The authors’ rebellion against Amazon has now spread from the U.S. to Europe – and a Forrester Research VP is calling on authors and publishers to stop selling through the giant retailer.
Over a thousand authors from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have signed and issued an open letter to the world’s largest bookseller, protesting how it is handling books published by the Sweden-based Bonnier Group. The letter, released online on Friday, is scheduled to appear in leading publications today in those countries.
The European authors’ charges mirror those from a growing group of authors in the U.S., who object to Amazon’s treatment of books from the Hachette Group. The online retailer has been in strained negotiations with both publishers, in part over e-book pricing.
“This is the same issue” on both continents, Forrester Research VP/analyst Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali told VentureBeat.
“I’d like to see authors and publishers put their money where their mouth is and cut Amazon off, rather than vice-versa,” she said. “For books that are truly in demand, customers will go to where they are available, and those retailers can use it as an opportunity to gain some market share back from Amazon.”
The European letter reads in part:
“Amazon’s customers have, until now, had the impression that [the recommended reading] lists are not manipulated and they could trust Amazon. Apparently that is not the case. Amazon manipulates recommendation lists. Amazon uses authors and their books as a bargaining chip to exact deeper discounts.”
Signatories include Nobel Prize-winner Elfriede Jelinek and crime novelists Ingrid Noll and Nele Neuhaus.
The European authors also charge that Amazon is taking longer to deliver Bonnier-published books, has been listing incorrect availability dates, and is yanking Bonnier book authors from recommended reading lists. There have been reports that the delays are being caused by a deliberate inventory reduction of Bonnier books.
The letter’s release is clearly timed to hit the press a few weeks before the annual Frankfurt Book Fair, the biggest such event in the world. Demonstrations and discussions are planned for the fair.
In the U.S., the Authors United group of nearly a thousand authors — including such famous names as Stephen King and John Grisham — has asked book readers to write Amazon chief executive and founder Jeff Bezos because of similar tactics against books published by Amazon’s U.S. nemesis, Hachette.
But there are some differences in the two environments. Laws in Europe, for instance, prohibit huge discounts on books, at least in part to protect authors and smaller publishers. Additionally, the European Commission, which has been hotly pursuing Google for a variety of possibly monopolistic practices, has begun an initial inquiry into whether Amazon is violating antitrust laws.
There are also risks for Amazon.
“If consumers feel that Amazon is manipulating things like availability of items and recommendation lists, the impact can easily extend to the entire Amazon marketplace,” Parks Associates’ analyst Tejas Mehta told us.
“Amazon can ill afford to lose goodwill with the writers and must tread water carefully without alienating the writers who produce the content that it hopes to sell through its own publishing platform in the future.”
In response to our request for comment, Amazon provided the statement issued Friday afternoon in Germany:
“For the majority of their titles, Bonnier have chosen to set terms that make it significantly more expensive for us to buy a digital edition than it is to buy the print edition of the same title. This is a poor choice because with an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, and no transportation. E-books can and should be less expensive than print books, and this should be reflected in the terms under which booksellers buy their books from publishers. The fact is Bonnier’s terms are out of step with other major German publishers. We are working diligently with Bonnier to reach a new agreement more in line with typical industry terms in Germany.”