Shipping delays. Unusually high prices on titles. Books suddenly banished to the realm of "unavailable." Since early May, authors and outsiders have noticed Amazon seemingly putting the squeeze on Hachette, in an attempt to strong-arm the publisher and secure better profit margins—as the e-tailer is wont to do.
Today, amid rising social-media clamor about the face-off, the notoriously camera-shy Amazon confirmed via press release that it was indeed playing hardball. "We are currently buying less (print) inventory and 'safety stock' on titles from the publisher, Hachette, than we ordinarily do, and are no longer taking pre-orders on titles whose publication dates are in the future," wrote Amazon in a statement. Here's the key part (emphasis added):
At Amazon, we do business with more than 70,000 suppliers, including thousands of publishers. One of our important suppliers is Hachette, which is part of a $10 billion media conglomerate. Unfortunately, despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms. Hachette has operated in good faith and we admire the company and its executives. Nevertheless, the two companies have so far failed to find a solution. Even more unfortunate, though we remain hopeful and are working hard to come to a resolution as soon as possible, we are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon.
Authors aren't very happy. Hachette's roster of heavy hitters includes J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, Malcolm Gladwell, and countless others, who will be just fine. Smaller authors, on the other hand, helplessly watch their book sales dwindle.
Perhaps sensing the growing frustration, Amazon has offered to go 50/50 on an author pool with Hachette to "mitigate the impact of this dispute on author royalties." Although it's unclear what kind of terms Amazon is seeking from Hachette, one industry executive told the Wall Street Journal that the spat at least partially concerns e-book prices, the margins of which are already quite handsome.