Amazon and Macmillan

I can’t believe I’m writing about this, because a. I’m so not knowledgeable about the publishing industry and b. it’s been talked to death. However, I’ve been seeing a LOT of posts lately that completely blame Amazon and I think this is unfair. Both Amazon and Macmillan behaved poorly.

A note before I begin: I’m sure I’m missing a LOT of intricacies and I know that this is a complicated thing going on here. This is just my take from what I have read.

A quick summary for those who haven’t had the pain of following this: Macmillan demanded that Amazon change its pricing structure for ebooks. They want ebooks to be more expensive. Amazon said no, and presumably a kerfuffle erupted between the two companies. Amazon responded by pulling all Macmillan books from their digital bookshelves (you could still buy the books, but only from other booksellers in the Amazon marketplace). That includes both print books and ebooks. Macmillan is a large publishing company which includes Tor, one of the main publishers of F&SF which is one of my favorite genres.

Okay, Amazon made a stupid, petulant move. But here’s the thing: they had their heart in the right place. At the end of the day, Amazon is primarily providing a service to readers. They want to provide ebooks for $9.99 or less because they believe that that is the best option for readers. Yes, it’s a for-profit company, but look at what they’re doing: they’re taking a stand against increasing their prices. So they did a stupid thing that alienated a lot of people.  Authors are pissed because their books aren’t being sold, but frankly, I have little sympathy. Amazon is a seller, don’t they have the right to choose what they sell? Of course I understand why authors are upset, but why aren’t they equally upset with their publisher? I know, I know, publishing is a dying industry, blah blah blah. Look, the world is changing. The old models aren’t working anymore, and that is why publishing is dying*. Publishers make the most money off of hardcovers and are worried that ebook sales will cut into hardcover sales. Macmillan’s response to this worry is to attempt to raise ebook prices in the hopes of lowering ebook sales! Which I think is also petulant and stupid . Not as blatantly stupid, perhaps, as Amazon’s mistake but still misguided and alienating in the long run.

It’s also important to realize that Macmillan won the media on this one. They posted a press release before Amazon did and did it in a more professional manner & tone. Good for them, but we have to remember the lesson that history teaches us: the winners get to dictate “truth,” but there is always another side to the story. This is especially true because authors have gone up in arms against Amazon and readers like to follow what authors say. Let me tell you, though, that I read posts by agents and authors before they realized Amazon pulled their books and they had plenty of sympathy for Amazon.

I didn’t mean for this to turn into a blame-Macmillan-poor-Amazon post, because I really think Amazon behaved poorly. Why did they pull the print books? That is an act of ungracious whining if I ever saw one. But, as I said in the beginning of the post, I’ve been seeing a ton of Amazon!fail and very little Macmillan!fail. Seriously, everybody, both of these companies need to get a grip. Bickering like this isn’t going to help the industry, which is all Macmillan especially can be caring about right now.

If you want to read more, here’s a selection of articles and blog posts:

There has been mention of Macmillan’s demands as a form of price-fixing, which is totally illegal. The blog at TechDirt touches on this and discusses some other issues. The comments there are really good as well. Griff says, “The one small flaw in it all is that [publishers] are deliberately and explicitly choosing not to give customers what they want in an attempt to extract more money.”

Some authors on the issue: John Scalzi, Charlie Stross (who calls himself an outsider… mmm, I don’t think so, buddy!), Scott Westerfeld, and Tobias Bucknell. Yes, they’re all dudes. Yes, women authors have been talking about this, too, but the dudes are all linking to each other and I’d closed all of my tabs regarding teh womens because I didn’t think I would be writing this post.

Many of these authors bring up the fact that printing is just three to ten percent of a book’s cost so ebooks really should be 10% less than a print book. But what is included in that printing calculation? The sure things are ink, paper, the cost of upkeeping machinery and labor to use the machinery. But what about distribution, what about cover design and formatting? The former costs nothing with ebooks, and the latter may possibly cost less, I don’t really know.

And now I’m done. I was going to link to more places, but I’m getting annoyed. Over and out.

*This reminds me of a post I may someday write about how the publishing industry is utterly failing in its response to ebook piracy.

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One thought on “Amazon and Macmillan

  1. I wish Amazon *was* working in the interests of consumers, but I have a sneaking suspicion they’re working mainly in the interest of increasing their market share and making the Kindle the dominant ebook reader. They want to cap ebook prices at $9.99 (now who’s price fixing?) and they’e willing to take a loss on every ebook they sell for several years to do it, presumably because it’ll profit them in the long run when they’ve priced out all the smaller sellers.

    On the other hand, I understand that Macmillan wants to sell ebooks for higher prices when they’re new and then significantly drop the price later on, just like new releases are expensive hardbacks when demand is high, but a year later you can get a paperback for less than half the price. They want pricing flexibility, not just a blanket price increase. I don’t know how blameless Macmillan is in all of this – for all I know, they made behind-the-scene threats to get what they want and all we’ve seen is Amazon’s response, or on the other hand maybe they just dared to try negotiating and Amazon threw a hissy fit in response.

    In the end, though, Amazon’s the one who’s playing dice with authors’ livelihoods and futures as a negotiating tactic – it’s legal, they have every right to do it, but it’s a dirty tactic and that’s what’s going to make me think twice before shopping with them again.

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