Amazon Doubles Down on Intimidation Campaign Against Hachette

Amazon has doubled down on its campaign of intimidation with book publisher Hachette, actively pulling high profile Hachette books from preorder. As noted by The New York Times, J.K. Rowling's The Silkworm (A Cormoran Strike Novel) (under pen name Robert Galbraith) is now listed as "Currently Unavailable," rather than preorder, and the same is true for the paperback version of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, a biography by Brad Stone.

Currently and Artificially Unavailable

Both books are highly anticipated titles that are available now from Apple's iBooks and from Barnes and Noble. A variety of independent book stores will also happily take your money.

For instance, The Silkworm is available as a $12.99 preorder from iBooks, or as a $21 hardcover and $14.99 Nook ebook from Barnes and Noble.

The Everything Store has been out for some time in hard back. You can buy it in hardback from Amazon for $15.82, a competitive price, or as a Kindle ebook for $14.99. The paperback, which will be released in October, is listed as unavailable for preorder.

Apple's iBooks offers The Everything Store for $10.99, while Barnes and Noble has the hardback ($16.13), Nook ebook ($14.99), and paperback preorder ($13.50).

Amazon has been accused of using a variety of artificial tactics to force Hachette to give the retailer better terms, including smaller discounts for Hachette books, multi-week delivery times for books that are in stock, and aggressive recommendations for other publishers' titles.

Not allowing preorders on highly anticipated books is yet another such tactic. The Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons is scheduled for release in July. Amazon has pages for hardback and paperback, but no preorders are allowed. A $62.99 audio book—note the high price—is available, but the Kindle version is missing entirely.

iBooks has the title for preorder at $12.99, while Barnes and Noble has the hardback ($17.55) and Nook ($12.99) for preorder.

Amazon's campaign against Hachette has been going on for months, and it's Hachette's authors who are paying at least as big a price as Hachette. Of course, most authors aren't large corporations with deep pockets, and many people have speculated that Amazon's intent is to cause those authors to rise up and force Hachette to give Amazon whatever terms it wants.

So far that hasn't been the case, and that could be because few authors are idiots. They know that giving Amazon better terms is merely another step in Amazon's perpetual race to the bottom, and that in the long run it will result in less money for them, too.

Jay Kristoff, one of my favorite new authors, wrote a beautiful (expletive-filled) rant on the subject. His first book, Stormdancer, which was published by MacMillan, is available on Amazon in hardback, paperback, Kindle, and audio versions from $8.95 to $21.95.

Children's author Nina Laden, who has books distributed by Hachette, posted a protest on Facebook heavily criticizing the retailer. N.K. Jemisin tweeted this:

In fact, every author I've seen commenting on the issue has slammed Amazon for the corporate bully it is. That said, I have still seen a bizarre lack of commentary (other than mine) on how this whole move shows that the DOJ went after the wrong target when it sued Apple for conspiring to raise ebook prices.

In a healthy market, Amazon's bully tactics would have only limited effect. Amazon has distorted that market by dumping books below cost, snapping up share that gives it an incredible amount of power in the book market. When the company uses these intimidation tactics, authors and their publisher both feel it.

What's the most interesting thing to me is that Amazon has escalated its bully tactics even in the face of increased author criticism and markedly increased media attention on the matter. Clearly Amazon's leadership feels like the DOJ won't touch them, and they're probably right to do so.

After the farce that was Judge Denise Cote's trial against Apple, it's very clear that the DOJ was dancing to Amazon's tune. That trial and the DOJ's campaign against Apple only served to concentrate power in Amazon's hands, and Amazon is obviously ready to flex that power.

One last note: Amazon is using similar tactics in the German market, "using its dominant position in the market to blackmail the publishers,” according to Alexander Skipis, president of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association. Europe has a different attitude about the excesses of capitalism than the U.S., and I'll be shocked if Germany's regulators are as willing to aid and abet Amazon's march to monopoly.