Authors’ Reactions to the Amazon/Macmillan Battle

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If you weren’t online yesterday, you might have missed the NY Times report that sent a shockwave through the publishing industry:

“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.”

“Macmillan is the first to draw a line in the sand but we expect not the last,” Eric Simonoff of William Morris Endeavor told Publishers Lunch yesterday.

GalleyCat has a good round-up of what’s transpired so far (and Shelf Awareness, too), and here we’ve pulled together some additional reactions to the situation from authors and other publishing professionals.

Cherie Priest, author of Boneshaker (Tor Forge, a Macmillan imprint):

Tor is a Macmillan company, so yes, that means they’ve stopped selling those books of mine which are published through Tor.*

My reaction to this is pretty straightforward: I think it’s dumb and it sucks.

But at the end of the day, there are lots of other places selling books. In fact, if you go to IndieBound I bet you can find a number of fine, upstanding, book-selling establishments in your own neighborhood. Or if online ordering is your pleasure, Barnes & Noble has a great selection and pretty good prices (for example, right now Boneshaker is available at the member’s price of $11.51). And you can find a listing of all my books available through B&N right here, easy peasy. Don’t forget, you can also order signed copies (at no extra cost, and from anywhere in the country) through the University Book Store here in Seattle.

Scott Westerfeld, author of Leviathan (Simon Pulse, a Simon & Schuster Imprint)

The real power we authors have is removing links to Amazon from our websites and such. It may not be vast money, but I’ve actually had an online retailer call my publicist at S&S to complain because my website’s BUY THIS BOOK links were biased toward the competition. So they care a little, at least.

Not that we’re at that stage, I’m just saying . . .

Plus, most people’s love of the Kindle is not its design, form factor, or reading experience, but the convenience of instant wireless purchases. Imagine those folks firing up their Kindles this weekend and finding out that they can’t buy books from certain publishers, while their Sony/Nook-owning pals can.

Random blackouts do not make customers happy.

Chuck Wendig, Screenwriter. Novelist (represented by Stacia Decker, Donald Maass Agency)

Listen, I get it: the e-book represents a powerful future, especially for the author. The author has never had the kind of distribution available that the Internet can afford: it’s like living on a swiftly-moving river, a river on which your audience lives, and all you need to do is drop your paper boat in its waters and watch it reach all the people you need to reach.

But it’s stuff like this kerfuffle that puts that in danger.

Unless — unless — it simply serves to destabilize the model so much that, its foundation shaken and crumbling, the power only shifts further away from the two Godzilla-sized creatures wrestling in the town square.

India Amos, former art director at Nextbook [now Tablet magazine]; former senior designer at St. Martin’s Press:

My queasy gut tells me that Macmillan can’t afford to play this game of chicken. It makes my heart hurt, because I worked in production at what is now Macmillan (then Holtzbrinck), and I know how thin the so-called margins are in book publishing to begin with, and I can very clearly see why many (all?) publishers want Amazon to stop selling their e-books below cost. At the same time, I can also see why nearly every commenter (or the first five pages’ worth, anyway) on the New York Times story is saying, “Suck it, Macmillan! E-books already cost too much, even at $9.99!” The biggest reason is DRM, duh, but another one is sloppy shit like this. And one of the reasons sloppy shit like that happens is that those publishers who can afford it are producing books the traditional X-Acto–and–wax way and then outsourcing their e-book production to other companies, which probably automate the conversion process, and then they’re not practicing any kind of QA on what comes back, because nobody gives a shit, because the people who make the decisions don’t read e-books.

The debate on Twitter was fast and furious and lasted throughout the day:

DigiBookWorld: RT @DonLinn: This will be ugly. Another opportunity for indies if they’re smart. \\ RT @bookateur: Will make the point at Wi5 next week.

DigiBookWorld: RT @DonLinn: I’m not disheartened by AMZN/MacMillan fight at all. It’s hastening the sorting out; constructive. Remain calm and carry on.

Draccah: rt @RonHogan: Ebooks cost same to evaluate, negotiate acquisition, edit, market & publicize (among other non-prod costs) as print

Draccah: RT @colleenlindsay: Holding back an e-edition is no different than a publisher choosing not to print mass market & hardcover simultaneously.

DigiBookWorld: RT @jasonashlock: Sargent’s cogent, frank letter will do much to win support; AMZN’s repeated failure to communicate only enrages customers.

And then just this morning, author Charles Stross offered up one of the best takes on the whole situation in Amazon, Macmillan: an outsider’s guide to the fight:

It’s interesting to note that unlike the music industry who had to be pushed, the big publishers seem to be willing to grab a passing lifeline.

