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Summary:

Amazon is delaying shipments of publisher Hachette’s titles as the two parties try to negotiate a new contract. Criticism of Amazon mounted this week, especially from Hachette authors.

Amazon Package
photo: Flickr / William Christiansen

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 thatAmazon 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:

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.”

  1. Rebekah Ann Dine Friday, May 16, 2014

    Amazon doesn’t care about quality, it only cares about its bottom line which is money. They make a mistake their way of covering it is to say, oops our bad we hope you understand and don’t fix anything.

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  2. Isn’t the criticism of Amazon a similar tactic by ~Hachette (or related interests) to pressure Amazon for more favorable terms?

    It isn’t rocket science. If Amazon negotiates a better deal, the benefits to the customer are obvious; passing savings on to customers in the form of lower or flat rates, right? People (pretending to be) oblivious to this benefit are either seriously obtuse or disingenuous.

    This (manufactured) outrage seems no less underhanded or manipulative than what Amazon is doing, but by the same token is equally mundane as a business practice.

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    1. I cant agree more! As Sean Fanning was want to say, “Again it’s adapt or die!” If publishers flaunt a business model that the current marketplace does not want to support, then they need to figure out how to adapt. Authors too can adapt as once you have the name you can sell your own books and avoid the superfluous middleman.

      Either way everyone wins and the publishing industry is forced to lean out which it is in dire need of!!!

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    2. Thanks for the comment! I guess the opposite point of view is that we have no idea whether, if Amazon is getting a better rate on print books from Hachette, it is going to pass those savings along to consumers. The issue is (as far as we know) about the price that Amazon pays Hachette, not the price that customers pay for Hachette books.

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  3. The authors are apparently being pressured by Hachette to try to pressure Amazon. Seems the authors are caught in the middle, but I wonder if they would get more money of Amazon acceded to Hachette’s terms. I know many of the protesting authors are big supporters of independent bookstores. They should pressure Hachette into not selling through Amazon and see how well that goes.

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  4. Is there ANY evidence that what you’re printing is true? Yes, it appears Hachette titles are shipping slowly at Amazon. There could be any number of reasons for that. One possibility is what you are “reporting”, that Amazon is delaying shipments. Another possibility is that Hachette is delaying shipments. And it’s possible that nobody is deliberately doing anything to delay shipments, it’s just random or somebody’s error.

    Again, any evidence at all to back up this story? Has any reporter even attempted to get to the bottom of it?

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    1. Thanks for the comment! Hachette has publicly stated that the delays are on Amazon’s end: https://gigaom.com/2014/05/09/amazon-delays-hachette-book-shipments-as-companies-negotiate-contract/

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  5. I’m not happy with this situation AT ALL, which is why I started a #ReadHachette campaign on Twitter to support HBG authors. It’s doing well so far, so hopefully everyone who says they will shop elsewhere will actually do it!

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  6. Predatory price policies like those pursued by Amazon favor monopolies which are bad for consumers (less choices and eventually higher prices) and for the industry.
    In culture could be considered a form of censorship and that is unacceptable.
    Great article exposing the issue. Interesting the reply of the Washington Post (editorial freedom??)

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