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