11 Aug 2014

Books 'hostage' in Amazon dispute

11:31 am on 11 August 2014

A row between a book publisher and online retailer Amazon has intensified after hundreds of authors published a letter urging the company to stop harming their livelihoods.

Donna Tartt.

Donna Tartt. Photo: AFP

Best-selling writers including James Patterson and Donna Tartt have signed a letter to the retailer which appeared in the New York Times.

More than 900 authors made the public appeal to the bookselling giant to end a bitter publishing dispute that they say has been hurting writers and readers.

Amazon is in a battle with Hachette, one of the world's biggest publishers, over the terms of e-book sales, the BBC reports

The online retailer has delayed delivery, prevented pre-orders and removed discounts for books by some Hachette authors, who include JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer and David Baldacci.

The letter said Amazon had singled out a group of authors for "selective retaliation" and was "inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery".

It said their books had been "taken hostage" by Amazon's tactics.

James Patterson.

James Patterson. Photo: AFP

"Many of us have supported Amazon since it was a struggling start-up," the letter said. "Our books launched Amazon on the road to selling everything and becoming one of the world's largest corporations.

"We have made Amazon many millions of dollars and over the years have contributed so much, free of charge, to the company by way of co-operation, joint promotions, reviews and blogs.

"This is no way to treat a business partner. Nor is it the right way to treat your friends.

"Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon, we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business."

The letter concludes by asking readers to email Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to urge him to end the dispute.

Other Hachette authors to have signed up include Baldacci, Sandra Brown, Jeffery Deaver, Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Handler, who writes as Lemony Snicket.

Lee Child, Paul Auster, John Grisham, Philip Pullman and Stephen King - who are published by other houses - have also added their names.

But some of Hachette's biggest names, including Rowling and Meyer, have not.

In a recent blog, Amazon said e-books were too expensive and most should cost $US9.99 rather than the current $US14.99 or $US19.99.

"With an e-book, there's no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out-of-stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market - e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can be and should be less expensive."

Meanwhile, a petition in support of Amazon, which claims Hachette wants to keep e-book prices "artificially high", has attracted 7600 signatures, including a number of self-published authors who praised the retailer for creating a more democratic industry.

One, Theresa Ragan, wrote that she had failed to get the attention of established publishers until Amazon allowed her to self-publish.