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Amazon and More Fail
So Amazon has apparently pulled all Macmillan titles from its store--that includes Tor, but also a whole lot of other presses, too. The speculation is that this is over a price dispute wherein Macmillan wanted the option to raise their ebook prices and Amazon wants to set the prices.

Now, I think ebook prices are already too high, but that's actually not the point here--Amazon should not be able to dictate what a publisher charges for their books, nor should they throw a fit and start strong-arming like this if publishers don't cave. There is far too much market concentration for behavior like this--Amazon is such a massive force.

But it's the writers who get screwed in this, just like in the Google Books issue. My books are unaffected--right now. And I expect this will be resolved by the time that I move fully into the arms of that very company. Both Tor and Feiwel & Friends are owned by Macmillan, and they are publishing several books of mine next year. But it's not about one author or company.

If Amazon can get away with it once, they will only keep doing it to other companies whenever they aren't getting what they want. They have a long history of this kind of nonsense. If it were Random House, if it were indie presses, if it were anyone, it would still be flabbergasting that such a move could be considered. Amazon cannot control ebooks to the extent they seek to--it is a bad, bad idea.

There's no comfortable underdog here. Both Amazon and Macmillan are huge companies, and if all the rumors are borne out, it's all about money and what's right be damned. On both sides. But Macmillan should be able to charge whatever they want for their books, since that's their right as a supplier. If Amazon wants to marry their 9.99 price point, they should take the hit for it. These are robber-baron tactics--and don't even think this has nothing to do with the iPad and Macmillan's deal with them. We are headed into a world where publishers have exclusive deals with e-reader platforms, and it sucks.

Cory Doctorow has a lot of good things to say here. The DRM issue is horrible, and it's why I don't and won't own a Kindle. (My Sony eReader has no DRM and reads all files.) If Amazon cared about readers, they wouldn't be trying to dunk Macmillan's head in the toilet, they'd be doing exactly what Doctorow suggests.

The lesson, I suppose, is go out, walk into a bookstore, and buy a hard copy book that cant' be erased from your drive, that you can lend and use as you please. Because if the big kids have their way, they'll send the ebook the way of the CD, gouging us for prices and holding the technology back for the last dollars they can make from it.

But hey, I'm sure it's an "accident." Just like the last time.

I'll add this to the list of reasons to avoid doing business with Amazon.

i read a few blogs on this. does no one remember when apple did the exact same thing and refused to change prices on mp3s downloaded from itunes?

another point relating to boycotting amazon. i'm not going to make any decisions out of hand, but if it's proven that both companies are being asshats, if i boycott amazon should i not boycott macmillan and their subsidies?

Edited at 2010-01-30 05:13 pm (UTC)

That's up to you, of course. I don't think Macmillan is on the wrong side here, trying to be able to play with what the market will bear.

Folks can also get your books in eBook format at DriveThruFantasy.com.

Options are a good thing.

And in a lot of other places. Wouldn't it be awesome if authors ever saw any of that, instead of being forced to bundle e-rights with everything else?

I was able to call up Cherie Priest's Boneshaker and David Weber's Off Armageddon Reef, both published by TOR, on Amazon without any problem.

Nevermind - I see what they did.

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Well, I recently bought three of your books on Kindle for PC (the first things of yours I will have read when I get round to them). So I am guilty of dealing with Amazon, though I recently took out an account with another smaller online dealer. I'll see what they're like - I'm not sure if they do e-books.

I do my early books myself on ebook through my own site--I'll actually be dropping the prices shortly--and I don't mind at all if you buy them on Kindle. I want you to read them, that's all! I just wish that I had more contract options, and right now, I don't.

Clarification on Twitter comment

So here's the long explanation of my response to your Twitter message:

How much I'd be willing to spend on an ebook depends.

I have personal experience with ebooks, both in being published through them (not much, I'll admit) and in running a very, very small internet publishing company that specialized in ebooks.

For a small company, just starting off, in which I know the employees are doing all the work for little to no compensation but in which I also know it literally costs nothing or next to it to produce an ebook, I would be willing to pay somewhere between $3 - $6 for an ebook. Perhaps edge it up to $8 or $9 if the book is incredibly long, but that's pushing it, and I'd have to be incredibly interested in reading the book.

For a larger company that produces print and ebooks, I would stick to the $3 - $6 range, and definitely wait for a print version if I want to shell out any more than that. If I'm going to pay the price of a print book, then I'll wait and purchase the print edition. Sorry, but it's true.

For a super mega company that produces mostly print books and is trying to move into the new millennium, they'd honestly be lucky to get any ebook sales from me, and I certainly would never, ever pay the same price for an ebook copy of a book from this company as a print book.

