This David Streitfeld article in the New York Times has been the subject of lots of chatter in the literary corners of the Web. People who are already wary of the immense power granted to Amazon by virtue of the fact that it sells roughly one-third of all books sold. The idea of a bookseller sabotaging one publisher’s books to force that publisher to agree to more favorable wholesale terms is disturbing on several levels:
- Nobody like a bully, and Amazon appears to be taking advantage of its massive popularity to hold authors and readers hostage in a money grab.
- Shoppers expect that if a product is available, they will be able to buy it. The idea that a seller would choose not to sell an available product to customers who want it seems nonsensical and could erode trust in online shopping (of course, there are people who would see that as a plus, not a negative).
- Most readers have little idea of who published the book they are seeking. The average book shopper will likely not realize that the same book listed as out of stock at Amazon is probably available immediately at another site.
- The people who are being most hurt are the authors, whose books are no longer readily available at the world’s largest bookseller. Fewer sales equals fewer royalties and fewer chances for emerging authors to build the elusive word-of-mouth that can spell the difference between a book’s success and its failure.
Among Amazon’s tactics against Hachette, some of which it has been employing for months, are charging more for its books and suggesting that readers might enjoy instead a book from another author. If customers for some reason persist and buy a Hachette book anyway, Amazon is saying it will take weeks to deliver it.
Ultimately, Streitfeld says, the tactic may backfire on Amazon:
If Amazon needs to improve its bottom line, it is a dangerous game to make things harder for its customers.
(via New York Times)