishing and distribution model that will enable him to sell the book for the more reasonable price of $6.95. It’s a model more typically used by genre fiction (sci fi, fantasy, mysteries) but the author has no qualms about that. Who cares if it’s not the exact means preferred by the typical dispensers of literary fiction? Readers – and the integrity of the work, if you want to be high-minded about it – should come first! Besides, what’s a little stigma? He’s built his brand. He’s successful enough to welcome a little danger.

Who is this brave author, blazing trails on the publishing frontier? Jonathan Franzen, waking up and embracing changes to publishing in 2013? Scott Turow, finally recognizing that an author owes allegiance to readers and not established business models?


The author was Saul Bellow. The year was 1988.

One thought on “Amazon v. Hachette (or Whatever v. Whatever)

  1. Seize the Day might be the most brilliant literary pain anywhere, squeezed into a small space. My friend (Jack the Gastroenterologist) and I love Henderson and Augie. We reread them rather than take up new books. And I have been the Dangling Man. Sort of. I have dangled.


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