This thought process comes from a claim I saw on another thread in a community. Someone linked to a couple of articles, the first one in which there was the claim that it actually costs almost as much to produce an ebook as it does a print book, and I call bullshit. For larger companies whose employees actually earn paychecks (or if the company hires the rare freelancer), I don't believe they will pay anyone to perform a task or service on an electronic edition of a book if the exact same service was already performed on the print edition (such as editing or copyediting). The only service I could see needing to be performed again would be formatting, assuming a difference between formatting for print and formatting for electronic.

Why should a text be edited again if all that's happening is releasing it in an electronic edition? Even if the print and electronic editions are being released simultaneously, there are certain services that can also be performed simultaneously considering we're talking about the same manuscript.

When we're talking about production costs for ebooks that have already been released in print, we're not talking at all about anything that has to physically be done to the manuscript. We're talking about labor costs only, and much of that labor would have already been performed with absolutely no reason to pay someone to do it again. It would be a waste of money. In the same of simultaneous release in print and electronic, much of that labor would still only have to be performed once, and at the point where the production process between print and electronic diverges, there's very little (if anything) left on the electronic side that would generate cost. Certainly not enough cost to justify charging the same price. I can't imagine what cost could be generated that would justify it. If someone knows different, absolutely point it out to me and if I'm wrong I'm wrong.

Yeah, this is another reason why I won't own a Kindle. Imagine buying a book and then having the bookseller walk into your house or break in and say, "We'll be taking this back" and then doing so. It'd be like paying for the book and giving said bookseller the key to your home as well.

You make a good point it's hard to root for any one side. I'll go back to writing or playing Half-Life 2.

Actually on the subject of if anyone here is right, Macmillan or Amazon... well... yes, Macmillan has a right to decide what they will or won't charge for the books they produced, and Amazon is being a jerk on the issue.

But, like I've argued in a different situation about a different company, just because Macmillan can do something, doesn't mean they should do it that way. Others have said basically the same thing. Back down, Amazon, let Macmillan price their ebooks however they want. When most people refuse to pay that much for an electronic file download, they'll realize their mistake on their own.

I own a Kindle, and I think that Amazon doing this is just shooting themselves in the foot. I can say, from personal experience, that it's terribly frustrating to hear about a great new book only to find out that - once again - it's not available on Kindle. Now, that doesn't mean I won't happily purchase the physical book (I most certainly will!) but it does make me become slightly more disenchanted with the Kindle and the catalog available.

Does Amazon realize that by forcing bully tactics that they're also screwing over people who would buy those books, and therefore making them look to other e-reader options? Amazon seems to be trying to compete with newer readers by offering native PDF support now and I'm wondering if they will continue to looseen the reigns on the Kindle when 2010 promises to flood the market with e-readers of all kinds. If they don't do something, they may have a very nice product that is entirely obsolete.

And to answer your price question, I don't mind paying $10 or so for an ebook, but I prefer that a portion of it goes to the author. Most of the books I buy on Kindle are in the $7-10 range, as they would be in paperback form, and I'm ok with that. I'm getting them instantly, after all, while sitting on my arse in a cafe.

Ebooks are that much! Wow, I guess then print will be around a bit longer than I thought. Honestly I couldn't see paying more than 3 bucks for a digital book.

One more reason to shop at The Book Depository instead.

Honestly I think that readers will just download books like they do movies and cd's. Which sort of sucks for ...writers. Once the Kindle and eReaders really catch on I also think people are going to buy less print books. I hope not, but that is what I see.

Yeah, and it's damn unfortunate. I mean, hopefully, as with indie musicians, we can still make a living, but I'm getting a bit pessimistic.

I still haven't got over my anger with Amazon when they destroyed CD Now and I will avoid doing business with them.

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I haven't checked, but is powells.com selling ebooks? I try to get all my print books from them, as they seem to have much more of a soul than amazon.com.

Regarding Amazon and DRM www.niemanlab.org/.../amazon-quietly-lets-publishers-remove-drm-from-kindle-ebooks/

The only vote that any retailer understands is the one you make with your wallet. Can you still buy Macmillan books anywhere else online? Then do it. Amazon will understand that.

I think the model will eventually be that we buy eBooks directly from the publisher, and Amazon won't be involved at all. Heck, it may be that we buy them directly from the *author*, and that scares the bejesus out of both Macmillan and Amazon. eCommerce is cutting out all of the middlemen - and Amazon is the ultimate Middle Man.

Heck, it may be that we buy them directly from the *author*, and that scares the bejesus out of both Macmillan and Amazon. eCommerce is cutting out all of the middlemen - and Amazon is the ultimate Middle Man.

It scares me as a reader. Without publishers paying advances, who's going to pay writers enough to keep them going, get them editing and marketing and suchlike that publishers provide as well as paying authors?

