85 thoughts on “SFWA Has a Point to Make

  1. One other thing to do:

    I needed to send a gift to an author I respect, to express my appreciation of his work. I specifically ordered it via Barnes and Noble, and then emailed their acknowledgment of the order to AMZN customer service.

    The header above the quoted acknowledgment informed them that this was only the beginning of what the Macmillan Holocaust would cost them.

    The product involved was a DVD.

  2. And not only a point to make, but a service to render to potential readers looking for books. Well done.

  3. Whoever the “plutosdad” is that’s making various comments around about on the Amazon vs Macmillan shootout (Amazon favorable–comment #3 on the SFWA story), he’s trying to hit just about every commentary advocating Amazon good Macmillan bad. Hmm. Astroturfing? I sure see a lot of that moniker round about on this discussion, in multiple fora…

    Probably just my political paranoia at work…..

  4. While I can understand the outrage that authors have, I don’t quite understand the outrage that non-authors are having. Amazon did not want to allow an electronic books (you know, the ones that don’t require effort to print) price increase, while Macmillian wanted them to cost more than the printed version does.

    And now, non-author-book-buyers are saying “yeah! we don’t want this to follow traditional economics, we want to pay more for something that costs less to make, and we’re taking our business elsewhere because of it.”

    How does this make sense for non-authors again?

    (Yes, I know how it makes sense for authors. Yes, I know how it makes sense for Macmillian. It’s the consumers’ reaction that puzzles me.)

  5. @kitt That’s because you’re seeing a small subset of the consumer reaction which is limited to those who are fans of the author and not just fans in a passive way of “I like this or that book/author” but in the active way of “I am devoted to this author and want to see them succeed and to that end I will have an active role on their respective blog.”

    Overall, I imagine that the consumer reaction to Amazon’s actions ranges from “I didn’t know this happened” to “I don’t care this happened.”

  6. I’m not just boycotting the purchase of books at Amazon.com, but just about everything else. If Macmillan wants to see what the market will bear by pricing their books, so be it. If they loose market share or volume, well, that is their burden to bear. Hopefully, after some trial and error, they’ll find the appropriate price point for their product.
    However, to not have the opportunity to explore and determine that balance, for the sake of Amazon’s Kindle centered shenanigans is simply criminal.
    So, I’m gonna go buy a Kensington Trackball Expert Mouse someplace that isn’t Amazon.com.

  7. #4 Kitt “Amazon did not want to allow an electronic books (you know, the ones that don’t require effort to print) price increase, while Macmillian wanted them to cost more than the printed version does.”

    Bearing in mind that I’m an author whose book has been dropped…

    This isn’t actually correct as I understand it. What Macmillan was proposing was that when the $26 hardback comes out that they can change $14.99 for the electronic version. Then as the other paperbacks come out the price drops, so when there’s an $8 paperback it only costs $5.99.

  8. While I think that Amazon is acting extremely childish and unprofessional about this whole situation, I’m curious why I haven’t seen more criticism directed at Macmillan for raising their prices.

    I’ll echo what Kitt said in that charging more for an ebook than for a printed book seems a little ridiculous. Do they have any actual justification for raising the prices? Is it just because they CAN? If so that seems rather sleazy.

    Oh and I am also not plutosdad, whoever that is.

  9. Kitt, it makes perfect sense to me. Amazon is NOT selling all books at $9.99: only best-sellers as a loss leader. What that does is harm the publishing industry, because it drives the price of books down below a sustainable level. When the publishers go down, the authors go down, and when the authors go down, you end up losing the stuff you want to read.

    As for “pay more for something that costs less to make”–not that much less: printing, materials, and distribution for the large publishers is not big percentage of the cost of a book: it’s acquisitions, editorial services, design, marketing, and royalties that make up the lion’s share of costs.

    I’m outraged because I want the authors I like to read to be able to afford to continue writing. I’m no friend of Macmillan, but neither am I a friend of Amazon, which has behaved petulantly and destructively.

  10. I have no problem whatsoever with the price being 2/3 (or, em, whetev) of the current book price, whether hardback or paperback. And I have no problem with a premium for the first few months, to catch the “I’ll pay ANYTHING to read their newest book NOW!” crowd.

    I have a big problem with some publishers charging the FULL hardback price for a book after the paperback is out, unless they’ve worked out a deal with the bookseller, who also happens to be an e-reader maker, to discount their particular edition.

    I won’t repost repost it… comment #58 here http://bit.ly/cmiuVs

  11. Sadly most of the media is reporting Amazon’s side of it. Poor Amazon. Poor Amazon.

    Scary part is nobody is asking a simple question. Why was Amazon selling ebooks at lower cost than they paid for it? Amazon did not do it out of the kindness of their heart.

    Personally the story of Standard Oil keeps coming in my mind when I think about what Amazon was doing.

    Sadly Barnes and Noble has gone wacky. Some McMillan titles are now over $20 as an ebook. Even when there is a paperback released.

    So B&N is playing some games too.

  12. SirTomster, but where is today’s Ida M. Tarbell to take on Amazon?

    I’ve been uneasy about Amazon for several years. It seems, some days, to be the inevitable ultimate survivor in what I’ve come to view as the heat death of the retail universe. Sure, right now it’s a source of many kinds of cheap, high quality stuff (says the woman with a serious problem having to do with $24 cashmere shawls) but what happens when it’s the only readily available supplier for many classes of goods?

  13. I’m glad SFWA made this move. As soon as I’m eligible, I’ll throw money their way. (And man, am I looking forward to that day.)

    My heart just aches for the authors, especially those debuting this week. They did nothing but write good books, find a decent publisher, and now their career is placed in the firing line by Amazon.

    I have bought Macmillan authors this week. I’ll probably buy more (since I have a shiny Powell’s giftcard to use) but I’m just a drop in the bucket.

  14. @4:

    As I read it, Macmillan are insisting that they be allowed to set the price for the ebook version of titles they are publishing. That seems eminently reasonable, to me, if only because the ebook price can (eventually) have a significant effect on the (usually break-even) profits they make while titles are still available only in hardcover.

    Amazon are insisting that they be allowed to set the price _and_ are doing something (de-listing /r/e/a/l/ paper books published by Macmillan) that harms not only the publisher but many authors.

    I’m in agreement with the people who don’t think it’s a good idea for a vendor to have that much Power — or for any one vendor/distributor to become as predominant in the field has Amazon has.

    But then, I remember the days when the dominant & almost monopilistic (probably Mafia-owned) U.S. magazine/newsrack distributor was exercising inapropriate (IMHO) attempts to control the publishers of the science-fiction (& other) pulp magazines.

  15. @JESR

    Which is why Macmillan did what they did. They could see the writing on the wall. If they let bygones be bygones, Amazon would command such a huge part that they could (and would) force the publishers to bow beneath them.

    So while they market is small, Macmillan had the foresight to make their move before they are flanked by Amazon.

    Sadly while they might have made the move in time for eBooks, I expect it is a lost cause for paper books in regards to our local independents. The big guys already demand discounts for their larger purchases which means the indies are almost always selling books at a higher price. Hell I shop at my local Border’s when looking for books that I do not order online. Those 30-40% off coupons just suck me in.

