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Hachette-Amazon continue negotiations in much-talked-about dispute Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Wednesday, 11 June 2014 05:06 PM America/New_York

Amazon-ColbertStickerComedian and Hachette Book Group author Stephen Colbert further stirred the publishing pot recently regarding a dispute between the prominent publisher and online giant Amazon.

Colbert asked viewers of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report to place on their books stickers that read: “I didn’t buy it on Amazon.” He is not alone in his opposition. Several best-selling authors, including James Patterson and J.K. Rowling, side with him against Amazon, but the online retailer also has its supporters, including thriller writer Barry Eisler and best-selling author Hugh Howey.

Hachette’s most recent comment on the dispute indicates that negotiations are continuing, but progress has been made:

“It is good to see Amazon acknowledge that its business decisions significantly affect authors' lives,” Hachette’s statement said. “For reasons of their own, Amazon has limited its customers' ability to buy more than 5,000 Hachette titles.

“Authors, with whom we at Hachette have been partners for nearly two centuries, engage in a complex and difficult mission to communicate with readers. In addition to royalties, they are concerned with audience, career, culture, education, art, entertainment and connection. By preventing its customers from connecting with these authors' books, Amazon indicates that it considers books to be like any other consumer good. They are not.

“We will spare no effort to resume normal business relations with Amazon—which has been a great partner for years—but under terms that value appropriately for the years ahead the author's unique role in creating books, and the publisher's role in editing, marketing and distributing them at the same time that it recognizes Amazon's importance as a retailer and innovator. Once we have reached such an agreement, we will be happy to discuss with Amazon its ideas about compensating authors for the damage its demand for improved terms may have done them and to pass along any payments it considers appropriate.”

Senior Vice President and Publisher Rolf Zettersten observed that Hachette Nashville’s “hottest-selling book” at present is Instinct by T.D. Jakes.

“It has been No. 1 on the New York Times Advice best-seller list for four consecutive weeks,” Zettersten told Christian Retailing.  “I'm happy that Amazon has also kept that title in stock.”

The disagreement has been played out in public since early last month. Customers also cannot pre-order through Amazon Hachette titles such as Rowling’s crime novel The Silkworm, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

Literary agent Chip MacGregor observed on his blog that the biggest topic of conversation at the recent Book Expo America was the Amazon-Hachette dispute. He pointed out that the fight is all about the bottom line.

“Amazon, a company that used to pride itself on being customer focused, is deliberately choosing to treat customers badly, in order to try and force better terms from Hachette,” he writes. “(In addition to wanting to sell books at a loss, they want more marketing dollars from Hachette, and of course are pushing for greater discounts. This fight is ALL about money.)”

The American Booksellers Association (ABA) has produced two banners for independent booksellers to use on social media, in newsletters or on their websites. The banners read: “Thanks, Amazon, the indies will take it from here,” with tag line options of “Independent bookstores sell books from all publishers. Always,” or “Pre-order and buy Hachette titles today.” Taking a positive approach, booksellers also can download ABA-designed stickers that read: "I bought it at an independent bookstore" and "I bought it at my local, independent bookstore."

An Amazon statement from May 27 reads: “Suppliers get to decide the terms under which they are willing to sell to a retailer. It's reciprocally the right of a retailer to determine whether the terms on offer are acceptable and to stock items accordingly.”

The online retailer added that the “business interruption affects a small percentage of Amazon's demand-weighted units” and points to its third-party sellers for resolution.

”We've offered to Hachette to fund 50% of an author pool—to be allocated by Hachette—to mitigate the impact of this dispute on author royalties, if Hachette funds the other 50%,” the statement read. “We did this with the publisher Macmillan some years ago. We hope Hachette takes us up on it.”