Readers and Authors are Casualties of Amazon Price War

Amazon has pulled from sale books published by Macmillan. This includes books by - amongst many, many others - authors including Ken Bruen's books published by Minotaur and Duane Swierczynski.

This is the first time I've seen such clear proof that adherence to publishing ethics (as per the guidelines of organizations such as MWA), quality of product, and consumer demand are completely irrelevant in book sales and distribution.

Actually, I find myself wondering if Amazon is doing this not so much because of Macmillan, but because of the new iPad, which has been called a Kindle killer by some.

One thing that's clear to me is that this isn't about consumer rights and protecting consumers. This is about control. I say let publishers decide how much their ebooks should list for, and let shoppers decide whether or not they want to pay the price tag.

But also let shoppers decide what device they want to read their books on - don't force them to buy your product.

I've heard a lot of whispers over the past few years, about the fear that in the future we'll see fewer books published, just the mega sellers. Amazon's actions have convinced me that day may be closer than we think. As a major bookseller, pulling thousands of products from their inventory is clearly irrelevant to them. Kindle sales are reported as in the millions. This is what Amazon is making their money off of, and they're using controlled pricing of publisher products in order to entice consumers to buy their big ticket item.

The questions are, what happens when we reach market saturation? With other electronic devices prices eventually decline. Once Kindle sales plateau, where will Amazon turn to replace that income?

I see two primary options. One is through the sales of the books for Kindle, which would mean they'd raise the prices, and consumers who'd already purchased expensive electronic devices to be able to read that way would have little choice but to pay the increase.

The other is by replacing the Kindle with an updated version with a few new bells and whistles, with a slight change in code that rendered new books inaccessible on the old Kindle, thus forcing Kindle readers to replace their Kindles.

Neither sounds like protecting the rights of consumers, does it?

This isn't about my rights as a reader, or the rights of so many friends of mine whose books have been pulled because of this pissing contest. This is about Amazon cornering the market, pure and simple.

John Scalzi also has a post on the subject, which is well worth the read.

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Comment by I. J. Parker on January 31, 2010 at 7:48am
I would also welcome the end of that dreadful return business. And yes, agents will have to rethink contractual sections dealing with electronic rights.
But for those of you temporarily affected (and I am very sorry about that), this won't last long. Amazon will carry everything and the publishers will give a little. The only thing is that either way nobody is going to consider the author. And that's business as usual. We are the "insignificant other" in that relationship.

I'm still very curious about going to Kindle directly. Will probably post some questions about this soon.
Comment by Jon Loomis on January 31, 2010 at 7:07am
I actually think the issue of returns is about to become almost entirely moot. As the ebook thing moves into high gear--and we're just getting started, don't forget--you're going to see smaller and smaller print runs of physical books; in 3-5 years I'd be willing to bet you'll see a whole new class of ebook originals coming from publishers, probably selling at a very low price point. The publishing world certainly finds itself living in interesting times, as the old Chinese curse says.
Comment by Dana King on January 31, 2010 at 6:44am
This is likely only an issue because of the screwed up way books get sold, returned, and royalties get paid. Jon Loomis hit it on the head four hours ago: this should be like everything else. The manufacturer (in our case, the publisher) charges the retailer whatever it wants: the retailer (in this case, Amazon) charges customer whatever it wants. The market will set the price.

Author royalties would probably have to be re-evaluated to be based on the wholesale price, as MSRP wouldn't mean much. The big difference would be in cutting returns; publishers would charge less for the books wholesale, but they wouldn't accept them back. What are now returned to the publisher--at publisher expense (who the hell ever thought that was a sustainable business model?)--would have to go to salvage stores and secondary retailers like dollar stores, or Everything $5.99 or less. You know, just like everyhting else that gets bought and sold.
Comment by Sandra Ruttan on January 31, 2010 at 5:44am
You're published by Penguin, right IJ? No reason for your books to be pulled if your publisher isn't owned by Macmillan.

