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Buy Read Love

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

PW Reports: Agents Weigh in on the Book Pricing War

Publishers Weekly has an excellent article covering many agents' take on the Amazon-MacMillan flapdoodle. Check it out here.

Not surprisingly, the majority of agents, like the majority of authors, have come down on the publishers' side and against Amazon's bizarre and heavy-handed decision to remove buy buttons from all Macmillan books in any format.

I know a lot of readers (many of whom imagine that JK Rowling, Danielle Steele, and fictional-mystery author Richard Castle represent the typical author, in terms of earnings and lifestyle) don't believe this, but book publishers survive on razor-thin profit margins, and the majority of authors get by on Ramen noodles, coupons, and/or spouses with benefits. With the economy slumping, countless editors and other publishing personnel have found themselves jobless and even more midlist authors are seeing their royalties slashed and options declined. So believe me, we're not insensitive to the readers who want and need to save a buck wherever possible.

But when one retailer sells a product as a long-term loss leader (in order to sell, say, its $259 Kindle) it puts downward pressure on the commodity and eventually guts the very industry -- the book biz -- that is its lifeblood. Although I've found lots to love about Amazon (and have spent a fortune there in the last few years), I'm really disappointed in the Big Brother tactics and hope that everybody can make nice again soon.

7 comments:

Colleen Thompson said...

And the Author's Guild weighs in at http://tiny.cc/Oxglk

Joni Rodgers said...

This just kills me. My immediate response was that we should remove amazon widgets from this blog (along with my gushing words of Kindle love) and encourage other authors to remove amazon widgets from websites, but if we do that, we're really cutting off our noses to spite our face. I think we all need to take a big gulp of fresh air and think hard about what comes next.

Meanwhile, thank you, Macmillan for taking this stand. And love to all our friends who are with Mac imprints.

Brian Rush said...

The flaw in this argument is that the new deal Macmillan wants with Amazon would pay Macmillan -- and hence, the publisher's authors -- LESS per evolume sold, not more, while also selling fewer volumes (which is what happens when you raise prices, of course). Obviously, then, the publisher is not doing this to raise its or its authors' ebook revenues (it will instead lower them if it gets its way), but rather to avoid having its ebooks compete with the same title in hardcover. Whether that is a good idea from the author's point of view does not depend on authors' or publishers' typical income, but rather on whether you think hardcover books sold in brick and mortar bookstores represent a viable long-term commercial strategy. Frankly, I do not.

Mark said...

By Amazon's own admission, selling Kindles is not currently profitable, nor, despite the hype, is it ever likely to be a major revenue source for them; Amazon is not a hardware company. The importance of the Kindle is that it ties users to Amazon's proprietary DRM -- a leaf taken out of Apple's playbook. I think this settlement is a big win for Amazon. Sure, authors may now hate them, but consumers see them as champions fighting a greedy publishing industry. Amazon now stands to make more profit per unit sold, and the consumer remains puzzled as to why publishers apparently want huge margins for products with no printing, storage, distribution or return costs. I fear all Macmillan has succeeded in doing is making it appear that their ebooks are 50% overpriced.

Mark said...

On another note, are B&N really the right alternative? I seem to remember them marking up textbook prices 25% above retail in their campus stores before online stores like Amazon made this unworkable. I still have to hold my nose when I walk into one of their stores :D

Joni Rodgers said...

The hard costs of publishing go way beyond paper and ink. I think it's fine for an ebook to start at a higher price when it's just published, then go down as the hard costs are absorbed. I don't disagree with arguments against the so called "agency model," and honestly, I wouldn't pay $15 for a Kindle book. It was the iron-fisted tactic that was out of line (IMHO). It was just plain bad form.

We've got a lot of level-finding to do in the industry as we make this seismic shift. A pissing contest between major players is not helpful.

Colleen Thompson said...

I'm most concerned because everyone is getting hurt by this - readers, authors, MacMillan, even Amazon itself. Who's the winner here? I can't say - only that there are getting to be a lot of damage.

I'm most concerned for the authors with new releases, because when their sell-through numbers take a hit, it's unlikely their publisher will choose to remember that they were part of the reason why. The author's always left holding the bag on bad numbers, and no excuse is ever good enough. I'm especially annoyed with Amazon for punishing authors of books in all formats when authors have been such huge supporters of theirs. We're always posting/sending Amazon links, and most of us spend like crazy there as well.

Mark - You're right about B&N's tendency to mark up texts at college bookstores. Online booksellers like Amazon have begun to make a difference there.