Amazon: Hachette dispute may not be solved quickly

Amazon and Hachette are reportedly at odds over terms for e-book prices, at a time when Amazon is in a position of strength and vulnerability.

Rick Wilking/Reuters/File
A box from Amazon.com is pictured on the porch of a house in Golden, Colorado. The online retailer is currently in a dispute with New York publisher Hachette over ebook prices, which is resulting in shipping delays for some customers.

Amazon says a dispute between it and publisher Hachette that has made it more difficult to buy Hachette books on the site could drag out.

It is even saying that customers should go to its competitors if they need a book published by the major New York publishing house quickly.

The e-commerce giant said late Tuesday it has been ordering less stock from Hachette and stopped letting customers pre-order books by Hachette authors, which include J.K. Rowling, James Patterson and Michael Connelley. Hachette said the changes affect about 5,000 titles. The changes had been widely reported butAmazon had not commented on them previously.

"If you order 1,000 items from Amazon, 989 will be unaffected by this interruption," Amazon said in a statement. "If you do need one of the affected titles quickly, we regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors."

Hachette on Friday and then again on Wednesday that it would "spare no effort" to resume normal business operations with Amazon.

But Amazon said Tuesday it was "not optimistic" the companies would reach an agreement soon.

"Hachette has operated in good faith and we admire the company and its executives," Amazon said in a statement. "Nevertheless, the two companies have so far failed to find a solution."

Amazon and Hachette are reportedly at odds over terms for e-book prices, at a time when Amazon is in a position of strength and vulnerability. The Seattle-based company is the most powerful force in the book market, believed to have a share of more than 60 percent of e-book sales and at least a third of book sales overall. Rivals have struggled to compete with Amazon's discounts and customer service.

But recent earnings reports have been disappointing and Amazon's stock prices, which surged for years despite narrow profits, have dropped sharply in 2014.

Numerous Hachette authors have criticized Amazon in recent weeks, including Sherman Alexie and James Patterson, who on his Facebook page noted that the purchase of books written by him, Malcolm Gladwell, Nicholas Sparks and others had been made more difficult.

Amazon said it has offered to fund 50 percent of an author pool allocated by Hachette to lessen the impact the move has on author royalties if Hachette funds the other half.

But Hachette on Wednesday responded and said that it will wait until the companies agree on overall terms before it talks to Amazon about compensating authors for the damage the dispute has caused. Hachette, a subsidiary of French media company Lagardere, said there was more at stake than just royalties.

"In addition to royalties, (authors) are concerned with audience, career, culture, education, art, entertainment, and connection," Hachette said in a statement. "By preventing its customers from connecting with these authors' books, Amazon indicates that it considers books to be like any other consumer good. They are not."

Amazon shares rose $1.73 to $312.55 during midday trading.

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