Friday, September 26, 2008

The stand-off between Hachette UK and Amazon continues, with all publishers watching closely, thinking ‘it could be us next’. You will recall that this kicked off back in the spring, with Hachette refusing to concede to Amazon’s terms demands and Amazon ‘punishing’ the publisher by removing the ‘buy new’ buttons (sometimes reported as ‘buy now’, incidentally) from key titles. Hachette Livre UK CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson wrote to authors outlining the group’s position, and has gained much respect (or even more respect: he has a lot anyway) from his fellow publishers for his tough stance. They see him as fighting a battle on behalf of all publishers.

None is perhaps watching the situation as closely as Random House whose own agreement with Amazon has run its course. It knows it could be “in the trenches with them soon”, as one senior figure told me recently. The deeper issue for publishers – the issue beyond terms, although that matters too, of course – is about control of content. Put simply, publishers suspect Amazon’s intentions. They point to Keith Donohue’s The Stolen Child, quietly published by Vintage in the UK last year. In the US, Amazon has bought a film option on this title and is looking to find a studio partner. Publishers forsee a day when Amazon will be so powerful it will be dictating exactly what is published. They worry that its ‘closed loop systems’ will continue – as with Kindle – and that, in the UK, it will take a larger and larger slice of the market, putting independents out of business and destabilising what is already a fragile enough market.

But back to the Hachette dispute. It does seem that the publisher has the upper hand here. Its titles are visible on the Amazon site, but Amazon presumably has to source them from Bertrams and Gardners, two definite winners it would seem, with Amazon naturally having to pay higher, wholesaler terms.

Of course, trying to explain all of the above – the respective party’s positions etc etc – to non-trade folk at a dinner party is a sure way to end the evening swiftly.

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