Amazon Gives Paul Ryan's Book a Pass On Hachette-Related Penalties. What Gives?

It looks like Amazon is giving Paul Ryan a pass. As anyone who follows publishing news knows, Amazon and the book publisher Hachette have remained locked in a dispute for months now over ebook prices. In an effort to gain an upper hand in negotiations, Amazon has responded by taking away discounts and pre-order buttons from Hachette titles, as well as delaying shipping. But the online retail behemoth seems to be going easy on at least one Hachette author: Paul Ryan. As in, former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Say, what?

As would be expected for a Hachette title these days, Amazon refused to take pre-orders for Ryan's new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea. Some time after the book came out on August 19th, however, they not only marked it down by 24 percent but even currently list it as "In Stock" and available for next day delivery. Which is all very unusual for a Hachette title these days.

Some see Amazon's behavior as a response to comments Ryan made in a CNBC interview. Though Ryan, who is still a member of the House of Representatives, noted that, "I have to watch what I say,” he did go on to call Amazon's behavior “a very frustrating thing," adding that “clearly Amazon is making kind of a power play here.” Not long afterwards, the normal Hachette penalties seemingly vanished from his book, and it started receiving all the perks a non-Hachette title might expect.

On the one hand, we could chalk this up to Amazon not wanting to ruffle any feathers by pissing off someone so high-profile. But that certainly hasn't stopped them from keeping the pressure on other big-name Hachette authors. Not only have book-world heavy-weights like James Patterson been targeted — and spoken out without seeing the usual discounts return — but Stephen Colbert, whose popular television show arguably gives him a broader audience than Ryan currently has, devoted a segment of his show to the Amazon/Hachette feud. And yet the Amazon pages for Colbert's books still look like this:

No discounts, and "usually ships within 1 to 3 weeks."

Clearly, just having a high profile and indicating you are unhappy with Amazon is not enough to get Amazon to back down. So maybe Amazon is just a fan of Paul Ryan?

It's hard to say why exactly the congressman from Wisconsin is getting special treatment — maybe it's because Amazon doesn't want to piss off legislators, or maybe it's because he held off on actually criticizing Amazon too much? But if this special treatment is because Amazon agrees with Ryan's political beliefs, that might be even more disturbing than Amazon's current shady negotiation techniques.

After all, Amazon is responsible for half the books sold in the country. If they ever decided to start changing their algorithms to authors who espouse a particular political ideology, that could get fairly disturbing. In fact, if Amazon gets into the business of favoring certain writers at all, that could spell bad news for authors and the book community at large, considering how many ways Amazon could leverage that power over individual creators.

Right now, Amazon is only using it's influence to intentionally hurt a fellow corporation; plenty of authors are being hurt in the process, of course, but they're not being specifically targeted by the retail giant. But if Amazon ever decides to deploy these tactics against individual authors who criticize it, for instance, or who publish books they disagree with...that's a path I would just as soon not go down.

So as annoying as it is that Paul Ryan doesn't have to suffer the way some of my favorite authors do, for whatever mysterious reason, still the implications of this inconsistency are even scarier.

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