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Has Amazon become the bully in the alley?

June 4
4:34 AM 2014

Amazon has reportedly turned to dirty browbeating amid a contract battle with top publisher Hachette. The internet retailer has subjected many books from Hachette to artificial purchase delays, suspended pre-orders of new titles, increased prices, and stopped re-stocking existing ones.

Amazon is in the middle of negotiation with Hachette involving e-book sales. Although both parties are mum on the details, Amazon's action over Hachette titles is an indication that the negotiations are not going very well, and Amazon is flexing its muscle to get what it wants from Hachette. In a public statement released last month, Amazon said the negotiations are "on behalf of customers".

This caused some people to call for a boycott of Amazon, including Gawker's Tom Scocca and best-selling novelist James Patterson, who just recently pledged to give $1 million of his fortune to independent bookstores. On Patterson's Facebook page, he wrote, "...There is a war going on between Amazon and book publishers...What I don't understand about this particular battle tactic is how it is in the best interest of Amazon customers. It certainly doesn't appear to be in the best interest of authors".

In turn, retailers including Walmart, Target and Barnes & Noble gladly welcomed the publisher-retailer conflict as an opportunity to sell more. Walmart reportedly slashed up to 40 percent off to 400 Hachette titles and promised faster shipping of the books.

A few years ago, Amazon figured in a similar dispute with American publisher MacMillan--Amazon pulled out books from MacMillan when the latter asked Amazon to raise the price of e-books. Amazon expressed its disagreement by temporarily removing the "buy" button from thousands of titles published by MacMillan, only to later relent and agree to the price adjustment.

In that battle, the publisher won. Would Amazon accept another defeat this time? Meanwhile, there are readers and writers who are caught in the crossfire.

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