The battle between Amazon and publisher Hachette may be about the future of e-book pricing, but the debate has turned to the past.
The group Authors United ran an ad on two full-pages in the Sunday New York Times with a petition signed by more than 900 authors — including Stephen King, Suzanne Collins and others who do not publish with Hachette — accusing Amazon of "singl(ing) out a group of authors for retaliation." The ad provided the e-mail address of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
In response, Amazon created a group called Readers United, and in a lengthy letter — sent to Kindle Direct Publishing authors and published at "readersunited.com" — detailed its side of the dispute. The letter claims that lower e-book prices are in the interest of the publishing industry, and compared the current literary landscape to the introduction of paperback books in the 1930s. It urges Amazon's supporters to e-mail Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch directly, and listed his e-mail.
The letter also went on to quote 1984 author George Orwell, saying, "The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if 'publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.' Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion."
Many in the media have pointed out that Orwell's sentiments are misrepresented. The full quote is from an essay (available here) that supports paperbacks: "The Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them."
Orwell also went on to counter the idea that cheaper books are good for the industry: "It is, of course, a great mistake to imagine that cheap books are good for the book trade. The cheaper books become, the less money is spent on books." Amazon did not respond to USA TODAY's request for a clarification of the letter's use of the Orwell quote.
Hachette's CEO has responded to Amazon supporters who e-mailed him in an e-mail (printed in full at Digital Book World), explaining the publisher's side of the fight:
"This dispute started because Amazon is seeking a lot more profit and even more market share, at the expense of authors, bricks and mortar bookstores, and ourselves. Both Hachette and Amazon are big businesses and neither should claim a monopoly on enlightenment, but we do believe in a book industry where talent is respected and choice continues to be offered to the reading public."
Meanwhile, it has been reported that Amazon is using similar tactics with certain Disney DVDs, including removing the pre-order buttons from titles such as Muppets: Most Wanted and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.