Having worked business to business, this doesn't strike me as any different than Company A not choosing to carry Vendor B's products because they don't like the pricing. They're both within their rights to stick to their guns, with the benefactor generally being the buying public.

If we were talking about gas stations and Hersheys, would there be this big of a response? I don't think so. It's also true that the brick and mortar stores make these decisions every day regarding authors/genres/imprints.


I think there would be a different reaction if they decided to just not carry the ebooks and continue carrying the printed editions. That's indeed a very easily understood business decision. The decision to stop selling of the print editions smells like blackmail.

That's horrible. When I buy books online it is because I know exactly what I want, so for people like me it shouldn't affect you too much because we will keep searching until we find where we can buy your book. If I'm browsing I'm generally doing so in a physical store. As far as ebooks go, I'm starting to like them but I distrust them so at this point I'm only reading public domain stuff like the stuff I proof for Project Gutenberg with the Distributed Proofreaders.

I don't think DRM ought to mean much in the context of what Amazon is doing here. The DRM scheme on the kindle is one they set up. Sony eReader has a different one, and other readers have them or not, and the publisher can choose to go with whoever they want.

And if Amazon won't sell ebooks at over $10 a pop, that's fine too.

I keep feeling like talking about DRM, or even pricing, is focusing on an unrelated problem. Amazon is using horribly punitive measures to attack a publisher for a business disagreement. I don't think MacMillan put them into a box where this was the only option. It's possible they did, but so far as I can tell, Amazon had choices other than dropping vast swaths MacMillan titles form direct sales. I wish people would drop the "we're not selling that product because we don't like your pricing" argument too. It's not just ebooks, it's nearly everything in the damn catalog. Print books as well as ebooks.

That's the main issue as I see it - punitive business practices. Amazon is doing this not only to get MacMillan to toe the line, but also as a threat to other publishers who might disagree with them in the future. It's like putting someone's decapitated head on a pike outside the castle walls.

If you think the general reading public is really served by one massive retailer setting the prices for everything, you're on crack. Because without the ability to jack the price on really desired books and make more profit off them, there won't be extra money floating around to take on new authors who may or may not pan out. So what you'll see is less and less new authors, and a core of proven performers. Upcoming releases that are nothing but Stephen King and James Paterson.

[sarcasm]Oh, but the prices will be low! Just like shopping at WalMart. Of course, you won't have choices, but who needs those?[/sarcasm]

Last night I sent a note to Amazon customer service explaining that Amazon’s value to me is as a neutral marketplace for buying books, and that this stunt was damaging their value to me; I suggested they place a strong wall between the physical-books side of the business and the ebook side, since the latter was degrading the value of the former. (I don’t buy DRMed ebooks, let alone ones that can be taken away at any minute by the publisher, like Amazon did 1984.)

If you want Amazon to know your not buying from them over this,the only why they will know is if you send them a email about it. One or two people emailing in about there outrage will be nothing. But if a few thousand do then they will take note. This is screwing the artist out of money and having there art out there, a pissing match between these two places should do this to the author who has no say in any of it.

thank you for posting this.
i don't read e-books, because i like my books on paper, but i do like to know if the companies i support are being underhanded.

Amazon is just doing with the device and store the same things that Apple is doing with Itunes and the Iphone App store. Really. It's all for the bad.

Then again, I don't own either device, nor do I intend on owning one or the new Ipads.

They've been trying to play these games with ereaders (dedicated devices) and ereader software (before there were ereaders) for the past 2 decades.

I remember when Adobe played this game once upon a time with PDFs too...

Actually, I do wonder about this. Amazon can charge what it likes for books - we always see it selling physical books at below the RRP (ie, the price the publisher sets). If publishers wish to make use of Amazon's services (which is what they're doing - Amazon has no duty or responsibility to sell their product!) then they need to understand that they can't dictate all conditions of those services any more than they can to a physical bookshop when selling a book, much as they may wish to.

Selling through Amazon means making use of Amazon's services. It doesn't mean Amazon has to sell your books at the price you want to sell them at, it means it has to buy your books from you at the price you charge; the fact is, this is a tactic any business - the grocery store, the local physical bookshop, the supermarket, the chemist (well not the chemist on all things, but that's a different issue) - can use. Telling Amazon it shouldn't just because it's big? That's unreasonable.

I have two Sony eReaders -- a PRS-505 at home and a PRS-300 at the office. I've used the latter for my last two readings at cons. The e-ink is very legible and I can update the eBook directly from my laptop with the latest text as an RTF file.

So far all the content I have on those machines are either my stories or free eBooks from Tor.com, etc.

I like Amazon for a lot of things, but every few months they pull one of these thuggish moves and They Annoy Me.

Dr. Phil


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