    But I will be watching pretty close on this, especially since my nook just shipped this evening. So I want my ebooks :)

  16. @ Kitt and Chris

    Let me start off by saying that my first reaction was “Amazon Sucks.” Then it followed with a bit of the same mindset that you guys have. Then I read a bit more about the situation, which made me go back to “Amazon Really, Really Sucks.”

    Here’s why: (Brief disclaimer: I’m not in the publishing industry, and have relied on info that I’ve found on other websites. Mostly here, Charles Stross’ and Tobias Buckell’s Blogs. Scalzi, please correct me if any of this info is wrong.)

    The main problem is the misconception that ebooks are vastly cheaper to make. From what I’ve found, it only costs about $2-3 to print a book, and that the publishers usually sell the books to stores for half MSRP. Lets call that $15. Subtract out the cost of printing, and you’re left with $12 that the publisher gets to pay every other expense that they have.

    Amazon wants all of the books capped at $9.99. After the 70/30 split, the publisher only gets $7. That’s a 40% decrease in revenue from the hardcover format, and most of the money in publishing made from hardcover sales. That’s huge.

    Now keep in mind, this isn’t how Amazon is operating now. Now, for the new releases, they are still paying the hardcover price to the publisher, and taking a loss to get to the $9.99 price point. If you look at their site, $9.99 tends to be for bestseller, and everyone else tends to be $14-15. They offered the agency agreement (70/30) the day before Apple went public with the iPad.

    That first part seems bad enough, but then it gets worse. One of the clauses of the agency agreement was that Amazon would always have the lowest price online. That seems sensible, until you think through the implications for how that affects every other deal that the publishers make, and pricing issues that are outside of the publisher’s control.

    Not everyone is on the agency plan. Some ebook stores operate on the model of paying the publisher a flat rate, and marking them up for resale. Say the publisher puts an ebook on amazon for $6. That means the publisher makes $4.20 off the sale. Now say you have another website that’s operating based on a flat rate method. The publisher still sells them the ebook for $4.20, but they only mark it up to $5. According to Amazon’s agreement, Amazon now gets to set their price at $5, and the publisher is only making $3.50.

    Multiply that by every book sold, and Amazon’s plan is seriously one sided. So what did MacMillan do, they countered with their own agreement. And Amazon’s response was to kick them off the site.

    Please correct me if I got any of the facts wrong.

  17. I think I’ll toss in two or three cents on this whole canard of Kitt’s, a meme I’ve been seeing a lot of lately, that ebook editions ought to cost next to nothing because they “don’t require effort to print.” Allow me to call this bullshit out for what it is. Sure, with ebooks, you don’t have the act of physically printing the book on paper and binding it to worry about, so those costs go away. But these are just replaced with different costs involved in the task of bringing the book in question to Thy Holy Anointed Kindle, Praise Be Unto Its Name. And I know this because I spent last month doing QC at an epub company, so I know what goes into the process.

    The first thing to remember is that Kindles and other e-readers are, like, totally new on the scene, and so most books that are sold on them were in paper editions first. So do you know how they get on the Kindle then? A company licensed to produce ebook editions takes — no shit — a dead-tree copy of the book, removes it from its binding, and scans its contents. Then, the scanned text must be proofed and formatted for the e-reader. Then, this work goes to a QC team, then back to the blocking-and-proofing team, etc, etc., until it’s ready for prime time. So yes, this takes a large staff, and effort. There’s more involved than just Tinkerbell waving her magic wand for e-books to exist.

  18. *sigh*

    I LIKE the MacMillan pricing model. Amazon has nothing to lose from that model, and authors/publishers can still make a living. It looks like a win/win. I don’t understand why Amazon went nuclear. Does anyone know?

  19. Thomas, that’s the stupidest process I’ve ever heard of.

    Although, I work for a newspaper, and am in the middle of implementing a new process for getting the print paper stories to the website, at least all I’m doing is taking typesetter formatting codes and (trying to) convert them to html formatting codes.

    But at least we aren’t taking an electronic version (that the author sent to the publisher) that was edited electronically, and sent to an electronic typesetting system, and PRINTING IT OUT so we can freaking SCAN IT BACK IN and try and reconvert it to something that looks good on a screen.

    Thanks… I thought my job was sometimes stupid.

  20. Thomas, that’s the stupidest process I’ve ever heard of.

    I don’t disagree (at least I only worked with the newspapers). But there the books were, stacked up on shelves in the back of the office with notes on them saying, “Do not read, for scanning only.” Probably the publishers could have formatted the electronic text themselves first before sending it over. But I guess that’s why they contract this stuff out to other companies to do for them. Who knows, I’m only glad I don’t work there any more.

  21. @A Different Jess

    Warren Buffett says that he likes businesses with “competitive moats,” or put simply, something that gives them a significant advantage over the competition. Amazon has had multiple moats in the past…

    They save rent money by being online, which puts them everywhere at once…

    They ship books directly to the customer from the warehouse, instead of warehouse to store to customer…

    They buy in huge quantities, which probably gives them a discount…

    Which it seems counterintuitive, ebooks eliminate all of these advantages. Everyone is online. Everyone sells directly to the customer. No one has a warehouse. Bulk purchases mean nothing, because everything is bought on demand.

    They created a new arrangement that would have given them a distinct advantage over their competition, and MacMillan realized that would have squashed the publishers in the process. When MacMillan pushed back, Amazon went nuclear.

    Why?

    Because only a small portion of books sales are ebooks. And kicking them off of Amazon, will hurt MacMillan’s sales in the near future, since Amazon is the king of physical sales. I think Amazon hopes this will scare the other publishers in line. Personally, I think this will cause the publishers to fight back, after all Amazon can’t ban all of them.

    But I could be wrong.

  22. John: Look at the bright side.

    Any sales you Do make on Amazon are certainly going to drive up your market value.

    I just checked, and on the search results page, we have:

    The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
    1 new from $41.52

    The Last Colony by John Scalzi
    Buy new: $40.85

    Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
    2 new from $218.68

  23. The thing that is still confusing me (read: making me even more suspicious) is why Amazon hasn’t delisted ALL of Macmillan’s books. They’ve specifically only targeted the “trade” books, or the non-academic books, leaving all of the Palgrave Macmillan academic titles completely available (for which one of my colleagues is eternally grateful, as the second edition of his book came out yesterday). This probably seems like a minor detail for the sci-fi crowd, but I’m an academic too.

    Academic books make diddly-squat when it comes to profits, so this won’t hit Macmillan or amazon the way the other books will, but it does suggest that Amazon made a strategic decision to delist the books it did, to make the biggest stomping fit it could without engaging the academic community (probably because there are universities that had been experimenting with allowing Kindles for textbook use?).

  24. Some of the comments on the SFWA site hurt my brain. “You writers who have nothing to do with this dispute are hurting your customres!!!11 How dare a writers organisation stick up for its authors who have been removed from the biggest bookstore in the world’s inventory!! Bookz should cost 5 cents!! ZOMG I’m boycotting Tor!!!! ONE1

  25. Here’s what I commented over at the SFWA post:

    As a reader, I say kudos to you, SFWA for making sure that there are OPTIONS for readers. That’s really what this is about.

