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Amazon vs. Hachette, an Epic Battle Faught with Letters and Addresses
August 11, 2014 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Best Selling author Douglas Preston, along with 907 other authors, signed a letter that ran as a double full-page ad in yesterday’s print edition of the New York Times, asking Amazon to stop blocking or delaying the sale of books on their site as a tactic to lower the e-book prices that Amazon is charged by the publisher Hachette.* The three month dispute between Hachette and Amazon previously prompted a response by Amazon’s self-published authors and readers, but it took an odd turn Saturday night when Amazon posted this letter on a site called ReadersUnited.com, after sending it as an email to all of its Kindle Direct Publishing authors. In that letter they include Hachette’s CEO’s email, and have asked their KDP authors to write to Hachette’s CEO telling him what they think about cheaper ebooks.

Author and industry responses:

Hachette's CEO, Michael Pietsch's letter in response.

From MeFi's own John Scalzi, Amazon Gets Increasingly Nervous
and
A Brief List of Standard Answers For the Amazon/Hachette Thing

Amazon author Laura Dawson, Go Home, Amazon. You’re Drunk.

Author Jake Kerr, Making Sense of Amazon-Hachette

Lee Goldberg asks, where is the outrage over brick and mortar stores refusing to carry Amazon’s print imprints, in his Letter to Douglas Preston

The New York Times on Amazon's apparent misunderstanding of the Orwell quote they used, Dispute Between Amazon and Hachette Takes an Orwellian Turn

Mike Shatzkin on why Amazon might be asking its authors to do something against their own self-interests, Amazon Channels Orwell in its Latest Blast

*******

Amazon is now using the same tactics on Disney.
posted by Toekneesan (146 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Guys, Amazon is TOTES different than Wal-Mart.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:24 PM on August 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think the thing that bugs me the most about this is that somehow Amazon has managed to make the gigantic multinational publisher seem like the good guy and a lot of people seem to think that the gigantic multinational publisher is the good guy. When, you know, both parties are exploitative gigantic multinationals that would sell little babies to Satan for tallow if they could.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:35 PM on August 11, 2014 [25 favorites]


Yeah, I got that KDP newsletter a couple mornings back. I seldom, if ever reply to mass mailings, but my written response:

Amazon, go eat a dick.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 1:39 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hachette was one of five publishers that illegally colluded with Apple to artificially raise e-book prices. I've got plenty of concerns about Amazon's market power too, but it's hard to have any love for the publishers in this fight. It helps that Amazon is just a fantastic consumer experience in almost every way.
posted by Nelson at 1:44 PM on August 11, 2014 [18 favorites]


Ebook are too expensive though.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:46 PM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


Likewise, it seems to me whoever wins this fight, the end result appears to be that we'll pay more for books and the majority of authors are going to be squeezed harder.

I have a smidgen of sympathy for Amazon, if only because they have started to break the ruinous premiums (maintained by this gang of 5) we Canuks pay for books compared to the US or the UK (why does the exact same ebook go for 20 to 50% more here?), but only a smidgen. Rooting for them feels like rooting for Walmart, after all.
posted by bonehead at 1:53 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I feel like one of those civilians on the ground as Mothera and Godzilla throw each other through buildings.
posted by The Whelk at 1:59 PM on August 11, 2014 [24 favorites]


Hachette was one of five publishers that illegally colluded with Apple to artificially raise e-book prices.

The prices were only low because Amazon were content to flood the markets with (below wholesale priced if necessary) $9.99 e-books. This was squeezing everybody out of the market. If the profit is always built into the margin it stops one big retailer dumping stock onto the market and bleeding its competitors dry hence the agency+MFN status that Apple negotiated with the publishers.

One could assume that once Amazon didn't have the ability to bleed its competitors dry it wouldn't be able to price >$10 wholesale e-books at $9.99 anymore and would have to be more realistic in its pricing. Whether you consider that collusion to increase prices (where the offered retail price could be at or under wholesale) is an exercise for the reader really.
posted by Talez at 2:03 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Scalzi's take is good, particularly the part where he links his post from last month with "Amazon is not your friend."

Also, the way Amazon distorted the George Orwell quote about paperbacks to suggest "Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion" when Orwell was actually praising the paperback's affordability is so disgusting it destroys any moral authority Amazon is claiming for authors and readers.

Seriously, that such a horrid misrepresentation of Orwell's point made it past the gazillion Amazon PR folks and lawyers says a lot about the idiocy of the suits at Amazon in this mess.
posted by mediareport at 2:04 PM on August 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


The Preston letter loses me right out the bat with "Amazon has done something unusual. It has directly targeted Hachette's authors." So Amazon buys those books and they're fulfilled by the authors?

Of course not, they're purchased and resold via an agreement with Hatchette. And Amazon is playing hardball with Hatchette by impeding sales and hitting Hatchette in the bottom line. If there was some product Amazon bought and resold from Hatchette that didn't involve an author I have no doubt they'd be doing that there too.

I have a lot of concerns about Amazon's position and their ability to cause market issues, not to mention questions about how they deal with their workers. I'm pretty underwhelmed to be involved in this contractual dispute between them and Hatchette (is this what social media has wrought? ugh) too.

But this claim that they're in some way directly punishing authors in some way is just dopey. Amazon's also losing out on some sales, surely, and that has an impact on fulfillment workers. If this impacts stock values that's going to hurt innocent factory workers who have shares in their retirement funds. UPS workers. Printing shops. Whatever. Once you deal with businesses as large as Amazon and Hatchette there will always be tons of people impacted in any business decision.

That doesn't make it negligible but it doesn't mean one aspect is personal. Or at least any given one bit can't be personal unless they all are.
posted by phearlez at 2:05 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Likewise, it seems to me whoever wins this fight, the end result appears to be that we'll pay more for books and the majority of authors are going to be squeezed harder.

Authors are liable to be screwed as Amazon demands more of the margin now that they've effectively cut off iBooks at its knees. MFN is anti-competitive my ass. Amazon can pull these stunts now that they know they're the only game in town. And they'll dump your product onto the market and stay the only game in town (with their stockholder's money) until you acquiesce.
posted by Talez at 2:09 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


But this claim that they're in some way directly punishing authors in some way is just dopey.

Huh? Amazon is the one who brought authors directly into the dispute, phearlez. Preston says Amazon told him it realized putting authors on the firing line "was the only leverage we had":

The most recent proposal would have Amazon selling Hachette books again, but with Hachette and Amazon giving their proceeds to charity.

