Amazon Goes to the WSJ to Defend Itself

In News by Dennis Abrams

By Dennis Abrams

As Amazon’s dispute with Hachette reached its third month, a senior executive from Amazon “defended the company against criticism that it is using its growing clout in electronic books to bully a major publisher into onerous contractual terms” in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, arguing that Amazon is simply working to get better prices for its customers.

Russ Grandinetti, VP of Kindle Content

Russ Grandinetti, VP of Kindle Content

In an interview with the paper, Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s senior vice president of Kindle content, while acknowledging that the company had suffered some damage to its reputation, said it was willing to take the hit, “in the long-term interest of our customers.”

“The discussion is all about e-book pricing,” he told Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, the Wall Street Journal‘s book reporter. “The terms under which we trade will determine how good the prices are that we can offer consumers.”

Trachtenberg noted that customer frustration at not being able to get the titles they want is not unfamiliar territory for Amazon, given its experience in early 2010 with Macmillan. “At the time, the publisher told Amazon that it intended to move to the ‘agency’ pricing model in which publishers set the retail price of their digital books, from the wholesale model, in which retailers set the retail price. Amazon opposed the switch, because it prevented it from discounting titles.”

“We were fighting for what we thought was right for consumers, and the same is true here,” said Grandinetti.

And while Grandinetti “declined to comment on the current state of negotiations” with Hachette, Trachtenberg cited one industry executive who said that because of the stakes involved, both sides are finding it difficult to reach an agreement. “Hachette would have come to terms if they felt that what Amazon was seeking was manageable,” said “this person.” And as for Amazon, “If they walk away without a victory of some kind, they’ll get punished on Wall Street.”

Meanwhile, the article says, “the cold war continues.” For example, Amazon on Tuesday had the hardcover edition of a new Hachette title, Elin Hilderbrand’s The Matchmaker on sale for $25.20 at a 10% discount, while promising shipping within one to four weeks. But at BarnesandNoble.com, the book was for sale at $16.80 with a 40% discount and shipping within 24 hours.

And in a related story, GeekWire reports that Amazon has named Edan Lepucki’s new novel California as one of the “best books of July.”

The problem? It’s published by Hachette.

As Tricia Durvee wrote:

“Given the lengths that Amazon has gone to play hardball with Hachette, it’s puzzling why Amazon’s editorial team thought it was a good idea to promote the title as a top pick of the month. The title is ‘currently unavailable’ for pre-order before it starts shipping on July 7. Additionally, there’s no Kindle link on the book’s product page, GigaOm 

An Amazon spokeswoman says “Amazon’s editorial team chooses their book recommendations independent of other teams, adding that California will be available for customers to order on July 8. No word, though, on shipping time.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.