Round Three – Hachette vs Amazon

Amazon-HachetteEarlier this month reports started to circulate that Amazon had acted to slow the speed with which it fulfilled orders on Hachette’s titles, with delays in some shipments reaching five weeks.

The news was first broken by the New York Times on May 8. However this appears to have only been ’round two’ in an extended series of ‘negotiations’ which may have started back in February when Michael Sullivan first noticed that the discounts for all his Riyria books listed on had vanished, raising the price of  his ebooks from $8.59 – $8.89 to $9.99 and his print books from $11.41 – $13.80 to $16.00 or $17.00. What was even more disturbing, however, was the discounts on most of his fellow Orbit (the fantasy imprint of Hachette) author’s books had disappeared as well.

Michael also started to see stocking issues from March 9 with both Hachette and Amazon blaming each other for the delays (Hachette accusing Amazon of placing small orders, Amazon blaming Hachette for not filling them). However, we are now well and truly into round 3 with Amazon upping the ante by removing the preorder capabilities on many major forthcoming Hachette titles. In a statement issued on Friday 23rd of May and reported in Publishers Weekly, Hachette said, “Amazon has now taken preorder capabilities away from Hachette Book Group publications. Forthcoming books now bear a notice ‘currently unavailable’ and a note inviting customers to ask for an email when it becomes available. There is no preorder button, and some not-yet-published books lack a Kindle page entirely.”

Publishers Lunch reported late Thursday that preorder buy buttons for the next J.K Rowling (as Robert Galbraith) novel, The Silkworm, due out June 19, were removed from the title’s page. The paperback of Brad Stone’s exposé of Amazon, The Everything Store, to be published in October, is also among the affected titles. In fact, all the titles highlighted on Hachette’s preview of upcoming titles are currently unavailable for preorder on Amazon.

Hachette closed its statement by saying: “We are doing everything in our power to find a solution to this difficult situation, one that best serves our authors and their work, and that preserves our ability to survive and thrive as a strong and author-centric publishing company.”

This is not the first time Amazon has gone toe to toe with a major publisher.  The bookseller pulled all the “buy” buttons for Macmillan books in 2010 in a dispute over e-book pricing. Two years later, Amazon was negotiating for a higher discount with the distributor Independent Publishers Group. When IPG refused to cave-in Amazon removed more than 4,000 IPG e-books from its site.

The problem is that in this fight between behemoths it is the writer and the reader who lose. Michael Sullivan is concerned that the sales figures he has seen show a drop of around 50% in the three months since February, and of course readers lose out on their discounts (unless of course they change supplier).