    I don’t like the Kindle, or Amazon, at the moment, because as a reader and a consumer, I like the option of shopping for certain things wherever I like. I don’t have an e-reader, because I prefer regular books, but if I did buy one, I’d make sure to get one that allowed me to download books from multiple sources.

    @Mark S. – consumers NEVER win when a company builds a monopoly. Amazon is the same company that “accidentally” deleted sales rankings for all of their LGBT literature not that long ago. They are capable of pulling books whenever they deem it necessary, and if you have a Kindle, then you have no e-book alternative. I mean, Wal-Mart gives consumers a better deal, too, but they do that by setting up shop in places where the Wal-Mart is the only place to work, paying their workers a pittance while working them long hours, and passing the savings on to you. Macmillan has a right to charge what they want for e-books. You know what will bring those prices down? Other publishers setting their prices lower. It shouldn’t be up to Amazon to decide that for them.

  26. # Joyce Reynolds-Ward

    I only remember making one comment. Where did I make others?

    meh i frequent lots of sites, so what?

    Right now, I will be forced to wait until prices go down (not buying a new book). I don’t see that as a “win” for authors, do you?

    I see Amazon as sticking up for me, the consumer. Authors may be upset by that. But I would like to read MORE books, not less.

  27. @plutosdad

    I have opted to wait for the paperback of a book to come out because I did not want to spend the money on the hard cover.

    Sometimes publishers get me with the Trade, if I decide that 15-17 bucks is worth less of a wait.

    Sometimes I wait until its a 9 buck paperback.

    Other times I fork over the cash for the hard cover because I love the author (or its a new author and I want to help them) and am willing to pay the OMG NAOW! price to have it… OMG NAOW!

    Why is it so hard for ebook consumers to do the same thing? (Wait a bit for the price to drop?)

  28. Plutosdad, I have to wait for book prices to go down, too. Unfortunately for me, I don’t have a Kindle or any other ebook reader. I buy books in paper.

    The hardcover comes out: People who are desperate for the book snap it up. Later, the paperback comes out at a lower price. I buy it.

    That’s what Macmillan plans to do with ebooks, and they’re doing it because it’s necessary for their survival, and the survival of their other customers.

    What Amazon.com is doing is a power grap. Short-term it’s books sold at loss-leader prices to you. Long-term, it’s overwhelming market dominance for them.

    I don’t know whether Macmillan’s plans the right one for the ebook market. Consumers will decide that. I do know that Amazon.com’s plans are terrible.

    Confession time–I’m a Random House author, so I’m watching from the sidelines.

  29. @plutosdad

    Macmillan states (will have to see if true though) that they will lower the price as demand drops.

    IE Start high and get all those people that Just HAVE to have it @ $15. When they stop. Drop the price to the next price point and get all those that just have to have it at that price point.

    So depending on the book, you can wait. Kinda like how hardcover and paperback are. Not willing to pay for the HC? Wait for the PB. The same logic being applied to ebooks. But hopefully it will be gradual. Some have speculated it will be $14.99 when the book is in HC only and $5.99 when in PB. Personally I hope that is not the case but will have to see if they make money. Since that is their goal :)

    I expect I will buy a few ebooks at $15. Heck I already have at Baen. But not all.

    The big thing is to see if they actually do it that way or not and that will take time. That is what I am waiting to see. If their CEO told the truth or not. Sadly it will take time to see if it will happen because we are still in the middle of the pissing match. Amazon says they will cave but have not done so that I can tell. Still cannot buy Macmillan titles directly from Amazon. Thankfully I rarely get mine from there and actually have no interest in getting anything from them again.

    I will get my eBooks from other sources for my nook & Blackberry.

  30. IANAL and all that, but I’m interested that no one so far in this whole fracas has floated the idea of writers pounding Amazon with a big class action. Would they not have any legal grounds, as their contracts are with Macmillan and not Amazon? Does Amazon just have an understood policy that they can list and delist whatever they like for any reason at all, so suck it biatches? Just curious.

  31. #32 Ann K:
    Oh it’s not harder to wait than it is for hardcover/paperback. I just think Macmillan’s pricing is hurting them, not increasing their profits, which is what they want. This means less money for authors too.

    Pricing with less or more marginal cost doesn’t change that you want to set your price at the point where the number of books sold times profit is the highest number. This means the most for everyone involved, well usually.

    I can understand they are worried about cannibalizing hardcover sales and those profits. I guess it also depends on how much overlap there is between hardcover buyers and ebook buyers. I know I am not a hardcover buyer, but then well only Amazon and Barnes and Noble really have a lot of data on how much those markets overlap.

    In the end, the most total profit (not profit per sale) will also mean the most sustainable sales, good for the consumer, good for authors, good for publishers and distributors. I can see how both companies are being dicks though. But it’s consumers as well as authors who get screwed.

    Anyway, I’m still going to buy the books I want, eventually. Which includes all of the ones I’m sure we all like who read this blog.

  32. It’s not a question of format, it’s a question of timing. The price is not so much set on whether your book is hard, soft or ‘e’, it’s set on “new release”, “recent release”, “old stuff”. If you’ve ever rented a video you will be familiar with this pricing structure.

  33. @Thomas Wagner

    While I strongly disagree with what Amazon is doing, I do think that they have the right to do it. Just because Amazon has sold pretty much every book published in the past, doesn’t mean that they are obligated to. Much in the same way that I can tell them to go to hell and never buy anything from them again. It’s the way it works.

    The best thing you can do is let people know what is going on, how you think it will affect them, and let them make the decisions that they will.

  34. @ Scott (25)
    I think your analysis might be correct, al least it makes sense to me. A lot of the posts I have read claimed out that with the publisher set prices Amazon could not distinguish themselves anymore from the competition.
    Most posters used this as a breach of the rights of Amazon as a retailer. But the utter consequence of the pricing war in the end would of course be the same. Unless a retailer has it’s suppliers in a strangle-hold it won’t have that much of an edge over any competition. As you mention storage and delivery don’t really scale in price anymore.

    This might also partly explain the general behaviour of Amazon in the ebook market. They own their own file-format/DRM system, and the license they use for that make it impossible to use on a dedicated e-reader when a different DRM system is also present. As far as I am aware the only readers readily reading this format at the moment are the Kindle and some older types.
    This attempt to create a closed or limited ecosystem might be aimed at a future where e-books will be an important part of booksales. Actually reminiscent of the initial entry of Apple into the music market.

  35. Not sure if this is true for all of the author’s affected by this, but I just noticed some delisted books are now back on Amazon to be fulfilled. Found this out when I went to see if a Steven Brust book I wanted was still delisted, when it was available through Amazon now, but was unavailable just yesterday.

    I COULD order this book through Amazon now if I wanted to, but considering all the authors who experienced any turmoil as a result of this disrespectful move on Amazon’s part, I don’t feel I’m ready to give them my business yet. Whether or not I agree with Macmillan or think upping the price on ebooks is okay or not, the fact is Amazon pretty much screwed over a ton of authors who had nothing to do with it just as a needless and ineffective hardball tactic. Think I’ll just go to Barnes and Noble.

  36. I agree with many of the comments on the SFWA post. The SFWA is a writer’s organization. Their loyalty is to the writers, not the publishers and not the retailers. I wholeheartedly support them switching the sales links to retailers who will sell the books. Why should they direct people to the Amazon site if the book is not for sale there?

    John, I was actually in the middle of reading Old Man’s War when all this broke out. I hadn’t purchased it, but rather had borrowed it from my sister. Because I really enjoyed it I was planning to go purchase the other books in the series.

    Will you be bringing copies of your books to sell at the Phoenix Comic Con? If so, I will just wait and purchase them where the author receives the most benefit. If not, I’ll hit a local bookstore for the instant gratification and just bring them down for you to sign. A week ago I would have just clicked an Amazon link to get them. Now I’ll be seriously considering all Amazon purchases before I hit that One-Click purchase button.

  37. One thing I think Amazon is concerned about is:

    What if Macmillan decides “We don’t want to price ebooks competitively. We’ll sell them for $14.99 forever to people who absolutely must have it in electronic form, but if you want it cheaper, buy the paperback. Print run sell through is already too low. Our authors are compelling enough we won’t lose out to other publishers for sales because our paper books are equivalently priced.”

    This would be Macmillan making a choice that might be fine for them, and would contribute to maintaining the average selling price of books, but would put a severe crimp on Amazon’s ebook market. If Amazon has to sell these ebooks for twice what they sell a paperback for, how many people are going to buy a Kindle, and get into ebooks at all?

  38. @Andrew, #42
    The last I heard, we don’t know what Amazon is concerned about because they’re not making any press releases.

    What if Amazon wants MacMillan to bite the bullet so they can maintain market dominance with the Kindle and pre-emptively dominate the market for ebooks so the iPad won’t be competitive? That’s just as valid a theory as any other at this point.

  39. It just makes me wonder… Is Amazon really so foolish and unprofessional to do this? Couldn’t there be more to it?

    Meanwhile, the big publishers are making deals with Google about ebooks and readers are familiarising themselves with other online bookstores. Who in his right mind ever thought that this whole thing would result in something good for Amazon? And why didn’t someone stop him?

  40. I write non-fiction for an academic publisher. Amazon.com’s actions will not make any difference to my career, such as it is, unless Macmillan buys Boydell & Brewer. And I *completely* support and approve of SFWA’s actions, because, y’know, next time it *could* be Boydell & Brewer, or Clarkson N. Potter, or a university press that refuses to bow to the Wal-Mart of bookselling.

    I’ll either buy from Barnes & Noble or my local independent. And if I decide to buy an e-reader, it’ll be a Kindle. Jeff Bezos has enough money.

  41. Make that “I’ll buy a Nook.” NO WAY would I buy a Kindle after all this.

    *staggers off in search of coffee*

  42. Even if the scanning stage were omitted from the e-books, that wouldn’t omit the necessity to develop a way to translate files from one format to another and to have someone check to make sure the process didn’t bung up somewhere. As I know as that used to, more or less, be my job (for journals, not books). Automated processes fail, and sometimes when they fail, they fail hard. Essentially, adding a conversion stage adds a light proofing stage that is fairly likely punctuated by debugging the conversion process or manually making corrections. My job was some weird combination of proofreading, software QA, and SGML wrangling, with a bit of debugging and coding thrown in for good measure. I don’t know exactly what we charged, but… enough to maintain a lot of employees and a metric assload of hardware and a fairly sizeable office.

    On an unrelated note, there seems to be a fairly large number of people who think that people will mainly be choosing between paperbacks and ebooks based on price alone (or at least mostly price). I suspect that isn’t as much as a given as people may think. Some people don’t have room for dead tree editions or travel enough that they want something more portable or just plain find it more convenient to have a reader of some sort loaded up than shuffling books in and out of their bags or on and off of shelves or the nightstand, etc. Those people aren’t going to care what the cost is in relation to the paperback cost; they’re going to care if the cost is reasonable at all. “Oh, it’s $15, I guess I’ll spend $8 on the paperback instead,” won’t even cross their mind. (“$15 is more than I want to pay for this book” might, but that’s not the same.)

  43. I said this there. I say it again here.

    Good for them[you]. Take care of your constituency, authors. Screw those darn readers, who cares about them. Wait, what? Oh, authors can’t exist without readers? Readers want reasonable prices for ebooks? Macmillan wants to charge exorbitant rates for those books? Amazon is trying to keep those books cheaper? Wow, seems like readers would be on Amazon’s side. Readers and writers have similar interests you say? Wow, maybe authors should be on the side of the huge corporate entity that is acting to INCREASE sales instead of supporting old world publishing that is only in the interest of the publisher? Maybe?

  44. And, since I think Macmillan is clearly, unequivocally the bad guy in this, let’s ask the next question: What are we getting for this 50% increase in price? Are they removing DRM? We know that’s their choice, not Amazon’s. In fact, what’s missed here, but acknowledged elsewhere, was that the publisher had leeway to increase the price of books under the old agreement, AND had the right to determine if DRM would exist or not.

    So, Macmillan, you’ve decided you don’t care about ebook sales. Fine. This only hurts John Scalzi and your other authors, because I will not buy ebook editions at that price, and since it’s your decision, I also won’t buy the hardcovers. I can certainly delay my gratification, no problem. And, by the way, I won’t pay $9.99 for an ebook a year after publication, since again, YOU decided that I couldn’t get it for that price earlier…I’ll need a more steep discount. So, looks like I’ll be buying books from other publishers, and the John Scalzi’s of the world will get zero from me, as I’ll be reading library editions of their books. Or, the boutique editions I can get through places like Subterranean. Good job.

    I seriously don’t see how any reader can be anything but pissed at Macmillan. Do you guys really want to pay 50% more for the same product?

  45. ‘What are we getting for this 50% increase in price? ‘

    But torgeaux you’re not getting anything at all, are you?

    You’ve decided you don’t want to buy books published by Macmillan, so you have a carefree life untroubled by these issues.

    Why hang around the blog of someone who writes for Macmillan, amongst others, when you could be off somewhere reading your non-Macmillan and very cheap books?

  46. stevie, I guess only people who agree should come here, is that your point? Then why post anything, right? Everyone should simply post, “Amen” and have done with it.

    Mr. Scalzi has a ban hammer he’s more than willing to use if he feels I’ve stepped over a line. You, on the other hand, are just some random internet pogue, so go away unless you have something to contribute to the discussion. There, I’ve assumed the same authority you have, happy?

  47. torgeaux @ 49:

    First of all, the statement from Macmillan talks about variable pricing, not a “50% increase in price”. Many Kindle books already are priced in that range — Amazon uses predatory loss-leader discounts only on bestsellers — so for many books there would be no increase.

    Secondly, I’m patient. If a book is too expensive for my taste on initial release I’m willing to wait for the MMPB or equivalent price drop in an e-book. I have a limited list of authors whom I’m willing to buy at HC prices. And authors/works are not interchangeable, so decisions are made on a work-by-work value-for-money basis.