No thanks, Mr. Preston said. A proposal that weakens Hachette by cutting its profits was not in the interests of Hachette’s authors. But he took the opportunity to ask Mr. Grandinetti why Amazon was squeezing the writers in the first place. His response, according to Mr. Preston: “This was the only leverage we had.” Amazon declined to comment.

posted by mediareport at 2:11 PM on August 11, 2014


Doesn't seem like amazon can win with e-books. If they charge more you get threads full of people yelling at the ridiculous prices and how they're not going to pay that much for an e-book and PIRATE BAY HERE WE COME but if amazon tries to force lower prices, well screw them for playing hardball.
posted by Justinian at 2:18 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Amazon are ruthless monopolists.

Let's not forget at at the point when the big six colluded over pricing with Apple, Amazon had 94% of the ebook market stitched up. (Their collusion was an attempt to break the market dominance.) Amazon are now down to a mere 80% of ebooks in the US, and 30% of all books sold. (They're still around 90% on ebook sales in the UK.)

This is pathological, and in earlier decades the DoJ would have been all over them, the way they were all over AT&T, IBM, Standard Oil, and Microsoft back in the day. Alas, those anti-trust lawsuits take decades and the internet sector moves so fast that any verdict against Amazon would come years too late to save the scorched wasteland, just as the DoJ probe into Microsoft was far too late to save MS's rivals in the desktop software sector in the 1980s and 1990s. Also, it'd cost tens of millions and irritate the hell out of the corporatocracy.

So the DoJ no longer goes after gigantic ruthless monopolies. And because they fumbled their first attempt at striking back against the big river co, the big publishers (who are collectively a third the size of Amazon -- Amazon is 50% bigger than Disney) are hamstrung.
posted by cstross at 2:20 PM on August 11, 2014 [26 favorites]


One could assume that once Amazon didn't have the ability to bleed its competitors dry...

Well maybe, but you're speculating on what Amazon might do in the future, a 180° turn for their business in the dastardly future.

On the other hand we had a very real DoJ investigation and lawsuit demonstrating that Apple and Hachette really collude to illegally fix prices of ebooks. No speculation required. Hachette is a known bad actor who is quite happy to break the law to screw consumers. I have worries about Amazon too, but it's hard to feel much sympathy for Hachette.

And lest we feel too sad for the poor authors whose ebooks are being sold cheaply.. In that period publishers were illegally fixing prices with Apple, Amazon started having to sell ebooks at higher prices than paper books. Despite the ebook in many ways being less valuable to the consumer, having no right of resale. ebooks should be cheaper than paper books. If the authors are getting screwed I'd look first to their contracts with publishers before looking down the chain to the retailers.

The best thing for everyone in the ecosystem will be more ebook channels. Amazon's near-monopoly on ebooks is a huge problem that only competition can solve. To be fair to Amazon, they got the monopoly by creating the ebook market in the first place. But it's time to displace them.
posted by Nelson at 2:24 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


A plague on both your houses.
posted by fullerine at 2:28 PM on August 11, 2014 [5 favorites]




This is pathological, and in earlier decades the DoJ would have been all over them,

Are e-books a meaningfully different market from books in general? I don't see anyone prosecuting iTunes for having a dominant position in digital music.
posted by smackfu at 2:34 PM on August 11, 2014


Are e-books a meaningfully different market from books in general? I don't see anyone prosecuting iTunes for having a dominant position in digital music.

Because iTunes doesn't buy tracks for 70 cents wholesale and then goes ahead and sells the tracks for 59c because that's where they believe the price should be. Anyone can (and does) compete with them on price and still makes a fair profit. iTunes gains sales from perceived benefits of a single company service and ecosystem inertia.
posted by Talez at 2:40 PM on August 11, 2014


Webcartoonist Christopher Wright also has a plague-on-both-your-houses take, although he dislikes Amazon slightly more:
Here is the secret to understanding my take on Amazon: they’re not part of the publishing industry, although the things they do certainly affect it. They’re not a service and retail company, though that is the way they make all their money. At its core, Amazon is and always has been part of the computer industry, and if you view them from that perspective their business practices should scare the shit out of you. {...} every company in the computer industry behaves like a sociopath. They will do good things for you for as long as there’s profit in it, but as soon as it reaches the point where they don’t have to, they immediately flip to abusing you, relentlessly, all the while telling you there’s nothing they can do about it, and it’s probably all your fault.
Now that Amazon has its Fire phone in addition to the Kindle tablet, is there any surprise that it's about to start burning its bridges behind it?
posted by Doktor Zed at 2:48 PM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


When you eliminate the dead tree factor, a book really is worth whatever you can get for it.
Market 101.

When you eliminate the dead tree factor, you can sell a book for whatever amount you want.
Market 101.

What is being played out here is the morality of the market.

Morality of the Market - there isn't any. Not for good guys, not for bad guys, not for anybody.
Market 101.

It's hard to say whether the trees are winning or not.
posted by Chitownfats at 2:49 PM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


Got that email, though the email address they offered there was already available elsewhere. Publishing is in a mess. It is a clash of the titans and the only losers usually are the authors...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 2:49 PM on August 11, 2014




I live a ten-minute walk from the best bookstore in Canada (number 13 on this list) and the largest used bookstore in Canada. There is absolutely no reason for me to use Amazon to buy books.
posted by Nevin at 2:54 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Solution: everyone move to Nevin's neighborhood.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:55 PM on August 11, 2014 [12 favorites]


Even $9.99 an ebook is not a sustainable media price in the current world economy. Amazon seems to be handling this badly, sooooo not arguing that, I have a friend who is one of the KDP authors and this was ridiculously stupid. But we can't pretend that they're just trying to put price pressure on because they're evil. They're operating in a world where books are part of an entertainment market with, for example, a mobile app market where people have decided that $2 is an unreasonably high price to pay for a game. I'm a reader but I'm a reader on a budget. I am on the side of authors getting paid and I am on the side of me getting reading material. Aside from that, Amazon and the publishers can all burn for all I care. Someone come up with a better way for authors to get their work to me than those companies and I will absolutely be there.
posted by Sequence at 2:58 PM on August 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


The used bookstore (Russell's) sort of surrounds (the bookstore keeps buying more and more space on the block as it expands) this really cool model shop that dates back to 1952.
posted by Nevin at 2:59 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Do the people who think Amazon is wrong here believe that e-book pricing at $15 or $20 is sustainable?
posted by Justinian at 3:05 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Do the people who think Amazon is wrong here believe that e-book pricing at $15 or $20 is sustainable?

If that price point is held indefinitely, then no. But that has never been the model. Most of that cost is the time premium - you get to own the book hot off the presses! But if you're not interested in the book right then and there, then you can wait, and the price point lowers. That model is sustainable, and we know this because we see it implemented successfully and sustainably over and over, both in the physical world and the digital one.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:14 PM on August 11, 2014


Do the people who think Amazon is wrong here believe that e-book pricing at $15 or $20 is sustainable?

