Amazon Plays “Dirty Pool” with Hachette
Last time it was with Macmillan, now Amazon has targeted French-owned Hachette in their latest tantrum to show who holds the power in the book industry these days. It takes a hearty publisher to stand up to bullying and in defense of Hachette, indie booksellers across the country are spotlighting their books in respect for their long history of discovering authors and publishing great books.
American business has seen this before … powerful business holds vendor hostage when the vendor challenges demands. Big business knows its strength and when having captured a sizable chunk of market share, starts using its leverage in more and more aggressive ways.
This first hold-off was Macmillan, the first publisher to stand up against Amazon. The issue was pricing of e-books. When Macmillan refused to accept Amazon’s terms, the online retailer denied customers access to Macmillan titles. Imagine if you were the author with a brand new book that week … or a customer who was searching for a book they had just read about, but couldn’t find on the site. Now, several Hachette titles are noted as “unavailable for up to three weeks” when the books are already selling in indie bookstores.
Those of us in the book business were shocked at this behavior. Never before in our industry had a retailer placed demands without room for negotiation and consideration for authors and publishers. Similar to the vendor strategies used by Wal-mart that have been widely exposed in the press, Amazon is flexing its muscle too. When their goal is to attract shoppers with above-average income, they’ve targeted the book industry. They’ll price books below their cost (legal in the U.S., but damaging to small business), squeeze publishers, and go to great lengths to get their way and dominate so they can gain even more power.
In independent bookselling, there’s a respect for the whole line of people involved in turning an idea into a book (print or electronic). For years, the industry has worked well with the win/win model. While there were bumps in the road at times, this dynamic with Amazon takes power to a whole new level. For another American corporation to operate on this level is embarrassing … and disgusting.
In Amazon’s own back yard, they worked to get the book fair business with the local school system. Yet locals asked, “what about Island Books, the indie bookseller who has supported our schools for decades?” The people voted to stay with Island Books and owners Roger and Nancy Page who have donated thousands of dollars over the years. Yay for the little guy!
Where we shop does make a difference. Let’s keep encouraging this mindfulness and giving people reasons to shop with locally owned businesses who are not on a level playing field, but persist in honest, fair work.