    Thirdly, one thing that the Macmillan model promises is the elimination of the third part of the current cycle. You know: Stage 1 — HC or Trade Paperback; Stage 2 — MMPB; Stage 3: out of print. With variable pricing it makes sense for publishers to keep e-books (with a minimal per-title cost of warehousing) for an indefinite period of time and capture a revenue flow which currently gets lost because of the costs of warehousing.

    Fourth, I’d prefer to slow down, or even reverse, the ongoing collapse of the midlist, which followed on the collapse of the old mass market distributing system. If opening up e-book markets at price levels that can, you know, actually support the publishing process for non-bestseller works, that’s all to the good.

    Fifth, Macmillan is doing this because they do care about e-book sales — much of it would seem to be motivated by wanting to be able to sell e-books via the Apple outlet as well, which won’t have somebody sitting there offereing loss-leader deep discounts. Let’s be honest here: Kindle sales are to already dedicated book readers. If you want a significant jump in e-book numbers, it’s going to be with a device (and its imitators to follow in a year or two) which other people will buy in part because of its other features (and we’ve already absorbed, long ago, the techies who were happy to download Ulysses to read on the Palm Pilots — yes, I really knew somebody who did this in about 1998), and that device is not the Kindle. (By the way, because the iPad is not a dedicated e-Ink platform, it also promises to be very good for non-fiction e-books which can be enhanced with colour and embedded apps (interactive maps, manipulable diagrams, that sort of thing) as premium products.)

    Sixth, this is like the decision that some of us make to (at least sometimes) support independent booksellers over Amazon, even if we don’t get the same discount, because we think that the services they provide are valuable.

  48. James: The point of the change Macmillan want’s to impose is to increase the price we pay for the books. That’s the end result, and everyone seems to agree that’s the case. Furthermore, they try to argue that they’ll make less money so I’m not sure how this is purported to support the publishing industry.

    Macmillan’s model doesn’t do what you say, though. The third part isn’t going to occur now with any book that’s in ebook form, since it’s an on-demand format. I agree it’s best to keep books available, but how does steeper pricing make that occur? Reduced sales (which steeper pricing will result in, even if it produces greater profit) impact long term availability negatively, not positively. If they make ebooks unattractive, and no one can argue that a net increase in cost with no change in value makes the books MORE attractive, then they are making the epublishing industry slow growth, not increase growth.

    The false choice you present, “they want to sell via Apple outlets” is a good example here. What’s happening is another player is making it easier for Macmillan to jack up prices, not helping you or me. And of course, if this were to support epublishing, the Apple platform already serves that purpose, either thru Amazon (they can read kindle books) or thru epub and other vendors. What’s actually happening is they are using the increased leverage from Apple to increase their prices to Amazon. And you and I lose. There’s nothing wrong in the corporation’s attempt to maximize profit, but don’t kid yourself that it will help readers.

    Oh, and about the fact the increase is only to new best sellers, yes we’re only talking about that, not ALL books. And I wouldn’t boycott a book that is at the same price it was before, that would be both self-injuring and encouraging the wrong behavior.

  49. torgeaux @ 53

    Do you boycott publishers when they raise cover prices? I started buying paperbacks when they were 95 cents. That said, I doubt that the Macmillan decision will change what I pay for books at all. Not one cent. I don’t use a dedicated e-book reader, and if I did/when I do I would never buy a locked-in piece of hardware like the kindle which gives the retailer the ability to come in and take away titles. (I’m not looking for an iPad, either, thank you). So, personally, I find pricing for the Kindle to be an irrelevance.

    The help to the publishing industry comes from the ability to extend markets. The ideal here would be a single common format across e-readers, allowing consumers to buy any title from any store for any reader. If Amazon were really standing up for the consumer, that’s what they’d be doing. The next best thing is titles available across platforms at competitive prices — which is what Amazon is trying to block by predatory pricing funded out of deep pockets.

    The thing which will bring down (more realistically, keep down) e-book prices is an expansion of the market. Not just Amazon’s own fiefdom market in the Kindle, but all markets. Macmillan (And Random House, etc.) want this not out of the goodness of their hearts but because, in the long run they benefit more from increased sales than from increased prices. (Publishers are in general very nervous about moving price points up and do so only when pushed into it.)

    Supporting Amazon in this may look like good tactics, but it’s bad strategy.

  50. Mary Robinette Kowal wrote, “What Macmillan was proposing was that when the $26 hardback comes out that they can change $14.99 for the electronic version. Then as the other paperbacks come out the price drops, so when there’s an $8 paperback it only costs $5.99.”

    Thanks! That’s actually the first time I’ve heard their pricing proposal explained in a complete fashion. If it works out that way, I won’t feel nearly so irate at Macmillan.

    A $5.99 ebook, when the paperback costs $8, feels about right to me…

  51. Ah, don’t mistake me…I don’t think Amazon is doing anything for the purpose of helping anyone but themselves…i’m just the incidental recipient of a benefit.

    But, if you don’t read ebooks, you have no personal stake in the immediate impact of this decision, do you? You are assessing a possible long term impact (about which we disagree). So your statement that this will not impact what you pay is almost certainly correct, but highly irrelevant.

    Extend markets? This doesn’t do that. Macmillan isn’t forcing kindle to sell their books in epub, are they? Nor is Amazon keeping Macmillan from selling, at any price they choose, to Apple. Rather, Macmillan is using this leverage to increase prices, period. Having another retailer is fine for them but it doesn’t equate to greater sales of ebooks…and how does increasing prices figure into that? Sell to Apple at their current prices (where they claim their profit is higher ) and let the market work itself out.

    I’ll say it again, how does the end consumer benefit from an increase in price with no increase in value? Especially where this isn’t walmart forcing someone to sell at a loss.

  52. nice gesture, but pointless. Pointless just like Amazon removing the books from the publisher. If I want the book bad enough and Amazon does not have it then I can find it somewhere else.
    Likewise, if there is a book I want that i see on SFWA then I will go directly to Amazon to buy it and not be dependent upon their links. Unless of course the book is from that certain publisher ;-)

  53. #20, Scott: Ebooks are cheaper to make in this fashion: It is a single, upfront cost to convert an existing electronic file (for simplicity, say a Word document) into another format (say epub). For multiple formats, that may actually cost zero, since there exists software that will convert eformats. So. . . publisher still has editing, formatting, artistry costs, they stay static. Then additional cost of initial conversion versus constant cost of physical printing/distribution of book.

    Amazon doesn’t “cap” the price to the publisher at $9.99, that’s what they sell, at a loss, for. So your math is off. Significantly, Macmillan hasn’t revealed what they sell the books to amazon for, so we don’t know.

    If Amazon has an agreement that they always get the lowest price, and they then pay a portion of THAT to the publisher, that would suck for the publisher, but I haven’t seen any evidence of that.

    #9 Mary Robinette Kowal: Interesting, but ultimately bad for the consumer, again. Currently, I can buy a new best seller for $9.99. Under this plan, I might, maybe, be able to buy one for 50% more (again, no change in value), or wait a year and get a discount to $5.99. But, what happens when I wait for the paperback and ebook sales are still brisk? After all, the hardback is still available, and they don’t drop the price for that when the paperback comes out, do they? So why would they drop the price of the ebook?

