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Book News: Amazon Defends Tough Negotiating Tactics

Amazon is "not optimistic that this will be resolved soon," speaking about its dispute with the publisher Hachette. The retailer is not allowing customers to pre-order Hachette's books.
Philippe Merle
AFP/Getty Images
Amazon is "not optimistic that this will be resolved soon," speaking about its dispute with the publisher Hachette. The retailer is not allowing customers to pre-order Hachette's books.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Note: This post was written before news of writer Maya Angelou's death emerged. Annalisa will be away until early next week, but feel free to send her your bookish thoughts and questions on Twitter at @annalisa_quinn.

  • Amazon, which has so far stayed quiet about its ongoing dispute with the publisher Hachette, released a statement defending its tactics, which include removing the option to pre-order many Hachette titles, to put pressure on the publisher in negotiations. Amazon says it has been "unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms," adding, "we are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon." Amazon compared its approach to the way physical bookstores negotiate, noting, "A retailer can feature a supplier's items in its advertising and promotional circulars, 'stack it high' in the front of the store, keep small quantities on hand in the back aisle, or not carry the item at all, and bookstores and other retailers do these every day." Authors have been some of the most outspoken critics of Amazon's strategy. James Patterson wrote on his Facebook page, "What I don't understand about this particular battle tactic is how it is in the best interest of Amazon customers. It certainly doesn't appear to be in the best interest of authors." Amazon says that it "take[s] seriously" the impact on authors, adding, "We've offered to Hachette to fund 50 percent of an author pool - to be allocated by Hachette - to mitigate the impact of this dispute on author royalties, if Hachette funds the other 50 percent."
  • Meanwhile, in Germany, Amazon has delayed shipment on a number of backlist titles from the publisher Bonnier. "The delays appeared to be a tactic aimed at forcing the publisher to give Amazon, the American retailing giant that has come to dominate book sales, a bigger cut of the proceeds," The New York Times reports.
  • Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn will write an adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet for the Hogarth Shakespeare series. "Hamlet has long been a fascination of mine: murder, betrayal, revenge, deceit, madness ‒ all my favorite things," she said in a statement. The series, which features major novelists rewriting Shakespeare's plays, will launch in 2016, the 400th anniversary of his death. Other novelists taking part in the series include Margaret Atwood (The Tempest), Norwegian thriller writer Jo Nesbø (Macbeth), and Jeanette Winterson (The Winter's Tale).
  • Hillary Clinton released the "author's note" to her memoir Hard Choices on Tuesday (link requires registration) saying, "I wrote it for anyone anywhere who wonders whether the United States still has what it takes to lead. For me, the answer is a resounding 'Yes.' " (If you care for a close textual analysis, The Washington Post reads as much meaning as can possibly be read into the blandly optimistic sentences that tend to populate political memoirs).
  • Ian Parker has an exceptional profile of the novelist Edward St. Aubyn in the New Yorker: "St. Aubyn's movements have a bomb-disposal delicacy. He'll brush the tips of two or three fingers against his lower lip for half a minute, or he'll tilt his head slightly backward, as if in response to a tiny surprise. He is fifty-four and the father of two, and has the air of someone who is puzzled, and rather impressed, to find that he is not dead."
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    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.