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Why Can’t Publishers Quit Amazon?

Amazon and Hachette Book Group are still battling it out as Amazon seeks to squeeze the publisher’s profit margins in their new contract. Amazon continues to deploy a tactic we’ve called “slow walking,” purposefully putting what appears to be hundreds of Hachette books on two to three week back order to remind Hachette of Amazon’s market power. (See “Amazon Slow-walks Books by Gladwell, Colbert, Others in Spat with Hachette” for more.)

The dispute prompts Laura Miller at Salon to ask why publishers just can’t quit Amazon. Miller points out that Amazon is being selective in the books it places on two to three weeks delay and senses vulnerability:

Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store” documents Amazon’s view of itself as a proud predator, a “cheetah” that aims to take down the “gazelle” of book publishing.

But even cheetahs have their weaknesses, and a little poking around on Amazon’s site revealed that the retailer is not hobbling every Hachette title in its online store. Specifically, Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch,” a bestseller since it was released last fall and the recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, can still be purchased, in hardcover, at a handsome 45 percent discount and without its buyers being subjected to pitches for substitutes.

“The Goldfinch,” number seven on Amazon’s hardcover bestseller list this morning, is treated with special care, Miller thinks, because there’s no substitute book for it. If a customer wants “The Goldfinch,” the customer wants it in particular, and shipping delays

would send too many readers back to their Google search results, to the scroll-down button and the revelation that Amazon is not the only game in town. Later, they’d remember that, not Amazon, was able send them the novel everyone was talking about, and right away.

The whole article is well worth reading, as Miller discusses her own decision to quit Amazon.