Amazon said it was “not optimistic” that its dispute with Hachette, which has been affecting the availability of Yen Press manga titles through the online giant (see “Amazon-Marvel Truce”), will be resolved soon.  The comment came in a statement from ‘The Amazon Books team” released on the company’s website on Tuesday. 

“Unfortunately, despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms,” the statement said.  “Hachette has operated in good faith and we admire the company and its executives.  Nevertheless, the two companies have so far failed to find a solution.  Even more unfortunate, though we remain hopeful and are working hard to come to a resolution as soon as possible, we are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon.”

Amazon was specific for the first time about exactly what sanctions it’s placing on Hachette.  “We are currently buying less (print) inventory and ‘safety stock’ on titles from the publisher, Hachette, than we ordinarily do, and are no longer taking pre-orders on titles whose publication dates are in the future,” Amazon said.  “Instead, customers can order new titles when their publication date arrives. For titles with no stock on hand, customers can still place an order at which time we order the inventory from Hachette -- availability on those titles is dependent on how long it takes Hachette to fill the orders we place.  Once the inventory arrives, we ship it to the customer promptly. These changes are related to the contract and terms between Hachette and Amazon.”

In addition to a confirmation of what was happening, and its comments on the prospects for a settlement, Amazon also used the opportunity to create a canny public relations piece that asserted that its efforts against Hachette were to “keep service and value high for customers in the medium and long term.” 

“When we negotiate with suppliers, we are doing so on behalf of our customers,” it said.

Amazon also noted the limited impact across all of its products (11 out of 1000 orders were Hachette products, it said), and offered to help ameliorate the impact of the dispute on authors by contributing 50% of a fund (if Hachette picks up the other half) to be distributed to authors whose royalties are affected by the dispute. 

The switch to a more public strategy (Amazon has not said anything publicly about the dispute until now) is reminiscent of the battles we see between cable or satellite companies and content providers:  the fight is over the loyalty of the customer as much as anything.  In this case, there are a lot of other places to purchase Hachette titles, including Yen Press manga and graphic novels.  Will Amazon customers skip their purchases, or go to another retailer to find the titles they want?  The answer to that question may determine who prevails in this battle between giant retailer and publisher.