The fly in Amazon’s ointment is really Apple?

In case you haven’t heard yet there was a big price dispute between Macmillan and Amazon over e-book prices that has resulted in Amazon just saying “no” to that big publisher.  Admittedly I hope the other big houses follow suit.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand why people think e-books should be cheaper than paperbacks and I don’t disagree with this point.  I do disagree with many of the solutions suggested.

A while back I spoke particularly about piracy and the very real concerns the publishing industry should have about it when things wind up going almost entirely digital but this is a bit different.  A discussion of what people are actually paying for when they purchase a book is what needs to be addressed.  So, let’s talk.

When I go out to purchase a book I do so because I want to read the words on the page.  Words put there by the author.  You know, of the book.  See where I’m going with this yet?  I am not going to purchase just a random group of papers bound together under a splashy cover- although I freely admit those are part of the deal- but I am actually laying out my hard earned cash for the stuff ON the pages.  What medium it gets delivered through is of little consequence to me.  I understand production costs and all that but, in truth, I wouldn’t pay for the product to be produced to begin with if I weren’t purchasing the intellectual endeavors and literary skills of the author.  AKA:  The stuff I’m actually reading.

Now, I understand the argument about e-books having less production involved and therefor should actually cost less than those nice weighty books with their fussy pages (I love me some of those, btw) and I agree.  I think, if we’re solidly invested in encouraging more people to “go green” then publishers should start charging MORE for paperbacks and hardcovers.  You want it right now through your e-reader?  Fine.  That will be $14.99.  You want it in print?  Well, that will cost you $19.99.  Suddenly that cost of purchasing an e-reader, should you buy books a lot, is totally worth it.  [I’m not saying these should be the prices, just examples to my point]  This would also, hopefully, encourage consumers to become more aware of what they’re actually paying for.  Yes, I know agents and publishing houses get a lot of that money as well as the distributors, but the author does get a percentage of it so let’s not forget who toiled away on that book for several months (at the very least). There are also some guesses going on that with these price increases for e-pub there might also be an increase in percentage of royalties to authors.  Let me just say a big AMEN to that.

As a matter of some interest here is the blurb from Amazon that appeared in my email update from Publishers Lunch:

Dear Customers:

Macmillan, one of the “big six” publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.

Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!

On a personal note- I would love to rip Amazon a new one with the entire premise of this response.  I would also like to put my bid in for authors retaining e-pub rights for themselves.  This would mean, say, Macmillan would get the traditional publishing rights while the author could farm out their material to Amazon, Apple or what have you thusly securing the best deal for themselves they could.  I’m rather certain that’s not what Amazon has in mind (I can’t be the only one thinking they would like to have the monopoly on these things- could I?)  but I surely hope that’s the direction these things head in.

As an aside:  I’m thinking Apple has a bunch of psychics working for them.  First there was the premonition that Amazon was PMS-ing which must have then led to their new product name: iPad.  Now you see, Amazon?  Apple is all prepared to take care of your, errr, mess.

I wonder- what are your thoughts on the Amazon/Macmillan grapple?  Who’s wrong?  Right?  What’s the solution?  Is the author getting lost in the mire of corporations jockeying for control and power?


7 responses to “The fly in Amazon’s ointment is really Apple?

  • Secretia

    Thanks for visiting Secret Story Time!


  • Chris

    I think there might be a skirt out in my trunk if Amazon misplaced theirs. That email is just silly. If they are publicly planning on capitulating with Macmillan’s prices, what’s the point of boycotting temporarily? It’s a completely toothless response.

    Besides all that, this response by Amazon just shows how much they want to be a primary publisher and cut the big houses like Macmillan out of the picture. Otherwise, there’s no point in Amazon getting upset about how much Macmillan wants to charge since, as Amazon states in their own email, the market will determine whether or not Macmillan is successful. It largely has nothing to do with Amazon at all.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Chris- I totally agree with your assessment. That’s why I found Amazon’s posturing in that email to be so incredibly telling. “How dare that publisher who paid the advance to the author (assuming there was one), paid for printing, etc have a monopoly on their own titles!” I mean- seriously? Never minding that Amazon decided to over react from the get go which really just makes Amazon look bad. I checked out another blog and I found it to be incredibly interesting that the publishing houses are actually setting themselves to take LESS money on e-pub from Apple than they were getting from Amazon- purely because they want to be able to control the prices of the books and not have Amazon drive prices down (understandable concern given the last year of price wars). Good strategy imo and I truly hope other publishers hold their ground as well.

  • M.J. Nicholls

    E-books certainly cheaper than paperbacks. Agreed there. Same argument with MP3 downloads vs. getting the CD, I reckon. Folks want items they can touch, like and rub between their thighs.

  • Corra McFeydon

    Definitely sounds like Amazon’s going for a monopoly.

    Ultimately, I think the author’s interest’s are equally as important as the consumer’s. They shouldn’t rip us off to sell the book cheap to readers. And you’re absolutely right – they’re paying for our words and our labor.

    Great post.


    from the desk of a writer

    • kimberlyloomis

      Glad you liked it, Corra! I really wish I read more people talking about these effects upon authors instead of the general talk of the business. I can’t help but think it obfuscates the source and thus propagates a myth as to who is responsible for that book in people’s hands.

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