Hachette to Amazon: Speed up our book deliveries

Hachette Book Group, one of the world's largest book publishers, claimed retail giant Amazon (AMZN) has punished it by delaying the shipment of titles, according to The New York Times. The publisher alleged that Amazon is slowing shipments "for reasons of its own," even though it was receiving books.

For example, the recent memoir "Everybody's Got Something" by "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts lists as "Usually ships within 2 to 5 weeks" on Amazon, although Barnes & Noble's website shows it as shipping within 24 hours. Typically, Amazon ships books within a few days.

However, the shift doesn't seem to affect all Hachette books. Malcolm Gladwell's "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" shows immediate availability from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Hachette sent a statement to CBS MoneyWatch noting that while it doesn't normally comment on negotiations with retailers, "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" at Amazon. Hachette said it is "satisfying all Amazon's orders promptly" but that Amazon is "holding minimal stock" and "slowly" restocking some titles.

Amazon hasn't responded to a CBS MoneyWatch request for comment.

A number of authors have complained that they're bearing the brunt of the dispute. Some say Amazon has ceased discounting their books, which caused a significant drop in their sales. Others claim Amazon is also promoting competing titles.

It could be that Amazon is pushing for more favorable terms or discounts, given it apparently has previously used availability on its site as a lever. A dispute with publisher Macmillan over e-book prices in 2010 led to the "buy" buttons on many of Amazon listings for the company's titles being removed.

According to author Brad Stone, whose book "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon" came out last year, Amazon became more demanding over time as its sales volume became more significant. Small publishers allegedly faced even more pressure, with CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly saying Amazon "should approach these small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle."

In 2012, Amazon's U.K. branch allegedly pressured some members of its marketplace, where small companies sell a variety of goods, to increase prices on other websites so that Amazon's pricing wouldn't be higher.

Although Amazon isn't technically close to being a monopoly, it does hold strong sway over the publishing industry. According to publishing consultant Joe Berger, "one or two major players controls the lion's share of the business and a dispute between a publisher and that large distributor can be a disaster."
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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