If you tuned in to “The Colbert Report” on June 4, you would have seen host Stephen Colbertflip Amazon the birdfor waging an online war against the publishing house Hachette.
Colbert, whose books are published by Hachette, had reason to be angry.
After the two companies failed to reach a deal regarding their e-book sales strategy, Amazon blocked preorder sales of Hachette books on its site. Amazon even tweaked its recommendation feature to skew towards non-Hachette authors and ordered fewer copies of Hachette books, which led to shipping delays.
But for one Hachette author, the outlook was about to get a whole lot sunnier.
Later on in the June 4 show, Colbert interviewed Hachette author Sherman Alexie, whom he asked to recommend a book by an author who was being hurt by Amazon’s attack on Hachette.
Alexie chose “California,” a post-apocalyptic romance by debut author Edan Lepucki.
“I felt pure amazement,” Lepucki said to Business Insider on seeing her book on the show. “I was flabbergasted and couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it.”
“We’re going to prove that I can sell more books than Amazon,” Colbert said in the segment.
And sell books they did — thanks to the “Colbert bump,” “California” was soon Powell’s top book. During a recent trip to Powell’s, Lepucki spent three days signing a whopping 10,000 copies of her novel. It’s been named one of the summer’s hottest reads by The Chicago Tribune, The New York Post, and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, among others.
And ironically enough, Amazon’s editors named “California” as one of their top picks for the month of July, despite the fact that the site had blocked customers from buying it on the site before its official July 8 release date.
“It’s nice to be the beneficiary of the dispute, but there are a lot of authors out there who aren’t benefiting from it,” Lepucki said, adding that many have compared her to the one stuffed alien chosen by “the Claw” in the famous scene from “Toy Story.”
As the fight between Amazon and Hachette continues, many authors worry about how their industry will change, and whether their interests will be well represented as a result.
According to The New York Times, Amazon wants to start charging Hachette for a number of services, including personalised recommendations, an Amazon employee dedicated to handling Hachette books, and the infamous preorder button. There’s also the ongoing debate regarding ebook prices.
“Even if you’re not a Hachette author, there’s a lot of general anxiety about unresolved issues. This case is dictating how the publishing industry will go forward,” Lepucki said. “Hachette is just the first publisher whose contract is up.”
Preorder sales are extremely important to building up hype for a book. Colbert wanted to focus his attention on a new Hachette author in part because they’re the ones hit hardest by Amazon’s removal of the preorder button.
“Authors are part of the discussion, but we’re not at the table,” Lepucki said. “Amazon is such a big player in publishing, but a lot of authors feel this connection to their publishing house and their editors who helped them get their books out there, so their loyalties tend to go that way.”
There’s another interesting twist to Lepucki’s story: her husband, Patrick Brown, is the director of author marketing at Goodreads, which was acquired by Amazon in 2013. Lepucki insists, however, that the Hachette-Amazon fight hasn’t caused tension at home.
“We both come from the independent bookstore world. Goodreads still feels like Goodreads to me,” she said. “I don’t shop at Amazon, but I use Goodreads.”
Before Colbert rallied behind her book, Lepucki’s publicist had planned a relatively small book tour, with stops in the East Bay, Los Angeles, New York City, and Boston.
“After the Colbert thing, there was more interest, more presales, and multiple printings, and the independent bookstores kind of rallied behind us,” she said. “Now I can’t even count the cities we’re going to, it’s too crazy.”
Despite all of the attention, Lepucki remains remarkably modest.
“I’ve worked in bookstores, so I’m totally prepared for no one to come,” she said.
We’ve got a feeling that isn’t going to happen.
Watch the Colbert Report clip:
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.