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Amazon speaks – finally – about its dispute with publisher Hachette

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Rick Wilking/Reuters

(Read caption) An Amazon package arrives at a house in Golden, Colo.

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More news to report on the Amazon-Hachette dispute: after months of keeping mum on its dispute with Hachette – except for comments in the unlikely location of a Kindle online forum – Amazon has finally broken its silence. A senior executive with the company spoke with The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, defending itself against criticism that it is bullying Hachette by claiming it is battling for better prices for its customers. 

Senior vice president of Kindle content Russ Grandinetti told the Journal it is acting “in the long term interest of our customers.” 

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Amazon’s dispute with publisher Hachette, now in its third month, has had scores of folks in the industry criticizing the online company for bullying behavior. (A group of bestselling authors has signed an open letter asking Amazon to resolve the dispute – more on that soon.)

To pressure Hachette, Amazon has been delaying shipments of the publisher’s titles, removing pre-order buttons from Hachette books, and recommending different, lower-priced titles when customers look for Hachette books.

According to the Journal, the company wants a larger share of e-book revenue from Hachette as well as other concessions related to how books are promoted.

"This discussion is all about e-book pricing," Grandinetti told the WSJ. "The terms under which we trade will determine how good the prices are that we can offer consumers."

So far, Hachette hasn’t budged.

This isn’t the first time Amazon has entered into trade disputes with a publisher. In 2010, when publisher Macmillan wanted to shift e-book sales to the agency model, allowing the publisher, rather than Amazon, to set the price of e-books, Amazon responded by removing the "buy now" buttons from the publisher’s titles. 

"We were fighting for what we thought was right for consumers, and the same is true here," Grandinetti told the WSJ.

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As the UK’s Guardian noted, “The Macmillan dispute in 2010 ended in Amazon backing down, with the retailer announcing: ‘We will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books.’”

Meanwhile, a group of bestselling authors have signed an open letter to Amazon, asking the mega-retailer "to resolve its dispute with Hachette without hurting authors and without blocking or otherwise delaying the sale of books to its customers."

Drafted by Douglas Preston, the letter has been signed by David Baldacci, Lee Child, Amanda Foreman, John Grisham, James Patterson, Anita Shreve, Scott Turow, Anne Applebaum, Clive Cussler, Richard North Patterson, and Simon Winchester, the Bookseller reported. 

“As writers – some but not all published by Hachette – we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want," the letter states. "It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation. Moreover, by inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery, Amazon is contradicting its own written promise to be 'Earth's most customer-centric company.’” 

The letter ended by asking the reader “to email Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, at jeff@amazon.com, and tell him what you think….”

In response to the letter, an Amazon spokesperson told the WSJ, “Our focus for years has been to build a bookstore that benefits authors and readers alike. We take seriously and regret the impact it has when, however infrequently, a terms dispute with a publisher affects authors. We look forward to resolving this issue with Hachette as soon as possible.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.