Why Some Books You're Looking To Buy On Amazon Aren't There

Amazon is making it harder for customers to get books published by Hachette and its imprints. Amazon wants deeper discounts on the publisher's books; Hachette is balking. So if you go to the online retailer looking for, say, the new J.K. Rowling mystery, Amazon tells you the hardcover is currently unavailable.

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A dispute between Amazon and Hachette Publishing Company could make it hard for you to buy certain books. Amazon is using some tough tactics to discourage consumers from buying books published by Hachette. NPR's Lynn Neary joins us now to explain what this is about. And, Lynn, why would Amazon want to make it difficult for customers to buy books if they want?

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Well, the situation stems from a contract dispute with Hachette. Amazon was looking for better terms on the sale of Hachette's books, and when it didn't get what it wanted it started making those books a little harder to get. For example, Amazon has removed the preorder availability for Hachette books. And, yes, that would include J.K. Rowling's latest novel. That book is one of the books that's unavailable to buy at the moment as a preorder, though it will be available again on the regular on-sale date. Amazon is also using a delivery method, which means it could take longer to get a book published by Hachette. And it's selling Hachette books at an undiscounted price. For example, a new book called "The Three," which has been getting some buzz lately, can only be purchased in hardcover on Amazon for the full price of $26, whereas a new book by another publisher, "The One and Only," is selling for $16.52 instead of the full price of $28.

SIEGEL: Why so much antagonism between Hachette and Amazon?

NEARY: Well, it's not just between Hachette and Amazon. In fact, pretty much everybody in the book industry is concerned that Amazon wields way too much power over them. Publishers, writers, booksellers are all worried about this. And the problem, particularly for publishers, is that they're dependent on Amazon - publishers and writers - they're dependent on Amazon to sell their books. But that puts the publishers in a very weak position when it comes to negotiation over prices and who gets the biggest share of the profits. And right now Wall Street is pressuring Amazon to increase its profit margin. So, that explains why it's turning to these hardball tactics right now. But it's not the first time that this has happened. In 2010, Amazon got into a similar dispute with another one of the big five publishing companies, Macmillan. It removed the buy button for Macmillan books for a short time back then. And also remember the Justice Department brought suit against the five major publishing companies and Apple for price fixing. And the ruling in that case favored Amazon when the publishers think it's Amazon who should be investigated for anti-competitive practices.

SIEGEL: Lynn, you mentioned writers. How are the authors reacting to this?

NEARY: Well, you can imagine that writers are very frustrated. You know, writers spend years working on a book and sometimes they wait a year or two to get it published. So, now they're finally at a point where the book is for sale and it's very difficult to see that a company like Amazon is making it hard for consumers to buy their books. And normally they really wouldn't say anything because they know they're very dependent on Amazon. But this has made them so angry that a number of writers are taking to social media - Twitter, other places like that, to complain about these tactics, saying that they're just pawns in this game between Amazon and the publishers and they should be treated this way.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Lynn.

NEARY: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Lynn Neary, who covers books and the publishing industry.

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