June 6, 2014

Stephen Colbert gives Amazon the middle finger while giving one debut author the “Colbert bump”

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Amazon stickerThe PR backlash against Amazon continues apace, with Stephen Colbert joining the chorus of dissatisfied authors. Adding his name to a list of unhappy authors that includes John Green, James Patterson, and “Explaino the Clown” (Malcolm Gladwell),  Colbert claimed to be “not just mad” but “mad Prime” with Amazon’s tactics in their recent negotiations with Hachette.

As reported by Shelf Awareness:

Last night, in the second segment of the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert, whose publisher is Hachette, took some hilarious shots at Amazon, which he said he used to like because “it’s the only place you can get all your shopping done in your underwear–at least since they closed Circuit City.” But now, “I am not just mad at Amazon. I’m mad Prime.”

Colbert noted that “Amazon has taken the preorder buttons off [J.K. Rowling‘s] new Hachette book, The Silkworm. A vicious tactic by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Or should I say Lord Bezomort?” At that point, on the screen a picture of Bezos’s face morphed into Lord Voldemort. “And this, this has pushed me past my tipping point. I think. Because I’m still waiting for my copy of Hachette author Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.”

Colbert then brought out bestselling author Sherman Alexie to find out who he should be rooting for in the Amazon vs. Hachette battle (the answer is “root for the author”), and together, they announced their plan to stick it to Amazon. (Colbert gave their plan the Twitter hashtag #CutDownTheAmazon.) Singling out Edan Lepucki‘s debut novel, California, which had its Buy button removed at Amazon, Colbert urged viewers to go to his website where they could order the book through Portland bookstore Powell’s.

You can see both segments, including Colbert’s one finger salute to Amazon, here and here.

PR is just PR, though, and it’s unclear whether a) Amazon cares that their reputation is taking a beating or b) it’s having any effect on their bottom line. According to The Huffington Post, Amazon has begun restocking some Hachette titles. David Streitfeld at the New York Times writes that, even with some restocking, it “seems unlikely that any deal has been reached.” Streitfeld also notes that, “After several weeks, Hachette sales are now dwindling on Amazon. Since Amazon is the biggest bookseller in the country, that is seriously affecting Hachette.”

Indeed. From Publishers Weekly on Thursday:

Amid continued attention (and press coverage) for its ongoing terms dispute with Amazon, the Hachette Book Group has announced a round of layoffs. A statement from the publisher said the move is part of “cost-saving initiation” to improve its “resilience to a changing marketplace.”

While Hachette has not yet responded to PW about the lay-offs, early reports have put the number of employees affected at 28, or 3% of the publisher’s U.S. staff.

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Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.

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