The problem isn't that Amazon isn't lowering prices. It's dumping stock onto the market at below wholesale price where nobody else can literally compete. Yes consumers get cheap books right now but at what cost to a healthy, competitive marketplace? Plus there's the race to the bottom and authors are still paid according to both a percentage of the publisher's gross receipts on their book and this amount hasn't drastically increased for digital books which are sold at half or less of a hardcover even with the royalty rate on an ebook being 25% vs 15% of a hardcover.

At this rate nobody but the biggest 0.001% of authors will be able to afford to write full time. Meanwhile your favourite smaller author is probably looking down the barrel of a 15-35% pay cut.
posted by Talez at 3:17 PM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


It not being sustainable as a price for eBooks is kind of the point if you’re more interested in selling hardbacks and are desperately hoping all this electronic nonsense will go away.

(And you can bet that once they’d carved their niche Apple would be all over pushing publishers down to $9.99.)
posted by Artw at 3:22 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


It not being sustainable as a price for eBooks is kind of the point if you’re more interested in selling hardbacks and are desperately hoping all this electronic nonsense will go away.

I don't think so given the margins on ebooks is consistently (and sometimes dramatically) higher than hardcovers.
posted by Talez at 3:26 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Doktor Zed post: Adobe, is that you?? Corel?? Random game company???
posted by Chitownfats at 3:30 PM on August 11, 2014


I don't think so given the margins on ebooks is consistently (and sometimes dramatically) higher than hardcovers.

You're assuming publishers aren't hugely conservative and dumb as rocks.
posted by Artw at 3:32 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


You're assuming publishers aren't hugely conservative and dumb as rocks.

They managed to squeeze more blood from the author stone in the ebook transition so I'm very sure that their greed transcends any stupidity or technical illiteracy.
posted by Talez at 3:39 PM on August 11, 2014


At this rate nobody but the biggest 0.001% of authors will be able to afford to write full time. Meanwhile your favourite smaller author is probably looking down the barrel of a 15-35% pay cut.

Well, welcome to what we musicians have been feeling for about 10 years. It's a bummer, but it's the market. Amazon has enabled a lot of smaller authors to also make money off their work. Your Hugh Howeys may not be the rule in the future, but you can't argue that Amazon has cut off the ability of the smaller author to work. Just the smaller publisher.

Is something being lost? Undoubtedly. But if you really believe that it's going to end writing, please turn off your spotify, your pandora, your whatever, and only negotiate with musicians directly or through imprints that deal honestly with their clients. I mean, if you can find any.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:43 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Ebooks compete with every other type of media for my time. Most of that media has become free, or free ad-supported, or all-you-can-eat subscription-based. None of these things exist in a vacuum. $9.99 or more for a book is a bad deal in those terms, so I can and have shifted my spending away from new books.

Amazon wants to sell more books because Amazon wants to see more of everything. To this end they believe that if you lower the price of ebooks you more than make up for the price loss in increased volume. That would be a good scenario for everyone: publishers, Amazon and writers (all of whom would see more revenue and more books sold). I would like to see someone take this assertion head-on, instead of Amazon being an asshole or a tech company or whatever.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:48 PM on August 11, 2014


It's dumping stock onto the market at below wholesale price where nobody else can literally compete.

That's assuming that the big publishers and their wholesale prices are the only place one could possibly source books. Books aren't completely fungible, but they're not not-at-all fungible, either. Apple routinely sits on, what was it, 10% of the cash held by American non-finance industries? Something insane like that. Apple could buy a company the size of Random House with petty cash. You can't tell me that someone like Apple or Google has no possible way to bring books to market in such a way that it could compete with Amazon. Nobody has yet started throwing that kind of cash around, but that doesn't mean they couldn't.
posted by Sequence at 3:50 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm very sure that their greed transcends any stupidity or technical illiteracy.

Greed is a given. they just aren't very good at being greedy.

Or to put it a kinder way their fear of canibalising an old product outweighs their ability to imagine making money by selling more of a new one.
posted by Artw at 3:51 PM on August 11, 2014


Amazon wants to sell more books because Amazon wants to see more of everything. To this end they believe that if you lower the price of ebooks you more than make up for the price loss in increased volume. That would be a good scenario for everyone: publishers, Amazon and writers (all of whom would see more revenue and more books sold). I would like to see someone take this assertion head-on, instead of Amazon being an asshole or a tech company or whatever.

Several people have, as this is a reoccurring argument. The issue is that media is only somewhat fungible, so it's not clear at all whether or not a reduction in price will see a commensurate increase in sales. The result is that lowering the price point is a gamble, and not nearly the sure thing people make it out to be.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:59 PM on August 11, 2014


In particular, if someone started a competitor to KDP which provided editorial guidance and didn't accept literally anything and, most importantly, made it easier to navigate and search and share direct-published ebooks in such a way that authors would have more assurance that readers would be able to actually find their books on the basis of not just title but appealing content? I think that could get some real traction. I don't know if it would be a sound investment of the kind of money it would cost, but there are definitely companies that could afford to do that. Amazon's made it easy for authors to get listed but has not exactly done miracles for my ability to find stuff I want to read on impulse, which is the other side of those lower prices. The traditional publishers are doing nothing for me at all at this point, though. I strongly suspect most of them wouldn't even publish my favorite authors if they were just starting out today.
posted by Sequence at 4:00 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


That's assuming that the big publishers and their wholesale prices are the only place one could possibly source books. Books aren't completely fungible, but they're not not-at-all fungible, either.

For ebooks it certainly is a publisher only source and ebooks are completely unfungible. Amazon was (is?) paying $12-$14 on a wholesale ebook then turning around and selling it at $9.99.
posted by Talez at 4:01 PM on August 11, 2014


When, you know, both parties are exploitative gigantic multinationals that would sell little babies to Satan for tallow if they could.

If Satan lives in LA (and I think he might, right where I-10 and I-110 intersect), he can now get that tallow same day shipping from Amazon.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:20 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh wait. I think the babies would need to be shipped overnight, right? In that case... I can't think of anywhere appropriate to go with that joke.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:27 PM on August 11, 2014


The heart of the debate is if Amazon has the power to set the price of books, or the publisher who traditionally had that role. Amazon wants one size fits all. Publishers want freedom to set price based on needs of each individual book (some books have low cost, others high, depends how many people worked on it and for how long). If Amazon gets a 1-size fits all price then the quality books will suffer, the low-end craptastic will be more common.
posted by stbalbach at 4:27 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Faught?
posted by klangklangston at 4:28 PM on August 11, 2014


WELP looks like it's time for the department of justice to do the right thing and go after Apple again
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:32 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile your favourite smaller author is probably looking down the barrel of a 15-35% pay cut.

