War Continues: No One Dead (Yet)

The online war between Amazon and Macmillan over Kindle book pricing has continued apace overnight. There was considerable cheering just before I went to bed when Amazon appeared to blink. However, as of writing this post, Macmillan books appear to still be absent from the Amazon US site save for the second hand market. Also the jury is very much out.

Scott Westerfeld has made a brave attempt to explain the economics, and what he says about publishing is pretty much true as I understand it (I always leave room to be corrected by Andrew Wheeler). However, I have enough trouble explaining the electricity industry’s issues with fixed and variable costs to young economics graduates. I really don’t expect the average book buyer to understand why the same book needs to be more expensive when it first comes out than a year down the road. They’ll just see that as gouging the fans.

One of the real problems that Macmillan & co have here is that to most readers an ebook edition that they have had to rent from Amazon (because you can’t own a Kindle edition) is of considerably less perceived value than a nice, solid, beautifully made hardcover edition; and consequently they feel it should cost a lot less. The economics of the industry are of no interest to them. And while us old fogies might have been prepared to wait a year for mass market paperback editions, the “Want it NOW!” Internet generation is not going to wait a few weeks for a Kindle edition, let alone several months. And if they don’t get what they want, when they want it, they will yell and scream about how unfair this is and how the publishers EVIL! and FULL OF FAIL!!!! and no better than [rest of post deleted due to invocation of Godwin’s Law].

And maybe Amazon are right. Maybe releasing a cheap Kindle edition at the same time as the hardcover won’t cannibalize the hardcover market (which only appeals to quaint old fogies like me) and will shift sufficient extra copies to make up for the lack of margin. Maybe they are right.

But actually I think that they are just desperate the establish the Kindle as the industry standard (both for format and use of DRM) before Apple can get up to steam and provide serious competition.

So where as we now? Well, as I said, Amazon posted what has been hailed as a climb down. It includes this interesting comment:

We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books.

So, um, Macmillan are a bunch of evil capitalist bullies forcing Amazon to sell ebooks for much more than they are worth in order to line their filthy corporate pockets and pay their greedy authors to take their harems of model girlfriends on expensive, drug-fueled vacations to exclusive holiday resorts on private Caribbean islands. It must be true, just read the comments thread.

The idea that Macmillan is a bad guy because it has a monopoly over selling its own books attracted a great deal of laughter on my Twitter feed last night, and may yet give rise of a #badmonopolies meme. And yet it is a tactic straight out of the Faux News playbook. The rules are very simple. 1) The bigger the lie, the more likely it is to be believed; and 2) Appeal to your audience’s sense of entitlement. Like I said, read the comments thread. Just don’t be tempted to respond.

As of now, there is no sign of Macmillan books re-appearing for sale on the Amazon site. They may well do in the near future, but I’m guessing that Amazon will be whipping up the mob into deluging them with one star reviews and whatever other expressions of displeasure are currently possible on the site. The war isn’t over.

John Scalzi, who is a much wiser person when it comes to online communication than I am, has published a long analysis of all of the PR mistakes that Amazon has made over the weekend. He’s right too. They could have been a lot cleverer about the whole thing. But it is very clear from their “monopoly” post that they don’t think that they need to be clever. They are taking Glenn Beck as their role model. They don’t care. I have this mental image of the Amazon PR department dancing round a pile of Scalzi novels, sticking their tongues out and chanting, “Loser! Loser! One star reviews for you!”

The primary message that the Amazon post sends to me is one of contempt. Contempt for the publishers who supply them with the products they sell. Contempt for the authors who create that product. And most of all contempt for their customers whom they believe are too stupid to see that they are being manipulated. And that suggests to me, boring old fogey that I am, that they are not a company that I want to continue doing business with.

So, one of my jobs today will be to sign up for the IndieBound affiliate scheme and see what’s involved in making the switch. Hopefully it will be OK, though I’m already a little unhappy with them. I dislike having to sign up for a scheme before I can find out how the technology works. And I note that while they are admirably insistent that they don’t want to be linked to by sites that encourage discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or age, they make no mention whatsoever of encouraging discrimination on the grounds of gender identity. Maybe they are hoping to get links from The Guardian.

2 thoughts on “War Continues: No One Dead (Yet)

  1. Books (electronic or otherwise) should be set at a price that will make the companies the money. It costs money to get an E-book published (rights from Author, time to convert the text and illustration, etc).

    The market will decide whether the higher price point will work or not. I don’t think a $14.95 E-Book from MacMillan will sell nearly as many copies as a $9.95 because the Internet Generation is cheap. They will be forced to lower their price. Amazon is stupid for saying they won’t carry their books. I only have one of the Hugo nominees for Best Novel from last year because I am waiting on the Paperback version of them.

  2. Ah, this reminds me of the day, a few years back, when I went to confirm what I’d been warned about: that the ‘buy now’ button was disabled on my books in Amazon. I found that not only were the books by the publisher they were targeting unavailable, but the ones released by publishers unrelated to that ‘war’ were, too. It was probably a stupid mistake, but it made it feel like they were targeting me more so than my publisher.

    Ironically, I’d already stopped buying books from Amazon because they’d stuffed up so many of my orders. But this did make me decide to remove all links to Amazon from my author site. I recommend Fishpond and the Book Depositry now.

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