  54. torgeaux

    I was asking a question. It’s possible that you associate asking a question with the exercise of authority, but that’s not the way most people view it. Mostly people ask questions because they would like to know the answer.

    You have omitted to answer the question so I’m still baffled…

  55. stevie: Ah, given that your passive aggressive question was so asinine, I mistook it. I apologize.

    I “hang around” this blog for several reasons. One, I like the fiction produced by Mr. Scalzi. I also enjoy his blog postings. Neither of those imply that I agree with everything he posts. And, given the nature of internet discourse, I don’t think that disagreement is bad thing, but rather encouraged. At least, past practice suggests it.

    And, my decision to boycott purchases is based on reasoning (which may be faulty, granted). So, because I question what Macmillan is doing, I voice that disagreement here. So, you see, their actions impact me by forcing a boycott, so your question is moronic.

  56. Disclaimer: Still an avid Amazon customer who thinks Macmillan is the bad guy.

    That said, let’s be real here. Amazon is not doing this for the customer. It’s good PR for them to say that, but they’re doing a very poor job of capitalizing on it.

    Amazon is trying to pull a Wal-Mart: lower your price or we won’t sell your product; something the “Save money. Live better.” company is notorious for. Is that wrong? Of course not. Amazon should use everything within in its power to make themselves the best place to buy their products. That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Free market and all that. Now, how they’ve chosen to do that can be questioned, but as someone pointed out Amazon is not required to sell anything they don’t want to. In turn, customers are free to go somewhere else. Once again, free market and all that.

  57. Jimmy: Yes. As said in another thread, two giant corporations looking out for their own interests, we as consumers just look where ours intersects theirs most. With Mr. Scalzi, it’s Macmillan, and I think he may be correct, short-term, but incorrect long term. I think for readers, it’s Amazon, certainly for short-term, with some question about long-term.

    Where Amazon screwed the pooch was in the PR, and frankly, I think in the whole de-listing thing. I’m curious what percent of their sales Macmillan derives from Amazon? If Amazon can really hurt them with a delisting, it may have been a smart move, but it needed better PR if so.

  58. torgeaux@56:

    I didn’t say I don’t read e-books; I’ve been doing so for over a decade. I don’t use a dedicated reader, though.

    And I do have a stake in all of this.

    I’m not, as such, as concerned by whether books are cheap or not as I am by having a sufficient supply of books I want to read. Not only is there Sturgeon’s Law to contend with, but even among objectively competent authors only some are to my taste, and only a relative few are strongly to my taste.

    You see, there’s something called “the collapse of the midlist” which ultimately was triggered by the collapse of the mass-market distribution system and is an ongoing problem. Some of its effects are visible at a detail level (it’s a contributory factor in, for example, the fact that there’s been a massive delay in the publication of The AI War), and some of its effects are invisible (authors who never got published because the P&L calculations just didn’t work out on objectively good submissions).

    The Amazon model would accelerate this by making e-book pricing a contributory factor. The Macmillan (And other large publishers — Macmillan is only the first) model at least has the advantage that it may not contribute to it, and may actually ameliorate it.

    You see, I don’t worry about cheap books; I worry about the volume of good books.

  59. James: Sorry, misread you there. . . although, if you don’t buy ebooks through kindle, you’re certainly LESS impacted.

    Can you explain a bit more detail why you think the “original” Amazon model would contribute to this? I’m with you that availability trumps price, no question. I’m not with you (yet) that Amazon’s original model impacts availability, especially in light of the claim by Macmillan that the publisher actually makes more money with Amazon’s model.

  60. >I’ll say it again, how does the end consumer
    >benefit from an increase in price with no
    >increase in value? Especially where this isn’t
    >walmart forcing someone to sell at a loss.

    Businesses (yes, I know you don’t want to hear about “businesses” you want to hear how this benefits you–bear with me) have a vested interest in preventing their products being used as loss-leaders. It devalues the product and harms the business long-term.

    Some of your comments above (esp re: “text dumping” from a Word file into an ebook format) indicate you don’t know much about what major publishers do, but those Scalzi-written books we both enjoy so much get a lot of value added to them by the publishers.

    Authors want to keep publishers around. Publishers want to keep Amazon.com’s competition healthy, so they aren’t reduced to a Wal-Mart-type business relationship.

    As for consumers, they want good books. Publishers are an important part of creating good books (mine has been for me at least), and they should be willing to let publishers feel around for a business model that works for them. Consumers need publishers, too.

  61. torgeaux @60 said:

    ‘And, my decision to boycott purchases is based on reasoning (which may be faulty, granted). So, because I question what Macmillan is doing, I voice that disagreement here. So, you see, their actions impact me by forcing a boycott, so your question is moronic.’

    Thank you for your clarification.

    You have an extremely bizarre notion of what being forced means…

  62. @ Kitt — I as a reading non-author am disgusted with Amazon’s actions not because I’d have to pay more (I don’t have a Kindle and have no plans to get one, and I’m actually trying to drastically cut down on my bookbuying this year as last year it ran me into the thou$and$ without my realizing) but because this is the latest in a succession of strongarm/overkill tactics by Amazon and it’s really beginning to disturb me how comfortable the U.S. public is becoming with putting up with monopolies, and the sort of corporate behavior that lends itself to the formation of monopolies. We used to have antitrust laws.

  63. stevie: No, I use the word forced in a non-literal sense. Just like I don’t really think you are physically an ass.

    Harry Connolly: I don’t belittle what publishers do. I’m not equating taking your word document draft and punching the “print as adobe” button as publishing. I am asserting that after the copy editing and such occurs, it’s cheaper to convert the FINAL product into an ebook than it is into a printed book. If that’s incorrect, please explain if you could.

  64. here’s a newsflash – Amazon will LOSE in the long run with this.

    What Amazon wants is to sell Kindles and have content for the KINDLE be the cheapest way to get said content – the negotiations between the publisher (Macmillian) and Amazon obviously didn’t go well- and Amazon is playing hardball (and hurting authors in the process)

    The timing is informative – Apple announces the Ipad, back-ordered Nooks are arriving in customer’s hands. (how well did the new Kindle sell?)

    Amazon is trying to be the iTunes of e-books (with the Kindle as the iPod) they will fail.

    Apple is not the dominant market leaders (in portable music) because $.99 is the cheapest way to get a track. it’s because of the ease of use, interface,experience, design of the hardware (and hype to a certain extent)

    IMHO publishers are seeing the writing on the wall – they want to play ball with APPLE for ebooks and not lose their shirts every place else an ebook sells – Amazon’s response – play ball with US the way WE want to or we won’t sell ANY of your stuff (physical books still outsell ebooks by a LARGE margin) – we’ll have to wait and see who this hurts more Amazon or Macmillan- if Macmillian doesn’t knuckle under and Kindle sales drop/ shift to Ipads – Amazon will not be able to pull this with other publishers- and eventually they will have to crawl back to get dead tree inventory.

    so the question seems to be will this be resolved before Ipad makes Kindle the betamax of the new century or not?

  65. torgeaux @ 64:

    One of the first things that happens when a book is acquired in publishing is that the editor in charge (who is probably not a copyeditor, but an acquisitions editor, unless it’s a small publisher where the roles are collapsed) sits down with management with a Profit and Loss statement, or P&L. On the P&L dedicated costs are itemized, contribution to overhead is allocated, and revenue from sales is projected. Anything left over after everything else has been taken into account is the profit.