Welcome to the disappearing middle class and the growing working poor. Welcome to most everybody on the planet.
posted by juiceCake at 4:37 PM on August 11, 2014


Lee Goldberg asks, where is the outrage over brick and mortar stores refusing to carry Amazon’s print imprints, in his Letter to Douglas Preston

The short answer regarding why this isn't seen as hypocrisy in the public consciousness is that Amazon is in a position of power, and questions of social justice these days tend to encourage different rules for different players as long as that power imbalance continues. So even if Goldberg's point is a good one, no one will take up Amazon's cause because the end concern isn't about hypocrisy and whether basic questions of fairness go both directions, but about winning a particular power struggle through any means possible in the present moment.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:44 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Faught?

It's the Penn Dutch spelling for fucked.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:55 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Last year when I got my iPad I thought, hey I can buy comics. I started shopping on Marvel's website for digital versions of some classics. Yikes! It took me about fifteen minutes of shopping to realize that Marvel made no differentiation between ones/zeoes and an actual hardcover omnibus. I expect to pay a fair price but their pricing model was ridiculous. And yet, I'm sure the writer/author got a diminished % because it's just e-books. A plague on all their houses.
posted by Ber at 5:34 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile your favourite smaller author is probably looking down the barrel of a 15-35% pay cut.

Welcome to the disappearing middle class and the growing working poor. Welcome to most everybody on the planet.


Authors, unless spectacularly lucky, were not even making middle class incomes off their work before this.
posted by winna at 5:36 PM on August 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


Applying the idea of "wholesale" pricing to digital media is pretty silly. This whole thing is really messy partly because of completely misused metaphors.
posted by odinsdream at 5:52 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


They're operating in a world where books are part of an entertainment market with, for example, a mobile app market where people have decided that $2 is an unreasonably high price to pay for a game.

I'm going to go with the argument that books are still the largest conduit of new ideas, particularly ideas that are large enough to require, well, a book to express them. There are many books that have changed the world, clearly and substantially. Surely some works in other media have also but I personally don't believe as many.

I don't want to sound like a smarty pants elitist, but if the argument is that the price of a book should be determined by its entertainment value relative to Candy Crush Saga and Angry Birds, I say that that argument fails to recognize a difference in kind. Books can be entertaining; good ones can do much more.
posted by newdaddy at 5:53 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


If Satan lives in LA (and I think he might, right where I-10 and I-110 intersect), he can now get that tallow same day shipping from Amazon.

Satan is a PhD candidate at USC?
posted by wcfields at 6:14 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


books are still the largest conduit of new ideas, particularly ideas that are large enough to require, well, a book to express them.

I read my Marx electronically now. Piketty too!
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:15 PM on August 11, 2014


newdaddy: "I don't want to sound like a smarty pants elitist, but if the argument is that the price of a book should be determined by its entertainment value relative to Candy Crush Saga and Angry Birds, I say that that argument fails to recognize a difference in kind. Books can be entertaining; good ones can do much more."

But there need to be enough likeminded consumers, and there just aren't. In high school I loved reading the novels of Stevenson, Sterling and Gibson. But don't read cyberpunk fiction anymore, I play card games like Android: Netrunner, and video games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

The price of a book has to maximize profits under the function Profit = Price * Sales while still exceeding up front, oneoff costs, like author's advance. I'm a price conscious guy who subscribes to /r/gamedeals, regrets Steam sales, and participates in the used goods markets. If you want to charge me more for an ebook than a new copy with no option of resale, because books are a different, more expensive kind of experience, I'll just be checking out the newly discounted The Fall instead.

And there's enough people like me that you can't set the Price high and maximize Sales. Not to be fighty about this, but in a sense it is elitist to project your preference onto the market at large. It doesn't much matter that you love books more and more each day, or that I basically stopped buying books two decades ago. What matters most is what the median buyer thinks, and how their thinking over time shifts. Surely the fact that so many great games, movies and streaming subscription shows are available has to factor in there somewhere.
posted by pwnguin at 6:24 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Amazon has actually created a pricing floor for ebooks at $2.99; below that point you can only get 30% royalty instead of 70%. When one of my fans asked about publishing my fucked up web novel for the Kindle my first thought was to go for the dollar model but I didn't think that was fair to the guy who would be doing all the formatting work.

That means he, Amazon, and I are getting about 33% each, which actually seems fair. As an author I don't think I'm getting hosed by Amazon. I do think that authors who are seeing publishers take an 80% or 90% cut of their Amazon 70% cut are getting hosed, though, and it's not by Amazon. Traditional royalty structures are based on all kinds of assumptions about investment, dead trees, printing costs, and shipping which do not apply for ebooks.

As for the traditional publishers -- oh that would be the people who wouldn't piss on my book despite the thousands of emails I've gotten from people who say it's not just good but one of the best or most affecting things they've ever read -- well, I suppose they served a purpose at one point but so did buggy whips.

My wife recently informed me that the author of a One Direction fanfic got a multi-hundred-K book contract despite the fact that it will be necessary to change the band members' names and so on to actually publish her work. True the fic got 800,000 hits but still seriously WTF. If you want to be paid for your input at least pretend to be trying.
posted by localroger at 6:49 PM on August 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


Oh, and the wife just reminded me: 50 Shades. What else is there to say?
posted by localroger at 6:51 PM on August 11, 2014


Authors, unless spectacularly lucky, were not even making middle class incomes off their work before this.

I'm aware of that of course. It's just that authors are not going to get any special consideration for these things given that almost no one else is. Eventually, probably pretty soon, most people won't be able to afford to buy the products they produce in factories (I am aware this largely already true for most of the workers in factories) or they won't be able to buy what they sell at the workplaces they work at. We're going full sweatshop for most of the world, first, second, and third and it's a vicious circle because we might only be able to buy very cheap things which ensures that producers, particularly in the arts and in any sort of humanitarian field, or maybe outside of any field other than politics and finance, will also not get paid much.

Corporations, shareholders, and those who run them live in an entirely different world. A world of right now and bugger everyone and everything else.

If everyone made a fair wage, or most people, $9.99 versus $12.99 wouldn't be a big deal but the system is such that even though there is a ton of money floating around, only a very few apparently deserve it. Exploitation is a business model that is openly embraced these days and they really don't give a fuck about what the common people think of it. Hell, a lot of them admire it for some reason.
posted by juiceCake at 7:09 PM on August 11, 2014


If Amazon gets a 1-size fits all price then the quality books will suffer, the low-end craptastic will be more common.

This is an argument regularly advanced by publishers, but it feels a bit elitist and our patronising to me. Take a look at the 100 best sellers in any Kindle category you care to name. The vast, vast majority are self published cheapies - and I can tell you from experience that whilst there are a few diamonds in the rough, just about all of them are what I would call poorly written. But people are happy buying them, reading them, and rating them a gobsmacking five stars.

This suggests to me that a market in cheap, crappy books is something consumers are pretty happy about. I don't think we should force them to pay more for a type of book that don't want to read built around a publishing model that's practically ancient.

