David Streitfeld of the New York Times has now cemented himself as the blabbering mouthpiece for the New York publishing cartel, and while he is making a fool of himself for those in the know, he is a dangerous man for the impression he makes on his unsuspecting readers.
(I should point out here that I’m a 7-day-a-week home delivery subscriber to the New York Times. I start every day by reading the physical paper. I love it. But they do make occasional hiring mistakes.)
A dishonest man with access to a pulpit is like a poisoner with access to a well. David Streitfeld is a dishonest man. He is a reporter with an agenda. A good case in point is this head-scratcher: Just one summer ago, David made reference to Orwell’s well-known disdain for cheap paperbacks to draw a comparison to Amazon’s fight for lower ebook prices. A year later, the same David Streitfeld claimed that Orwell was a fan of cheap paperbacks. What changed?
What changed is that Amazon used the same Orwellian quote in proper context, just as David did a year ago, but we all know that Amazon simply can’t be right about anything. And so enterprising Amazon-bashers reframed a partial quote from Orwell in an attempt to have the deceased man stand for the opposite of his opinion, in an exercise as disgusting as it was Orwellianly ironic.
There’s also this gem of a piece which ran the day before Douglas Preston and company paid over $100,000 for an ad in the New York Times. It states one side of this debate (much as Douglas Preston has been doing) and serves as an advertising twofer. It’s not reporting; it’s shilling. One highlight is its dismissal of a petition calling on Hachette to negotiate in good faith, which garnered over 8,000 signatures in mere weeks, by comparing it to a year-old petition calling for the protection of whales which drew over 200,000 signatures.
In what has become known as “Whale math,” the opinion of 900 authors is worth a fawning article (complete with Douglas Preston hanging out by his writing shack on his 300 acre summer estate), while the opinion of 8,000+ authors is meaningless . . . because far more people care about saving whales.
When I read articles like these in my beloved New York Times, I worry for their reputation. I wonder if I should write a letter to their board expressing my concern. We obviously have a reporter here in the pocket of monied interests, one who can’t even agree with himself year to year, and one who works in deliberate and bizarre ways to dismiss one entire side of the debate.
Let’s look at all that David Streitfeld gets wrong or deliberately misrepresents so we fully understand just how either dishonest or ignorant he is being about this Amazon / Hachette dispute:
After six months of being largely cut off from what is by far the largest bookstore in the country, many Hachette writers are fearful and angry.
Largely cut off? If I go to Amazon right now, all of Hachette’s books are available for purchase. The only books I can’t get are the ones that aren’t even out yet. Amazon removed pre-order buttons from books it may not have the ability to sell once they release. There is no “largely cut off” here. None at all. But readers may suspect this is the case if all they hear is David Streitfeld’s propaganda.
Check out this doozy:
In the Harris Poll of corporate reputations, [Amazon] once again took top honors this year. But that prestige is taking a bit of a beating as the fight with Hachette drags on.
So, because of Amazon’s actions, they have fallen from first place to . . . first place? Where is David’s fact to buttress his opinion of a beating? Reporting that Amazon took top honors in a poll of corporate reputations, and then saying that this reputation is taking a battering without referencing anything at all, is worse reporting than you’ll find on my stupid little blog. David, your board should be ashamed of you.
The entire article, in fact, is a dishonest and forceful echoing of Preston’s letter, replete with threats of growing discord and plummeting prestige. While the letter to the board members will likely do nothing, Streitfeld’s salvo is another loud boom in the PR war where those with microphones get amplified and those with mere votes and voices are muted.
David points out that:
Anyone contemplating ordering his latest novel, “The Lost Island,” written with Lincoln Child, is warned it might take as long as three weeks to arrive. That, as Amazon and its customers know, might as well be forever.
Without mentioning the fact that this delay is due to Hachette’s shipping inefficiencies. Why should Amazon sell pre-orders for books when it has no lasting contract with Hachette? Why should it stock predictive quantities of their titles in warehouses when it may not be able to sell that stock in the near future?
Douglas Preston gets this wrong as well. In this latest letter to board members, he says that Amazon could employ some negotiation tool that does not impact authors. I’d love to hear his ideas. Or at least one idea. How can Amazon hurt Hachette without hurting its authors? Impacting sales is going to impact the 15% of that money that trickles its way down to the writer.
The reasonable move from Amazon would have been to stop carrying Hachette’s titles months ago until Hachette began negotiating in good faith. Hachette went months without responding to Amazon while their contract ticked down and expired. Amazon’s solution to removing authors from harm was to fund a pool to make their royalties whole until the dispute is settled. They’ve made three such offers, and Hachette hasn’t so much as countered a single one. The cries of “disingenuous” could be tested by calling Amazon’s bluff or making a counter offer that helps the authors while hurting Amazon. But no one has suggested this other than those of us who are supposedly Amazon’s shills.
Hachette has instead refused to remove its authors from the line of fire. The company is using them as a shield. And the New York Times has chosen not to report on all the details and on both sides of this negotiation. Rather, they have chosen to engage in a deliberate negative PR campaign against Amazon. They have chosen to support a publishing cartel that recently colluded in a price-fixing scheme that harmed readers. They have chosen to make as their publishing spokesman a reporter who contradicts himself from one summer to the next, a reporter who sings the praises of a handful of elite authors in exchange for 6-figure ads while dismissing the thousands of authors who disagree.