Final note: to customers, Amazon would like to be a monopoly (i.e. the only store in town). To suppliers, Amazon would like to be a monopsony (i.e. the only customer in town). Their goal is to profit via arbitrage, and if they can achieve those twin goals they will own everyubody’s nuts — the authors, the customers, everyone. They are, in fact, exactly the kind of middle-man operation that the internet tends to squish, gooily. And if you think things would be different if I, Charlie Stross, went into self-publishing and sold my wares directly without any icky publisher to ‘help’ me … do you really think I’d get better terms out of Amazon than a huge publishing conglomerate?

Whether this means Macmillan is any better placed to adapt to the post-internet order is an entirely separate issue which I can’t begin to address here.

But Amazon, in declaring war on Macmillan in this underhand way, have screwed me, and I tend to take that personally, because they didn’t need to do that.

UPDATE: Author Tobias S. Buckell’s “Why My Books Are No Longer Available on Amazon.com” has deservedly received a lot of attention, so much so that his site apparently crashed. Fortunately, SFWA has mirrored his insightful post:

If Amazon is a marketplace, they would just let a publisher putting out expensive books to shoot themselves in the foot. But what we’re seeing is a very aggressive move, designed to shock and awe the publishers. This really has nothing to with what customers want and everything to do with Amazon using its very large position to leverage itself into remaining number one. They deep discount books, often at a loss, because then once they have a customer, there’s so much more to sell you. Speaking as an Amazon Prime member, I understand. If Amazon loses customers elsewhere, because of books, they lose the ability to leverage the wide of their item selling.

Yes, we’d all like cheap books. I’d like cheap gas too. And milk has gone up. I’m working in a recession. I know this stuff hits the wallet. But the genius of a market economy is that we let companies try to charge what the market can bear, and let sales and results sort it out.

During the 70s the government tried to put artificial prices on gas, resulting in shortages as hoarding occurred. Most economists that I’ve read demonstrate that while artificially blocking a higher price sounds like a good idea (populism), it’s actually bad economic news.

That’s why your gas, milk, and other items aren’t pegged to a maximum price ceiling.

When a manufactured thing initially comes out, the initial investments to make that thing are still there. As a result, with designed jackets, new cars, new medicine, the price is initially higher. Over time, as those investments are recouped, the unit cost comes down.

It’s not surprising that publishers would like to do this with eBooks.

The whole post, as with the others excerpted here, is worth reading in its entirety.

UPDATE: In response to Amazon’s surprisingly fast and cagey capitulation, Scott Westerfeld wades into the fray with a smart analysis, and offers this conclusion:

All discussions of this event will draw commenters who think they magically know how books should be priced, and who say there is no reason for electronic editions to be more than $9.99. A quick note to them: You don’t know what you’re talking about. Seriously, your back-of-the-envelope calculations are crap. The printing costs of a book are generally between 3% and 10% of list price. So in most cases, 10% should be your “first-printing” e-book discount, not 50%. That may seem weird to you, but that’s because all the cheap stuff on the internet is backlist (like Baen Books), subsidized/coerced (like Amazon), self-published (no editing or marketing costs), or promotional (like when I gave Uglies away for free). Yes, the “long tail” of backlist books may become very cheap, or free, but not the new stuff, which is what this discussion is all about. (UPDATE: Also, see comments 1 and 9.)

PS: Hey, Amazon. When cutting off publishers, don’t start with the one that has the most science fiction writers. We will blog you dead!

2010 is undoubtedly going to be a year of tumultuous change in the publishing industry, and as evidenced at Digital Book World last week, there is a crackling energy, a sense of urgency, a thirst for innovation, and a hint of optimism that, unlike the music industry, which was dragged kicking and screaming into their digital transition, we just might get this thing right.

Are you still optimistic?

About Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez is an old and new media pragmatist, social media realist, and marketing strategist. He is the former Director of Programming & Business Development for Digital Book World, a published poet, writer, and active blogger since 2003. He views publishing as a community service, and is optimistic about its future.

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8 thoughts on “Authors’ Reactions to the Amazon/Macmillan Battle

  1. Pingback: Understanding the “Great Ebook Price War” « The Word Hoarder

  2. Aren’t these the same strong arm tactics that Walmart has used for the last couple of decades to remove competition from the marketplace and contribute to collapse of the local small business across America? Is this what is in store for the print publishing industry? Can publishing houses form a sort of bargaining union to deal with powerhouse like Amazon?

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  5. Pingback: Konflikt um eBook-Preise: Amazon nimmt Macmillan aus dem Programm – bewegliche lettern

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  7. Pingback: The Most Unkind(l)est Cut of All: Amazon Gets Gangsta with McMillan | 95years

  8. Pingback: The cost of E-books, Amazon vs. Macmillan « Collection Developments @ Sno-Isle

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