Amazon vs. Hachette

The dispute came to light early last month after the two parties began renegotiating terms for the sale of e-books on Amazon’s popular Kindle platform
Emma Walton Hamilton

The Amazon vs. Hachette Book Group dispute, which is making headlines across the country as authors, bloggers, and angry customers speak out against the Internet giant, is also affecting the East End, which has a robust community of writers, many of them published by Hachette.

Emma Walton Hamilton, Melissa de la Cruz, Jimmy Buffett, Katie Brown, Kurt Wenzel — the list goes on and on. Even Joy Behar from the TV show “The View,” who has a house in East Hampton, has published with Hachette. Local authors, and authors everywhere, make their living from book sales, and not many of them are blockbuster best-selling writers who can rely on success and money without Amazon.

According to The Washington Post, the dispute came to light early last month after the two parties began renegotiating terms for the sale of e-books on Amazon’s popular Kindle platform and Amazon began pressuring the publisher for steeper discounts. Amazon wants to sell Hachette’s e-books for less, while Hachette, needless to say, wants to maintain control over price points — especially since most e-books are already sold for less than hardcovers. With the growing electronic book market, lower e-book prices are exactly what publishers do not want.

The conflict has been disastrous for both authors and consumers. The New York Times has reported that Amazon has not only driven up the prices of many Hachette books but has been actively suggesting that consumers buy “similar” books from other publishers instead. And, many Hachette books are taking three to five weeks to ship from Amazon, even though there is no lack of supply. This is unusual for Amazon, which boasts that it is dedicated to lower prices and faster shipping, and has led to Internet outrage and whispers of antitrust lawsuits. According to The Times, the dispute is not likely to end soon.

Amazon offers its Kindle books as a solution to the problem, and all Hachette Kindle books remain available for immediate purchase and download. But e-books are not the universal answer. Many readers don’t want e-books, and many authors cannot depend on electronic book sales.

Such is the case for Ms. Hamilton, the co-founder of the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor and the author, with her mother, Julie Andrews, of “The Very Fairy Princess” book series. Ms. Hamilton’s books are for young children and include full-color illustrations. Kindle books, she said last week, do not provide the “tactile experience, page-turning, and full-color art” that children want and need.

Kindle books also do not make a very good present, she said. Ms. Hamilton’s most recent book, “The Very Fairy Princess: Graduation Girl,” which came out in April, is published by Little, Brown Kids, a division of Hachette. Amazon is currently showing that the book “usually ships within 2 to 4 weeks.” This is a problem, she said, since “graduations are happening now across the country, for weeks now . . . and people have been planning for their graduation gifts.”

Pointing out that Amazon controls almost 50 percent of the book market, Ms. Hamilton said the dispute has been “dramatically hurting our book sales.” Making matters even worse, she said, it is a “pivotal point in the series. Right now, contract for any other titles depends on further sales. This may impact whether the series as a whole continues,” even though, she stressed, her experience with the publishing group “has been nothing but nurturing, supportive, and author-friendly.”

“Publishers have a lot more to lose” in the dispute than Amazon, she said. “Hachette makes its money from books. Period. Amazon is in the everything business.”

Mr. Wenzel, whose books include “Exposure” and “Gotham Tragic,” published with Hachette in the past and echoed Ms. Hamilton’s thoughts on the company, saying he always had a good relationship with Little, Brown and Company, part of the Hachette Book Group. When he published with Hachette, he said, “Nobody had problems getting books back then, and Amazon was a great tool for both the publishers and the consumers.”

He criticized Amazon, the largest retailer of books in America, for bringing consumers into the dispute. Amazon is “essentially discouraging or preventing people from access to books, and that’s a huge problem,” he said. He also worried that the conflict might discourage authors from signing up with Hachette when they could just as easily go to, say, Random House. Random House is currently on good terms with Amazon — or at least not at war with it.

Nelson DeMille, however, predicted that “this may backfire on [Amazon]. Certainly they’ve lost the good will of most authors in America.” Mr. DeMille, a New York Times best-selling author who lives on Long Island, has given many talks and readings on the East End. He publishes with Hachette as well.

“Amazon is engaged in some deception regarding the availability of books,” he said. “Amazon’s website is showing three to five weeks to ship, or ‘out of stock,’ when in reality these books are available to Amazon from the publishers in any quantity Amazon wants.”

The fact that Amazon controls nearly half the market has been detrimental to Mr. DeMille’s sales, as it has been to many hundreds of lesser-known authors who cannot afford to lose half their retail audience for weeks at a time.

So why will Hachette not budge?

Mr. DeMille suggested that Amazon was “looking for such deep discounts from the publishers that the profit starts to dwindle for both publishers and authors, which especially affects struggling new writers.” Hachette could give into Amazon’s bullying right now, he said, but the results would be disastrous for the publishing market as a whole. As for the local community of authors, its income would definitely take a turn for the worse.

Mr. Wenzel, summing up, said the entire publishing world was changing. “Bookstores are turning into showrooms,” he said; readers see books on the shelves and then go buy them from Amazon, where they will receive a steep discount. Ms. Hamilton, for her part, encouraged people in the community to go to BookHampton and buy or order books.