DoJ questions publishers, as Green and Gladwell condemn Amazon

DoJ questions publishers, as Green and Gladwell condemn Amazon

Two years after the settlement of the antitrust lawsuit on e-book pricing, the US Justice Department has now gone back to Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins asking about any recent pricing discussions they may have had with others in the industry, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

According to the News Corp-owned WSJ, the significance of the move isn't clear, but the Justice Department's enquiries have "created anxiety in the publishing industry" by reopening a "sensitive and costly issue that publishers thought they had resolved".

The development comes as the stand-off between Hachette Book Group and Amazon – thought to be focused on the renegotiation of e-book terms – continues, with delays to shipment of some HBG titles and a removal of the pre-order facility on others.

Bestselling authors John Green and Malcolm Gladwell are the latest to speak against Amazon for its role in the current dispute over terms with the Hachette Book Group in the US.

When questioned about the dispute while promoting the film adaptation of his book The Fault in Our Stars (Penguin) yesterday (2nd June), Green accused the internet retailer of bullying, and of threatening the future of publishers. He said: "What’s ultimately at stake is whether Amazon is going to be able to freely and permanently bully publishers into eventual nonexistence… The breadth of American literature and the quality of American literature is in no small part due to the work that publishers do, and it’s very unfortunate, in my opinion, to see Amazon refuse to acknowledge the importance of that partnership."

Malcolm Gladwell, whose books including David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, is published by Hachette company Little, Brown in the US. In an interview with the New York Times, he said that it was "sort of heartbreaking" to see a "partner" turn on him, with his sales on Amazon halved since the dispute began. He said: "Over the past 15 years, I have sold millions of dollars’ worth of books on Amazon, which means I have made millions of dollars for Amazon. I would have thought I was one of their best assets. I thought we were partners in a business that has done well. This seems an odd way to treat someone who has made you millions of dollars."

He described Amazon as the Goliath in the relationship between the retailer and the publisher, and said: "There's no question who is the more powerful here." He added: "I don’t think human beings reward those who hurt them. If Amazon wanted me to do something in their interest, I imagine they would do something in my interest. This isn’t."

However, Gladwell said the partnership could still be repaired, and that Amazon and publishers needed each other. He concluded: "If this keeps going, the authors are going to have to get together. It’s Hachette now, but I don’t think anyone is under any illusions it stops with Hachette."

James Patterson and Jeffery Deaver have also spoken out about the dispute.

Both Amazon and Hachette issued statements on the dispute last week. Yesterday, figures in the UK trade shared their concerns on the implications of the dispute.

Images by Kris Krug and Ton Koene