​Amazon says Hachette dispute won't end quickly

Best-selling author Scott Turow calls it "breathtaking," while James Patterson has deemed it a "war." For Amazon.com, however, it's apparently business as usual.

The publishing world has been in an uproar over a dispute between Amazon.com (AMZN) and publisher Hachette, with writers and readers caught in the middle. The standoff escalated last week, with Amazon pulling pre-order buttons from well-known writers such as J.K. Rowling and Michael Connelly.

As rumblings about the dispute circulated through the publishing world, alarming writers and their readers, Amazon remained largely silent. On Tuesday, however, the retailer said in a statement that it is "not optimistic this will be resolved soon," and added that the company was negotiating "on behalf of customers." In the meantime, authors whose books are published by Hachette are caught in the middle, and some readers are urging a boycott of Amazon.

"It's leaving a sour taste in my mouth, there's no question," Hugo-award winning author Will McIntosh told CBS MoneyWatch in an interview. "Growing up in the dot-com age, seeing Amazon start out, you think of it as one of these different companies that cares about the way they do things, and cares about doing the right thing."

But with the dispute, Amazon's behavior "feels very Wal-Mart," he added.

McIntosh's new novel, "Defenders," is published by Hachette's Orbit imprint, and Amazon has priced it at $16 for the paperback edition, the cover price, rather than at a discounted price typically offered by the retailer. Amazon also raised the price of his earlier novel "Love Minus Eighty" to $16.

"It's pretty clear it's hurting sales of the book," he said, adding that he hopes readers put off by Amazon's pricing will go elsewhere, such as Barnes & Noble, where "Defenders" is on sale.

Amazon, for its part, said in its statement that negotiating "equitable terms ... is one of a bookseller's, or any retailer's, most important jobs." It also offered to fund half of an "author pool" to help lessen the impact of the dispute on Hachette authors, if the publisher funds the other 50 percent.

The gesture may not do much to ease concerns that the retailer has grown into a behemoth unafraid of flexing its muscle. Scott Turow, an attorney and the author of best-sellers such as "Presumed Innocent," told the Chicago Tribune that the dispute is a sign that Amazon is "interested in using their market power to their own advantage and to pad their bottom line."

Turow added, "The problem that Hachette is experiencing right now is that there really is nowhere else to go."

Patterson, meanwhile, wrote on his website that "bookstores, libraries, authors, and books themselves are caught in the crossfire of an economic war."

So far, the dispute hasn't yet hurt Amazon's brand perception among consumers, according to YouGov's BrandIndex. The brand tracking service says retailer's score among adults 18 and older hasn't changed, but that it's possible the situation hasn't yet reached awareness on a national level.

Given that Amazon has always billed itself as consumer-friendly -- as well as the place to buy everything from books to the kitchen sink, all with fast delivery -- its hard-nosed stance may risk eroding consumers' goodwill. On Tuesday, Amazon urged consumers to buy unavailable Hachette books "from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors."

In a statement on its website, Hachette said Amazon was "holding minimal stock" and posting "available 2-4 weeks" messages "for reasons of their own."

The bottom line may be that Amazon has a bigger prize in mind: Winning profits from retailing, an industry known for its thin margins. While often a favorite with investors, the company's failure to turn its hefty sales into sustainable and growing profits has weighed down its stock, which has shed about 20 percent of its value this year.

For writers and readers, that means they've been left in the lurch when it comes to Hachette books. As McIntosh notes, "Writers don't make a ton of money. It's painful to have this, something that has nothing to do with the book or my writing, just some dispute between billion-dollar companies."

  • Aimee Picchi

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