July 29, 2014 Last Updated 11:25 am

Shadows in the Vineyard: Hachette new release finds Amazon putting up obstacles

Books on Monday (and today on Tuesday) is where TNM looks at books and book publishing – either a new book on the publishing industry, a new digital book release, or book industry news

The battle between Hachette Book Group and Amazon.com has hardly effected me personally: Hachette has not picked up any of my books to publish, and Amazon.com is not proving to be a very good seller of my books, either (at least, in comparison with the Apple iBooks Store). But a book has just been published that is just the kind of work I would buy – and so, for the first time, I can see what other consumers have to deal with first-hand.

Shadows-coverShadows in the Vineyard has just been published by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette Book Group. The author is Maximillian Potter, the former editor of the Denver city magazine 5280. Potter also writes for major magazines such as Vanity Fair, where in 2011 he published a story called The Assassin in the Vineyard. That story won the 2012 New York Deadline Club Award and led to this book.

Shadows in the Vineyard tells the tale of an attempt to blackmail the proprietor of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the famed (and expensive) producer of the world’s finest Burgundy.

As a wine lover, this would naturally interest me – not because I can afford, as a publisher, to drink La Tache or Richebourg, mind you. But it turns out that the proprietor, Aubert de Villaine, also produces a few bottles of less expensive tipple – sold by my favorite wine merchant in the world, Kermit Lynch. In fact, Lynch, in addition to being a fine merchant, has also written the finest book about wine, as well (which I would love to turn into an interactive eBook one day so as to show off the wonderful photography of his wife).

Shadows-AmazonSo today the author has his book published, and I assume he is very proud (as he should be). But a look inside Amazon.com reveals that the book is caught up in the same mess as others published by Hachette.

Amazon lists Shadows as “Temporarily out of stock” – quite a trick for a book just published. If it were available, Amazon says the sales price would $24.30, a small discount over the list price. Amazon is also not discounting the Kindle Edition, selling it for $12.99.

Over at Barnes & Noble, the retailer is selling the hardcover edition at a 35 percent discount, and the NOOK edition at $11.69, 10 percent off the list price.

Apple, meanwhile, is promoting the book in its iBooks Store, selling the iBooks edition for $7.99.

The book, sadly, does not come as an interactive eBook (and, therefore, not in the Made for iBooks section). This used to surprise me, but after many conversations with book publishers, it no longer does. The publishers I have spoken to in the past year all agree that their readers want the words, period. They feel they know their readers and that simple ePub editions is what they want, assuming they want a digital edition at all (many think eBook readers are some sort of mutant strain of reader).

I try and not argue with publishers when interviewing them, and so generally wait until they are done and reply simply “that’s not the way I feel.”

Shadows-mapIt’s not that I don’t agree with their assessment that readers want to still enjoy the basic reading experience of reading text and leisurely consuming their books – whether in print or digital form. It is just that, as publishers, our job is to produce the best books possible, to assist the authors in this task, and then to market them to the public. The part that many publishers are not that good at today is what used to be their main role: producer of books.

Most ePub books are barely passable, though they are getting marginally better.

But many print books are also poorly produced. The original edition of Kermit Lynch’s book was produced on the most porous paper imaginable, making mush of the many photographs included with the text. Those photographs would pop on an iPad, doing them justice. And why were those photographs there to begin with? Because the story of wine is the story of the people who produce the wine… as well as the vines.

Here, with Shadows, the eBook version opens with a map of the vineyards in question – not interactive, in black & white. That’s it for illustrations. (In this regard, the original Vanity Fair article found online is far superior to the Hachette eBook.)

As a digital publisher, I consider that malpractice. But in the publishing world of the big NYC publishers (and sadly, many publishers here in the Chicagoland area) that is business as usual.

I look forward to reading Shadows in the Vineyard over the next week, but I know that the author has been handicapped both by his publisher and the online retailer currently fighting with that publisher.


TNM looks at new eBooks, as well as print books about publishing each Monday – or alternatively, book publishing news. To have your book or eBook considered for Books on Monday, please contact TNM.

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