Macmillan vs. Amazon
So the writerly block of the Internet is up in arms after all of publisher Macmillan’s books (including major SF/F publisher Tor) vanished from Amazon.
According to a blogger at the New York Times:
I’ve talked to a person in the industry with knowledge of the dispute who says the disappearance is the result of a disagreement between Amazon.com 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.
Neither Amazon nor Macmillan has weighed in on this yet, as far as I can find. But we’re pretty sure Amazon pulled the books. Unless Macmillan pulled them. But it was probably Amazon. We think. At least according to that single unnamed source in the NY Times blog….
The timing does seem highly suspicious. It happened on a Friday, when companies would be slow to react, and right after the Apple iPad news (which also impacts the e-book wars). And regardless of what happened, this sucks for a lot of writers, including many of my friends at Tor.
But despite all of the angry speculation, I don’t know what happened. Once I have a little more information, I’ll happily join in the condemnations. If Amazon pulled the books, then shame on them. If Macmillan did it, then … well, WTF, Macmillan? If it was a database glitch[1. Unlikely, I admit, but I work with major database applications in my day job, and I’ve seen some weird glitches.], a lot will depend on how fast Amazon fixes it and how quickly they apologize.
For now, I’m just going to say this looks bad, and I expect to see more info very soon.
ETA: That was quicker than I expected. From the CEO of Macmillan:
“This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon.”
Click for the full article. Thanks to Laura Anne Gilman for the update.
January 30, 2010 @ 1:19 pm
If it is Amazon who yanked Macmillan inventory, I really don’t see how this will end well for them unless Macmillan completely caves (which I do not think is likely). In fact, I see this pissing off a lot of other publishers who may rally around Macmillan. It makes Amazon look like a strong-armed thug throwing a temper tantrum, the online equivalent of holding one’s breath when one does not get one’s way.
I wonder how much the iPad announcement played into this. Is Amazon panicking? The iPad was sort of underwhelming because of all the hype, but I was very impressed with iBooks, to the point where I think the Kindle and Nook will be gone in a few years, or else absurdly inexpensive (like $30).
As you said, nothing’s been confirmed, but my suspicions are this is a deliberate tactic by Amazon to force Macmillan to yield to its pricing demands.
Jim C. Hines
January 30, 2010 @ 1:30 pm
Oh, I suspect this is going to end badly for Amazon regardless, unless they do some amazing damage control in the coming weeks.
If it was a deliberate move, which seems more than plausible, it wouldn’t surprise me if the iPad announcement was a part of it. I really don’t see the proprietary readers/formats being the directoin this is going to go, but I suspect it will be ugly for a while as Amazon and others try to hang on to those profits.
Something brought up on my LJ — this isn’t the first such Amazon “glitch”. A while back, GLBT titles began getting hidden as “adult.” This also happened on a Friday. Could be coincidence, I suppose, but….
January 30, 2010 @ 2:40 pm
I’m going with Scalzi on this one. Regardless of what explanations come down the pike, there’s no way I’m buying a Kindle now. The DRM, having to pay to have some basic formats converted, and licensing crap was bad enough, but even if this is a snafu, it’s a bit too much. I suppose I’ll eventually get an eReader (or iReader, or 1R33d3r, wev), but I kinda wanna *own* the things I buy.
Yeah, I’m kinda ranty too. 🙂
January 30, 2010 @ 4:14 pm
I’ve already decided never to buy a Kindle since the entire 1894 thing happened. I’m still struggling with the concept of owning books on computers since I don’t quite feel safe to give up the hardcopy books I have in my basement. If I had an electronic copy I trusted, I’d do it in an instant, but I simply don’t. Of course, I want an open format since I can get a nicely hacked reader to play with, like my Nokia n810 or something a bit bigger.
I remember the Amazon and the GLBT thing got “misclassified” by a French company, I believe, and they passed it off as just a mistake.
There will be head’s to roll for this, but I suspect that even if there is someone to blame, it will come out as a “honest mistake” regardless of who did it.
Now, the second bit. $15 for an electronic copy? Isn’t that a bit excessive if there isn’t physical supplies, shipping costs, or anything else? Well, depends on the book, but I think electronic copies should cost less than the physical medium books. Until everything is electronic, then slowly raise the price. It reminds me of when music started to get online and the differential between the online price and a CD wasn’t much different.
