colbert-44-5OK, Amazon this is one PR fight you’ll probably lose. The Seattle online retailer just pissed off Stephen Colbert.

Colbert happens to publish his books through Hachette, the publishing house whose contract dispute with Amazon has led the online retailer to delay shipments of Hachette books.

In a segment that aired Wednesday night, the comedian ripped Jeff Bezos — comparing him to Lord Voldermort, the villain in Harry Potter — and finished the piece by giving the middle finger through a packaging box. With both hands.

“Now, I am not just mad at Amazon. I am mad Prime,” said Colbert at one point in the segment in exposing what he described as vicious tactics to delay deliveries and impede book sales. “So, watch out Bezos because this means war.”

Sherman Alexie and Stephen Colbert rip into Amazon.
Sherman Alexie and Stephen Colbert rip into Amazon.

But Colbert was not done there. His guest on the show happened to be celebrated Seattle author Sherman Alexie, who Colbert described as his “fellow Amazon victim.”

“They are doing it because they want a monopoly,” explained Alexie. “They control 40 to 50 percent of the book market, and they want more. And the only way they can do that is by forcing the prices lower and lower and lower and making it impossible for more and more publishers to publish their books.”

amazon-stickers111Alexie then encouraged book lovers not to shop at Amazon for anything. “Amazon controls so much of our world that we don’t even know about because they are on the Internet and they are invisible, we are not aware of their domination,” he said.

As Colbert often does, he’s taking the campaign against Amazon a bit further, encouraging his viewers to buy books through Portland-based Powell’s.

He’s also encouraging them to download stickers from his Web site that say: “I didn’t buy it on Amazon.”

“Peel it off, and then put it on any book that you are reading,” he advises.

What a PR nightmare for Amazon. The question is: Will the company — whose crisis PR in the past seems to be to let things blow over — even care?

Here’s the first monologue from Colbert, followed by the interview with National Book Award winner Alexie.

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  • Chris

    You asked a simple question, so here is a simple response: No.

  • guest

    Amazon is free to choose which products it wants to carry. But what they are doing is sabotaging their customers and their suppliers. They are trying to keep ebook prices low to subsidize their sale of hardware. They are using their market power in physical books to try to extort companies to agree to their demands in the ebook market. That’s the kind of thing that antitrust law is designed to prevent – a company using their power in one market to extend their reach in another market.

    Are Hachette ebook prices too high? The market should decide not Amazon. If Hachette overprices their ebooks, no one will buy them and they’ll lower the prices.

    • Kary

      “They are trying to keep ebook prices low to subsidize their sale of hardware.”

      Amazon is sort of like Apple trying to lock people into their ecosystem with the Kindle platform. I’ll give you that. But I’m having a hard time seeing how lower prices are bad for the consumer.

      “Are Hachette ebook prices too high? The market should decide not Amazon. If Hachette overprices their ebooks, no one will buy them and they’ll lower the prices.”

      That relates to what I have said before–that the publishers may be too stupid to realize that they’ll make more money at lower prices, as software companies discovered in the 90s and movie studios discovered back in the days of VCRs. They would have made more money all along, but were too stupid to realize it. So I’m not willing to make the same assumption as you about them lowering prices if they are too high. Amazon could be doing the publishers and the authors a favor.

  • Hmmmmmm
    • Caslon Bodoni

      Of course publishers are necessary. They nurture young authors through advances, they work with authors on editing, proofreading, design and typesetting, marketing, it goes on and on.
      The also understand the value of good work and work hard to see that it gets to market properly.
      The real question is what value does Amazon give to the equation?
      They have a warehouse and are leeches, not a lot of value there.
      It probably won’t be long before the majority of people buy books direct from publishers,

      • Hmmmmmm

        Those benefits seem controlling…taking full advantage of being middle-men and controlling who gets published and when. They make/break authors for their own profits — creating a bad situation for all future and non-chosen (e.g. those who won’t play the publisher game) authors. Publishers are antiquated – and prices should come down as more and more authors can actually get to great levels on their own merits — not on middleman-payola. your point is backwards….authors would benefit from removing a Non-value cost and readers would benefit from more authors, more choices and lower cost — with additional profit flowing right to the authors.

        • Caslon Bodoni

          Publishers are controlling, they are in business to make money like anybody else, if it was you money you would be too.
          I’m not suggesting that all authors need publishers.
          Sure, you can do anything you want now. Self publishing is great for some people, whether it be books, movies, records, good luck getting them bought. It can certainly be done, but it takes a lot of work, most authors, artists, filmmakers etc want to write, paint, shoot, not take on all the tasks a publisher does.
          You can write your book and sell it on Amazon and without the machine to help with it and take it to market. Amazon is just a pimp, they provide no value to the process other than allowing you to post it on a web site. They are ones who should lose the margin in this process because the real value is so low.
          You seem pretty naive about how markets work.

          • Hmmmmmm

            You made my point. Those that add no value probably won’t last. Not sure naive is the right description ;-)

  • Guest

    Brilliant satire. Most people don’t even know that this is a fictional character writing books and pretending to be outraged.

    • Kary

      Exactly. I didn’t have a problem at all with the first part above, but listening to an author explain something he doesn’t understand was a bit silly and unnecessary. That author should probably ask himself: How much does my publisher profit off of each real book and how much do they profit off of each ebook. Then he should ask that same question for his own profit. Unless the publisher is giving the author a bigger royalty on each ebook, they should be on Amazon’s side. And even if they are getting more, they should consider whether they would earn more in total at a lower price. With the cost of printing a book a publisher could easily cut the price and make even more money.

  • Philthy

    I love Colbert, I love Alexie, I love Powell’s – and I agree with them too, but it’s not just Amazon’s fault, people need to realize what happens when going for the lowest price is the only factor in their buying decisions. Amazon is profiting and destroying the world (maybe that’s a bit much…eh who cares) off of people’s greed for lower prices. Don’t be a fool, think about the big picture, buy local.

  • Philthy

    If you want to see what happens when you eliminate publishers from the literary world, just take a look at all of the unedited, poorly-written independently-published books you’ve never heard of and don’t have access to. Publishers serve a vital role in discovering great authors, refining their work, distributing and marketing it.

    If a major publisher stops distributing through Amazon, it will help them see how quickly they can lose their market dominance. Negotiating is business, and I respect it, but the publishers and the sellers have to work together in partnership, if one partner dominates the negotiation, the consumers are the ones who get screwed in the end.

    • Hmmmmmm

      That’s like saying only great music gets played on the radio: the music we don’t hear is poorly produced, etc.

  • Kary

    That book California sounds incredibly similar to Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart.

  • Prime member

    I’m a huge Amazon customer (> $10k/yr) and have been a fan but their actions that are anti-customer are a major eff-upp. They better wake up. I doubt I’m the only big customer who feels this way.

    • Kary

      How is this anti-consumer? Lower prices are anti-consumer? I think you’ve been fooled by the propaganda of one large corporation against another.

  • Hmmmmmm

    While we’re at it, let’s stop uber, lyft, airbnb, Tesla, anybody cutting out middlemen ;-)

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