Amazon likened to Ryanair as publishers accuse it of bullying tactics


Amazon are in danger of becoming the “Ryanair of publishing” as UK firms locked in contract negotiations with the web giant accuse it of bullying tactics and warned the company was destroying the industry.

The online retailer is pushing for the right to print books itself if suppliers fail to provide enough stock and is also pressing publishers to match any pricing deals it offers to other distributors.

The Seattle-based firm is already in another fight in the United States with Hachette Book Group – it claims the online retailer is seeking to “dramatically change terms” over how to share profits on e-books. Trade magazine the Bookseller first reported that Amazon had introduced a number of new clauses in its recent contract proposals to independent UK publishers and there are parallels between the terms on offer to Hachette USA and British publishers.

Independent companies in the UK have been scathing in their reaction to Amazon’s tactics. One mid-sized firm accused the web giant of “bullying” and warned that the company was destroying the industry. Another said it had been approached by Amazon in the past with the changes it is trying to force through.

A senior manager at an independent publisher, which releases between 80 and 100 titles each year, told the BBC that if asked to agree to the new terms, their answer would be a “simple and monosyllabic no”.

The publisher also warned that Amazon, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, was reaching a “Ryanair moment” when customers and suppliers would become uncomfortable with the way that the company operates.

Amazon plans to use “print on demand” equipment to replenish its own stock should they run out and would also require publishers to hand over electronic versions of their titles. Industry experts said the method results in an inferior product and publishers fear unhappy customers will blame them rather than the online retailer for the poorer quality.

One representative of a mid-sized firm said Amazon had become “increasingly ruthless” in its negotiations, while another accused Amazon of “bullying”.

Separately, the European Union’s Directorate General for Competition is understood to have approached major UK publishers over an investigation into Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clauses, which ask publishers not to offer promotions to distributors without also offering them to Amazon.

This would include selling books at a discount on the publishers’ own websites and demands that publishers inform Amazon before offering e-book deals to other clients, and give Amazon the same terms.

A boss of a British publishing company said that they believed the MFN clause would cause Amazon to fall foul of competition rules and should be of concern to regulators. Publishers also told the BBC that Amazon generally prefers verbal agreements, and rarely documents its negotiations, but had done so in the latest round of talks, with one “mid-tier” firm saying this was the first time it had received correspondence outlining such terms.

The Bookseller’s editor, Philip Jones, told the BBC that if Amazon’s terms were agreed, it would be a “form of assisted suicide for the industry”. He added that the negotiations might be a tactic by Amazon, which has proposed similar terms in the past before abandoning their demands, and could be dropped again before a final deal is struck.

Mr Jones said Amazon has also played a positive role in the bookselling industry. He said: “The worst thing that could happen [to book publishers] would be for Amazon to go away. The second worst thing would be for it to become more dominant.”

No one at Amazon was available for comment, but in a previous statement on Hachette, a spokesperson said: "Negotiating for acceptable terms is an essential business practice that is critical to keeping service and value high for customers in the medium and long term."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

£30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot