Amazon Flexes Muscle, Pulls Titles In Ongoing Dispute With Publisher

When perusing Amazon for a too-good-to-put-down book, consumers often assume the site’s vast library of titles includes all that’s available in the literary world. But the e-tailer is now putting pressure on one publisher by making it hard to find and order that company’s books.

The New York Times’ Bits blog reports that Amazon recently escalated its e-book pricing dispute with book publisher Hachette, pulling pre-order options from titles like the upcoming J.K. Rowling novel and the upcoming The Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons.

In other reported measures, Amazon has discouraged the purchase of Hachette books by cutting discounts, taking weeks to ship, suggesting other books to consumers and increasing the discount of e-book versions, the Times reports.

The move isn’t relegated to just U.S. consumers either. Deliveries of books issued by major German publisher Bonnier have also been delayed.

“Of course it is very comfortable for customers to be able to order over the Internet, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Alexander Skipis, president of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, tells the Times. “But with such an online structure as pursued by Amazon, a book market is being destroyed that has been nurtured over decades and centuries.”

Skipis said his organization is looking into whether the move by Amazon violates the law.

Amazon’s tactics, long criticized by the publishing industry, are not going unnoticed by authors. Children’s book writer Nina Laden, who is published by Hachette, recently voiced her disapproval.

“Your actions to raise the prices of our books, place banners touting books that ‘are similar but lower in price’ and saying that our books will ship in 3-5 weeks when they are in stock is not only a disgusting negotiation practice, but it has made me tell my readers to shop elsewhere — and they are and will,” she wrote in a Facebook post also sent to the retailer.

This isn’t Amazon’s first attempt to strong-arm publishers. In 2010, the retailer briefly removed the “buy” button from Macmillian published books. That same year, the e-tailer lowered the prices on Penguin hardcovers to $9.99 when the publisher refused to budge on e-book pricing.

E-book pricing has been a contentious issue for years. Initially, sellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble were generally able to determine the retail prices charged for titles. Then, after Apple got into the e-book business, many publishers switched to the so-called agency model, where the publisher sets the price with the seller getting a fixed percentage of the sale price.

This model resulted in higher prices for e-books and ultimately led to lawsuits against Apple and several publishers, including Hachette, Macmillan and Penguin. The publishers settled these claims, refunding some $166 million to consumers in 32 states.

Amazon Escalates Its Battle Against Publishers [The New York Times Bits]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.