In what seems to be becoming an annual rite of spring, a dispute between a major retailer and a major publisher over sales terms has gotten nasty, and gone public. The New York Times reported that Amazon is "discouraging" customers from buying books published by Hachette Book Group after what is, apparently, a dispute over retail terms.
In a full statement about the matter that Hachette sent to PW, the publisher said it is "our normal policy not to comment on negotiations underway with any retailer." But there are, nonetheless, "legitimate questions about why many of our books are at present marked out of stock with relatively long estimated shipping times on the Amazon website, in contrast to immediate availability on other websites and in stores."
Hachette's statement continues: "We are satisfying all Amazon’s orders promptly, and notifying them constantly of forthcoming publicity events and of out-of-stock situations on their website. Amazon is holding minimal stock and restocking some of HBG's books slowly, causing 'available 2-4 weeks' messages, for reasons of their own."
Amazon's unspoken "reasons of their own" are likely demands the retailer is making on Hachette in its annual renegotiation of sales terms, seeking a variety of ways to squeeze more revenue from the publisher. Major retailers--Amazon, being one--have long been known, in the book publishing industry, for being aggressive about seeking ever-better terms from publishers. Lately these disputes, which cannot be discussed publicly for legal reasons, have spilled over into the public eye.
Last year, Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster had a dispute over terms that resulted in reduced availability of the publisher's titles at the retail chain.
Amazon has also had its fair share of showdowns with publishers over terms. Most famously, Amazon removed the "buy buttons" from all books published by Macmillan in 2010. In 2011, a number of publishers told PW that Amazon was not only asking for steeper wholesale discounts on their books, but also demanding steeper co-op fees. The 2011 terms dispute erupted in a public, but short-lived, dispute between Amazon and distributor IPG in which, again, a number of books were unavailable for sale on the Amazon website.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.