It’s been a week since it became clear that Amazon is delaying shipments of publisher Hachette’s print titles, likely due to a fight over terms. As Amazon continues to ship many Hachette print titles with delays of two weeks or more, the story is picking up momentum and more authors are criticizing the retailer’s actions. In addition to the shipping delays, Amazon is using other tactics to pressure Hachette. For example, it’s offering shoppers lower discounts on Hachette titles and in some cases is suggesting “similar items at a lower price.”
For months now, Amazon has been trying to put the screws on Hachette, the smallest of the Big Five publishers, by discouraging people from buying its printed books. Amazon’s goal: force Hachette to give it better terms on e-books. Retailers have always pushed publishers for better terms. Barnes & Noble in its prime was famous for throwing its considerable weight around. Just last year, in perhaps one final assertion of its dwindling powers, B&N stocked fewer Simon & Schuster books because it felt the publisher was not doing enough to “support” the chain. Two things make Amazon’s confrontational stance toward Hachette unusual. First, there is the overwhelming power Amazon has in the marketplace. I usually write that it controls a third of the American book business — new, used and e-books — although other estimates put it as high as half. Barnes & Noble at its peak had to be mindful of Borders, whose stores were just a short drive away. But Amazon has blown away its online competition.