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Summary:

Amazon is delaying shipments of many Hachette print titles as the companies fight over new terms. Amazon likely wants larger discounts on Hachette books.

Amazon is delaying shipments of print books from big-five publisher Hachette, likely because the internet retailer is attempting to get better terms from Hachette during negotiations of a new contract.

So if you search for Hachette print titles on Amazon’s website, you’ll see that many of them are taking several weeks to ship, even though they’re in stock at other sites. Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and James Patterson’s NYPD Red, for instance, are listed as shipping within 2 to 3 weeks. Ebooks aren’t affected, and not all Hachette titles are affected: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is shipping right away, for example.

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“It is our normal policy not to comment on negotiations with any retailer,” Hachette spokeswoman Sophie Cottrell told Publishers Lunch in a statement (paywall), but:

“[W]e have been asked legitimate questions about why many of our books are at present marked out of stock with relatively long estimated shipping times on the Amazon website, in contrast to immediate availability on other websites and in stores.

We are satisfying all Amazon’s orders promptly, and notifying them constantly of forthcoming publicity events and of out-of-stock situations on their website. Amazon is holding minimal stock and restocking some of HBG’s books slowly, causing ‘available 2-4 weeks’ messages, for reasons of their own.

We are grateful for the patience of authors and all Amazon readers as we work to reach an agreement and to encourage Amazon to be back to offering Hachette Book Group’s books within normal shipment times.”

It’s not the first time that Amazon has interfered with publishers’ sales through its website in an attempt to get better terms or larger discounts on titles. In 2012, for instance, the retailer turned off the buy button on distributor IPG’s 5,000 Kindle titles. And in 2010 the company did the same on Macmillan titles at the beginning of the battle over agency pricing. Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble stopped carrying many Simon & Schuster books in its stores during negotiations last year, before eventually reaching a new contract.

A previous version of this post incorrectly identified the author of NYPD Red. The author is James Patterson, not David Baldacci.

  1. As a Hachette author I can tell you a few things related to this. First, Amazon removed virtually all the discounts from Hachette titles starting on Feb 7, 2014. Books in pre-orders or VERY recently released books still have discounts, but all the other books (both print and ebook) are being sold at full price.

    For my own books, I noticed the “usually ships in 2 – 3 weeks” starting around early March. At first I thought it was some glitch with just my books, then looking at other titles from the imprint I saw that it went much deeper than that.

    Seeing this, I concluded that there was some contract negotiation going on, and this breaking news seems to proof that to be the case. The sad thing is, as these titans clash – it is the authors and the readers who are bloodied the most.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Michael. I wasn’t aware of the decreased discounting, but scanning through titles on the site I can see that that definitely does seem to be the case on some books, and with some other titles that the discounts aren’t as large as you might normally expect from Amazon.

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  3. Mark Horowitz Friday, May 9, 2014

    This is happening with other major publishers, too, and with bestselling, new titles. It’s not just Hachette; It’s a more common practice. The “negotiations” have to do with kickbacks and payments that all publishers now pay to get their books to appear prominently in Amazon searches and display properly. (See Packer’s Amazon story in New Yorker for this.) They will claim copies of new bestsellers have been misplaced or sent to the wrong shipping center, and declare them “out of stock”, or blame it on the weather, then extort higher givebacks or forced discounts on Kindle editions to get the books moving again. In all cases it seems motivated, in part, by a desire to punish publishers, cut into their profits, and boost Kindle sales.

    Publishers are bullied and terrified, and don’t go public with this info for fear of further retaliation. This Hachette statement is very unusual, and still dances around a lot of the issues, holding information back, probably out of fear as well. They were clearly pushed even further than normal, and had to fight back rather than give in, possibly signaling a new stage in Amazon ‘s strategy.

    Some real reporting will be needed to get the whole story out. You won’t get it from Amazon.

    The other issue is: Is this legal? I suspect Hachette is hoping to raise some of these issues, in order to get Amazon to back off a tad. But in the long run, they run the show now, and publishers know it. As long as Amazon can freely retaliate against resistors, the big publishers will continue their slow financial slide downwards.

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    1. I do agree that there is more to this story and some digging is going to have to done to get the answers. Let me relay just a bit more of my situation.

      On April 29th (after several weeks of my books in the 2-3 weeks state) my wife called the Amazon Central Support line…to determine why the books were in this stated. The rep on the line pulled up my books and reported:

      (a) There are 13 PO’s issued for your books from April 21 – 24, and we have not received notification from your publisher that they have shipped
      (b) The publisher has missed not just one but two “need by dates”
      (c) The publisher has told us your books will ship between May 2 – May 10 (depending on which invoice she looked at.

      If this rep was telling the truth then Hachette was actually delaying the shipments (unless a shipment of 11 – 17 days is what is classified as “promptly”)

      BTW, I have asked for my publisher to send me copies of the PO’s and shipment dates, but after three attempts I’ve not received any. To me, having those in my hands would put the matter to rest and let me know who is telling the truth and who isn’t.

      I do think that Amazon has cut back on the number of books per order and the frequency of the orders…and between that and the processing time, that is what is keeping mine and other books in this “usually ships in 2 – 3 weeks” state.

      I also agree that it is unusual for Hachette to make a public statement like this and applaud them for doing so. I like transparency, and I’m just sorry it has taken from Feb 7th (when I first noticed the loss of discounting, until May 9th (when I got a letter from Hachette) that they brought this situation up to their authors.

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      1. Any updates, Michael?

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  4. We little publishers experience many peculiar things in the months before a contract negotiation. Painfully peculiar. A suspicious person might assume they aren’t simply a matter of coincidence.

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  5. Disgusted with Amazon Tuesday, May 13, 2014

    Amazon is evil. But what else can you expect from a company that sells video games that glorify and promote raping women, or teaching pedophiles how to groom children for abuse. Karma is a bitch and the environment is ripe for a publisher who will do the right thing and not be a greedy bastard.

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  6. Admittedly I’m just a reader who buys lots of books, but isn’t this all very reminiscent of the battles between publishers and the former titans Borders and B&N? B&N would refuse to display or carry a publisher’s books (as they do now with Amazon’s books) and Walmart, in the meantime, would sell best sellers as loss-leaders. B&N was known for cutting display deals with publishers. This is nothing new. It’s about distribution and a vendor’s desire to be able to sell the product for a little as possible (which makes me, the consumer, quite happy.) I also note that I have no trouble getting Hachette books instantly, since I get them for my Kindle. No delay at all.

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