updated 06:36 pm EDT, Tue June 17, 2014
Pre-orders now discounted as titles disappear from Amazon listings
Exactly as predicted by critics, Amazon has begun flexing its muscle as the dominant e-book seller, and is now trying to renegotiate better deals with publishers to help its sagging bottom line. It is currently engaged in a very public fight with Hatchette, and has removed a number of best-sellers from its store as well as delayed or refused orders for other (physical) books. As with Walmart and some other outlets, Apple's iBookstore is now offering discounted pre-orders on the "missing from Amazon" books.
While Apple doesn't sell physical books as Amazon does, it can offer readers eager to peruse J.K. Rowling's latest novel or the new works from James Patterson and Douglas Preston the ability to place a pre-order for the e-book versions immediately, discounted now down to just $10. All 30 of the titles in the new iBookstore section are currently unavailable from Amazon.
Amazon has drawn considerable criticism for its recent moves, which are seen as "strong-arming" publishers of both books and DVDs (some Warner Brothers movie releases are no longer available or even listed for the same reason as the Hatchette books are missing). German publisher Bonnier is also feeling pressure from Amazon, as the retailer attempts to leverage its popularity as a seller in order to force content producers to give it cheaper wholesale prices the on goods -- ironically taking a page from Walmart's playbook, which has likewise earned that company deep resentment among some consumers.
Amazon says the removal of key titles and other harmful actions are a standard part of its tactics with vendors, saying "negotiating for acceptable terms is an essential business practice that is critical to keeping service and value high for customers in the medium and long term," though fans of the authors -- and the authors themselves -- are furious. "Bookstores, libraries, authors, and books themselves are caught in the crossfire of an economic war," said Patterson in a Facebook post. "If this is the new American way, then maybe it has to be changed -- by law, if necessary -- immediately, if not sooner."
Nina Laden, a children's book author, reprinted on her blog a copy of a letter she sent to Amazon, saying that "I have supported Amazon for as long as Amazon has existed ... I am frankly shocked and angry at what you are doing to my new book "Once Upon A Memory" which has just won the Crystal Kite Award and is published by Little Brown. You are punishing me -- the author -- because you want a deeper discount from Hachette -- this is deplorable. Your actions to raise the prices of our books, place banners touting books that "are similar but lower in price" and saying that our books will ship in 3-5 weeks when they are in stock is not only a disgusting negotiation practice, but it has made me tell my readers to shop elsewhere -- and they are and will ... I'm sorry that I've supported you in the past."
Steve Jobs, in suggesting to publishers that Apple would use the already-existing "agency model" that allows publishers to set prices, predicted that Amazon would eventually have to either raise its loss-leader prices on books and e-books or would attempt to bully publishers into selling wholesale at a lower price. In an email to HarperCollins to convince the publisher to join Apple's then-unreleased iBookstore, Jobs pointed out that publishers could set their own prices, as opposed to the way Amazon offered e-books below cost to build supremacy in book selling. HarperCollins could "keep going with Amazon at $9.99. You will make a bit more money in the short term, but in the medium term Amazon will tell you they will be paying you 70 percent of $9.99. They have shareholders too."
Apple and other publishers have said that Apple (and Barnes & Noble's) entry into the e-book market prevented Amazon from engaging in some of its more egregious "negotiating" practices, and that competition did force Amazon to agree to accept "agency model" pricing from publishers. Following the Department of Justice's lawsuit against Apple, however, Amazon appears to be feeling emboldened that it can return to a monopoly status, and use that power to extract better terms from publishers and content producers.