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If you're a writer, you already know about it; if you're a reader, you might have noticed that suddenly, a lot of books disappeared from Amazon over the weekend. What's up with that?

First let me point you to Jay Lake's thoughtful and thorough series of responses to the whole thing. That'll give you a good background. Here's John Scalzi's take on who failed the worst (hilarious, except for the billions of responses - though some of those are inadvertently hilarious, too). And today SFWA responds (that's the SF and Fantasy Writers of America).

My take? Unfortunately, nobody comes out of this smelling rosy. Macmillan is afraid of what ebook sales will do to their first-release print books, so they want to charge more for new releases and less for older ones. Amazon wants to discount all ebooks to sell more Kindles. Fair enough. But they decided to stab the hell out of each other behind the scenes rather than negotiate, with Amazon suddenly and unannouncedly pulling all (not just ebook) Macmillan titles from their store.

Screw the corporations, I say. I mean, geez, ever heard of negotiating a fair settlement for everyone? Ever heard of keeping the customer happy? I feel sorry for the authors whose titles will appear to do poorly on sales sheets because of this, which might kill careers, or at least kill deals on their next books. I feel sorry for the fans who don't know the full story and who might become embittered toward the whole publishing industry.

Today I noticed that Amazon is still not selling new Tor books (an imprint of Macmillan). Seriously? How's that helping you out, Amazon execs? Just for the record, here's a link to Powell's Books SF/F section. Bookmark it when you need to get a book that's not on Amazon! Powell's is one of the awesomest bookstores ever, an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out-of-print books all shelved together. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and eBooks — at Powells.com.

EDIT: Macmillan's CEO responds about the fracas. Thanks to gwyndolin for the tip.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 4th, 2010 10:19 pm (UTC)
Powell's is awesome! Other than regular books, they have found two out of print books for me too! I really want to go there in person.

I do have to say, not being an author or having any experience, it did make me growl at Macmillan as well.

Amazon still wasn't selling Henry Holt either, at least not as of late yesterday.
Feb. 4th, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC)
A ms_danson sent me your way and I must admit that you have some great stuff here....

I met ms_danson on the INTJ list.. but she also thought that because I try to teach engineers how to write that we might have something more in common.

I'm gonna add you, and I'd appreciate it if you might add me back!

Feb. 5th, 2010 02:28 pm (UTC)
I hate corporate pissing matches. Ebooks should be cheaper than print books. They don't have the print part, and they don't have resale value. Publishers should be able to shoot themselves in the foot with stupid pricing. Both sides are whiney babies here.
Feb. 5th, 2010 07:41 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm not sure what'll happen when print books are no longer attractive to mass market. This is scaring the hell out of publishers right now. Do people really want to pay full price for DRM-entangled e-bits? No. Will they pirate and share ebooks? Some will. Will the publishing industry survive a move to $5 ebooks? Doubtful.

It's a scary time to be a mass-market publisher right now.
Feb. 5th, 2010 08:21 pm (UTC)
All very good points. Publishers need to think of a way to provide better perceived value to customers on this.

At least print books still have a perceived value beyond CDs and DVDs. In music's case, you need a device to play things, so a smarter device and smarter delivery system is winning. Not to mention that it music's case, you may only want one song and not want to give the music industry the extra money to buy the 9 filler songs.

In a book's case, you might have a smarter device and slick delivery system, but the traditional method still works without any batteries, and in hardback it can still be a collector's item. So really the paperback should be what is dying.

OK - no time to edit thoughts. Must run and catch bus out of snowpocalypse.
Feb. 5th, 2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
I *heart* Powells' newsletters!

And on the eBook thing, all the pre-press work is where the majority of the expense lies with books, therefore they *are* almost as expensive to produce.
I don't think it would make sense to an author to lose royalties over that difference in selling price, would it?
Feb. 5th, 2010 06:56 pm (UTC)
Correct me if I'm wrong, but in the traditional publishing model, you've got the expense of the print run to recoup. All those physical books to ship. All those books to store before they ship. All those expenses to reimburse if the publisher doesn't sell out and ships them back to the publisher, etc. Plus you eat the cost for promotional copies.

POD is a different animal, but you still have printing and shipping costs.

Ebooks have all the pre-press of print (and then likely some software and labor for conversion,) yes, but then they don't snowball a bunch of additional storage and shipping expenses after that.

I don't know how it shakes out to actual dollars, but my contract pays me one and a half times the print royalty rate for all ebook sales. They charge less for ebooks, so that's a smaller pie to slice, but my quick math from their historic prices seems to say that they're paying me about the same for both publishing methods even though they're charging less to the customer for the ebook.
Feb. 5th, 2010 07:39 pm (UTC)
Okay: You're right that print books cost a few bucks more to sell, but just as much to produce as ebooks. The reason you get more royalties for ebooks is that a) they're very nice *g* and b) they're probably passing the paper-cost savings on to you.

I think the real worry here on the part of the publishers (now it's more than just Macmillan getting into the fray) is that ebooks will "steal sales" if they're sold too far below the print copies. Books are books as far as acquisition, production, and other costs are concerned, so if they bring in x fewer dollars, publishers won't be able to keep operating. Or, y'know, they just stop paying writers advances and share ebook sales. Which for now is a pretty tiny slice of overall sales... which makes me wonder why everyone is in such a tizzy right now.
Feb. 5th, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)
They probably do have a point about ebooks stealing sales, but inevitably they'll steal sales from print books at any price.

I think Macmillan has a point about wanting to move to an agency model. I'm surprised it took so long to get there and that Amazon didn't think of it first. If Apple hadn't come around and proposed the idea, I'm sure Google would have.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )