Amazon jabs Hachette in e-books dispute: 'We will never give up'

In a letter to readers and authors, the e-commerce giants asks people to email Hachette's CEO saying they want lower e-book prices.

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CNET

Amazon on Saturday stepped up its rhetoric against book publisher Hachette, calling on authors and readers to pressure the publisher's CEO to accept Amazon's terms in a nearly four-month dispute over e-book pricing.

In a letter to readers posted online, Amazon again made its case for why e-book prices should be lower and asked people to email Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch telling him to accept the Seattle-based e-commerce giant's terms in the dispute. Amazon's letter listed Pietsch's email along with several suggested talking points, including:

Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.

Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon's offers to take them out of the middle.

The letter was also sent to all Amazon Kindle Direct authors Saturday morning, according to Forbes.

Amazon and Hachette, the fourth-largest publisher in the US, have been in a contract dispute over e-book pricing for several months. Terms of their negotiations have not been made public, but it's widely believed the issues stem from both Amazon's desire for a larger percentage of each e-book sale -- 50 percent, not 30 percent -- and Hachette's desire to price e-books above $9.99.

So far, the dispute has only affected US customers, but many in the publishing industry see the fight as emblematic of a larger struggle. Amazon controls, by some estimates, a third of the entire book market and more than half of the e-book market.

On Monday, Hachette responded with a letter of its own criticizing Amazon's negotiation tactics and defending the price of its e-books.

"This dispute started because Amazon is seeking a lot more profit and even more market share, at the expense of authors, bricks and mortar bookstores, and ourselves," Pietsch said in the letter that will be sent "over the next couple of days" to everyone who emailed him about the e-book dispute. "We call on Amazon to withdraw the sanctions against Hachette's authors that they have unilaterally imposed, and restore their books to normal levels of availability."

Pietsch also said in the letter that 80 percent of the e-books Hachette publishes are already priced at $9.99 or lower and that e-books priced higher -- "most at $11.99 and $12.99" -- are less than half of the price of their corresponding print books.

The dispute heated up in May when Amazon removed preorder buttons from upcoming Hachette titles and refused to restock its books. Hachette accused the company of purposely delaying shipment and using authors as bargaining chips. In July, a group of nearly 900 authors, including heavyweights like Stephen King, Jennifer Egan, and John Grisham, signed a letter opposing Amazon's negotiation tactics. That letter is set to run as a full-page ad in The New York Times.

In its Saturday letter, Amazon said it has made "three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle." Last month, Amazon publicly offered to continue accepting 30 percent of e-book sales, its current take, if Hachette lowered e-book prices to $9.99 from $12.99 and $14.99.

Amazon declined to comment.

CNET's Nick Statt contributed to this report.

Updated at 9:35 a.m. PT August 11 with Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch's response to Amazon's Saturday letter.

 

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