Science fiction writers battle Amazon.com in pricing dispute

Feb 29, 2012

By John Cook of Geekwire

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos traces his love of books back to some of the classics of science fiction. But now one of the leading author organizations in the genre is taking up arms against the Seattle online bookseller.

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America — which hosts the prestigious Nebula Awards – announced on its Web site today that it is redirecting links to other booksellers including indiebound.orgPowell’s, and Barnes and Noble.

The SFWA took the action after Amazon.com pulled more than 4,000 e-books from its Web site following a pricing dispute with the Independent Publishing Group, a large independent book distributor. The SFWA wrote on its Web site today:

“While Amazon has the right to decide with what company it does business, its removal of many of our authors’ books from its ordering system will have an economic impact on them. Our authors depend on people buying their books and a significant percentage of them have books distributed through IPG.  Therefore, SFWA is redirecting Amazon.com links from the organization’s website  to other booksellers because we would prefer to send traffic to stores where the books can actually be purchased.”

Interestingly, the dispute between IPG and Amazon revolves around e-books, not paperbacks and hardcovers. A redirected link, however, would send potential customers (of all formats of books) to a new destination.

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Growing concern over Amazon

The dust-up is just the latest in a series of events between Amazon and authors, some of whom have voiced growing concerns about Amazon’s power in the publishing industry. (Check out this interview by comedian Stephen Colbert from last week to get a sense of the PR problem facing Amazon).

“It is worth noting, that if a book is only available on Amazon, we are leaving the link in place,” the message says from the SFWA. “Our goal is to make sure that it is possible to order our members’ fiction. Hurting authors to make a point about a publishing model is not a good practice, for anyone.”

Frank Catalano, a GeekWire columnist and former officer of the SFWA, says the move is creating some controversy among members.

“For an association of science fiction and fantasy writers — who themselves write about technology’s impact on the future — to take this action against a seller of eBooks and eBook technology is a pretty strong statement,” Catalano tells us. “Its impact likely is limited, though, because it’s only SFWA’s own web links that are being redirected. It hasn’t, in its post, asked members to do the same thing on their own websites.”

A note from the master: