Amazon vs. Macmillan

Cory Doctorow published the story yesterday, about how Amazon had dropped all Macmillan titles (including Tor, etc) from its site in retaliation for Macmillan wanting to charge more than the Amazon standard of $9.99 for e-books.

Macmillan themselves have put their side of the story at Publisher’s Lunch, making it clear that what they wanted to do was to have a sliding scale of e-book sales, starting at 14.99 when the dead tree books are published in hardcover, and coming down eventually to 5.99.

Many authors and editors have of course weighed in on this, including many whose livelihoods are being directly targeted by Amazon’s bullying (note: many of these posts were written before Macmillan publicly explained the part about wanting to charge more for e-books, something which caused almost as much concern/outrage as Amazon’s behaviour).

Scalzi discusses the subject of e-book pricing as well as the deliberate timing of the removal of books (do we remember last Easter’s Amazonfail?).
Jay Lake
Teresa Nielson Hayden
Lisa Mantchev
Cherie Priest
Catherynne Valente
Jim Hines
Emma Bull
Charles Stross

I come at this as a reader, rather than a writer – I’ve never had a book listed on Amazon, though obviously I hope to be in a position in the future when I have books eligible (which is to say, published in the US and/or the UK). I stopped buying books from Amazon last year, after the situation where all the GLBT themed books mysteriously disappeared over Easter, and were later restored without a real explanation. I’m not boycotting as such, but responding to my own panic that long weekend when it seemed like boycotting was the only ethical response.

Amazon later claimed that it had not been a deliberate move, and so a boycott seemed unnecessary, but I examined how freaked out I had been at the possibility of not using Amazon to import so many of the books/DVDs that aren’t available in Australia, and I didn’t like what I saw. It was my dependence on Amazon that I was looking to break – and I did so, thanks largely to Fishpond.com.au and more recently www.bookdepository.co.uk. I’ve only made three purchases on Amazon since – twice for dvds which even Fishpond couldn’t offer me at a decent price and once for second hand books through Marketplace. I’m okay with that.

It’s the power of Amazon that’s alarming. And much though I think that ebooks are not priced appropriately considering that they are a lesser product than paper books, and come with fewer overheads to create, I also don’t think that Amazon should be dictating the price of said ebooks. $9.99 is too much for most ebooks. The sliding scale proposed by Macmillan makes a lot more sense to me – and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this is happening in the week of the iPad, who are obviously looking to do things differently to the Kindle.

The Kindle and its DRM-heavy products are a colossal con, and even as other industries are taking a more sensible approach to DRM (like itunes offering DRM free versions of songs) the Kindle represents an attempt to render the ebook myth (you know, the myth that the book you buy for 9.99 actually belongs to you forever) so powerful that everyone will swallow it. I am consistently surprised that so many people are willing to overlook this aspect of the Kindle, and pour their money into it.

I love the idea of e-books. I would quite happily sink quite a bit of money into ebooks – apart from anything, I’m running out of shelves, and my honey develops a nervous twitch when I suggest acquiring a new set of bookshelves. I WANT e-books. But I don’t trust Amazon to design the ebook industry on my behalf. This week, less than usual.

EDIT: K. Tempest Bradford has posted an interview with Jeremy Lassen of Nightshade Books about why e-books can’t go lower in price – and who is really getting the larger cut of the book sale. It’s a really interesting post and all makes a lot of sense, though it remains true that a DRM-choked ebook is of lesser value than one which has user-flexibility built in, let alone a print copy you can lend to your friends.

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