I have no sympathy for the big publishers. They're are dozens of small presses that have grown hugely as a result of ebooks. The big publishers could have established this market, and led it. They are not even attempting to catch up, preferring a desperate rearguard measure that simply won't work. Market incumbents ignore then fail to respond to innovation, not a new story.
posted by smoke at 7:24 PM on August 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


Amazon are ruthless monopolists.

How on earth is Amazon a monopoly? Amazon is a marketplace, a reseller. Amazon does not hold a monopoly over Hatchette books because Hatchette can choose to withdraw their books from Amazon's marketplace at any point.

There are other online marketplaces out there, and Hatchette should use those if they wish to have control over their books. Hatchette should roll their own DRM and have a Kindle Unlimited-like subscription. Think of it like a book subscription, where you'd get one book a day. Imagine a subscription to FSG, or Penguin, etc.

--

On another note, I don't understand why the price elasticity of ebooks isn't understood more, and why people are talking only about the price of one eBook. It does indeed to me seem like a win-win scenario for the publisher and Amazon to have more revenue, for customers to buy cheaper books, and for the author to have more readers.

Indie games are similar to ebooks: they have a high development cost up-front but low distribution costs (let's talk about games without server costs), they are not fungible, they require a time commitment by the gamer/reader, and no more than one item is 'consumed' by one person. Yet Steam, or Humble Bundle, or other forms of digital distribution mechanisms that lower prices strategically result in larger revenue. Sources: 1 2 3 4 5

A reseller trying to lower the price of eBooks is not necessarily anti-author in the way that Steam trying to lower the price of a video game is anti-video-game developer. Lower eBook prices don't necessarily mean lower revenue for the author - as Amazon points out, it may mean higher revenue. So why is Amazon the 'bad guy' for distributing Hatchette's products that they don't have any control over in order to increase revenue for everyone involved and to compete against other forms of media?
posted by suedehead at 7:26 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


As I see it Amazon has screwed up by picking the same fight with Disney. If it couldn't break Hatchet does it think it stands a chance against Disney? Really?
posted by oddman at 7:40 PM on August 11, 2014


Some fights are started because the party believes that the repercussions of not having the fight are worse than those of losing it.
posted by phearlez at 8:03 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


And there's enough people like me that you can't set the Price high and maximize Sales. Not to be fighty about this, but in a sense it is elitist to project your preference onto the market at large.

But it's not at all elitist to value having shared, common cultural touchstones, values, and institutions in a society--even one as diverse as ours. Finding things in common with those around you and seeking to find commonality with the members of your society and community is precisely the opposite of the elitist mindset, I believe. Maybe by fragmenting ourselves into so many little tiny isolated markets, we're all becoming a little too protective of what we value uniquely for ourselves within those little reality bubbles, in the same way real elitists tend to become too protective of their own lot.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:24 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


So maybe we should try to find more things we all agree we like and buy them somehow. (I know I'm wishing for miracles here.) Then we could save the quality of books and end this dispute all in one blow.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:25 PM on August 11, 2014


Yes, Hachette and Amazon are both companies that just want to make more money. However Hachette doesn't a have nearly the power over me that Amazon has. This whole spat has reminded me that I really should start using viable internet retailers that aren't Amazon now while there's still, well, viable internet retailers that aren't Amazon.

Newegg and tigerdirect for computers and electronics. Ok. Although electronics is kind of meh at both of those places...
Books? Well honestly, SF public library is where most of mine come from these days... I've been meaning to replace my nook with one that has a backlight, maybe Kobo? Damn you Amazon why did you have to get a functional monopoly on e-ink readers?
I never actually used Amazon for streaming music or video, and that one has plenty of options still.

But there's some things I really don't know what to replace.

Cheap DVDs? (Why is there so much stuff out there I still can't stream damnit!)
Cooking tools?
Small appliances? (Ok, it's not like I buy a ton of them... but it's nice for there to be a place to go when you need, say, a new toaster.)
Tools? Why isn't there a well known
All that stuff you'd get at someplace like Target or Walgreens?
etc etc

It's actually scary how much I've come to depend on Amazon.
posted by aspo at 9:09 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am not suggesting that all e-books should be sold at $9.99, or any specific price. But there should be an opportunity in the market for some books to sell at higher than commodity pricing, and for some of those profits to flow back to the author and the editor. There are lots of great books that appeal to small markets. This is a derail though.

The crux of the Preston letter is the assertion that Amazon is cynically using individual authors and their household finances as hostages in this fight, which is less about the value of elastic prices and more about who gets to decide where the profits go.
posted by newdaddy at 11:58 PM on August 11, 2014


My wife recently informed me that the author of a One Direction fanfic got a multi-hundred-K book contract despite the fact that it will be necessary to change the band members' names and so on to actually publish her work. True the fic got 800,000 hits but still seriously WTF. If you want to be paid for your input at least pretend to be trying.

Fanfiction is an art form nearly universally shat on because it's written by young women and it's often sexual but it's a fucking awesome way for new writers to get feedback on their work, practice writing, build a fan base, etc. A lot of my favorite writers got their start in fanfic. I'm sorry your experience with traditional publishing was bad but getting your knickers in a twist because some writers of ~lower value~ work like fic managed to make good with it just makes you look like an asshole.
posted by NoraReed at 12:57 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Plus, quality aside, 50 Shades of Grey started life as fanfic. You bet agents are looking at fanfic now.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:22 AM on August 12, 2014


Cheap DVDs? (Why is there so much stuff out there I still can't stream damnit!)

If you haven't checked it out in a while (or ever), DeepDiscountDVDs.com has moved from being mostly remainders and direct to DVD crap to actually having a fair amount of stuff a person might want to buy.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:42 AM on August 12, 2014


Plus, quality aside, 50 Shades of Grey started life as fanfic.

This is kind of exactly the case I was making. It's not that fanfic is inferior by nature, but that the criteria being used to decide these things are shitty.
posted by localroger at 5:33 AM on August 12, 2014


Chuck Wendig weighs in.
posted by newdaddy at 6:15 AM on August 12, 2014


My wife recently informed me that the author of a One Direction fanfic got a multi-hundred-K book contract despite the fact that it will be necessary to change the band members' names and so on to actually publish her work. True the fic got 800,000 hits but still seriously WTF. If you want to be paid for your input at least pretend to be trying.

800,000 readers already, and it can be published more-or-less as-is after some find-replace? Seems like a pretty solid business case for a large contract.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:44 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


This is kind of exactly the case I was making. It's not that fanfic is inferior by nature, but that the criteria being used to decide these things are shitty.

"Will this, with a little editing, sell a metric shit-ton of copies? And will this allow us to pay our employees, and to publish poetry books and literary novels that may make very little or no money at all?"

