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A publishing mystery: Amazon 'buy' button disappears

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(Read caption) Amazon's explanation that its Kindle store was experiencing a "technical issue" struck some in the industry as "laconic."

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It’s another installment of Sherlock Holmes: Amazon Edition. In the latest mystery to stir suspicion in the book world, Amazon’s buy button disappeared on its US website for several hours Thursday night.

The buy button disappearance affected the Kindle e-book versions of a range of titles, perhaps all, by the big six publishers. No other publishers were affected by the mysterious disappearance. The buy buttons returned within a few hours.

“The Kindle Store is experiencing a technical issue,” Amazon said in a statement described as “laconic” by bookseller newsletter Shelf Awareness.  “We’re working to correct it.”

Herein lies the mystery. Was it indeed a “technical” issue, as Amazon described it? Or, as many in the publishing industry believe, was it a deliberate action designed to threaten major publishers?

It turns out this isn’t the first time Amazon has experienced this particular technical issue. The most famous incident occurred in early 2010 when Amazon removed buy buttons for all Macmillan titles to protest the publisher’s adoption of the agency model for e-books which allowed Macmillan, rather than Amazon, to set e-book prices. During that particularly nasty books war, Amazon halted the sale of Macmillan titles on its Kindle store before ultimately backing down.

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