Many Hachette authors have spoken up in the two weeks since they became pawns in Amazon.com’s contract negotiations with the publisher. James Patterson, for instance, has been vehement in his criticism of Amazon, which he repeated at the booksellers’ convention in New York last week.
But there was one voice that was conspicuously silent: Malcolm Gladwell, author of “David and Goliath,” “The Tipping Point,” “Blink” and other extremely popular books about behavior.
Amazon has trimmed or eliminated the discount on many of these books or added weeks to the shipping time, or both. In Germany, Gladwell is published by Bonnier, whose books Amazon is also discouraging shoppers from buying.
In an interview, Gladwell didn’t quite say he felt betrayed by Amazon, but said he was “surprised and puzzled” by its actions.
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Here’s a lightly edited account of the conversation:
Q: You’ve been silent since this story broke.
A: I was initially asked by Hachette to give them some time to negotiate. It’s easier when things are not being hashed out in the press. But several weeks have passed, so maybe it is appropriate for me to say something.
Q: Let’s hear it.
A: It’s sort of heartbreaking when your partner turns on you. Over the last 15 years, I have sold millions of dollars’ worth of books on Amazon, which means I have made millions of dollars for Amazon. I would have thought I was one of their best assets. I thought we were partners in a business that has done well.
This seems an odd way to treat someone who has made you millions of dollars.
Q: What is happening to your sales?
A: They have been profoundly affected. Where Amazon used to sell two copies, now it sells one. It’s a pretty big decline.
Q: Why is Amazon doing this?
A: I’m not privy to the negotiations. But it’s puzzling. Authors like James Patterson and J.K. Rowling drive millions and millions of people to the Amazon site, where presumably they buy everything else Amazon is selling.
Why would Amazon turn around and bite the hand that feeds them?
Q: Some people think Amazon is hoping to drive a wedge between you and Hachette, so you sign your next book with someone else — or even with Amazon itself. Then, the theory goes, Hachette will be weak and Amazon can get the contract it wants.
A: That strategy is too counterintuitive even for me. I don’t think human beings reward those who hurt them. If Amazon wanted me to do something in their interest, I imagine they would do something in my interest. This isn’t.
Q: Most people think Amazon is the Goliath here, although some argue that this is Goliath vs. Goliath.
A: There’s no question who is more powerful here: Amazon.
Q: So is there a way for the underdog to triumph here, like the cases you recount in “David and Goliath”?
A: I don’t think the appropriate framework here is a battle between two people. It’s a partnership. My publishers, Amazon and I, have been in business together, an extremely successful business. We should all be celebrating together instead of fighting.
Q: Amazon’s critics would say you were naive about this being a true partnership.
A: I don’t think it was destined to blow up. And I don’t think it’s entirely impossible that it can’t be fixed. We need Amazon and Amazon needs us. That’s a classic partnership.
Q: Are you personally taking any action?
A: I’ve had the position I need to respect the rights of these two parties to negotiate. I didn’t think to insert myself. But if this keeps going, the authors are going to have to get together. It’s Hachette now, but I don’t think anyone is under any illusions it stops with Hachette.
An Amazon spokesman declined to comment on Gladwell.