That seems like a pretty sensible criterion. A lot of people in publishing are very, very glad of 50 Shades, and The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter, even if they have no interest in reading them.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:49 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


aspo, that is actually something that is a function of the Internet - it trends towards monopoly, by its very nature.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:52 AM on August 12, 2014


I already pre-ordered Ancillary Sword (Hachette) on Amazon back in April, but now you cannot find it on Amazon's site as a kindle book. Ancillary Justice, the first book in the series, won a Nebula for best novel. I would like to pay what the publisher needs to keep books and authors like this going (within reason), so while right now I am buying all my ebooks off Kindle, I now read them on my smartphone. I really need to find a better Android app/ebook marketplace because the behavior just makes me mad.
posted by typecloud at 7:57 AM on August 12, 2014


50 Shades, and The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter

One of these things is not like the others.

One of these things just doesn't belong.
posted by jeather at 7:58 AM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I find Kobo not worse than Amazon for ebook buying, though they're somewhat more expensive.
posted by jeather at 7:59 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


jeather: "One of these things is not like the others."

It's true, only one of them was written by an American.
posted by pwnguin at 8:50 AM on August 12, 2014


One of these things is not like the others.

Well, this is really about sales, not quality or target audience. See also Lee Child's Reacher novels (Random House again), or Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, which kept the wolves from Quercus' door for a while and allowed it to resist consolidation.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:04 AM on August 12, 2014


Hugh Howey has responded to Jeremy Greefield's question about whether it's actually in an indie author's best interest for them to be competing with Hachette author's with the same low price point by saying:

...expecting others to act only in their self-interest says far more about the people asking that question than the other way around. Whoever is out there expecting people to only be selfish and to maximize their own earnings are the people I’m curious about. What drives them? What a weird way to look at the world. What a sad way to look at the world."

Also, next up, HarperCollins vs. Amazon
posted by Toekneesan at 9:55 AM on August 12, 2014


Will this, with a little editing, sell a metric shit-ton of copies?

Except that they aren't doing the editing. Where is the value they are allegedly adding? It's not hard at all to find long lists of all the things wrong with 50 Shades, none of which is that it is softcore BDSM porn that started out as Twilight fanfic with the names changed and the vampire changed to a billionaire. And my wife, who has read the One Direction fanfic in question, does not expect it to turn out much better.

It may not be about quality for the publishers if they can con people into buying inferior garbage for inflated prices, but serving as gatekeepers to keep the quality up is their biggest argument for justifying their own existence, and all the evidence is that they're phoning that part in.
posted by localroger at 10:33 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


You have a very idiosyncratic idea about what publishing is, I think, localroger, and what it's for.
It may not be ideal, and you clearly don't think it is, but finding books that will sell millions of copies and selling those millions of copies is what a reasonable chunk of the publishing business, and ancillary industries such as agents and editors is set up to do. "Serving as gatekeepers to keep the quality up" here means ensuring that characters' names do not change in mid-book (which may mean making sure that the Harry Styles character is consistently called Barry and not Harry throughout), that sentences end, that the pages are printed in order and not upside down, and that large numbers of books are able to be shipped to meet demand around the world.

A significant chunk of the traditional publishing business is still based around paper books - and indeed the selling of paper books in Target rather than tiny local bookshops - and specifically around meeting seasonal demand for paper books. Slim volumes of poetry are great, literary novels are great, film rights for that matter are terrific, but making sure that the Barnes and Noble in Lubbock has 30 copies of 50 Shades of Grey to meet an expected demand of 28 copies in the first week of December? Also part of the job.

I am sure your book is a fine book, and I am sure that your wife is a fine judge of One Direction fanfic, but I fear that sometimes the world is not constructed as we might wish it were. If the One Direction fanfic writer produces a book that "does not turn out much better" than the over 100 million-selling 50 Shades of Grey series, I think the agent, editor and publisher involved in it will probably be able to choke back their self-reproach.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:58 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


ROSF I don't think my ideas about publishing are particularly idiosyncratic. I believe that you should get paid for delivering a service, and when you are not delivering a service you should not expect to get paid for it.

The services delivered by the traditional publishing industry were physical production, gatekeeping, editing, and book design. For this they typically took 80% to 90% of the payment for the book leaving 10% to 20% for the author. And that wasn't really unfair because there are a lot of risks and labor associated with those services.

For ebooks physical production is a tiny fraction of what it is for paper books. The industry abandoned gatekeeping in the 1980's when they decided it was too much labor to read the slush pile and decided it was OK to depend almost entirely on known quantities, even when they were past prime and putting out crap, and friends of the editor ditto. Lately you can add "crap that has gone visibly viral" to that list.

Book design is a minor shadow of what it once was in ebook land; they do still need to do a cover I suppose.

That leaves editing. If they are not doing the editing either why in the fuck do they think they deserve the same $14.99 per copy they get for trade paperbacks?

It is true that they are managing of late to cruise on good promotion of bad work but there is a limit to how far that can be expected to go. Eventually people will learn that they can get their shitty fanfic from the source for free or for $2.99. 50 Shades is approaching epic status in this regard, as so many people are not bothering to keep their copies that the secondhand book trade is choked with them.
posted by localroger at 1:16 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Would folks making the same arguments again and again about price elasticity please go read Scalzi's fisking, particularly the first two points? It was linked in the FPP, addresses the arguments about buying more books when they're cheaper, and will at least give something new to respond to, rather than just repeating the notion that more cheap equals better.
posted by klangklangston at 3:44 PM on August 12, 2014


OK, from Scalzi's article:
Amazon’s assumptions don’t include, for example, that publishers and authors might have a legitimate reason for not wanting the gulf between eBook and physical hardcover pricing to be so large that brick and mortar retailers suffer, narrowing the number of venues into which books can sell.
Well boo hoo. Hey, ebooks exist, they're inherently cheaper than paper, and most people know this.

Brick and mortar booksellers are going to suffer; they are on the wrong side of a technological shift that can't be undone. This doesn't mean they will be going completely away, although there will certainly be some kind of restructuring. A self-published Kindle copy of my book is $2.99; a self-published POD paper copy is $14.95, which is a bit high because it's POD. The book is also available online for free if you don't mind reading it in a browser.

And Kindle copies sell despite the free version, and paper copies sell despite the Kindle version. They sell well enough that at this point I have more readers, it's much more widely known, and have made more money than I'd probably have made if the story was just published as a generic backlist first novel back in 2003.

The paper version exists because people begged me to make it available despite the presence of the free web version, and the Kindle version exists for the same reason. If I'd insisted on charging >$10 for the Kindle version so as not to threaten my paper sales, well, I'd have been a fucking idiot.

