Daily Archives: January 30, 2010

On a Personal Note

To the folks who have followed up to ask if I was going to be okay with the whole Amazon/Macmillan blinking contest: Well, you know. I don’t expect the corporate eye-pokery to last beyond the weekend, but if it does, the wife and I have tucked away some pennies here and there and stored up provisions for the winter. And if worse comes to worst… well. Let’s just say we love our pets. Our adorable, delightful, succulent pets.

Seriously, however: we’re fine, and we’ll be fine even if this little event somehow and rather stupidly drags on past Sunday. Thanks for asking.

It’s All About Timing

Question in e-mail from someone who wanted to know why I thought Amazon pulled this stunt at this moment. I’m not privy to Jeff Bezos’ brain (otherwise it’d have my footprint in it at the moment), but again presuming that this is indeed Amazon’s doing (it seems clear it is, but I still don’t think we’ve seen an official comment) I speculate Amazon pulled Macmillan titles on a Friday night for a couple of reasons:

1. As the White House across several administrations knows, Friday is the day to do or say anything you don’t want heavily reported in the traditional media or heavily read by traditional media consumers, including on traditional media Web sites. And even electronic media outlets are sleepy on the weekend, because, hey, it’s the weekend, and people have lives, even the ones who hang out online. So the black eye Amazon will get in the media for this stunt will be relatively smaller for pulling it on a Friday night than, say, on a Tuesday morning.

2. I’m willing to bet Amazon works like the rest of the online world, which is that its traffic is (and commensurately, its sales are) less on the weekend than during the work week. Inasmuch as Amazon is punishing itself sales-wise by pulling an entire publishing company’s inventory off its site, it wants to do it on low traffic days, i.e., the weekend, when people are away from their computers anyway.

Alternately we could just be seeing a monumental and irrational fit of pique in action, with Mr. Bezos tromping down to Amazon’s data servers and screaming “Embargo!” in his best Master Blaster voice. But as fun as that is to picture in one’s mind, I do give the man and his company some credit for tactical thinking. A weekend embargo would be enough for the company to make its point, without overly hurting itself.

The only problem with this is that tactics are not strategy, and delisting an entire publishing house as a bargaining tactic, on a weekend or no, is going to have a long-term effect on Amazon’s relationship with publishers, and not the one Amazon is likely to want, especially now that iBookstore lurks, gravid, on the horizon. But I suppose we will see.

A Quick Note On eBook Pricing and Amazon Hijinx

It appears (if this article is correct) that Amazon has pulled Macmillan books from its online stores because it’s unhappy with Macmillan’s desire to up the price of their eBooks from $10 to $15. Macmillan, I’m assuming, wants to raise the price because it will make more money that way; Amazon, I’m also assuming, wants to keep the price lower because it has Kindles to sell, and low eBook prices is a fine motivator for convincing people to part with the $400 (or so) that Kindles cost. And looming over all of this is the iPad WHICH WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING AS WE KNOW IT FOREVER AND EVER AMEN, and for which, allegedly, Apple will allow booksellers more flexibility in setting their pricing (i.e., you’ll pay $15 for a new book at iBookstore).

How do I feel about all this? Well:

1. I personally don’t buy ebooks with DRM on them, because I actually like to own the books I own. It’s a funny twitchy thing of mine. I’m not sure why other people are so willing to let that slide.

2. Leaving the above aside, I’m philosophically inclined to let publishers attempt to charge whatever they think they want to charge for the electronic versions of their books. Why? Oh, call it the free market advocate in me.

3. Do I think Macmillan (or anyone else) will be able to sell $15 ebooks? They could; after all, they sell $25 hardcovers (and similar amounts for ebooks, depending on the retailer). Now, some people won’t spend that much for a book, so they pick up the book later when it’s an $8 paperback. That’s fine, too. Likewise, I think it’s fine to attempt to charge $15 (or more) for an ebook for a brand-spankin’ new release to service the folks who just can’t wait, drop it to a lower price point (say, $10) later on in the run, and then drop it again to $8 or so when the paperback hits. That’s how I would do it, in any event. Would it work? Hell if I know. But that’s not to say it (or some other pricing scheme) is not in a publisher’s interest to try.

And to be blunt about it, it’s in my interest as an author as well, because, you know what? My royalty is a percentage of the sale price. I have a mortgage, I have a kid to send to college, I have an addiction to games that allow me to shoot zombies in the head. I’d like money for those, please. It’s not unreasonable to test the market and see what it will bear.

4. This asinine jockeying over electronic book prices has very little to do with what’s actually good or useful for anyone other than the manufacturer of a piece of hardware… who also happens to be a book retailer. I understand Amazon’s desire to corner the electronic book market with the Kindle, which requires publishers to bend to its will on pricing, but I’m not notably sympathetic to it. In one of those grand ironies of life, I’ve been here before with the iPod, a thing for which I buy music not from Apple but from Amazon, which sold DRM-free mp3s and earned my music purchasing dollars because of it (and who, if memory serves, allowed for some flexibility in pricing). Now my iPod touch is filled with music not bought from Apple. If these companies’ relative positions flip because of books, well, now. That would be funny.

5. If nothing else, this bit of asshattery on the part of Amazon has well and truly cured me of any desire to ever get a Kindle. If Amazon is willing to play chicken with my economic well-being — and the economic well-being of many of my friends — to lock up its little corner of the ebook field, well, that’s its call to make. But, you know what, I remember people who are happy to trample my ass into the dirt as they’re rushing to grab at cash. The money I don’t spend on a Kindle will mean more to me than it does to Amazon, but I’m fine with that. The money I don’t spend on electronic books bought from Amazon over the next couple of decades will also probably mean more to me than Amazon, but I’m okay with that too. I’m not really trying to make a huge statement about it, and I’m not suggesting anyone else join me. Enjoy your Kindle if you have one. Buy my books for it if they ever come back to it.

All I’m saying is: I remember how I’m treated and for what reasons. And you know, I do buy a lot of books.

Update, 2:05pm: Further thoughts on the timing of this all here.

Update, 3:41pm: This NYT post has been updated with a little more information regarding the negotiating context between Amazon and Macmillan. Short version: They’re both playing hardball. That said, I think this particular negotiating tactic of Amazon’s makes it look worse than Macmillan in the short term, and certainly will make other Amazon partner wary in the long term.

Update, 6:21pm: Letter from Macmillan CEO John Sargent on the matter, here.

Update, 5:58pm: Amazon Kindle team responds here. It appears from the post that Amazon isn’t winning this one. One wonders if they could have been aware of this without first gouging a hole in the sales of a couple thousand authors.