Amazon takes away pre-orders on many Hachette titles and messes with search and recommendations

As Amazon(s AMZN) and Hachette continue to battle in an apparent fight over contracts, Amazon abruptly stepped up its tactics on Thursday night. The retailer, which until now had delayed shipments of Hachette titles, has now removed the pre-order capability on many Hachette paperback titles and Kindle editions. And it has removed some Kindle pages completely for forthcoming titles, such as the next book in J.K. Rowling’s Robert Galbraith series.

Screenshot, 5/23/2014, 1:23 PM ET

Screenshot, 5/23/2014, 1:23 PM ET

“We are doing everything in our power to find a solution to this difficult situation,” Hachette said in a statement. Amazon declined to comment. Sources tell me Hachette executives are in Seattle this week.

Amazon is also removing some Hachette titles from search results on its website and moving recommendations for non-Hachette titles to prominent places on Hachette book pages. Many of the tactics were first noticed by Publishers Lunch on Thursday night (no paywall on that article). As Sarah Weinman noted:

“[I]nputting ‘Tom Rob Smith The Farm’ does not immediately pull up the hardcover or Kindle editions of the book, but does yield as the top option a ‘free preview — first 25 pages’ that Grand Central made available on April 15. Elin Hilderbrand fans are also directed to a ‘free preview’ ebook instead of the actual forthcoming book.”

Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon — which Jeff Bezos’s wife MacKenzie wrote a one-star review of last year — is another affected title. The paperback edition wasn’t available for pre-order through Amazon Friday morning and was simply listed as “unavailable” — despite the fact that the pre-order is available on other sites, like Barnes & Noble.

I also found some suspect categorization on Stone’s book, though I didn’t find other examples of books being miscategorized. Google it and the top result leads you to an Amazon page where the nonfiction title is categorized as “Literature and Fiction”:

Screen shot, 5/23/2014, 9:13 AM ET

Screen shot, 5/23/2014, 9:13 AM ET

Amazon is using other tricks as well. The retailer is recommending “Similar Items with Better Ratings” on some Hachette titles:

And a “Similar Items at a Lower Price” bar appears at the top of the page on some titles:

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 9.25.57 AM

Contract negotiations between publishers and retailers aren’t new: While Barnes & Noble(s BKS) and Simon & Schuster were negotiating a new contract last year, Barnes & Noble reduced orders on S&S titles and carried fewer of them in its stores. But it turns out there’s a lot more room for creativity on the web.

Here’s Hachette’s full statement:

“Amazon has now taken preorder capabilities away from Hachette Book Group publications. Forthcoming books now bear a notice ‘currently unavailable’ and a note inviting customers to ask for an email when it becomes available.  There is no preorder button, and some not-yet-published books lack a Kindle page entirely.

We are doing everything in our power to find a solution to this difficult situation, one that best serves our authors and their work, and that preserves our ability to survive and thrive as a strong and author-centric publishing company.”

This story was updated several times on Friday as I continued obsessively poking around on Amazon’s website.