Amazon, Publisher Hachette at War Over Control of Ebooks

Friday, 23 May 2014 08:59 PM

By Cathy Burke

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A tug-of-war for "the future of publishing" – ebooks – is underway between retailing Goliath Amazon and one of the country's largest book publishers, Hachette Book Group.

Hachette, whose best-selling writers include James Patterson and Michael Connelly, said Friday that Amazon is no longer allowing its customers to preorder coming titles, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The literary community is both afraid – and outraged, The New York Times reported.

"How is this not extortion? You know, the thing that is illegal when the Mafia does it," Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House asked, according to the Times.

Patterson called the confrontation between Amazon and the publishers "a war" in a Facebook post titled, "Four of the most important paragraphs I'll ever write."

"Bookstores, libraries, authors, and books themselves are caught in the crossfire of an economic war," he wrote. "If this is the new American way, then maybe it has to be changed — by law, if necessary — immediately, if not sooner."

According to the Journal, since pre-orders play a huge role in book sales, Amazon's power play is likely to hurt Hachette's sales of new titles, making it harder for the publisher to hit the best-seller lists that influence many book buyers.

The move – first reported by industry newsletter Publishers Lunch, the Journal said – comes as Hachette and Amazon are negotiating a new agreement governing terms under which Amazon will sell Hachette ebooks, a Hachette spokeswoman told the newspaper.

"We are determined to protect the value of our authors’ books and our own work in editing, distributing. and marketing them," Sophie Cottrell, a Hachette senior vice president, told the Times. "We hope this difficult situation will not last a long time, but we are sparing no effort and exploring all options."

Even though the war is over physical books, it's the control of ebooks – "the future of publishing" – that's at stake, the Times reported.

Amazon is the dominant ebook company and feels it deserves more of the digital proceeds than it is already getting. The publishers, contemplating a slide into irrelevance if not nonexistence, are trying to hold the line, the Times reported.

Earlier this month, Amazon began to label many of Hachette's older titles as out of stock with long shipping times, the Journal reported; Hachette had said it was fulfilling Amazon orders promptly but that the retailer was holding only "minimal stock."

Amazon's pre-order move will have "a devastating impact on a new release," author Michael Koryta wrote on his blog. Koryta has a book "Those Who Wish Me Dead" coming out from Hachette's Little, Brown imprint June 3, though it's marked as "unavailable" on Amazon.

Koryta tells his fans to buy his book somewhere else.

"It's not as hard as Amazon would like you to think that it is," he wrote.

Amazon had little to say to either newspaper about the conflict.

"We talk when we have something to say," Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder and chief executive, said at the company’s annual meeting this week, the Times reported.

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