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Amazon versus the world: a recent history

Amazon's Handset to Help Bezos Make Direct Appeal to UsersAmazon's Handset to Help Bezos Make Direct Appeal to Users
Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon, unveils the Fire Phone in June 2014.Photo: Bloomberg—Getty Images

Where pricing is concerned, there’s Amazon, and then there’s everyone else.

From Stephen King to Disney, Warner Brothers to Bonnier publishing, the e-commerce giant has waged battle against countless parties this year, all in an attempt—at least, that’s how it appears—to have the final word on low prices.

Below, a tally of Amazon’s recent brouhahas.

Amazon vs. Hachette

This spring, Amazon (AMZN) took an aggressive stance toward Hachette, the fourth largest book publisher in the U.S., by delaying orders and restocking of e-books it sold on its site. Why? To get the upper-hand in negotiations over e-book pricing. (Amazon has said it wants Hachette titles to sell for no more than $9.99. Hachette, among other publishers, thinks that price will overly reduce profit margins.)

Amazon is “currently buying less [print] inventory and ‘safety stock’ on titles … than we ordinarily do, and are no longer taking pre-orders on titles whose publication dates are in the future,” it explained in a statement posted to an online forum in May. But the company went beyond merely cutting back its inventory on Hachette titles, going so far as to remove the ability to pre-order books like Brad Stone’s paperback edition of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon and J.K. Rowling’s novel The Silkworm.

Authors were understandably livid. “We have made Amazon many millions of dollars and over the years have contributed so much, free of charge, to the company by way of cooperation, joint promotions, reviews and blogs,” they wrote in a full-page New York Times print advertisement in August paid for by Authors United, a group representing 900 disgruntled writers including household names like John Grisham and Nora Roberts. “This is no way to treat a business partner. Nor is it the right way to treat your friends.”

Status of negotiations: Ongoing

Amazon vs. Bonnier

Hachette isn’t the only book publisher to feel Amazon’s wrath. This week, more than 1,000 writers under the Sweden-based Bonnier Group (including noted Noble Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek) signed an open letter to Amazon accusing the company of manipulating its online recommendation lists, lying about the availability of books and delaying the shipment of customers’ orders, all as a way to negotiate bigger discounts with the Sweden-based publisher.

“Amazon’s customers have, until now, had the impression that these lists are not manipulated and they could trust Amazon,” reads the letter. “Apparently that is not the case.”

The battle began in May when the authors first noticed delays in the availability of their works, prompting Bonnier to reveal that it was in the midst of negotiations with Amazon.

Status of negotiations: Ongoing

Amazon vs. Disney

Fans of Maleficent, the summer film starring Angelina Jolie, must look elsewhere to pre-order it on DVD, thanks to a spat between Amazon and the Walt Disney Co. (DIS) over—you guessed it —pricing.

Fallout from the companies’ hard-nosed negotiations also extends to other popular titles, including big-budget superhero flicks Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. (Conveniently, pre-orders for digital versions of the same films remain available via Amazon’s instant video service.)

“Amazon is looking to get a price break—we think—from all of the studios,” Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter told Bloomberg TV in an interview earlier this August. “Disney is not budging, and Amazon is fighting back by saying, ‘Fine, your new movies aren’t going to show up as pre-orders on our site.’”

Status of negotiations: Ongoing

Amazon vs. Warner Brothers

From mid-May to late June this year, Amazon removed the ability for customers to pre-order DVD versions of Warner Bros. (TWX) titles such as The Lego Movie and 300: Rise of an Empire while the two companies hashed out a new distribution deal. The companies never formally announced a resolution—it’s a private matter, they say—but reports on June 24 indicated that they were close enough that customers could place pre-orders once again.

Shoppers noticed the interruption. “I’m definitely going elsewhere for this,” wrote an irked Amazon.com user by the name of John A. “I guess I can thank Amazon for steering me back towards brick and mortar stores—I’ve had mixed feelings about their demise.”

Status of negotiations: Resolved