Saturday, January 30, 2010

More from the e-book trenches

(Note: The following is a cross-post from my LJ, and expresses my opinions. It is not meant to reflect the opinions of the Wyrdsmiths in any way. I post it here primarily for it's informative content re. Amazon's action on Friday.)

From the "This Just In" Dept.:

According to Jim Hines, among others including John Scalzi, Jay Lake and....well, I'm sure you can Google it all yourself), the entirety of MacMillan publishing's books (including SF/F imprint Tor) was pulled from Amazon on Friday. The, as of my reading, single anonymous source cited re. motives states that:

...the disappearance is the result of a disagreement between and book publishers that has been brewing for the last year. Macmillan, like other publishers, has asked Amazon to raise the price of electronic books from $9.99 to around $15. Amazon is expressing its strong disagreement by temporarily removing Macmillan books, said this person, who did not want to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Clearly, this is a business dispute among giants, and falls mainly along economic lines (the following conversation is entirely hypothetical and possibly more mature than any real corporate conversation that occurred):

MacMillan: "Hey, we want you to sell our books for more money so we can make a better profit."
Amazon: "Um, no. We have to sell Kindles because we have our ass into them financially and publically. We need to keep the prices low so people will buy our reader."
Mac: "Yeah, but Apple just said they'd let us set our own pricing in their new iBook store."
Amazon: "Yeah, we saw that. That's why we're busy panicking over here. Get it?"
Mac: "But we've been taking it on the chin. Everyone says our industry is dying. Can't you help a brother out here?"
Amazon: "What part of 'panic' don't you understand?"
Mac: "Dude, we have more experience with panic in our little finger than you've had in your entire body. Panic which you've helped bring around, btw, Mr. 'Who needs a paper book when you can have super-shiny-Kindle-crack'?"
Amazon" "Well, bite me."
Mac: "Asshole."
Amazon: "Dick."
Mac: "Loser"
Amazon: "Dweeb."
Mac: "The iPad is like 10 times cooler than your dick-head Kindle anyhow."
Amazon: "That's it! Your books are SO toast!"
Mac: "Baby!"
Amazon: "Whiner!"
...and so on...

In the end, though, I think both Skalzi and Lake have points when they say that this dust-up does nothing to help either the writers or readers who are on standing at the short end of this stick. Pulling titles, while is sends a message to the publisher, also hurts the readers and writers, as well as sending consumers to other, alternate sites, no matter what the motive. The is the kind of publicity that could come back to bite Amazon in the nether-regions; but it could also be a tempest in a teapot, given their already large market share as well as many people's proclivity to favor price and convenience over taking a stand on something like this. The big questions for me on this is not what Amazon will end up doing once word gets around, but whether or not MacMillan and consumers will blink before Amazon makes their next move.

Update: MacMillan CEO John Sargent has published an open letter over at Publisher's Lunch on the matter from his company's POV. It being a weekend, no news from Amazon yet.

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