Publisher Cancels Book Deal After Author Signs Deal with Amazon

October 19th, 2011

The old media is pushing back. I bet this is a good way to work with authors interested in innovating new forms of production. Cut them off!

These are uncertain times for many established writers, as the case of the Hawaiian novelist Kiana Davenport shows. Until recently she had a deal with Riverhead Books, a literary line that is a division of Penguin, for a Civil War novel, “The Chinese Soldier’s Daughter.” Ms. Davenport received an initial $20,000 advance for the tale, which was scheduled for publication next summer. That wasn’t enough money to survive on, so the writer cast about for another source of income, and self-published a book of old stories on Amazon. The result: Her novel has been canceled, the publisher wants its money back, and her publishing career is in jeopardy.

And in other related news, bookstores (yeah, you know because they are doing so well!) have decided to drop DC Comics from their newsstands because the comics will now be available on Amazon. Genius!

Amazon, seeking to make its coming Kindle Fire tablet as appealing as possible, negotiated a deal with DC Comics for the exclusive digital rights to a hundred popular graphic novels. Among the series: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the Sandman and Watchmen.

Barnes & Noble, with a tablet of its own to nurture, did not like this one bit. Two weeks ago it removed all the copies of the physical volumes from its 1,300 stores, saying it would not carry any book if it were denied the right to sell the digital version.

Books-a-Million, the third-largest bookseller with 231 stores, followed suit last week, making the same argument.

Booksellers of all sorts used to pride themselves on never removing any book from their shelves, but that tradition — born in battles over censorship — is fading as competitive struggles increase. Last year, in a sort of foretaste of the present conflict, Amazon temporarily removed the “buy” buttons for the publisher Macmillan as part of a struggle over e-book pricing.

Now there is a legitimate concern that Amazon will be what Glenn Reynolds called a “chockepoint.”

That’s a good point. I like Amazon, but if they become a chokepoint that would be bad. Right now their platform is very open to self-publishers and others, but if that were to change it would be a bad thing. There would probably be antitrust issues, too.