More Amazon/Macmillan feud fallout, conversations, and conspiracy theories

TechCrunch’s M.G. Siegler reports that another “winner” in the Amazon vs. Macmillan feud is Barnes & Noble, who is getting a lot of new purchase traffic for books Amazon is currently unwilling to carry.

I would add, from the time I have spent reading various discussion forums about it, that a good many of the people who comment in discussion threads at Scalzi’s Whatever, Charlie Stross’s blog, and Making Light have said they are shifting all their purchases over to Barnes & Noble—and some have said they are going ahead and buying Nooks, too.

Furthermore, the SFWA today announced it is removing all links to Amazon.com from its website. If Amazon keeps this up much longer, it is going to exhaust much of the goodwill that authors and publishers have previously had toward it—and after some of the other disputes publishers and author-advocacy groups have had with Amazon already (the pricing issue, the Kindle text-to-speech issue, the listing-used-books-with-new issue) there may not have been much of that left to begin with.

Different Sites, Different Discussions

I find it interesting how different the conversations are at the blogs I mention above from discussion here and on MobileRead. At the aforementioned blogs, more people by far are taking Macmillan’s side and feel Amazon acted reprehensibly, while here and at MobileRead (as well as Kindle users’ communities, I understand, though I have not been reading them) it is largely the other way around.

(By the way, I would like to call out Tor.com for sticky-posting Sargent’s open letter at the top of the blog, but disabling reader comments on it. Very classy, guys. I know you’re part of Tor, which is part of Macmillan, but still, this one-way barrage of corporate-speak seems quite at odds with the notion of community you’ve worked so hard to build up. Someone get them a copy of The Cluetrain Manifesto.)

I suppose it is that Whatever, Stross, and Making Light serve communities made up of Macmillan writers, editors, and their friends, while more readers and small-press folks hang out here and on MobileRead. And needless to say, none of these discussions may represent the opinions of the great silent majority of readers who have not bothered to take part in any of them.

E-books’ “Grassy Knoll”?

Over the last few days, we have seen a number of posts here espousing the opinion that publishers have a not-so-secret agenda to destroy or delay the market for e-books.

This is not exactly a new idea, of course—it has had ten or fifteen years of publisher mismanagement of e-books to take root. Still, with Macmillan’s actions in attempting to raise e-book prices, it is finding newly receptive audiences.

I’m still looking for someone to write a guest column from an opposing viewpoint; LiveJournal user “barbarienne” has posted a (slightly blue) screed against this “conspiracy paranoia”, but it is not something I could reprint on the front page.

On a related note, writer Sean P. Fodera has made an LJ post concerning the “misconception” that e-books should cost significantly less than printed books—and unlike many others, he actually had a fairly reasonable response when I brought up the counter-example of Baen.

John Siracusa: “People don’t get e-books”

And from the point of view that it might be better not to ascribe malice to something that can be more readily explained by incompetence, this Ars Technica editorial by John Siracusa that I covered here a year ago suggests that most people, including publishers, have simply never “gotten” e-books.

If you’ve forgotten about or not read it, it is worth going through again—it’s still as true now as it was then (and interesting as well for the way it essentially predicts the iPad a year ahead of schedule).

Siracusa suggests that the industry’s “sabotage” of e-books could be laid at the feet not of some overarching plan, but the exact opposite—general cluelessness about e-books and the market in general, born of fear of what happened to the music industry with Napster and, yes, fear of e-books cutting into their hardcover margins.

Though even so, Siracusa does note:

All of this is to say that the publishers effectively sabotaged the e-book market from day one. The DRM, the pricing, the general treatment as second-class citizens, it all added up to an insurmountable drag on a budding industry. Without some minimum level of buy-in from content owners, there was simply no way to break through to the mainstream, no way to ever sell enough copies of those popular novels to recoup a large up-front fee, and no way to persuade content owners to allow the most desirable best-sellers to be sold in e-book form.

So whether there was or is any sort of overarching plan may not make much difference in the end if the results are the same.

14 Comments on More Amazon/Macmillan feud fallout, conversations, and conspiracy theories

  1. Barnes and Noble of course are 100% useless to most of us.

  2. Oh yeah, and when Borders fails, let’s see if Barnes and Noble is still their friend.

  3. Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice…

  4. If the SWFA and other authors keep this up much longer, they are going to exhaust much of the goodwill that this reader previously had toward them.

    I certainly hope those affected are bitching at their publisher.

  5. Richard Askenase // February 4, 2010 at 7:56 am //

    When B & N collapses, or is bought out, the Nook will be bye bye. So will their ebook store.

    The iBook store will not sell many books (newspapers, maybe), because few iPad owners will spend more than 10% of their time reading books on it.

    Stick with Amazon. they were the first behind ebooks in a big way. They’ll be standing behind it in the years to come.

  6. @Richard —

    Stick with Amazon. they were the first behind ebooks in a big way. They’ll be standing behind it in the years to come.

    Amazon will be standing behind ebooks only for as long as Bezos thinks it is worthwhile and not a moment more. Why consumers think Bezos is any more their friend than Steve Jobs or Leonard Riggio is something I do not understand. Bezos has shafted consumers before and won’t hesitate to do it again should he think he can make more money by doing so.

