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Thursday, February 26, 2015 Serving Maine and Lincoln County for over a century. Volume 140 Issue 09


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8/20/2014 2:00:00 PM
Round Pond Author Wrangles With Amazon
Douglas Preston signs his book “The Wheel of Darkness.” The bestselling author and Round Pond summer resident has become involved in a highly public dispute between authors and Amazon. (Photo courtesy Douglas Preston)
Douglas Preston signs his book “The Wheel of Darkness.” The bestselling author and Round Pond summer resident has become involved in a highly public dispute between authors and Amazon. (Photo courtesy Douglas Preston)
By Jacob Hyatt

Trouble has been brewing for years between megacorporation Amazon and publishers of the literary world: Amazon, wanting cheaper prices for the books it buys, and publishers, unwilling to yield, have created a standoff that has left the corporation boycotting or obstructing the sale of several publishing companies' books. Caught in the middle are the authors, whose book sales often drop precipitously in these situations.

One local author, Douglas Preston, of Round Pond, has had enough. When this situation came to be between Amazon and his publisher, Hachette, he felt compelled to speak out.

"For many years," Preston said, "Amazon has used authors as negotiating tactics when they've had difficulty with a publisher... I just felt that enough was enough."

Trying to raise awareness and get others to agree with his stance on Amazon's actions - which over the past few years have included the boycotting or impediment of the sales of small presses, university presses, and even publishing giant MacMillan - Preston circulated a letter condemning Amazon's actions, hoping to get "a dozen or so brave souls" to sign on.

The response was overwhelming. The letter has gone viral over the past several weeks and has garnered over 900 signatures. Many of the signers are bestselling authors, like John Grisham and Maine native Stephen King.

According to Preston, Amazon responded to the letter by levying sanctions against writers and making public statements against him.

"This is unacceptable to us as authors," he said of the standoff.

The way Preston sees it, authors - who are, of course, indispensable to the sale of Amazon's books and thus a crucial component of the company's success - have given Amazon a great deal, and have in many cases felt their livelihoods threatened in return.

Writing is certainly Douglas Preston's livelihood, and his passion. Preston began writing full time in the 1980s and has since written over 25 novels, the majority of them with co-author Lincoln Child.

Preston is also tied to the Pine Tree State. His family has resided in Maine since the 1930s and he summers in Round Pond on his grandparents' property. He has written much from his little writing shack on the property.

Now, however, he feels his art, and the art of his fellow writers, is threatened because of Amazon's negotiating tactics. While Amazon will lose some money in the standoff, authors, whose sole ability to, as Preston put it, "pay mortgages on their homes," depends on the sale of their books, are seeing their incomes drop perilously in many cases because of this situation.

Preston made sure to stress, however, that he was not picking sides in the issue. Despite evident anger at what has happened to himself and to other authors, it would benefit him and his fellow writers to see the issue resolved, to see Amazon return to selling their books, and to see the publisher-seller-writer triangle restored to a better state.

But this is not the case now, and thus, the letter, the dispute, and the controversy. In not picking sides, Preston is not arguing for the end of Amazon, but rather the end of its harmful negotiating tactics and the restoration of a better market for writers.

Regarding the status of the dispute, Preston said "not much headway" has been made. Amazon wants cheaper e-book prices, and Preston's publisher, Hachette, is saying no.

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