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Friday, June 4, 2010


Those of you who buy from the online bookstore amazon -- which I guess includes you all -- have probably scarcely noticed the "Add to Cart" or "Add to Basket"  buttons.  All online stores feature that crucial graphic where you click your mouse when you have made up your mind to buy the selected item.  It's easy, and it's automatic.  But what do you do when the button is mysteriously missing?

Obviously, you can't buy the item.  It is like being in a real store where all the salespeople have vanished.  The book (or whatever) is out of reach and unobtainable.

One would think that this would defeat the purpose of having an online store, but according to a fascinating timeline on an Authors Guild sponsored site,, amazon stores have been using the buy buttons as a weapon in a war to dominate publishers and maximize profits.  Back in 2008, after an altercation with Bloomsbury press, whipped the buy buttons off the Bloomsbury book pages, including, incredibly, those featuring JK Rowling.  Little was publicly said, but there must have been a behind the scenes flurry, because after some kind of sorting out of issues, the buttons quietly returned.

Amazon must have been pleased with the sneaky ploy, because within months they had done it again -- to no less than Hachette Livre UK, one of the world's largest publishers.  Authors Guild quotes CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson, who wrote to their authors, "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."  Many Hachette books are still minus those vital buttons, as the standoff continues.

Those demands widened to the print-on-demand trade.  In that same year, 2008, Amazon informed a slather of print-on-demand publishers that if their books were not printed by amazon-owned BookSurge, the buy buttons would disappear.  Author Solutions was one outfit to be blacked out  They succumbed, and the buttons returned.  Another firm, Booklocker, did not cave in so easily, filing an ultimately successful anti-trust suit instead.  (Amazon paid $300,000 but admitted no wrongdoing.)

This hurts authors, publishers, and the book trade generally.  You, the reader, can help -- by simply moving on to another online store, if you find that the buy button is missing.

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