    Very, very occasionally a book will be published with a low or negative profit — almost always because indirect benefits are seen as outweighing it. A succes d’estime for a talented work might be sufficient in a “literary” house which is otherwise making money and has a sufficiently, um, altruistic policy, for example. But usually there has to be a minimum profit over the time period covered — usually a year or less — or the book doesn’t get published.

    Price points are important here. But where a higher price will drive down sales, lower prices do not automatically drive up sales enough to counter the effect of the lower price. So drawing up a P&L is a bit of a black art. Furthermore, the aim is to have the period of time for earning back costs to be as short as possible: publishers pay interest costs like everybody else.

    At present, the e-book market is small and largely made up of dedicated readers. It has future potential to increase, largely by converting printed book readers to e-book readers. In addition, it has the potential to bring in some more revenue by passing on saved production and warehousing/distribution costs to readers, thereby converting readers who hover between existing price points while providing the same margin to the publisher. Thus, for example, if an HC currently costs $25 (discounted to $16.50 online) and an e-book costs $15, it may pick up a few readers who would otherwise have waited for the $8 paperback, which is a net gain to the publisher. That assumes that margins are the same: with a much cheaper e-book ($10), the numbers of extra sales have to balance the decreased margin.

    But if you issue the e-book at a sale price of $10 at the outset, I can guarantee that the projection of revenue will go down overall. (There are books which will get that sort of pricing, of course; but they’re the ones which currently are issued in paperback only, based on an assessment that HC sales would be small but that there’s a big cost-conscious market out there for the title. The romance market springs to mind.) Look at Baen for an example of how P&L considerations push for a higher-priced initial release: back in the 1990s they moved from having most titles’ first run being paperback to issuing hardcovers first — because it maximized revenue. Adding in an innovative e-book programme (which starts out at about $15 for e-ARCS, note) which is geared towards a customer base which frequently buys in multiple formats hasn’t hurt; but their HC line is still their main first-run line.

    The collapse of the mass market distribution system drastically reduced the number of potential outlets for paperbacks while leaving in place the old pulping system for the category, which was the worst of both worlds for the publishers. More weight fell onto the shoulders of the HC (or the trade paperback, which is now far more prominent), and that meant that for a typical author (1) it was harder to break into the market (2) it was harder to stay in the market if you sold only moderately on one title. For the typical publisher, it meant having to rely more on bestselling novels and less on a range of moderately-selling novels.

    In the long run, maybe e-books will be able to reverse that effect — which would mean that their prices would go down, as they’d be driving a volume-oriented market — but it won’t happen until readers become ubiquitous at the level of cell phones and the ability to browse for and download titles is as easy as ordering pizza. (That’s roughly what corresponds to the old impulse-buy-driven market from the old distribution system.) I think that that can happen, but to happen it’s going to have to pass through resolution of DRM issues as well as the standardization on a single common e-book format.

    In the short term, issuing e-books at a predatory price in one format from a single large retailer will cut into the willingness of other retailers to offer the same titles, and thus will much reduce the size of the potential market (Amazon market size foes up at the cost of the total market size). In addition, it will mean that any projection of sales will have to take into account potential conversions of HC sales to e-book sales, which can’t be sustained at a subsidized level forever. So if I were an acquiring editor, I’d have to estimate lower profitability in the first year, even if I put up the price of the HC (lower print-runs means a higher per-unit price, so I’d have to do that anyway, so that would be extra). Effectively, HC prices would have to bear the cost of the deep discounts applied by the one dominant e-book seller. And even that would work only for popular (== non-mid-list) writers.

    That’s a partial answer.

  66. Everybody seems happy to see a someone making money until they have this idea, for one reason or another, that the person is making TOO MUCH MONEY, and then they set fire to his house.

    A lot of the outrage expressed by pro-Amazon people seems to circle around the idea of a “fair price.” But the “fair price” for something is subject to marketing, isn’t it? Prada shoes, for example, no one is feels screwed by Prada, they just don’t buy the shoes. Or, they think it’s a reasonable price and they do.

    How does someone get the idea that $10 for a book is okey-dokey but $15 is OMG I’m setting fire to your house!? It takes me five years to write a book. I know there are people waiting for the next one. If you are one of those people, what is so offensive about asking for 15 bucks? Oh, you could point out that $15 is not all I make for five years work and that’s true. If I can get lots of people to pay me, I can make as much as $15,000 a year. Go, me.

    Oh, but your publisher, you say, your PUBLISHER is raking in the dough! And I say, no, not so you’d notice it.

    And anyway, your idea of a “fair price” doesn’t have dick to do with what I make anyway, does it? What do you know about how much profit is made off books, or eyeglass frames, or leather soccer balls hand sewn by a five year old in Nigeria? What you’ll pay is what you’ve been convinced is a “fair price.” And that price, so long as you let advertisers think for you, is determined by marketing. Amazon has manipulated you into thinking that my books should be cheaper than dirt. And you ask why I am not supporting Amazon?

  67. jasonmitchell @69

    Eight months ago CEO Jeff Bezos said that not only is a color version of the Kindle not imminent, but that “I know it’s multiple years. I don’t know how many years but it’s years.”

    So he’s desperate…

  68. James: Ok, following, to a degree. However, the publisher here seems to be saying, “we’ll make less profit”, the retailer says, “we’ll sell fewer books” and the consumer says, “we’ll have to pay substantially more for the same product.” Those are the three players (authors don’t count, any robot can write a book, right?). Under the scheme as Macmillan proposes, there are no winners. Amazon’s scheme rewards publisher and reader immediately, and Amazon long term by reducing/eliminating their competition or forcing their competition to play on their terms.

    The problem I see is, even in a DRM free world, an ebook has less value than a HC. Even if I can resell the book, it cannot take on either collector’s value or rarity value (I can’t get it autographed). So, if a HC is selling at $16, and the ebook is $15, the consumer is going to avoid entry into the ebook market. Ultimately, ebooks are going to rule the publishing world, and I think publishers that are trying to slow roll their growth are dedicated to obsolete practices. I’m not sure how your analysis will work in a more predominant epublishing age.

    hope: I think $10 is fair and $15 isn’t because of two things, primarily. First, I compare the relative value of a HC with an ecopy, and don’t find the ecopy to be 90% the value. Second, this isn’t an initial entry into ebooks, it’s a price increase…and 50% is huge. Someone asked if I boycott normal price increases. I would if it was 50%. Just as I don’t buy those weird ass oblong paperbacks, though for different reasons.

  69. I wish there was an edit button:

    Just looked at a link from the other thread, and saw that Macmillan currently sells ebooks and paperbook versions of the same book. In those instances, the ebook is still at HC prices, almost double the price of the paperback. So, the earlier comment by Mary Robinette Kowal seems to be incorrect.

    “This isn’t actually correct as I understand it. What Macmillan was proposing was that when the $26 hardback comes out that they can change $14.99 for the electronic version. Then as the other paperbacks come out the price drops, so when there’s an $8 paperback it only costs $5.99.”

