Amazon and Hachette: What’s Really at Issue?

I just sent the following to David Streitfeld, the main reporter covering this dispute for the New York Times. If any of my gentle readers has an answer, I’d love to hear it:

Dear Mr. Streitfeld:

What I have never found in any coverage (perhaps I’ve missed it?):

What is the precise dispute between Amazon and Hachette?

What does Amazon want from Hachette that Hachette is unwilling to concede to? (And/or vice versa.)

“Control over pricing” is vague, doesn’t answer that.

Prima facie, it seems that Hachette could charge whatever wholesale price it wants for books, and Amazon could charge whatever retail price it wants.

But that’s apparently not the case?

Absent a fundamental understanding of the specific matters at issue, I find it very hard to think coherently about the subject or draw any conclusions.

I have a long and diverse history in book publishing, by the way, from publisher to editor to author, and everything in between. I’d really like to figure out what I think about this.

Thanks for listening,

Steve

Is this Amazon saying, “Sure, charge whatever you want. But we don’t make money selling your books at our prices, so we’re going to downgrade their visibility in various ways to more prominently display books we do make money on.”

To which I’d respond, “Then raise the prices on Hachette books. If Hachette sells less books and sacrifices market share, why does Amazon care?”

Cross-posted at Asymptosis.

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