After two weeks of silence, Amazon has finally given its side of the story in its ongoing contract dispute with Hachette Book Group — disagreeing with critics who say it’s unfairly wielding its power over the book business.
Hachette and Amazon are currently locked in a stalemate over pricing and profit margins for e-books. In a move widely perceived as a retaliatory tactic by Amazon, printed books from Hachette authors are seeing delays of up to 5 weeks on Amazon, and some titles from Hachette authors aren’t available for pre-order on the site.
In a post this afternoon to its customer discussions forum, Amazon acknowledged that it’s “buying less inventory and ‘safety stock’ ” from the publisher, but said it will request Hachette books upon purchase by customers, and ship them once they arrive.
Amazon argued that its actions, despite all the media coverage, aren’t any different from what other retailers do when negotiating with their suppliers.
“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. A retailer can feature a supplier’s items in its advertising and promotional circulars, “stack it high” in the front of the store, keep small quantities on hand in the back aisle, or not carry the item at all, and bookstores and other retailers do these every day. When we negotiate with suppliers, we are doing so on behalf of customers. Negotiating for acceptable terms is an essential business practice that is critical to keeping service and value high for customers in the medium and long term.”
Those statements overlook the outsized role that Amazon has in today’s retail ecosystem. As the largest online retailer, Amazon wields a significant amount of power in any negotiation with its suppliers.
As for the authors who are losing sales from this dispute, Amazon said that it has offered to create an “author pool” – half funded by the Seattle-based retailer and half funded by Hachette – that’s designed to help ease the burden on the authors who are losing sales. Macmillian and Amazon used a similar arrangement during their dispute over e-book pricing in 2010.
What should customers interested in buying a Hachette book do? According to Amazon, look somewhere else.
“If you do need one of the affected titles quickly, we regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors,” the forum post read.
The company said some of the coverage of the issue “has expressed a relatively narrow point of view,” pointing to this post on the topic as an example of a “wider perspective.”
A representative for Hachette did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Amazon’s statements.