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Hachette escalates Amazon dispute

NEW YORK — Hachette accused Amazon on Wednesday of holding books and the culture hostage, as a dispute over contract terms escalated into a larger conflict over the distribution of information in the digital age.

On one side is a publisher whose roots date to 1837. On the other is a technology company that has single-handedly upended every element of the traditional relationship between readers and their books.

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Both companies have now taken their case to the public and indicated that a resolution is unlikely soon. Certainly they are speaking two different languages.

“Amazon indicates that it considers books to be like any other consumer good,” Hachette said in a statement. “They are not.”

There are many considerations here besides money, the publisher added, noting that authors are engaging “in a complex and difficult mission to communicate with readers.” It added, “In addition to royalties, they are concerned with audience, career, culture, education, art, entertainment, and connection.”

Amazon, for its part, took a nothing-to-see-here approach.

“This business interruption affects a small percentage of Amazon’s demand-weighted units,” it pointed out.

But if customers really wanted a book published by Hachette, Amazon said, they should just go elsewhere. It was an extraordinary admission for a company that has strived to be the “everything” store, merchandising an ever-increasing pile of goods in ever-increasing ways.

The origins of the conflict lie in a failed negotiation over e-books. Amazon wants to reduce the amount it pays Hachette. Hachette is resisting.

Amazon’s mission has been to remove all barriers between readers and writers. The biggest barrier is the New York publishers, which for the most part still publish the writers that people want to read. But Amazon controls the Kindle e-reader platform and sees no reason why a publisher should get the majority of the revenue from a digital book.

The publisher said it would resume normal business relations with Amazon only “under terms that value appropriately for the years ahead the author’s unique role in creating books, and the publisher’s role in editing, marketing, and distributing them.”

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