- Amazon buries the hatchet with Hachette.
The Amazon/Hachette contract dispute, which has been going on since spring of this year, has finally been settled. In typical Amazon fashion, the details of the new contract are shrouded in secrecy. Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch released a boilerplate statement that reads in part, “This is great news for writers. The new agreement will benefit Hachette authors for years to come. It gives Hachette enormous marketing capability with one of our most important bookselling partners.” Meanwhile, some vice president in Amazon's Kindle department presumably signed his name to a public relations statement that reads, "We are pleased with this new agreement as it includes specific financial incentives for Hachette to deliver lower prices, which we believe will be a great win for readers and authors alike."
But there's one interesting nugget buried in all that blah-blah-blah press release stuff—an admission that "Hachette will have responsibility for setting consumer prices of its ebooks." Laura Hazard Owen writes for GigaOm that this is "the return of agency ebook pricing about two and a half years after the Department of Justice first sued Apple and publishers for conspiring to set ebook prices." This means that Amazon won't be able to sell Hachette e-books at insanely low prices, which is bad news for e-book sales, which are already slowing down tremendously from the early days of Kindle's popularity. This is good news for independent bookstores, because it means e-books are not going to see the astronomical adoption rate that mp3s did during the big iPod boom at the turn of the century. They've won a few more years to fend off the fate that has befallen most record stores.
So now that the dispute is over, does this give your conscience the 'all-clear' sign to buy from Amazon? Not hardly. Though this long-running dispute is over, there's no sign that Amazon is going to stop using these bullying tactics on publishers who refuse to sign contracts that heavily favor Amazon. These tactics use the consumer as leverage, and in so doing, they deny customers the books (and movies, and who knows what else) that they want to buy. Amazon still uses predatory pricing and encourages showrooming to close small businesses. Also, when you buy from Amazon, you're putting money into the pockets of the company that wants to use Seattle as a test city for its drone delivery program. And while employees in South Lake Union may be well compensated for their time, it's important to note that Amazon still mistreats warehouse workers around the world. If you refuse to buy products from Walmart on ethical grounds but you happily buy products from Amazon, you're not making an informed decision. You're allowing convenience to blind your moral choices, and you're still buying from the Great Walmart in the Sky.