July 17, 2014
Amazon is now also talking to Simon & Schuster about something
by Alex Shephard
On Tuesday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon—which is currently, if you have not forgotten, in a bitter, protracted contract dispute with Hachette—is “in talks with Simon & Schuster.” It was a vague report, as reports about massive corporations talking to each other tend to be, but that didn’t stop people from speculating as to what these two companies could be talking about.
The most pervasive rumor, which peaked yesterday morning, was that Amazon was interested in purchasing Simon & Schuster. That rumor originated with The Digital Reader‘s Nate Hoffelder’s piece “Amazon in Talks with Simon & Schuster – Acquisition?” The question mark implies—as Hoffelder made explicit throughout the piece with lines like “This is purely speculative.”—that this was mere speculation. But that didn’t stop people from taking it as something that was imminent—in fact, one outlet which covers the publishing industry reported it as fact. But it was not a fact, as we made clear in a short, gif-laden post yesterday. Amazon is not—say it loud—is not buying Simon & Schuster.
Most likely—though this is, in truth, speculation (albeit of a less salacious variety)—Amazon is talking to Simon & Schuster about contractual terms. Most likely those terms are similar to the ones that they have been squabbling with Hachette over for the past several months. Most likely they relate to ebooks. Most likely Amazon has also reached out to other publishers in the Big Five, although the publishers’ negotiations with Amazon were reportedly staggered by Judge Cote in the wake of U.S. v. Apple. This is, in other words, not yet a huge news item, though it may become one, if, say Amazon’s negotiations with Simon & Schuster go the way of Amazon’s negotiations with Hachette (or, for that matter, if S & S agrees to terms similar to those that Hachette finds unacceptable).
One interesting wrinkle: in its report, The Wall Street Journal quotes Leslie Moonves, CEO of Simon & Schuster’s parent company CBS, as saying “Amazon has a definite point of view about what should be done in the publishing business. It’s going to be a very interesting thing to watch.” That, in and of itself, is not a very interesting statement. Amazon is interesting to watch; watching Amazon negotiate with publishers is also interesting. But thus far, Amazon appears to have side-stepped the heads of the actual publishers and is instead talking to the heads of their parent companies—Carolyn Reidy is the CEO of Simon & Schuster. Amazon has also apparently largely side-stepped Hachette’s CEO, Michael Pietsch.
Could this mean something? It might. But who knows. They’re only talking.
Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.