Amazon accused of trying to enlist agents and bypassing publishers

Amazon has been accused of trying to enlist agents as a force against the agency model following a meeting with agents and discussions at Frankfurt Book Fair in October.

A meeting with about 60 agents, organised via the Association of Authors’ Agents, followed a series of individual meetings Amazon recently held with author representatives. PFD chief executive Caroline Michel was among those who met Amazon at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

News of the meetings came as Amazon France chief executive Xavier Garambois warned this week that e-books should be at least 30% to 40% cheaper than print versions, or else the market would not take off.

One agent who attended said Amazon seemed to have two aims: “They were keen to try to enlist agents as a force against the agency model—and I have to say they failed on that front—and there was also an element slightly of ‘let’s get to know each other a bit better as we’re going to be working together’.”

He said Amazon spoke about wanting to work with publishers rather than directly with authors but added: “It felt like they were just going through the motions.”

Talking about Amazon’s attitude towards publishers, he said: “Amazon has spent so long driving the process, they’ve pushed discounts up, and it’s hard to feel that publishers have acted in any way to put Amazon or the supermarkets back in their box. I don’t think they have much respect for them [the publishers].”

Another agent who was at the meeting said: “The publishers that are big in our lives are understandably nowhere as important to Amazon as they are to us.”

Amazon also spoke about its own publishing programme, which offers a deal to self-published authors who are generating word-of-mouth sales on the site and bypassing agents and traditional publishers.
One agent said: “You wonder what kind of deal the author is signing. It is a very opaque process, but I’m sure it will become less opaque.”

Agents reported, meanwhile, that Amazon had been on a charm offensive at the Frankfurt Book Fair, with members of the US office including Naggar and Justin Renard, Kindle Content acquisition manager, arranging meetings with agents. Agents were asked for content directly, with the offer of 70% royalties.
“I had a meeting with a man from Amazon and he was awful,” said one agent. “He said, ‘I will not and cannot mourn the death of the local bookshop’.”

PFD’s Michel met Amazon executives at Frankfurt to explore placing e-book content with the retailer. She believes that Amazon’s detailed customer data offers provided the basis for a compelling marketing offer.
She said: “I do see publishers as the prime route but we have to make sure we look at other routes too.”

Amazon bypasses publishers for agents: