Amazon vs. Hachette

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Hachette and Amazon are involved in a fight over sales terms, to the detriment of writers, says the NYT’s tech reporter David Streitfeld in not just one, but two articles published at the end of last week (Streitfeld doesn’t appear to have a personal interest in this; he is one of the few NYT reporters that hasn’t published a book).

Streitfeld says Amazon is in a “secret campaign to discourage customers from buying books by Hachette,” by cutting discounts on some of the publisher’s titles, increasing delivery times, as well as “suggesting that readers might enjoy instead a book from another author” (we’re not sure what that means; Amazon routinely lists titles that “customers who bought this also bought”). This is presumably in retaliation for Hachette balking at new demands as part of their contract renewal (neither side admits to that), which is nothing new. As Publishers Weekly says, this seems to have become “a rite of spring.”

Unfortunately, as Forbes Magazine points out squeezing suppliers is business as usual in all areas of retailing  (WalMart has turned it into a fine art). In fact, Forbes views Amazon’s moves as “small-ball tactics” that are actually a show of weakness, because “both Hachette and Amazon know that Amazon can’t afford to pull Hachette from its shelves.”

As of today, although the NYT has published two stories on the dispute, The Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, however, has not  (although they did one on Amazon expanding Sunday deliveries to 15 more cities). UPDATE:  The Washington Post covers the story on Wednesday, May 14, noting that Hachette may be forced to “relent on the price at which it sells books to Amazon, squeezing its slim profit margins even further” and that, as Amazon’s market share increases, “if there’s no real choice of where to buy things, maybe there should be some other way to retain pricing power for those who produce goods in the first place.”

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