Never one to fight a single battle at a time, Amazon is in conflict with publishers in multiple countries, including Bonnier in Germany, Hachette Book Group in the US, and (reportedly) unnamed publishers in the UK.
And now we can add Japan to that list.
The Asahi Shimbun is reporting that Amazon has launched a new ranking system which has Japanese publishers up in arms.
Amazon Japan is the nation's largest book retailer for paper and electronic media. Its new system gives higher rankings to publishers that pay higher fees to Amazon Japan and to publishers with larger eBook catalogs.
Additionally, eBooks from publishers ranked higher are given more prominence on the Amazon.co.jp website.
Many publishers, including high-profile publishing houses, have protested the move, calling it a form of "blackmail" that exploits the company's considerable dominance in the book retailing industry.
"Wouldn't antitrust authorities start to wonder if Amazon Japan is taking advantage of its monopolistic position in the market?" said Bungeishunju Ltd. when it protested to Amazon Japan in June.
After checking several Japanese news sites (both English-language and Japanese) I have yet to uncover a corroborating story, so I would suggest that we take the above quote with a large grain of salt.
Update: The story, including general details on the rating system, has been confirmed/reported by the AFP.
Second Update: The comment section over at The Passive Voice blog has pointed out that the accusations quoted above sound like co-op, a common business practice in the US.
But while I was looking I did find an unrelated story from July.
It seems that a number ofJapanese publishers do not appreciate Amazon's sales practices, and according to the Manichi Shimbun they responded by removing their titles from Amazon.co.jp.
In a dispute which reportedly started in May (but only came across my desk today), 5 publishers suspended sales via Amazon with the demand that the retail giant end student discounts. The publishers object to Amazon skirting Japan's fixed book price laws via Amazon Student membership service, which launched in Japan in 2012.
The retailer awards 10 percent of a book's price as "points" to registered student purchasers. They can use these points to purchase books at discount prices. The retail price of books, however, is controlled through resale price maintenance, in which retailers are required to sell books at the price set by publishers. Through its service, Amazon is in effect giving students a 10 percent discount on books.
Five publishers joined a boycott of Amazon in May, and 3 were continuing the boycott when my source story was published in early July. About 2,700 titles were affected by the boycott.
I can't confirm that the boycott continues to this day, but I would not be surprised. I can add, however, that other publishers have expressed dissatisfaction with Amazon's discount practices but don't feel they can afford to join the boycott. For example, Kodansha is described as saying that "its business with the online retailer is extensive, including e-book services, and it cannot easily resort to suspending Amazon sales."
It's not clear how or when that boycott will be resolved, but as one American publisher has shown it is possible to avoid doing business with Amazon. EDC was recently profiled in Business Insider in relation to its cutting ties with Amazon in 2012:
With no real choice, White took the leap in 2012, becoming one of the only publishers in the country to spurn the “everything store.” Distributors who resell books to Amazon, including Ingram and Baker & Taylor, also soon found their supplies of books like “The Gas We Pass” and “Sticker Dolly Dressing Dream Jobs” cut off. For good measure, EDC also ditched other big-box discount stores, including Sam’s Club, Costco, and Target.
In a turn of events that might offer some solace to other publishers, White recently announced that EDC has not only survived the leap into the unknown but just had its best year ever in net revenues. July sales were up 28% over the same month last year, and first-quarter revenues came in 20% higher than 2013’s numbers.
Amazon was only a small fraction of EDC's business, so the decision to cut ties may have beenblown out of proportion, but it still shows that life is possible without Amazon.
image by Daniel E Lee