October 1, 2014

Amazon is sparing at least one Hachette author: Paul Ryan. Why?


When you read David Streitfeld‘s “Literary Lions” piece in The New York Times early this week, you may have noticed certain little aside before Salon and the Huffington Post jumped on itPaul Ryan‘s book is still for sale on Amazon.

It is discounted. The shipping is not delayed. And he’s a Hachette author.

Hachette titles have been unavailable for preorder, delayed, and marked as out of stock for months as Amazon “negotiates” with the publisher. So why is Paul Ryan immune? Is Amazon making an exception because he’s a conservative politician?

Luke Brinker covered the topic for Salon, pairing Ryan’s book with another political title, Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty by Daniel Schulman. Schulman, like so many other Hachette authors, has endured weeks of delayed shipment and little discounting.

Ryan’s books were initially in the same boat as the rest of Hachette. Until a very public appearance changed Amazon’s mind, it seems. On August 20, the day after his book’s publication, he hinted to CNBC that he would side with Authors United, if he weren’t a politician:

[Ryan] declined to say whether he felt Amazon was a monopoly. But pressed by host Andrew Ross Sorkin on whether he’d support regulation to weaken Amazon’s grip over the publishing industry, Ryan blew a dog whistle of support for his publisher.

“If I were just a private citizen I would voice one straight opinion,” he said, plugging Amazon rival Barnes & Noble as a good place to buy his book at a discount.

Soon after the appearance, his book was marked down to $20.53, marked as “in stock,” and available for immediate shipping. What gives?

Earlier this summer, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was available with Amazon without delay. The book was making enough profit to be an exception. In general, Amazon places importance on the numbers game over politics. But the switch after Ryan’s TV appearance is notable.

Is this an endorsement for Paul, or was some manager trying to cut down on bad press? Is Amazon worried Ryan cause too much of a stir if his books were delayed, too?

The sales expectations after Ryan’s CNBC appearance might have been too significant for Amazon to ignore. Some higher-up at Amazon might have put pressure on the company to make the book available after watching this segment. But this would be news: are there authors out there that Amazon will consciously listen to? Why make Paul’s book available when you’re ignoring Douglas Preston, Ursula LeGuin, James Patterson, the aforementioned Tartt, and just about everybody else?


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.