I think Kindle is going to be the paperback of the future, and paper of any form a luxury product which is bought for display or specialized reasons like wanting to read it in the bathtub (real email). And paperbacks don't cost the same as hardbacks for damn good reasons.
I think Amazon taking a moment to opine that authors should get 35% of revenues for their eBooks is a nice bit of trying to rally authors to their point of view by drawing their attention away...
Well, actually I think it's Amazon's way of pointing out that when publishers aren't having to do the hard work of production and distribution, which ebooks make unnecessary, or gatekeeping and editing which they have been slagging on since the 1980's, maybe the person who is still doing the same amount of work, the writer, should be getting more of the money.

I actually think 35% is a fair point if the publishers actually edit, and I'm happy that I landed in that zone with the fan who published my Kindle version, who was a big Kindle fan and brought a lot of valuable understanding of the platform and knowledge of how to pull off a good conversion.

That said, I don't consider Amazon my friend either and opted out of Amazon Direct precisely because of the language in the license he mentions. But that doesn't mean the publishers are any better, and at least Amazon fucking does something to earn their money. Meanwhile the publishing industry wants to get the same cut it always has despite doing none of the work to earn it.

I'm sure that if they thought they could get away with the Darth Vader contract terms, they'd be doing the exact same thing.
posted by localroger at 5:05 PM on August 12, 2014


Well boo hoo. Hey, ebooks exist,

I have to say, I think the snarky and/or patronizing tone of some of these arguments is getting in the way of judging them on their actual merits. Nobody is challenging the notion that e-books exist.

Lots of paintings sell for more than the cost of their materials. That an e-book would be most convenient for readers if it were free, or sold at commodity pricing, doesn't mean that, in the long run, that is the price that best benefits the entire enterprise.
posted by newdaddy at 6:29 PM on August 12, 2014


Nobody is suggesting that ebooks be free or sold for commodity pricing. What they are suggesting is that they be sold for a price that provides a fair amount of revenue to each of the actors which made the book available to be bought.

If the split is $3 for amazon, $10 for the "publisher," and $1 for the person who wrote the book, someone is making out like a bandit.
posted by localroger at 6:35 PM on August 12, 2014


Also: I really have no problem with Amazon, the publisher (assuming they do some editing and quality control) and author all getting around $3.

The publishers have the stupid fantasy that if they keep ebook prices comparable to book prices they will be able to prop up their obsolete trade in paper products. That's not gonna happen, though. Before there was a Kindle version there were PDF conversions of my book by people who wanted to read it on portable readers, in violation of the license. Not that I'm the sort to get bent out of shape about that, but it's the writing on the wall, folks.
posted by localroger at 6:41 PM on August 12, 2014


I have to say, I think the snarky and/or patronizing tone of some of these arguments is getting in the way of judging them on their actual merits. Nobody is challenging the notion that e-books exist.

I would imagine especially not John Scalzi, who sells quite a few ebooks.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:50 PM on August 12, 2014


Also while nobody may be challenging the fact that ebooks exist, certain players are very obviously acting like they want to pretend they don't in making up their priciing structures.
posted by localroger at 6:58 PM on August 12, 2014


I want to go back to something I said above: ebooks have no resale value. It is not possible to sell a used ebook, nor (generally) loan an ebook to a friend, and it's damn awkward for a library to lend ebooks to patrons. In pretty much every way the brave new world of ebook licensing is a big gift to authors and publishers. That publishers turn around and see ebooks as a threat and treat the pioneer of selling ebooks as enemy #1 betrays their terrible lack of imagination and foresight.
posted by Nelson at 7:08 PM on August 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


"Well boo hoo. Hey, ebooks exist, they're inherently cheaper than paper, and most people know this."

That doesn't answer his point that decreasing the viability of bookstores or the broader point that the assumption of elasticity only works if you assume Amazon is the only retailer.

"Brick and mortar booksellers are going to suffer; they are on the wrong side of a technological shift that can't be undone. This doesn't mean they will be going completely away, although there will certainly be some kind of restructuring. A self-published Kindle copy of my book is $2.99; a self-published POD paper copy is $14.95, which is a bit high because it's POD. The book is also available online for free if you don't mind reading it in a browser."

The fuck do I care how much your book costs? Triumphalist techno-dogma and vague hand-waving over "restructuring" don't support your point.

"And Kindle copies sell despite the free version, and paper copies sell despite the Kindle version. They sell well enough that at this point I have more readers, it's much more widely known, and have made more money than I'd probably have made if the story was just published as a generic backlist first novel back in 2003."

So what? This still doesn't address his point, and is generalizing from a non-representative sample. It's great that non-traditional publishing is working for you. That doesn't mean that it's working well for everyone, or that the shift to a more digital marketplace is an unvarnished good.

"The paper version exists because people begged me to make it available despite the presence of the free web version, and the Kindle version exists for the same reason. If I'd insisted on charging >$10 for the Kindle version so as not to threaten my paper sales, well, I'd have been a fucking idiot."

Maybe. You may still well be. But that doesn't mean that's the right choice for every book. I mean, your first clue for, "Hey, maybe basing all my rebuttal off of a myopic rendering of my own situation isn't going to convince anyone," should have been that you offer a free version of your entire book already.

And your contentions are doubly useless when applied to people for whom writing is their primary income source.

"I think Kindle is going to be the paperback of the future, and paper of any form a luxury product which is bought for display or specialized reasons like wanting to read it in the bathtub (real email). And paperbacks don't cost the same as hardbacks for damn good reasons."

The first obnoxious thing about pronouncements like this is that they ignore that HOW these transitions happen matters, and the FPP is about that. The second obnoxious thing is that even accepting the cyber-prophecy, you're proclaiming that a single platform through a single distributor is the future. No one else is going to come up with a viable way to sell ebooks or a viable ebook device? Which is why, again, how these transitions happen matters and why a mix of shallow dismissals and narcissistic puffery isn't sufficient to rebut the claims.

"Well, actually I think it's Amazon's way of pointing out that when publishers aren't having to do the hard work of production and distribution, which ebooks make unnecessary, or gatekeeping and editing which they have been slagging on since the 1980's, maybe the person who is still doing the same amount of work, the writer, should be getting more of the money."

Uh, you know that publishers still do have to do the hard work of production and distribution for ebooks, right? I mean, that'd be a thing to realize before shooting your mouth off. It's different, it's not as physically intensive, but you're a little old to believe that ebooks are magic that spring from Word docs to designed production copies in a myriad of conflicting file formats.

But more to the point, you ignored that this is Amazon telling the publishers that they should pay more out of their own pockets while ceding price control to Amazon. That's a terrible fucking argument, and one with such disingenuousness that Amazon should be ashamed.

"But that doesn't mean the publishers are any better, and at least Amazon fucking does something to earn their money. Meanwhile the publishing industry wants to get the same cut it always has despite doing none of the work to earn it."

Sorry, man, this is just more ipse dixit bullshit.

"I'm sure that if they thought they could get away with the Darth Vader contract terms, they'd be doing the exact same thing."