    And you should not assume that it is planted in concrete that Amazon won’t be bought out and closed by someone else, just as you predict B&N will be.

  7. I’ve certainly opened an account with B&N over this, after the Amazon 1984 fiasco this is the last straw. B&N are useless outside the US (at the moment) re ebooks but they’re fine for pbooks which is what I’m most interested in from them. Hurting your customers and the authors by withdrawing all Macmillan books when trying to battle the publishers is just dumb (and apparently illegal as well), and doing it in such a ham-fisted way is beyond incompetence and deserves no loyalty. I’m done with Amazon.

    The iPad will kill the Kindle over time (and probably not much time – I suspect it won’t be long before the iBook store and Apple reader app come to the iPhone and iPod touch as well).

    Stick with immature, incompetent Amazon who also have a very second rate piece of ereader hardware? No thanks.

  8. “Stick with Amazon. they were the first behind ebooks in a big way. They’ll be standing behind it in the years to come.”

    They’ve already sold ebooks and dropped the whole thing once before. As long as it makes business sense they’ll stick with it, but if for some unforeseen reason ebooks stop being the fast growing, and profitable, market they are I’m sure Amazon would drop them again.

  9. Alan Wallcraft // February 4, 2010 at 9:54 am //

    I agree that Amazon would drop ebooks if that made sense financially, but there are now 2-3 million Kindles all more or less locked into the Kindle store. So in the near term this does not seem likely.

    Amazon does “get” ebooks, and has virtually single handedly created the current ebook market. They did it for profit, but they are after all a US corporation.

    The attempt by the US publishing cartel to strong arm Amazon out of its dominant position in ebooks may work. Their proposed pricing structure is reasonable, although only because Amazon forced lower prices with their $9.99 loss leader and because Apple held the line at $14.99. I’m less sure about the agency approach to selling. I would be happier if the publishers kept the 70/30 split but allowed retailers to discount.

  10. I love consumer (and perhaps author?)-logic. If Amazon=’bad’, then B&N=’good’? *Huh*?!

    Remember when Barnes & Noble reduced their in-store stock by 10%, so they could have more books facing outward? Authors, I hate to break it to you, but those outward-facing books probably weren’t yours. And believe me, that move sucked for the consumer for a solid year before the Nook ever even happened. “But we could order it for you. It’d be here in about a week.” Or we could order it for ourselves from Amazon, buy a couple more books we’ve been wanting, to get free shipping, and have the whole shot delivered to our *house* in *less* than a week. Oh yeah. And there’s that dispute over the purportedly-stolen device-design of the Nook. (Has B&N sued Spring Design yet, claiming that Spring stole *their* product idea?)

    Of course Amazon is a huge business. But they have the best understanding of the ‘books and reading’ part of that business.

    At best, really everyone just sucks. (Really, Christo said it the best, I think. See above. Christo, if you made that up yourself you are a genius. Can I use it in my e-mail signature?)

  11. I will note that the people passing around the jar of hand cream on Stross’ and Scalzi’s blogs and loudly announcing how they hates Amazon for ever, nasssssssty Bezossssss, they hates it will probably have much the same impact as the similar number of people on, say, MobileRead saying the same thing about Macmillan (ie. if there’s any measurable impact at all, which is doubtful, it will probably balance out).

    Let’s not kid ourselves, people. Amazon isn’t acting in support of readers any more than Macmillan is acting in support of authors. When Big Corporate Publishing fights with Big Corporate Distribution (can’t really call Amazon ‘retail’ anymore) whoever wins authors and readers get screwed. (This should not be confused with the case in which Big Corporate Publishing is best friends with Big Corporate Distribution, as in that case readers and authors get screwed.)

  12. Alas I don;’t know where that mangled A.C. Clsrke saying came from, but it is pure genius, and perfectly relevant!

  13. Monte Schachner // February 4, 2010 at 5:03 pm //

    One item I have not seen mentioned in all this hullabaloo is BOMC2 (previously Zooba). This is an online book subscription service offered by Book of the Month Club. They offer most of their books at a flat rate of $9.95. This includes the price of the book, shipping, handling, taxes etc. They offer brand new, just published books for $9.95 in book club editions. So when publishers say they can’t afford to offer ebooks for the same price, my feeling is that they are being a bit disingenuous. I would be very interested to hear how they could explain away this situation.

    If I can get a newly published hardcover book for less than $10.00, why can’t I get the same ebook for that price?

  14. IMO, Amazon cares more about the reader, the person who gives them money, than Macmillan does. Amazon got into ebooks because they save on inventory and shipping costs. If publishers were more efficient in their workflows, they’d realize that electronic editions could make them money too, even at the $9.99 price point.

    The point that people bring up about book club and paperback editions is valid: why should DRM laden electronic editions cost more than these? Why do they think the book buying public is stupid? We are not suckers, thank you!

    Amazon is perfectly within its rights to tell Macmillan to take its ultimatum and stuff it for trying to dictate a new business model to Amazon. It would be like Campbells telling Safeway “Either you sell our soups as ‘agents’ for us, in your own store, at your own expense, with your own advertising and overhead, but at no less than $5 a can, or we will only sell you a limited selection of almost out-of-date cans.” Any sensible store would throw the company rep, and their product, out of their store, which is what Amazon has done.

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