Books pulled from Amazon in pricing dispute


Published: Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 5:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 5:29 p.m.

NEW YORK — New copies of Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall," Andrew Young's "The Politician" and other books published by Macmillan were unavailable Saturday on Amazon.com, apparently the biggest rift yet in the ongoing dispute over e-book prices.

An official with knowledge of the dispute said the two sides were in discussions, but would not say why Amazon.com Inc. took such a public step. The official asked not to be identified, citing the sensitivity of the talks.

Macmillan and other publishers have criticized Amazon for charging just $9.99 for best-selling e-books on its Kindle e-reader, a price publishers say is too low and could hurt hardcover sales.

For its part, Amazon wants to keep a lid on prices as competitors line up to challenge its dominant position in a rapidly expanding market. The company did not immediately return messages seeking comment Saturday.

Barnes & Noble's Nook and Sony Corp.'s e-book readers are already on sale. But the latest and most talked about challenger is Apple Inc., which just introduced the long-awaited iPad tablet computer and a new online book store modeled on iTunes. Apple CEO Steve Jobs, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, suggested publishers may offer some e-titles to Apple before they are allowed to go on sales at Amazon.com

The e-book market is an increasingly important one for Amazon. The company hasn't given specific sales figures on the Kindle, but CEO Jeff Bezos said Thursday that "millions" own the device. The company now sells six digital copies to every 10 physical ones of books available in either format.

Authors and publishers also see opportunity in e-books, particularly as a way to expand the market for older titles that are more difficult for readers to obtain otherwise.

But they worry that discounting by retailers will cannibalize sales of print editions. While Amazon typically sells new releases for just $9.99 in its Kindle store, hardcover editions generally carry a list price of more than $24.

To preserve the more lucrative hardcover business, publishers including Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins Hachette Book Group USA have said they will impose delays on the release of digital copies.

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