Fri, April 03

Welcome to our world, Mr. Patterson

James Patterson transformed the book publishing business in 1996, when he formally retired from a very successful advertising career and became a full-time author of thriller and suspense novels.

But he took it way beyond the scope of just writing books - he became an industry unto himself, publishing way over hundreds of books (by himself and with others) and selling something over 250 million copies of these books worldwide.

Speculation is that about one out of every four hardcover thrillers has James Patterson's name on it. Speculation also is that he now spends more time editing the works of his co-authors than writing anything himself.

In less than 20 years, he has made his publisher, Hatchette Book Group, one of the largest publishers in the world, and together they have exercised enormous influence on book selection and pricing offered by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Costco, Sam's Club and other mega-retailers.

But recently, the Goliath has become David. Amazon and Hatchette are doing battle over the amount of royalties the online Goliath is willing to pay the new David. Amazon has essentially de-listed Hatchette's books from its site, including those authored by Patterson.

So now, after a couple of decades of ignoring the little guy - the independent bookstore and bookseller - Patterson is speaking out against Amazon. At the recent BEA (BookExpo America) conference of the American Booksellers Association, Patterson not only accepted the ABA's Indie Champion Award but had this to say:

"Amazon seems out to control shopping in this country. This ultimately will have an effect on every grocery and department store chain and every big box store and ultimately put thousands of mom and pop stores out of business. It sounds like a monopoly to me. Amazon also wants to control bookselling, the book business and book publishing. That's a national tragedy. If this is the new American way, it has to be changed by law if necessary."

Welcome to our world, Mr. Patterson. Better late than never.

And, it goes way beyond books. Book sales represent only 19 percent of Amazon's revenues, just a little over half of its #1 source of income - consumer electronics, at 36 percent. The remaining retail categories in double-digits are groceries (18 percent - watch out , Safeway!), clothes (17 percent) and toys (17 percent).

Hatchette is not an innocent victim here. It has added millions to its bottom line by not paying a fair royalty to its authors for e-book sales. Amazon sees this as a pot of money it should have. Had Hatchette already committed to paying a fair royalty, Amazon wouldn't have a pot to steal.

What does any of this have to do with you? Lots. Monopolies have never acted in the long-term best interests of their consumers. I doubt Amazon will be the first to do so.

Joe Neri is the co-owner of The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona. He can be contacted at (928) 282-2284 or

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