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The New York Times reports on a new front being opened in the three-month war between Amazon and Hachette over book pricing, which Amazon virtually halting the sale of books published by Hachette as a way of forcing the publisher to agree to lower prices on e-books. Hachette responds that Amazon is being a bully, using its ever-increasing market power as a way of pushing it into near-irrelevance.

Now, there is a letter from more than 900 writers being sent to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos - and published as a full-page ad in Sunday's Times - demanding that Amazon stop using authors as virtual hostages in the negotiations.

The Times writes: "This latest uproar in Amazon’s three-month public battle with Hachette comes at a vulnerable moment for the Internet giant, which is rapidly transforming itself into an empire that not only sells culture but creates it, too.

"Amazon does not want to be seen as hostile to content creators, one of the four groups it says on its investor relations web page it is expressly set up to serve. But it also has to price their creations cheaply enough to draw hordes of consumers, while at the same time making enough of a profit to satisfy investors.

"It is a complicated balancing act. Some argue it is impossible. Amazon just surprised Wall Street by saying it may lose more than $800 million this quarter, potentially wiping out its profits for the last three years, partly because creating video content is expensive. The prospect of this unexpected loss has raised questions about whether Amazon’s money-losing ways are finally catching up with it — and whether that is the real reason it is making new demands on publishers like Hachette."

The letter has been signed by authors such as Stephen King, John Grisham, Robert A. Caro, Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Chabon, Michael Lewis, Jon Krakauer, Scott Turow, Sebastian Junger, and Nora Roberts, with the wealthier authors paying for the placement in Sunday's Times. It originated with Douglas Preston, a thriller writer who has seen his sales and pre-orders plummet since the Amazon-Hachette war broke out - roughly half of his sales have been on Amazon.

"“We feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want,” the letter states.
KC's View:
I wonder to what extent the battle against Amazon will get any sort of grassroots traction; the problems of publishers and authors may not capture the public's imagination the same way other issues do.

Nobody ever asked me to sign this letter, but I probably would have, since I do think that Amazon is making a mistake here. I understand that Amazon is just doing what a lot of big retailers do - using their power to drive down prices. But Amazon has occupied a different position in the minds of consumers, mostly because it has positioned itself that way, and this battle may dilute its image to some degree.

That said, this is a tricky balancing act. Amazon needs to satisfy its customers, suppliers, authors and investors … and there may be no way to make everybody happy. In the end, it has to side with its customers … and the question is, does it best do that by making everything available on its site at sharp prices, or by using its clout to drive prices down even more, even if that means making some products unavailable for a time?