In my case, my novel is priced at $16 hard copy and $5 electronic and that felt right for me.
Oh well, its a quickly moving world.
January 30, 2010 @ 4:58 pm
Dylan, as pointed out elsewhere by others far more knowledgeable about publishers’ expenses than I, the bulk of a cost of a book is not in materials but in editing and marketing.
I also agree with Scalzi’s position that when first released, books should be priced higher for those who want immediate access to the content, and then gradually lower over time (e.g., the hardcover/paperback model) for those who can wait and prefer a lower price point. I see no reason for ebooks to ever have a set, single price.
Jim C. Hines
January 30, 2010 @ 5:05 pm
S’okay. The ebook wars provide all sorts of things to be ranty about!
And to be clear, if it’s a snafu, that doesn’t make it okay. This wouldn’t be the first such major “glitch” in their database.
On the other hand, as pointed out elsewhere, it wouldn’t be the first time Amazon deliberately pulled something like this to try to force publishers to fall in line.
Jim C. Hines
January 30, 2010 @ 5:07 pm
Hadn’t thought about that. I’ve always been in mass market, which means my work has a fixed, relatively low price from day one. I like it that way, but I can see the argument for a shifting price over time. I still think the $24.99 point is high for an e-book, but … yep, definitely need to think about this more.
Jim C. Hines
January 30, 2010 @ 5:11 pm
David touches on production costs below, and the fact that the physical process is actually a small part of overall costs.
I understand publishers being afraid, but I don’t particularly care for DRM either. I’ve been burned a few times, losing music I bought legally when I swapped computers. And my guess is that the single-purpose e-book reader isn’t going to survive. I’m betting (and kind of hoping) for universal file format and multipurpose devices. Apple’s iPad feels like a step in that direction.
January 30, 2010 @ 5:20 pm
Jim, my novels have all been mass market paperbacks as well, but I’m hoping at some point to move into hardcover/trade paper editions. But I absolutely see the value in carrying some of the pricing models over into the ebook category. That’s not to say that an ebook version of a new fiction hardcover should be $25, but I think $15 is reasonable on its initial release, followed some time later by lower-priced versions.
I’m also not opposed to the idea that the initial, more expensive ebook edition have some kind of value-added content compared to increase it’s appeal. Maybe authorial notes or background sketches from the writer — something that could be easy to add electronically but would be prohibitively expense to put into print versions.
January 31, 2010 @ 12:52 pm
Love my kindle. one book with many books to read, doesn’t take up much space and doesn’t weigh down the luggage on trips. will not be buy macmillan books. it is ridiculous to pay such a big price for virtual books. will look for other authors. I say go Amazon.
Jim C. Hines
January 31, 2010 @ 1:52 pm
You should buy whatever you like, of course. But do you realize that your “will look for other authors” approach punishes the authors for something they have zero control over?
If you believe authors are the ones setting e-book prices, I would strongly suggest educating yourself on how the industry actually works.
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February 1, 2010 @ 9:41 pm
One of the only reason i bought an e-reader (Sony in my case) was for the e-ink screen. Reading on a computer, be it LCD or CRT, is not only bad for your eyes but also annoying. Will the iPAD be successful? You bet it will, come on apple could make the ipoo and inevitably people would snatch it up. They do have a universal format, it is called ipub, works very great if people actually format it correctly.
Perhaps (i know no one will believe this) amazon was acting in the best interst of their customer (read on if you are done laughing) by removing the books. After all as a retail company they have the right to sell what they choose, if they think the price is to high. Also they are probably worried if Mac ups their prices other companies will follow suite. This will result in lower sales…remember high prices lead to piracy. If you cannot afford an electronic item and you really really want it, well it does not feel like stealing does it because you are in your comfy chair in your own little room with only the cat to witness it.
I do not foresee the demise of the single purpose ereader for the sole purpose some people just want a device they turn on and read a book. After all people still have digital music players when most phones do it…….
In my twisted little mind i support Amazon’s decision, it is their company they can do as they please. Perhaps Macmillion can sell their books on their own website in digital format.
Jim C. Hines
February 2, 2010 @ 8:31 am
I answered your other comment first, but I’ll reiterate here that Macmillan wasn’t trying to raise prices. They wanted an agreement that would allow them to set a range of pricing, one that had a lower range significantly below Amazon’s $9.99 default.