It’s been a week since it became clear that Amazon is delaying shipments of publisher Hachette’s print titles, likely due to a fight over terms. As Amazon continues to ship many Hachette print titles with delays of two weeks or more, the story is picking up momentum and more authors are criticizing the retailer’s actions.
In addition to the shipping delays, Amazon is using other tactics to pressure Hachette. For example, it’s offering shoppers lower discounts on Hachette titles and in some cases is suggesting “similar items at a lower price.”
The New York Times’ David Streitfeld suggested Friday that “Amazon wants to have it both ways, telling customers it has the book while discouraging them from buying it.” In other words, shoppers who Google Hachette titles likely see an Amazon product page as their first result, then click through and find they won’t get the book any time soon.
Some Hachette authors have taken to social media to criticize Amazon. Mega-bestselling author James Patterson, who’s already well-known for his support of independent bookstores, posted on Facebook, “What I don’t understand about this particular battle tactic is how it is in the best interest of Amazon customers. It certainly doesn’t appear to be in the best interest of authors.” Also on Facebook, author Jeffrey Deaver wrote that “Amazon has chosen to attempt to intimidate publisher, authors and readers alike by significantly reducing purchase price discounts of my books and those written by other Hachette authors,” noting that the “similar items” suggestions appeared on his books. More author tweets:
Anytime one of the major retailers chokes access to a major publisher, readers & writers should rightfully be alarmed.—
Joe Hill (@joe_hill) May 14, 2014
The Association of Authors’ Representatives, a literary agents’ association, sent a letter to Amazon this week, Publishers Weekly reports, in which it wrote that “the AAR deplores any attempt by any party that would seek to injure and punish innocent authors–and their innocent readers–in order to pursue its position in a business dispute. We believe that such actions are analogous to hostage-taking to extort concessions, and are just as indefensible.”
Some had wondered why the Washington Post, which is now owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, hadn’t weighed in on the dispute. Martin Baron, the Post’s executive editor, told Politico it was partly because the paper doesn’t have a full-time book publishing reporter. Then on Wednesday, a post appeared on the Post’s Wonkblog comparing the Amazon/Hachette fight to the debate over net neutrality: “Wanting to give consumers access to its products through the biggest single pipeline available, Hachette may relent on the price at which it sells books to Amazon, squeezing its slim profit margins even further.”
Bookstore chain Books-A-Million, meanwhile, took advantage of the situation with a press release claiming that “out of the company’s 10 most popular titles on Booksamillion.com, six belong to Hachette Book Group.”
Pretty much the only support I’ve seen for Amazon came from Hugh Howey, the bestselling author of the self-published trilogy Wool (which is now published in print by Simon & Schuster). “What you have is a company fighting for lower prices for customers, while keeping the pay for publishers and authors the same, and they are evil,” he wrote, adding, “The real losers are the authors and readers, of course.”