Colbert assails Amazon over delayed book shipments

NEW YORK — On one side of a major publishing feud is Amazon.com, the industry’s biggest book seller.

On the other side is a leading New York publisher few readers have heard of, Hachette Book Group, and some Hachette authors virtually all readers have heard of: J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, Malcolm Gladwell and, most recently, Stephen Colbert.

Saying that he’s not just mad at Amazon, but “mad prime,” Colbert assailed the online retailer on his Comedy Central program Wednesday night. Amazon is in a contract dispute with Hachette Book Group and has been delaying shipments for some Hachette books, including for Colbert’s “America Again,” and removing the pre-order option for Rowling’s “The Silk Worm” and other upcoming works. Colbert twice flipped his middle finger at Amazon during the show and brought on Sherman Alexie, a Hachette author who recommended a debut novel that Amazon currently will not sell: Edan Lepucki’s “California.”

Colbert, anxious to prove that he could “sell more books than Amazon,” urged viewers to buy “California” from Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, one of the country’s leading independent booksellers. He also unveiled a sticker, “I didn’t buy it from Amazon,” that could be downloaded from his website thecolbertreport.cc.com.

As of Thursday afternoon, “California” was No. 1 on www.powellsbooks.com . The book will be published in July.

“I feel extremely grateful to Sherman Alexie for going to bat for me and for so many other authors,” Lepucki told The Associated Press on Thursday, adding that she believed Colbert had broadened the discussion beyond the publishing industry.

“I had friends who emailed me and said, ‘Hey, I wanted to get your book on Amazon and it was unavailable.’ They had no idea about the dispute, so it’s great that it’s opened up to people who didn’t know otherwise.”

Amazon and Hachette are reportedly negotiating terms for e-book sales, which publishers say comprise around 30 percent of the overall market. Patterson has warned that Amazon wants on a “monopoly” of the book business, while John Green, published by Penguin Random House, told The Associated Press earlier this week that he worried Amazon “would bully publishers into eventual nonexistence.”

The negotiations follow a 2012 government lawsuit against Hachette and four other publishers, alleging that they conspired with Apple to fix e-book prices. The publishers all settled out of court and a federal judge ruled against Apple last year. Before the lawsuit, Hachette and others had sold e-books on Amazon and other retailers through an “agency” system that allowed publishers to set the price.

Amazon has generally declined to respond beyond a statement on its website saying that a resolution was unlikely to happen soon and recommending that customers look elsewhere for affected books. In a tweet Wednesday, Rowling reminded fans that there were “lots of ways” to buy “The Silk Worm,” as “Amazon kindly suggest(s).

Other retailers have been trying to benefit from the standoff. Walmart.com announced Thursday that overall book sales increased 70 percent last week after it offered a 40 percent discount on Hachette books, with top sellers including “The Silk Worm” and T.D. Jakes’ “Instinct.”

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