Is Hachette Playing Dirty Tricks in Their Contract Dispute With Amazon?

4245550588_9e56b4e8db_o[1]It has been a week since news broke that Amazon and Hachette were in the middle of a nasty contract negotiation, and much ink has been spilled about Amazon's dirty tricks. The NYTimes has cited instances of Amazon running out of stock on Hachette titles, Publishers Weekly has posted a behind the scenes view of what's at stake, and yesterday GigaOm posted a roundup of responses to the negotiation.

But  in spite of all this coverage I think there's an aspect of this story which no one has covered yet, and that is the possibility that Hachette isn't exactly being honest about their shipping policies.

As you might recall, a Hachette spokesperson was quoted in the NYTimes article and blamed Amazon for the shipping issues:

"We have been asked legitimate questions about why many of our books are at present marked out of stock with relatively long estimated shipping times on the Amazon website, in contrast to immediate availability on other websites and in stores," said Sophie Cottrell, a Hachette spokeswoman. "We are satisfying all Amazon’s orders promptly."

Based on what one author has reported, I suspect that Hachette might have an unusual definition for the word "promptly".

Michael Sullivan, writing over at DBW, detailed his experiences over the past few months. He has a very different view of Hachette's actions:

From March 9th until May 8th my wife, and business manager, was having constant emails and phone conversations with my editor, publisher, and Amazon over these issues. We were getting very mixed messages. On April 29th, during a phone call with Amazon’s Author Central, the Amazon representative indicated they had more than a dozen purchase orders placed from April 21st – 24th which had not yet shipped. At that time, Hachette was indicating ship dates of May 2nd – May 10th. Hachette has continually assured us all orders were shipping "in a timely manner" and Amazon was to blame for placing small orders. We’ve asked for copies of the purchase orders and confirmation of the shipment dates from my publisher but have been told, "It is not information we would like to be shared with any third party at the current time."

Tell me, does a minimum of a 10 day shipping delay meet your definition of "a timely manner"? It doesn't meet mine.

While some might argue that it makes little sense for Hachette to pull this trick, the fact remains that they're not shipping as fast as they could be. In this day and age most companies can get orders out the door within a few days, and it is taking Hachette as much as 2 weeks to pack and ship Amazon's orders.

And in a time like this, when Amazon is doing everything they can to discourage sales, Hachette should be doing everything in their power to get the orders out the door as fast as they can. Until they do they have no right to point fingers and blame Amazon for the stock situation (the pricing and promotion tricks are another matter; those are entirely Amazon).

P.S. You might want to click through to the DBW article and see just how big of an impact Amazon is having. Sullivan says that print sales of one title are down 40% or more, and that ebook sales dropped off as well.

image by public.resource.org

24 thoughts on “Is Hachette Playing Dirty Tricks in Their Contract Dispute With Amazon?

  1. The pricing and promotion tricks are entirely within Amazon’s purview, no?
    Absent a contract, they are under no obligation to promote their titles and even under a contract there is no requirement they discount the titles.

    And since the main bone of contention is that Hachette doesn’t want amazon to discount their titles…

    Its called hardball and it’s usually a game for adults, not whiny children.
    Even with a friendly media on their side, Hachette going public is far from wise.

      1. I’m thinking whoever called up their buddies at the NYT didn’t think through what they were starting. For one thing, B&N is deeply beholden to the BPHs yet they managed to survive their standoff with S&S for a year. Amazon can surely survive a similar standoff that long or longer… which means another 8-9 months…

          1. Heh. Good point. Their authors won’t know just how badly they’re getting clobbered until october but the stockholders will know sooner.
            42% drop in pbook sales, perchance?
            Do they hold quarterly investor telecons? Where somebody might ask how making public the terms of the contract negotiations might suddenly make Amazon more pliable?

          2. Oh, I wasn’t only talking about the money. The problem with going public is that if Amazon is publicly seen to break Hachette then the psychological effect on the industry will be even more damaging than the hit to Hachette’s pocketbook.

        1. People traditionally in a position of power tend to whine when they don’t get their way. They are not accustomed to an even playing-field.

  2. Comparing prices on Hachette titles between Amazon and B&N is quite revealing.

    B&N has cheaper hardcover prices.

    Amazon has cheaper ebook prices often half the price of B&N. This means Amazon is blowing past the 30% threshold.

  3. Trusting any publisher on the concept of timely is ridiculous. Just look at how timely the author royalty statements are.

      1. Publishers think that a statement was delivered promptly if it arrives while the book is still in copyright.

      1. Where’s the evidence that Amazon is not run by space aliens intent on destroying earth? Where’s the evidence that we are safe from Amazon’s destruction of the earth?

        In case you haven’t understood my point… you can’t disprove a negative. You can make up any silly statement you want and then you can say there is no evidence to counter it, when in reality there is no evidence to support it either, and the supporting evidence is what really matters.

        1. My question to flyingtoastr referenced claims he had made but could not offer evidence to support. It was a way of saying that he doesn’t get to call me on stuff.

          I would not usually challenge someone like that but he and I have a special relationship.

  4. The general public has no idea how Amazon works and what the stakes are. So it’s easy to demonize the vendors (publishers). This is not just about Hatchette, not about one publisher, and not an isolated case. Don’t make the mistake of viewing Amazon as the good guy.

    1. Nobody would be demonizing the publishers if it weren’t for the fact that almost everyone is demonizing Amazon (unfairly). The idea that Amazon is at fault for not discounting prices is truly absurd, yet it is Amazon that is getting the heat from the NYT and everyone else.

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