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Hachette UK to set e-book prices from Monday
20.09.10 | Graeme Neill
Hachette UK will begin setting e-book prices on retailers' websites from Monday after indicating this week that it will move to agency terms with every "reseller, including Amazon and Apple" from 20th September.
The UK's biggest publisher has become the first to break ranks and demand control over prices in the UK and could set it on a collision course with Amazon.co.uk, which has previously insisted that it would set its own Kindle prices. Despite Apple's move into the UK e-book market in May, retailers have continued to control e-book pricing, with Amazon's low-pricing on the Kindle leading to fears that this autumn could be "carnage" for rival retailers.
In an email seen by The Bookseller, Gardners, wrote to retailers telling them of this change from Hachette, which it said would be effective from Monday, 20th September. Gardners provides e-books for retailers including Tesco, The Book Depository and independent bookshops. In an attached agreement document for retailers, it said: "[Retailers] shall agree that it shall not alter the customer price of any e-book without [Hachette's] prior written consent."
Gardners said retailers must sign up to the agreement if they wish to continue selling Hachette e-books. The email added: "Please note that due to the stringent requirements in the agreement I am unable to negotiate and this agreement will be applied to every reseller, including Amazon and Apple. These are not Gardner terms, but the publisher's and may I suggest that should you wish to 'discuss' the terms, direct the queries to the publisher."
In a letter to agents in June, Hachette c.e.o. Tim Hely Hutchinson wrote to agents saying it was in discussions with retailers about the shift to agency. He said at the time: "As we will be selling the books direct to consumers, we will be establishing the sales prices for those transactions." Last week Waterstone's managing director Dominic Myers told The Bookseller that the retailer was not dealing with publishers on agency terms, but added that discussions were ongoing.
It is unclear how Amazon will react, having previously said it would offer the lowest e-book prices in the UK and that it would be setting them. The company declined to comment and if it does not agree with Hachette, it raises the likelihood of a repeat of the terms dispute from 2008, which lasted more than a year and led to Amazon removing the 'Buy New' buttons from Hachette titles.
Hachette's move could lead to other publishers following suit and bringing a uniformity to e-book pricing across retailers.
Hachette declined to comment when contacted by The Bookseller.