Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Amazon Inc. and new owner of The Washington Post, leaves from the newspaper's offices after a meeting in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013.

T.J. Kirkpatrick, Bloomberg

Amazon flexes its muscle as publisher dispute escalates

  • New York Times
  • May 23, 2014 - 9:32 PM


Amazon, under fire in much of the literary community for energetically discouraging customers from buying books from the publisher Hachette, has abruptly escalated the battle.

The retailer began refusing orders for coming Hachette books, including J.K. Rowling’s new novel. The paperback edition of Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” — a book that Amazon disliked so much that it denounced it — is suddenly listed as “unavailable.”

In some cases, even the pages promoting the books have disappeared. Anne Rivers Siddons’ new novel, “The Girls of August,” coming in July, no longer has a page for the physical book or even the Kindle edition. Only the audio edition is still being sold (for more than $60). Otherwise it is as if it did not exist.

Amazon is also flexing its muscles in Germany, delaying deliveries of books issued by Bonnier, a major publisher.

“It appears that Amazon is doing exactly that on the German market which it has been doing on the U.S. market: using its dominant position in the market to blackmail the publishers,” said Alexander Skipis, president of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association.

The association said its antitrust experts were examining whether Amazon’s tactics violate the law.

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

The confrontations with the publishers are the biggest display of Amazon’s dominance since it briefly stripped another publisher, Macmillan, of its “buy” buttons in 2010. It seems likely to encourage debate about the enormous power the company wields. No company in U.S. history has exerted the control over the U.S. book market — physical, digital and secondhand — that Amazon does.

Amazon controls an increasing share of the U.S. digital book market in the wake of the Justice Department’s successful pursuit of most of the major New York publishers on antitrust violations having to do with the pricing of e-books.

For several months, Amazon has been quietly discouraging the sales of Hachette’s physical books by several techniques — cutting the customer’s discount so the book approaches list price; taking weeks to ship the book; suggesting that prospective customers buy other books instead; and increasing the discount for the Kindle version.

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