As we see more and more articles about the DoJ vs. publishers thing, with more and more of them saying the same thing, they start to become worth mentioning more for how they differ from others. For example, CBS News has a summary that explains what’s going on, but also links to Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler’s defenestration of Authors Guild president Scott Turow’s statement condemning the suit and settlement, which I hadn’t seen before and makes for some fun reading:

Barry: Look, you can build a business by forcing your choices on consumers (commonly known as monopoly rents), or you can build one by figuring out what consumers would prefer — and giving it to them. Consumers like buying books online and they like digital books. You can argue that all such consumers are evil or that they’re morons, but they like what they like, and innovative companies will try to serve them. That’s what’s going on here, and legacy players would do better to compete than to complain. They might still lose, but competing would at least be more dignified.

But the part that interested me most came at the end of the CBS piece, in which CBS suggested that either way, consumers will win. If the DoJ wins, Amazon will get to lower its prices on e-books. If Amazon loses and publishers get to raise their prices, consumers will get sick of buying higher-priced e-books—but big-name authors will notice that lower-priced independent writers are making more sales and go join them, so consumers win again.

The latter argument sounds a bit more like wishful thinking to me. It hasn’t exactly been happening so far, at least in numbers that would make those legacy publishers take notice, has it? What makes them think it would happen any time soon?

On the other hand, as Konrath and Eisler point out, Amazon has been selling huge amounts of paper and e-books, and was making sure authors got their full royalties even when they sold the e-books below cover price. Then agency pricing meant that both publishers and authors took a pay cut, while selling the e-books at higher prices so fewer of them moved.

[Joe:] If someone is going to dominate me, I’d prefer the dominator who can make me more cash. That said, the whole "What will happen when Amazon controls the world and creates robots that suck human blood" argument is silly. The Big 6 have been sucking my blood for a decade. We’re supposed to fear what Amazon might do, while ignoring the teeth in our necks right now?

They also note the absurdity in saying that Amazon is “destroying bookselling” by selling huge amounts of books. Barry Eisler notes that by couching the complaint in those terms, Turow is trying to avoid stating the real issue—that Amazon is killing off brick-and-mortar stores—because that argument was more likely to elicit a, “Well, too bad, but business models change” sort of response. But “destroying bookselling” sounds scary, while ignoring the fact that Amazon is selling more books than ever.

(I would add that it’s certainly selling enough books that publishers don’t seem to be even considering pulling their books from Amazon over Amazon’s pricing practices, which you’d think they would want to do if Amazon was really such a big threat. But it’s a threat and their biggest sales channel rolled up into one, and outright pulling their books even for a little while would be fiduciary suicide. So the publishers continue trying to have their cake and eat it too.)

At any rate, thousands of words have been written on this issue, and thousands more will be. I expect the immediate furor to die off in a few days, to be revived when the court case starts. In the mean time, I’ll keep mentioning the reports that I think have interesting bits in them.


  1. ” It hasn’t exactly been happening so far, at least in numbers that would make those legacy publishers take notice, has it?”

    I think the authors are starting to notice, certainly, but many of them are under contractual obligation. When those contracts are fulfilled, all bets are off.

    Were I an author, I’d think twice about signing a long-term contract with a publisher right now; things are changing too fast.

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