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Amazon accused of squeezing publisher

Hachette says online giant is making unfair demands By Edd McCracken, Arts Correspondent

A major battle has erupted between Amazon and the UK's biggest publisher in the most public fallout yet between the powerful online retailer and the book world.

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Amazon has removed several key Hachette Livre UK titles from sale on its British website in an effort to pressurise the publisher to give it a greater percentage of its profits, according to Hachette's group chief executive.

Tim Hely Hutchinson delivered a scathing attack on the conduct of Amazon.co.uk in an email sent to all the publisher's authors in which he accused the website of "effectively creating a breach of trust between Amazon and its customers".

High-profile authors and titles such as James Patterson's The 6th Target, Kate Mosse's Labyrinth and new hardbacks by Stephen King and Dan Cruickshank all feature on Amazon.co.uk without the vital buy new' option.

Amazon already receives on average more than 50% of the recommended retail price of Hachette Livre UK's books, said Hutchinson.

"Despite these advantageous terms, Amazon seems each year to go from one publisher to another making increasing demands in order to achieve richer terms at our expense and sometimes at yours," he wrote.

If Amazon's demands continued at this pace, he added, Amazon would soon take all the money usually shared between publisher, author and printer.

"We are politely but firmly saying that these encroachments need to stop now."

He also warned that these "sanctions" would affect Amazon's popularity with the book-buying public and that its "aggressively low" pricing on high-profile titles was damaging traditional bricks and mortar booksellers, something which Hachette did not want to provide additional "ammunition" for the website to do.

Hachette Livre UK's companies include John Murray, Little Brown, and Headline.

Last night major bodies within the publishing industry backed Hachette Livre UK in the dispute.

The Society of Authors acknowledged that Amazon has been a force for good in helping sell more books, but by refusing to sell titles in "the biggest shop window in the world" it would harm authors.

"The arguments put forward in Tim Hely Hutchinson's email are ones we absolutely support," said a spokeswoman. "There should be a limit in how much it Amazon takes for what it does and one has to applaud any publisher who takes a stand on these ever growing discounts. It's been happening for years and publishers have been weak in taking a stand.

"But in the short term it's regrettable that Amazon is penalising individual authors as road-kill as a side effect of their dispute."

"It shows a preparedness on Amazon's part to fight pretty dirty," said Clare Alexander, managing director or Aitken Alexander Associates, one of the country's leading literary agencies which represents the likes of Sebastian Faulks, V.S. Naipaul, and Germaine Greer.

"That's disturbing because Amazon has been pretty universally perceived by me and by all our authors, as having been the good guys in a world where high street book sellers have been in decline.

"I don't believe this is about prices for consumers. In the last five years the only things that have got cheaper are books. This is about profit margins."

A spokesman for Amazon said: "As a company we do not comment on our relationships with publishers."

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