Amazon pulls Macmillan books over pricing dispute, fight ongoing
Last Friday, Amazon.com pulled all books from Macmillan, one of the largest publishers in the United States, in a dispute over the pricing on e-books on Amazon’s website.
In a week of brinksmanship, Amazon said Sunday in a buried blog post that it was surrendering to Macmillan’s pricing demands, but one week later, they have still not restored the missing “buy” buttons.
A person in the industry with knowledge of the dispute, which has been brewing for a year, said Amazon was expressing its strong disagreement by temporarily removing Macmillan books. The person did not want to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Macmillan, like other publishers, has asked Amazon to permit flexible pricing of e-books, ranging from $5.99 to $14.99, instead of a fixed price of $9.99.
Macmillan is one of the publishers signed on to offer books to Apple, as part of its new iBookstore on the iPad tablet unveiled earlier this week.
Macmillan’s imprints include Farrar, Straus & Giroux; St. Martins Pres; Tor Books; and Henry Holt. Popular books, including “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel and “The Gathering Storm” by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, have only been available through third-party sellers.
In a statement to Publishers Marketplace, an online industry newsletter, John Sargent, chief executive of Macmillan, said: “We are in discussions with Amazon on how best to resolve our differences. They are now, have been, and I suspect always will be one of our most valued customers.”
The face-off had set the already anxious publishing industry on edge. “I think everyone thought they were witnessing a knife fight,” said Sloan Harris, co-director of the literary department at International Creative Management. “And it looks like we’ve gone to the nukes.”
Under Macmillan’s new terms, which take effect at the beginning of March, the publisher will set the consumer price of each book and the online retailer will serve as an agent and take a 30 percent commission. E-book editions of most newly released adult general fiction and nonfiction will cost $12.99 to $14.99.
Those terms mirror conditions that five of the six largest publishers — Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan, Penguin Group and Simon & Schuster — agreed to with Apple last week for e-books sold via the iBookstore for the iPad.
For more than a year, publishers have been fretting about the price of digital books, which Amazon, as the dominant player in the fast-growing market, had effectively been able to set.
Last Thursday, Mr. Sargent flew to Seattle to explain the pricing and new sales model to Amazon. He said Amazon could continue to buy e-books on the same terms it does now — allowing the retailer to set consumer prices — but that the publisher would delay the release of all digital editions by several months after the hardcover publication.
Ed: This article combines two earlier articles and makes them current.