Friday Night Lights

Amazon throws its e-book weight around. Again.

April 30, 2012: 12:44 PM ET

More heavy-handed behavior from the book world's 500-pound gorilla 

Click to enlarge. Source: Amazon

FORTUNE -- Publishers who have had to deal with Amazon's (AMZN) arrogant reps know first hand the contempt with which they hold folks in the business of printing books on paper.

Now that the company is in the media's spotlight following the Justice Department's ass-backwards antitrust suit, the rest of us are getting a taste for how the book world's 500-pound gorilla operates.

The DOJ, you may recall, skipped right over Amazon -- a e-book monopolist selling titles below cost -- and instead sued the publishers left gasping for air by Amazon's aggressive pricing. (Apple was also named in the suit, but it can afford to fight the government for as long as it takes.)

Since then we have learned:

  • That in the wake of the DOJ filing Amazon has gone back to selling e-books for $9.99 and less. (Some bestsellers, such as Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games," are now available to Amazon Prime members for $0.00.)
  • That Amazon has been buying up the exclusive rights to entire back catalogs -- including Ian Flemming's James Bond series.
  • That Amazon has been signing up authors by the dozens to write exclusively for its growing list of paperback imprints (including Thomas & Mercer mysteries and Montlake romances).
  • That 16 of the top 100 bestsellers on its Kindle e-book list last quarter were exclusive to Amazon.

As if that weren't enough, David Carr tells the sad story in Monday's New York Times of Buzz Bissinger's sequel to "Friday Night Lights," the book that inspired a Hollywood movie and a hit TV series.

Bissenger had written a 12,000-word sequel, "After Friday Night Lights," for Byliner.com, a start-up producing long-form e-books for digital readers. Bissenger priced the title at $2.99 and was going to share the proceeds with Boobie Miles, a running back whose football career was cut short by injury, when things went awry. As Carr tells it:

The plan hit a pothole after Apple (AAPL), which had been looking to get into shorter works in a digital format, decided to include e-books in a promotion that it does with Starbucks. It selected Mr. Bissinger's digital sequel as a Pick of the Week, giving customers a code they could redeem online for the book. (Mr. Bissinger said he still received a royalty of $1.50 for each copy sold.)

Amazon interpreted the promotion as a price drop and lowered its price for "After Friday Night Lights" to exactly zero. Byliner withdrew the book from Amazon's shelves, saying it did so to "protect our authors' interest."

Mr. Bissinger, who has built a franchise on journalistic excellence and rhetorical intemperance — see his Twitter account — managed to choose his words carefully when talking about how his e-book ended up as a bug on the windshield of Amazon's relentlessness on pricing.

I wonder if the DOJ is watching any of this.

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