Anger over authors’ website links to Amazon

Several publishers and authors have told The Bookseller that they are in the process of changing their author websites to link to independent booksellers, after a protest over author sites that link to Amazon or chain retailers. 

Keith Smith from Warwick & Kenilworth bookshops has expressed anger at the issue in a piece for The Bookseller. Smith cited the websites for Joanne Harris, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Alison Weir and Julia Donaldson as among those that link directly to Amazon, while those for Kate Morton, Ian Rankin, Tom Holland and Patrick Ness link to Amazon or chain retailers.

Smith said: “As someone who owns two independent bookshops I feel angry that these authors, unthinkingly or by design, have chosen to support Amazon, W H Smith or Waterstones without giving a fig for independent bookshops. Many of these are authors who, when asked, will say they couldn’t imagine life without their local bookshop. But words need to be matched by deeds if they are to make a difference.”

Author Alison Weir defended herself, commenting: "Publishing, as you must know, is going through hard times and every author and publisher wants to maximise sales. When I set up my website, my webmaster told me I could link to Amazon, so I told him to go ahead. My American publishers then asked me to link to other bookstores. I'm not sure how Keith Smith envisages linking to every independent bookseller in a practical way - how many must there be? The fact remains that not one, including him, has ever asked me to do so. But if they had, I would have worked out a way to do it. If you look on my website you will see links to other websites whose owners requested a link. Linking to Amazon does not mean that I do not support independents."

Weir continued: "The fact remains that publishers can shift large quantities of books through Amazon, W H Smith, Waterstones and the supermarkets, which are their main clients. Amazon also pays authors on their associates programme fees based on the number of books sold. Authors do have a living to make and Amazon can provide a great source of income which, sadly, independent book shops could not possibly meet. I understand the concerns of independent booksellers, and I think that there is a case to be made for Amazon to pay corporation tax, so that there would be fairer parity between its prices and those which independents with overheads have to charge. But accusing authors like me...of not 'giving a fig' for independents is not only ignorant but untrue; I think my deeds over the years give substance to my words."

Orion marketing and publicity director Anthony Keates said: “Orion manages Ian's website and it does have links to The BA 'find your local bookshop' finder. We are developing it and it will have more links to lots more retailers."

Novelist Joanne Harris said: "I am more than happy to include links to independent bookshops. I know how much I owe them and I support them fully."

Julia Donaldson told The Bookseller changing the links on her website was something she had been planning to do “for some time”. She said: “I want to think carefully about how I do it. Independent bookshops really are something I care about very much and I have been feeling guilty about it. But when I first set up my website, this is what was suggested to me would be the easiest thing to do.”

A spokesperson for her publisher Pan Macmillan added: “Julia really and truly is a staunch supporter of independent bookshops. We are currently reviewing Julia’s online presence, and how we can best fully support all bookshops in a digital and physical way for the future. In terms of Julia’s web presence on the Pan Macmillan website, we are pleased to link to all retailers including Hive.”

A second Pan Macmillan spokesperson speaking on behalf of Kate Morton added: “While Kate [Morton] includes independent links in Australian and US territories, she was unaware of being able to offer a link to UK independents and we are now assisting her with this.”

A spokesperson for Little, Brown said Tom Holland was “hugely supportive towards independents”, often linking to them via Twitter. “The reason he has not linked to one through his website is because unfortunately, he doesn’t have an independent bookseller where he lives, otherwise he would link to it,” she said.

Bloomsbury said Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s website was run from River Cottage. His agent did not respond to a request for comment. Patrick Ness is out of the country and could not be contacted.