This hard-nosed approach has not endeared Amazon to publishers, who have consistently felt the pressure of the company's intensity, especially when it comes to setting terms. In researching this article, I uncovered widespread resentment about the aggressive way Amazon pursues its objectives, matched only by dread of being publicly identified as a critic of publishing's largest customer. "They have no sense of collegiality," complained one publisher, who asked not to be identified. "They behave like pigs," said another, his voice dropping as he checked around to see if anyone was within earshot.
(Disclosure: the new publishing company with which I am involved, OR Books, does not deal with Amazon. We sell direct to customers, channeling money that would otherwise go on discount and distribution to extensive promotion, primarily on the Internet.)
Dennis Loy Johnson, co-publisher of the Brooklyn-based independent Melville House, is one of the few publishers who have dared to speak openly about Amazon's bullying. His story is far from atypical. In 2004 a representative of the retailer contacted Melville's distributor demanding an additional discount. Such payments are illegal under antitrust law, which precludes selling at different prices to different customers. Large retailers circumvent this restriction by disguising the extra discount under the rubric of "co-op," money paid to the bookseller for promotional services, often notional. In this case the distributor did not bother with such niceties, describing what Amazon was after as "kickback."