The morning after

Amazon has still not restored the Macmillan print books or ebooks to their inventory, so though it is being widely reported that Amazon has conceded, their boycott of Macmillan books and authors continues. (For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, see my previous blog post or this New York Times article, “Publisher Wins Fight With Amazon Over E-Books.”)

According to this Shelf Awareness article, “The Macmillan ban went beyond Amazon’s website: reportedly without notice to Kindle owners, Amazon went into the devices and removed Macmillan titles from wish lists and removed sample chapters of Macmillan titles. This move was reminiscent of the retailer’s quiet pulling last year of some e-titles whose copyrights were in question.”

Here are links to some new and interesting blog posts, analysis, and commentary about all this:

6 responses to “The morning after

  1. I read that Macmillan’s new e-pricing structure should take effect in March. (NYTimes?) Print titles do appear to be available once more as of now (3:30 pm EDT). If Amazon were to restore e-access, what prices might you suggest they charge for that content?

  2. (were they to restore those e-titles effective today, I mean.)

  3. gravel–
    I’ve been spot-checking various bestselling Macmillan titles (like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, books by John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow published by Tor, etc.), and as of now (12:51pm PST), none of those print books are for sale on Amazon yet.

    To answer your question, if Amazon were to restore the ebooks today, it can still charge anything they want for them as everyone is still operating under the wholesale model, meaning publishers get paid about 50% of retail. For Wolf Hall for example, a new bestselling hardcover, the retail price is $27. So after Amazon makes a sale of a hardcover or ebook, they would owe the publisher about $13.50. From what I remember, Amazon was selling the hardcover for around $14 to $16. Why should the ebook version of a book newly released in hardcover be significantly less than this? Ebooks are not free to produce, as there are still fixed production, distribution, and other costs, including author royalties. (See the Gavin Grant Small Beer Press blog post I linked to for more info about this.)

    Amazon has been willing to take a loss of $3 to $5 on most new, bestselling ebooks to convince more people to spend $259 on a Kindle (which locks you into buying ebooks from Amazon, and prevents you from transferring your ebooks to other competing devices) and to dominate market share. (I saw an estimate today that Amazon has 75% of the ebook market, and that’s primarily due to them selling the books at a loss.) Surely you don’t believe Amazon has been selling ebooks at a loss just because they want to give the consumer cheap books? At some point they’ll want to make a profit, and if they completely dominate the ebook market, they can force the losses onto the publishers and authors.

    This fight is about the future of ebook pricing and preventing Amazon from completely controlling the ebook market. In March, when Macmillan switches to the agency model (and other publishers will quickly follow), Amazon will not be able to use its loss leader strategy to give it an advantage over everyone else. It will level the playing field and increase competition. And it will allow publishers to experiment with different pricing levels and strategies to see what the market will bear. If no one is really willing to pay $15 for the ebook of a newly-released hardcover, then publishers will adjust and eventually find the price people are willing to pay. If not one wants to pay more than $9.99 for an ebook, then maybe they’ll have to wait until a few months after the hardcover is released to get it at that price.

    As far as what I think ebooks should be priced at, it doesn’t matter what I think. (I like the idea of variable pricing, which I explored in my previous blog post.) Market forces will eventually decide this, but it will take time and lots of messy experimentation before the publishing industry, the bookselling industry, and device manufacturers figure it all out. What would help is if everyone used a common ebook format like ePub, rather than proprietary formats that lock you into one device, like the Kindle. DRM issues also need to be ironed out. People might even be willing to pay a few dollars more for ebooks without DRM, as they’d be able to read it on multiple devices.

    We’ll just have to see what happens…

  4. i just re-checked amazon. i’d thought the listings had been taken down completely. that’s what happened with the kindle editions — they don’t even come up in a search of the kindle store. i now see that amazon just removed pricing, and made it impossible to order. my mistake.

    it would be amusing to see what would happen if amazon did reinstate the old prices until the new ones go into effect in march. would everyone order all of the macmillan stuff they’re currently interested in at one time, and clog the whispernet, thus incurring the wrath of *both* sprint *and* at&t?

    what i would like re. drm, is for *content* to cease to be treated as *software*, and just remain covered by regular copyright law. i might pay an extra buck or two for *that*, to be sure. i don’t care if on top of that it’s copy-protected. i wouldn’t want to send copies of beloved copyrighted works to my friends anyway. but i might want to give them the file in such a way that i no longer had it myself.

  5. Prices and incompatibilities and all sorts of other issues aside, I just can’t get over a seller reaching into my home and taking away things I’ve legitimately paid for. I’m goggling, slack-jawed in amazement, here. Still goggling. Wait a minute or two. Yup, it’s still just as outrageous.

    I just can’t buy an e-reader until this changes.

  6. @anne: Amazon doesn’t ‘reach into anyone’s home’. They removed Macmillan titles from *their own server*, which included any samples of Macmillan books, because the books of which they were samples were temporarily unobtainium. Annoying, yes. But If one backs one’s material up to one’s hard drive, one can always re-load it — it will just disappear again anytime one sync’s with the server. That’s what syncing is.

    Also, DRM-protected material backed up to one’s hard-drive will become unreadable should one ever replace the device. That’s what DRM is. Kind of like if you had to re-buy your CD’s every time you got a new CD player. Nice.

    The ‘1984’ thing was pretty bad. The fact Amazon had taken the same action with illegal copies of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ and ‘The Fountainhead’ some weeks before was not interesting to our doltish media, because it wasn’t so obviously ironic. But those who had purchased the illegal copies of those titles were just as pissed off as the purchasers of 1984. The fact is, Amazon should probably have foreseen that kind of nonsense, planned a procedure for dealing with it, and written it into the Kindle’s licensing agreement. I have no sympathy for copyright violators, and feel strongly that Amazon needs to protect itself against them — as do all sellers of e-books. But really. They have a corral of legal counsel. Someone should have done a bit of homework.