Amazon removed more than 4,000 independent e-book titles from its online store, highlighting the mounting tension between publishers and retailers over digital books and narrowing its selection for readers.
Mark Suchomel, president of the Independent Publishers Group, avoided citing specific reasons for the move, instead saying Amazon “decided that what they were getting last week is no longer good enough this week,” implying the online retailer used its clout to try to negotiate for more favorable terms.
“They decided they wanted me to change my terms,” said Suchomel. “It wasn’t reasonable. There’s only so far we can go.”
E-book sales are at an all-time high, and with the soaring success of tablets like Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble’s Nook, distributors fear digital retailers will use that success to push for higher royalties or cut titles altogether.
Amid the sales boom, however, the e-book industry is fraught with problems, as authors, publishers, distributors, and retailers try to adapt their traditional production methods to rapidly changing technology.
Amazon recently accused Apple and several top U.S. publishers of pressuring the retailer to convert their wholesale pricing model to the controversial agency pricing model, resulting in higher costs for consumers.
The European Union and the U.S. Justice Department are looking into the matter under suspicions of price-fixing, and a class action lawsuit on behalf of consumers is headed to court.
Public libraries are also a growing battleground for digital titles, as publishing groups like Penguin and Harper Collins struggle to profit off e-book lending to customers via e-readers.
But while the publishers and sellers fight legal and contractual battles behind the scenes, readers benefit least.
IPG is the nation’s second-largest independent book distributor, and while Kindle titles produce only 10 percent of the group’s total revenue, their removal from the site significantly reduces the number and scope of titles available to consumers.
Similar to the music and movie industries, “indie” publishers represent a varied selection of authors whose works might not otherwise be made available because they’re not deemed commercially viable. But consumers continuously prove they want independent options, with indie films like last year’s “Winter’s Bone” receiving Oscar nominations as a result of audience support.
Further speculation points to Amazon’s Kindle Direct marketplace, which allows authors to self-publish titles and offer them for digital sale, as another potential reason the retailer is haggling with IPG.
Whatever the reasons, the publishing industry continues to struggle with how to manage digital titles, and until they can arrive at an agreement, consumers may remain at a disadvantage.