There is an important battle being waged right now in the intellectual properties arena over ebooks. There’s a lot at stake here and while it revolves around money, it also deeply may affect the quality of the book you read … or may not get to read at all.
It all started when a quiet, private little battel erupted into a public one this weekend, as reported in the Huffington Post:
NEW YORK — New copies of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall,” Andrew Young’s “The Politician” and other books published by Macmillan were unavailable Saturday on Amazon.com, a drastic step in the ongoing dispute over e-book prices.
Macmillan CEO John Sargent said he was told Friday that its books would be removed from Amazon.com, as would e-books for Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. Books will be available on Amazon.com through private sellers and other third parties, Sargent said.
Sargent met with Amazon officials Thursday to discuss the publisher’s new pricing model for e-books. He wrote in a letter to Macmillan authors and literary agents Saturday that the plan would allow Amazon to make more money selling Macmillan books and that Macmillan would make less. He characterized the dispute as a disagreement over “the long-term viability and stability of the digital book market.”
Macmillan and other publishers have criticized Amazon for charging just $9.99 for best-selling e-books on its Kindle e-reader, a price publishers say is too low and could hurt hardcover sales, which generally carry a list price of more than $24.
Macmillan is one of the world’s largest English-language publishers. Its divisions include St. Martin’s Press, itself one of the largest publishers in the U.S.; Henry Holt & Co., one of the oldest publishers in America; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; and Tor, the leading science-fiction publisher.
Sargent credited Amazon in his letter, calling the company a “valuable customer” and a “great innovator in our industry.”
But, he wrote, the digital book industry needs to create a business model that provides equal opportunities for retailers. Under Macmillan’s model, to be put in place in March, e-books will be priced from $12.99 to $14.99 when first released and prices will change over time.
For its part, Amazon wants to keep a lid on prices as competitors line up to challenge its dominant position in a rapidly expanding market. The company did not immediately return messages seeking comment Saturday.
Then the Huffington Post reported that Amazon.com had just posted a notice saying that they, rather gruppily, were waving the white flag;
Macmillan, one of the “big six” publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.
We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. 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. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.
Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!
Thank you for being a customer.
And so round one goes to McMillan — and every Kindle-user on the planet should be grateful that McMillan won.
I know that sounds crazy on the face of it but the truth is that ebook pricing was threatening primarily the livelyhoods of authors like me. Since ebooks do not require warehousing or physical shipping (they’re just a file, how much space or maintainance does that take per title?) you would think that they should be less expensive to distribute. True enough.
But the value in a book doesn’t lie in whether it is made of leather, paper, glue or just digital code: the real value in the book is in the story, the ideas, the journey and the meaning that those words elicite from the reader. It doesn’t matter whether you’re drawn into those words through ink on a page or digits on a screen — the value is in the meaning of the message not the medium.
Ebooks are cheaper to warehouse and distribute but by cheapening the costs to recieve that experience the PERCEPTION has been that books across the board have been devalued as well.
Amazon wants to establish the Kindle as their own market monopoly … I can understand that. They want to make their ebooks sell at bargain prices. I can understand that, too. But when their zeal to sell their Kindle product makes it impossible for my publisher — and by extention me — to make a living off our words and stories … then story itself suffers.
Like my local pizza chain says in their advertising: “You can buy a cheaper pizza … but then you have to eat it.”