  70. John, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve never used Amazon to purchase your books. I’ve always made it a point to go to my local Barnes & Noble.

    It’s no surprise that I received a coupon for 10% off today, and what did I do? I used it to buy another one of your books.

    Now I need to peruse other Macmillan authors for books I might find enjoyable.

  71. torgeaux: About the costs of creating and maintaining ebooks, I would point you to this comment written by someone who actually does this work for publishers. There’s a second comment by her lower in the thread that has more info.

    Like a lot of very informative pieces on the web, it’s written in aggravation as a response to a Dunning-Kroeger case, so the tone is what you might call tense but there’s a lot of information there.

    Actually, the whole thread is worth reading, but that especially.

  72. I wish there was an edit button, too.

    It’s true that some Macmillan ebooks are still priced at the $15 price, even after the pb is available. Some, like Old Man’s War had the ebook price lowered.

    As I understand it, the price windowing is supposed to be a new system they’re implementing, partly as a response to Kindle pricing, so it’s a new program that hasn’t been put into effect yet.

    However, as I’ve said on my blog, Macmillan would do well to go through their back catalog and change those prices now. It’d be smart PR.

  73. Harry Connolly: Interesting read. Some hidden costs I was aware of, some not (fonts? jesus).

    I guess I have this question…if the cost of publication of an ebook is somewhat fixed, that is, it won’t go down because the costs of publishing are ongoing, then why would we expect to see the much trumpeted reduction in price a la paperbacks? Macmillan does not price ebooks based on the availability of paperbacks now, even though in some cases the fixed, upfront costs have been recouped over the 10 year life of the prior publication of the book. Too much of the argument on the side of Macmillan assumes their benevolence (or at least their efficiency).

    Macmillan is setting up a system where their profits increase as costs decrease. Fair enough. Why do I want to help them do that? Why wouldn’t I want a system where either costs are initially lower and stay there or at least there’s some external agency that has leverage to force prices down?

  74. Shit, Harry Connolly, the whirling ideas in the ether is killing me with no edit button.

    Yes, Macmillan SHOULD do that. The fact that they haven’t should ring alarm bells, and not just as a PR move. Makes me just not believe them. I just don’t. The whole, “we’ll make less money” routine bothers me because I don’t believe it. And I don’t trust their future actions and that’s based on current and past practice.

  75. >Why wouldn’t I want a system where either
    >costs are initially lower and stay there or at
    >least there’s some external agency that has
    >leverage to force prices down?

    I’m going to comment quickly because I’m at work, and I don’t care if I suddenly think of the absolutely internet-shattering argument ever, I’m not double-posting. I know John hates it.

    But here’s what I’m going to say: You are the external force you’re looking for. No foolin’

    I don’t know if you have any experience writing letters to corporations, but they don’t get very many. There was a time when I was writing irate letters all the time to complain about this product or that. Once I complained to a meat thermometer company about a malfunctioning unti and they mailed me two replacements (I later realized the malfunction was my own fault).

    Annoyed at the way the olive oil dribbles out of the bottle? Find a hair in the beef jerkey? Flip top cap on the lotion break off leaving a sharp plastic point? I wrote letters, and I got back all sorts of stuff–mostly coupons for free replacements.

    So I would recommend this: Amazon.com has said it will capitulate. When Macmillan implements its new plan, watch the ebook prices on older books. If they haven’t dropped to the promised level, you write a letter to the company.

    Not an email or a phone call. Paper letter with a stamp and everything. It doesn’t even have to be elaborate: “Dear Mr. Sargent, as a book buyer, I am dismayed to see that the $5.99 prices you promised have not come about. I will not be buying new books from you until you keep that promise. Sincerely, Torgeaux”

    It doesn’t even have to be true.

    If you can find 50 people out of the thousands on that Kindle thread to do the same (but in their own words), Macmillan will see it as an avalanche. Extremely small letter writing campaigns have a surprisingly powerful effect.

    And my break ended five minutes ago. Oops.

  76. Good for them[you]. Take care of your constituency, authors. Screw those darn readers, who cares about them. Wait, what? Oh, authors can’t exist without readers? Readers want reasonable prices for ebooks? Macmillan wants to charge exorbitant rates for those books? Amazon is trying to keep those books cheaper? Wow, seems like readers would be on Amazon’s side. Readers and writers have similar interests you say? Wow, maybe authors should be on the side of the huge corporate entity that is acting to INCREASE sales instead of supporting old world publishing that is only in the interest of the publisher? Maybe?

    Wait, what? Readers won’t have anything to read without authors? Not all authors agree with torgeaux on what the word ‘exorbitant’ means? Amazon is trying to lock all e-books into their own proprietary ecosystem?

    Whatever. Heh. See what I did there?

  77. I liken this situation to the health care debate in one small way: people seem to be arguing against their own self interests.

    From http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8474611.stm “In Texas, where barely two-thirds of the population have full health insurance and over a fifth of all children have no cover at all, opposition to the legislation is currently running at 87%.”

    I have some enlightenment (thanks for the clarification in 4, Mary), but almost everyone seems to be making my argument that non-authors are not acting in their own best interests. I find this interesting!

    “I’m not going to buy a trackball on Amazon”? What if Amazon has the best price, the best options and free shipping? You can make a statement with your money, sure, but _in this case_ you’re not saving the world, you’re not preventing starvation, you’re not curing cancer. You’re choosing to spend more money at another store because the _current store doesn’t want to charge you more_. Why does that make sense?

    If you’re passionate about an author, why would you not want to pay $10 for a book and send $5 to the author, Ben #6? That’s more supporting than paying $15 of which $14 still goes to the publisher (made up number, grossly inaccurate for effect)?

    I don’t want to pay $15 for a book when I can pay $10. I don’t pay as much as I possibly can for gas, or food or taxes. Why would I argue for Macmillan’s side on this?

    (Yes, yes, I understand the authors’, Amazon’s and Macmillan’s points, it’s everyone else that continues to puzzle me.)

    Oh, and I’m calling bullshit back on you in #21, Thomas, as yes, electronic books cost nothing to print. Never said they cost nothing to produce. Of COURSE they do! They don’t cost more to distribute, and that is where there should be some savings. The Economist magazine costs more in kindle format than in print, and I’m 100% sure that’s not because those are gold plated electrons sent to my kindle.

  78. I keep thinking about lawyers who take on a civil case without charging anything up front but collect a percentage if they win, and how from a financial perspective, it’s remarkably like publishers.

    The person who contacted the lawyer often can’t afford the $300 an hour fee up front, and so can’t pay for a lawyer on their own. But if the lawyer thinks the lawsuit has a good chance of winning, they may take a gamble, do it for no money up front, and collect only a percentage of the settlement.

    So, really, there’s an aspect of publishing that has nothing to do with “publishing” and everything to do with the financial agreement between (1) someone who wants to do something but can’t afford it up front (the client, the author, the music artist) and (2) someone who can make that happen for a percentage upon successfully delivering the goods (the lawyer, the publisher, the record company).

    The first myth of electronic publising is that the internet makes the skill and experience of a publisher irrelevant. But that’s like saying having all the laws online will make the need for lawyers dissappear.

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