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Amazon takes away pre-orders on many Hachette titles, messes with search, categories and recommendations

Laura Hazard Owen

As Amazon and Hachette continue to battle in an apparent fight over contracts, Amazon abruptly stepped up its tactics on Thursday night. The retailer, which until now had delayed shipments of Hachette titles, has now removed the pre-order capability on many Hachette paperback titles and Kindle editions. And it has removed some Kindle pages completely for forthcoming titles.

“We are doing everything in our power to find a solution to this difficult situation,” Hachette said in a statement. Amazon declined to comment. Sources tell me Hachette executives are in Seattle this week.

Amazon is removing some Hachette titles from search results on its website and moving recommendations for non-Hachette titles to prominent places on Hachette book pages. It also appears to be messing with categorization on some titles, with Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon seemingly bearing the brunt of that tactic.

Many of the tactics were first noticed by Publishers Lunch on Thursday night (no paywall on that article). As Sarah Weinman noted:

“For example, inputting ‘Tom Rob Smith The Farm’ does not immediately pull up the hardcover or Kindle editions of the book, but does yield as the top option a ‘free preview — first 25 pages’ that Grand Central made available on April 15. Elin Hilderbrand fans are also directed to a ‘free preview’ ebook instead of the actual forthcoming book.”

Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon – which Jeff Bezos’s wife MacKenzie wrote a one-star review of last year — is one affected title. The paperback edition isn’t available for pre-order through Amazon; it’s simply listed as “unavailable,” despite the fact that the pre-order is available on other sites, like Barnes & Noble.

Amazon is also screwing around with categorization on Stone’s book. Google it and the top result leads you to an Amazon page where the nonfiction title is categorized as “Literature and Fiction”:

Screen shot, 5/23/2014, 9:13 AM ET

Amazon is using other tricks as well. The retailer is recommending “Similar Items with Better Ratings” on some Hachette titles:

https://twitter.com/jasonpinter/status/469829659945730049/photo/1

And a “Similar Items at a Lower Price” bar appears at the top of the page on some titles:

Contract negotiations between publishers and retailers aren’t new: While Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster were negotiating a new contract last year, Barnes & Noble reduced orders on S&S titles and carried fewer of them in its stores. But it turns out there’s a lot more room for creativity on the web.

Here’s Hachette’s full statement:

“Amazon has now taken preorder capabilities away from Hachette Book Group publications. Forthcoming books now bear a notice ‘currently unavailable’ and a note inviting customers to ask for an email when it becomes available.  There is no preorder button, and some not-yet-published books lack a Kindle page entirely.

We are doing everything in our power to find a solution to this difficult situation, one that best serves our authors and their work, and that preserves our ability to survive and thrive as a strong and author-centric publishing company.”

Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:
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