Hachette Writers Push Amazon Board to End Book Sanctions

Hachette Book Group writers are taking their fight with Amazon.com Inc. directly to the online retailer’s board.

Hundreds of writers with a group called Authors United signed a letter addressed to Amazon’s 10 directors, insisting the board must act to end Amazon’s “sanctioning” of books, including refusing pre-orders, delaying shipping and reducing discounts. Authors such as Stephen King and James Patterson are among the signers. The dispute became public earlier this year as Hachette and Amazon sparred over e-book pricing in contract negotiations.

“We are certain that you, as an Amazon board member, prize books and freedom of expression as much as we do,” the authors said in the letter, which was posted online. “Since its founding, Amazon has been a highly regarded and progressive brand. But if this is how Amazon continues to treat the literary community, how long will the company’s fine reputation last?”

While the letter’s target is new, it’s just the group’s latest salvo against Amazon after other efforts failed to push the e-commerce provider to change tack. The document follows a letter signed by more than 900 writers and published in the New York Times last month, urging readers to contact Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos. The writers said the actions have cut Hachette authors’ sales -- of all formats of books -- through Amazon.com by at least 50 percent, and in some cases as much as 90 percent.

Sophie Cottrell, a spokeswoman for New York-based Hachette, declined to comment. Mary Osako, a spokeswoman at Seattle-based Amazon, didn’t respond to e-mailed messages seeking comment.

E-Book Revenue

Amazon, which helped create the e-book market with the introduction of its Kindle reader in 2007, says sales of digital titles go up when prices are cut, lifting total revenue. The retailer controls 60 percent of the e-book market, according to Forrester Research.

Among the writers listed on the letter are Patterson, whose books include “Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came a Spider”; Malcolm Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point” and “Blink”; and Mark Childress, who penned “Crazy in Alabama,” according to the new document.

“Because of Amazon’s immense market share and its proprietary Kindle platform, other retailers have not made up the difference,” the letter said. “Several thousand Hachette authors have watched their readership decline, or, in the case of new authors, have seen their books sink out of sight without finding an adequate readership.”

The letter is being sent to each of the directors of Amazon, whose board includes Chairman Bezos; Jonathan Rubinstein, former CEO of mobile-phone maker Palm Inc.; Judith McGrath, former CEO of MTV Networks; and William “Bing” Gordon, co-founder of Electronic Arts Inc.

Amazon appealed directly to authors in a letter in July, offering them all of the proceeds from the sale of any e-book during the dispute.

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