Amazon Ramps Up 'Scorched Earth' Tactics Against Publisher

Amazon customers can’t even preorder some Hachette books, in Amazon’s latest move to get a better deal out of the book publisher.
Posted at 10:00 AM, May 24, 2014

Amazon wants better margins on its books business — and recent reports suggest it’s playing dirty to wring them out of book publisher Hachette.

The New York Times has characterized Amazon’s tactics as a “scorched-earth” campaign against the publisher. Amazon has reportedly been recommending non-Hachette authors, charging higher prices for Hachette books and delaying shipping for weeks at a time.

It’s not clear why Amazon is gunning for Hachette specifically, but relations don't seem to be getting any better. Now, visitors to Amazon’s website can’t even order some Hachette books slated for release later this year.

For example: J.K. Rowling’s latest book is not available for preorder. At Barnes & Noble, it is — and it’s 25 percent off.

A writer for Gizmodo wants to remind everyone Amazon, just like its competitors, is not your friend — it’s a company, out for profit.

“While Amazon's relentless push to be cheaper than everyone else—even at the expense of short term profits—definitely has its upsides for lazy customers like you and me, stunts like this Hachette spat call attention to the fact that it's not a ploy to make you a happy customer.”

But Amazon’s latest move has some wondering if it’s crossed the line from cutthroat business to downright monopolistic.

One author who writes for Hachette wondered to the Washington Post:

“What kind of entity in a competitive market would willfully drive customers into the arms of its competitors unless it believes it doesn’t really have any competitors? If this is not an example of untoward power, I don’t know what is.”

The Twitter collective seems to have sided with Hachette on this one — with independent booksellers voicing support for the authors, and some wondering if the Department of Justice will look into Amazon’s antitrust-tinged behavior. (Via @changinghands, @dannysullivan, @matt_levine)

Hachette reps say the company is “exploring all options” to protect its authors. Amazon has yet to issue an official comment.