I honestly don't know if any of us know enough about how the ebook sales work to know how the pricing is handled with Amazon for Kindle. With my book that's POD, the distributor changed the retailer discount without any consultation with the publisher. It was a violation of terms of my contract but they didn't give a damn, and it did affect how much money the publisher had to pay me in royalties. So, short of seeing contracts between the publishers and Amazon, I'm not convinced I do know how it works. The spin doctors come in and make it all sound nice for the journalists, but that doesn't necessarily tell us the truth or give us the whole picture.

You have to think about it as a reader. If you look through Amazon's stock and decide, "Okay, I'll buy a Kindle because all these titles are available" and then you pay hundreds for a Kindle and the next day thousands of titles disappear, you might have a right to be pissed off. Of course, I believe you can currently purchase ebooks for your Kindle elsewhere... but there's no doubt in my mind that in the future Amazon is going to create some kind of coding that will prevent them, and force Kindle readers to buy through them. It's what they did with Booksurge and POD.

The biggest reason to complain about what they've stopped carrying is from your own first post. Amazon was supposed to be an equalizer. It gave everyone - self-pubbed, big press, small press, known and unknown - a market venue. Now it doesn't. Now it's "you play by our rules or get pulled." Do we really think this is the only time they'll try to bully someone? It may be about Kindle but they've stopped selling new hard copies of books by Macmillan as well, which means if this doesn't get settled swiftly there will be a lot of returns hitting those publishers and authors. Does this have anything to do with serving readers? No, not at all.

Anyone else smell an anti-trust lawsuit coming?
Comment by I. J. Parker on January 31, 2010 at 5:04am
Found the NYT thing John Loomis put up and understand a bit better. Didn't know MacMillan owns St. Martin's. Okay, the squabble is fall-out over the Kindle / Apple contest. My guess is still that this will be settled swiftly.
As for being carried by Amazon: Could I complain if B&N and other bookstores don't carry my books? Certainly not. I have been furious with book stores for many years now, and nobody has given a damn. Book stores can carry what they want. And what about the big box stores only carrying best sellers? Of course that's unfair to other writers. Nothing we can do about it.
Comment by Jon Loomis on January 31, 2010 at 4:57am
Duane Swierczynksi's been burning holes in his kindle with cigarettes...

If I owned one, I'd take it out and shoot it. If I owned a gun. And had a place to, you know, shoot stuff.
Comment by I. J. Parker on January 31, 2010 at 4:52am
I still don't understand. Authors who go directly to Kindle set their own prices. Many put their books out for free for a specified period of time to generate interest. Publisher who go to Kindle set a price. Kindle sells those titles at 9.99, at a loss to Kindle, because they have paid the publisher in full. Of course, the 9.99 may not last, and Kindle may begin to negotiate better deals with publishers.
Why is St. Martin's Press disappearing from Amazon? And for that matter, does this affect only Kindle books, or also print editions?
I should add that all my titles still appear on Amazon, and the Kindle editions are listed at 9.99.

As for e-books in general: my feeling is that they are more ephemeral than print books. Not sure why one would want to keep them after reading them. Don't they erase after a specified time anyway? To foil piracy.

This will be worked out because at the moment there are no winners in this squabble.
Comment by John McFetridge on January 31, 2010 at 4:43am
Glad to hear the ARCs got sent out, Sandra, thanks.

I was going to suggest the best way for people to protest this was to buy Macmillan books from some place other than Amazon, but that seems a little self-serving ;)
Comment by Sandra Ruttan on January 31, 2010 at 4:23am
There's another article in the LA Times about this. It seems more publishers than just Macmillan have been at odds with Amazon over the pricing.

Well John, we did just get ARCs of Let It Ride yesterday. Don't know if that makes you feel better!

So sorry you guys are caught up in this. Duane Swierczynksi's been burning holes in his kindle with cigarettes...
Comment by Jon Loomis on January 31, 2010 at 2:41am
Move prices=movie prices. Oy. And yeah, two possibilities: Either MacMillan will cave in short order, or other publishers will take up the cause, leaving Amazon with little to sell. That would certainly be the ballsier move, and would send a message across the industry that the big 5 or so publishing houses aren't to be screwed with. My prediction is that MacMillan will tuck its tail between its legs and come cringing back to the fold, possibly wetting itself a little in the process. But what do I know?

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