Amazon-Disney Dispute? Amid Hachette PR War, Retail Giant Sets Mouse Trap

Maleficent
Angelina Jolie in "Maleficent," one of the blockbusters caught in the cross hairs of an apparent dispute between Disney and Amazon. Walt Disney Studios

Jeff Bezos is really, really tired of being nice.

Continuing its summer of strong-arm tactics, Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) has blocked pre-orders for some popular DVD and Blu-ray titles from the Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS), including current summer blockbusters such as “Maleficent” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

The move, which was first reported by Home Media magazine and picked up by numerous media outlets Sunday, mirrors tactics used by the online retailer in recent contract disputes against Time Warner Inc. (NYSE:TWX) and the French-owned book publisher Hachette Book Group. Many Time Warner titles -- including the mega hit “The Lego Movie” -- were not available for pre-order on Amazon from mid-May to late June. Reports say the two companies have since made progress in working out their differences.

Not so with Amazon and Hachette, whose protracted tussle over e-book prices is increasingly becoming a matter for public consumption, with more and more publishing-industry types drawing a line in the sand. Last week, some 900 writers -- including the likes of Stephen King and Robert Caro -- signed an open letter calling on Amazon to put an end the dispute. The letter ran as a full-page ad in Sunday’s New York Times.

Amazon, not to be outdone, shot back with its own PR stunt. In an emailed message to authors who publish through its Kindle Direct platform, Amazon urged e-book supporters to email Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch and demand lower e-book prices. “We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices,” the Amazon Books Team wrote. “We know making books more affordable is good for book culture.” The team even included Pietsch’s email address.

Amazon is not typically vocal about its behind-the-scenes negotiations, but as more and more writers take sides, the company has grown uncharacteristically irascible in its attempts to draw Hachette and New York’s Big Five publishers as the enemy. And while Amazon still has much support -- most notably among independent authors who credit the company with democratizing the once-impenetrable publishing industry -- its longtime image as a benevolent, customer-friendly giant is beginning to show signs of cracking at the seams. Throughout Twitter on Saturday, even authors who would typically stick up for Amazon said they were simply turned off by being told to spam the CEO of a major publisher over a contract dispute. “Just noticed, I’m pretty sure Amazon broke federal anti-SPAM laws by not including an unsubscribe link in that email this morning,” one person tweeted.   

Reactions to Amazon’s apparent dispute with Disney are equally negative. It’s one thing to snub J.K. Rowling. But the Muppets? Now it’s personal.

 

 

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