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Amazon Versus The Book Publishers

Internet giant Amazon and big publisher  Hachette Book Group are in a bitter dispute over e-book pricing and it is getting dirty. We’ll look at what it means for readers, for writers and the book business.

In this Thursday, May 29, 2014 photo, visitors walk through the Hachette Book Group's exhibition at BookExpo America, the annual industry convention in New York. If you were part of the book business, "Amazon" was a dirty word and "Hachette" an applause line as editors, booksellers, writers and agents pondered, fretted and largely refused to discuss the well-publicized and sharply-worded standoff in negotiations between the online retailer and Hachette Book Group. (AP)

In this Thursday, May 29, 2014 photo, visitors walk through the Hachette Book Group’s exhibition at BookExpo America, the annual industry convention in New York. If you were part of the book business, “Amazon” was a dirty word and “Hachette” an applause line as editors, booksellers, writers and agents pondered, fretted and largely refused to discuss the well-publicized and sharply-worded standoff in negotiations between the online retailer and Hachette Book Group. (AP)

Gigantic Amazon controls a huge portion of all book sales in America now, and right now it’s using that power “bare knuckles” with one of the country’s biggest book publishers, Hachette.  If you’re looking for the latest from J.K. Rowling or James Patterson or Stephen Colbert on Amazon, good luck.  The Internet giant is playing real hardball in negotiations over who gets what in e-book sales.  At one level, it’s just business.  At another, it’s about how the Internet can concentrate power, in this case in the realm of books – ideas. This hour On Point:  Amazon versus the publishers, and the future of ideas in America.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Jeffrey Trachtenberg, book publishing reporter for The Wall Street Journal. (@JeffreyT1)

Roxana Robinson, novelist and author of “Sparta,” “Cost,” “Sweetwater” and many others. President of the Authors Guild.

Porter Bibb, managing partner in corporate finance at Mediatech Capital Partners. (@porter3)

Ben Edelman, associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. (@bgedelman)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Goes Back to Publishers on Prices — “Two years after three major book publishers settled a major civil antitrust lawsuit with the federal government, the Justice Department has gone back to the publishers asking about any recent pricing discussions they may have had with others in the industry, say people familiar with the situation.”

Reuters: Amazon/Hachette dispute unlikely to provoke regulators, experts say — “The U.S. government’s unwillingness to stop Amazon.com from using hardball tactics in fights with book publishers has angered book lovers but antitrust experts say regulators are unlikely to intervene in what appear to be business disputes. Amazon has delayed the delivery of some Hachette Book Group titles and even removed an option to pre-order ‘The Silkworm,’ by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith. ”

New York Times: Amazon Absorbing Price Fight Punches — “Hachette is the first big publisher to enter talks with Amazon since the last round of negotiations, and book people have rejoiced watching the bully get sand — a heap of negative press — kicked in his face. Amazon, beloved by Wall Street (until recently) and its customers for putting growth and low prices ahead of profits, is getting a bit of an image makeover right now, and the results have not been pretty.”

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