Yes, they would. These are two business concerns who are astroturfing over a business dispute. Presenting this as a moral cause a la the letter is inane.
posted by klangklangston at 12:37 AM on August 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well Klang I don't have any idea why you are so fucking hostile about this, but you're so intent on being mad at me that you obviously don't understand half of what I said at all.

Well boo hoo
...
That doesn't answer his point that decreasing the viability of bookstores or the broader point that the assumption of elasticity only works if you assume Amazon is the only retailer.


That's because it wasn't about elasticity or Amazon being the only retailer. It was about the fact that the old business models are hosed and new ones will have to be ironed out.

One of the most glaring stupidities Scalzi commits is:
that publishers and authors might have a legitimate reason for not wanting the gulf between eBook and physical hardcover pricing to be so large that brick and mortar retailers suffer, narrowing the number of venues into which books can sell
Well duh, I'm sure they don't want that at all, any more than the music industry wanted those easily distributed and copied digital song files eroding their market for entire albums which you had to buy even if youi only wanted two songs and which you regularly had to replace when they physically wore out. How'd that work out for them?

I think brick and mortar booksellers have a somewhat better future than brick and morter music stores had, but it's still not going to be pretty, and trying to prevent that ugliness by fixing the prices will work about as well as it did for the music people. History has spoken.

The fuck do I care how much your book costs?

Maybe because it is a concrete example of how Amazon's version of how it would work actually worked out, contrary to what the publishers claim?

And your contentions are doubly useless when applied to people for whom writing is their primary income source.

News flash! People for whom writing is their primary income source are a very tiny minority of professional writers. Despite my infamously unpublished novel I have been paid for both my writing and photography, enough that for years at a time I've had to file quarterly tax returns. I am a professional writer too, and a much more typical example of one than jscalzi.

And frankly, I'm just as glad that childhood dream of doing it full-time didn't work out because thanks to the publishers long before Amazon came along being a full time professional writer who is not in the top 0.01% has fucking sucked. Maybe you should ask Norman Spinrad about it instad of jscalzi.

No one else is going to come up with a viable way to sell ebooks or a viable ebook device?

Barnes & Noble tried that and Amazon won. Face it, they are the ebook market for at least a generation. It will take someone with at least half a billion dollars to invest to seriously challenge them now and nobody with that kind of cash believes in the market for printed words enough to go there now.

Uh, you know that publishers still do have to do the hard work of production and distribution for ebooks, right?

Dangit, how could I have forgotten! Of course they have to kill trees to print each and every ebook, and expensively ship those dead treebooks to the bookstores where many of them will go unsold and be shipped back sans covers to be incinerated. What with all those continuing expenses it makes perfect sense to charge the same for a dead tree book as an ebook with the same kind of production expenses.

THAT was snark. This is not: Yeah, publishers still have to do book design, which I mentioned upthread. This is a different game though than it is with printed books and still a very small one-time expense compared with manufacturing and shipping costs for physical objects. People aren't stupid and as the music industry learned they will know they're being ripped off and respond in kind if you try to charge them the same for an electronically distributed file as you did for a physical item that had to be made and delivered to you.

just more ipse dixit bullshit

So you managed to find a way to be an asshole even about the paragraph we pretty much agree on. Congratulations.

Presenting this as a moral cause a la the letter is inane.

Of course it would be if I had done that. This is a business reality.

The whole industry pretty much stopped doing its job between 1975 and 1985 because it found it could get away with that, because there was no competition. Well, now it has competition, and they're all OH SHIT THE WORLD IS ENDING and fuck them.

The last thing publishing houses had going for them was that a pro published book with an ISBN and the name of a non-vanity house on it must have at least passed by a few professionals who weeded out the shit and fixed the problems. Well, that's no longer the case. Upthread Tomorrowfull suggested that it was just great business practice for a publisher to find-replace the One Direction band member names and publish an amateur fanfic with a guaranteed audience. And it is until you ruin your brand doing crap like that. Now that those professionals have given us 50 Shades who would trust them any more than they trust the Amazon customer reviews which don't care who published you?
posted by localroger at 3:16 PM on August 13, 2014


"Well Klang I don't have any idea why you are so fucking hostile about this, but you're so intent on being mad at me that you obviously don't understand half of what I said at all."

I understand it. It's pretty banal. And I'm not mad, I'm just annoyed at your glib bullshit like, "Well boo hoo."

"That's because it wasn't about elasticity or Amazon being the only retailer. It was about the fact that the old business models are hosed and new ones will have to be ironed out."

o_0

From Scalzi: "I think Amazon’s math checks out quite well, as long as you have the ground assumption that Amazon is the only distributor of books that publishers or authors (or consumers, for that matter) should ever have to consider." You even quote from further in. You do not rebut the assertion; you merely assert that bookstores are doomed.

"Well duh, I'm sure they don't want that at all, any more than the music industry wanted those easily distributed and copied digital song files eroding their market for entire albums which you had to buy even if youi only wanted two songs and which you regularly had to replace when they physically wore out. How'd that work out for them?"

This is vapid jibberjabber that does not address the point, and is (as your rhetoric is generally) overly reliant on a music business analogy without noting salient differences, e.g. that radio gave a model of low-cost consumer consumption that books don't really have, among others.

"I think brick and mortar booksellers have a somewhat better future than brick and morter music stores had, but it's still not going to be pretty, and trying to prevent that ugliness by fixing the prices will work about as well as it did for the music people. History has spoken."

History has spoken often, but rarely as clearly as prognosticators have claimed. Hell, the music industry hasn't collapsed the way that people (including you) claim either: Physical albums still dominate music sales, and the effects of piracy are wildly overstated. Ironically, by parroting the wide-eyed claims of music label conglomerates, you're acting as a stooge for the industry you decry. The changes in the music industry have been much, much more complicated than you're letting on.

"Maybe because it is a concrete example of how Amazon's version of how it would work actually worked out, contrary to what the publishers claim?"

Is it a representative example? No. Does that mean generalizations from it are at best weak? Yes.

"News flash! People for whom writing is their primary income source are a very tiny minority of professional writers. Despite my infamously unpublished novel I have been paid for both my writing and photography, enough that for years at a time I've had to file quarterly tax returns. I am a professional writer too, and a much more typical example of one than jscalzi."

News flash? Thanks Matt Lauer. Getting paid for writing is necessary but not sufficient to claim that your interests represent authors' interests. The majority of authors who contract their work to publishers either are or would like to be people for whom writing is their primary income source, and the publishing industry is set up with that as a norm. I'm glad that you've gotten paid for your writing, but that still doesn't make your opinions on the publishing industry very relevant. (Guess what? I've been paid for my writing and photography too! For years that was my primary income source! My experience of being a magazine writer, however, is not something that has a lot of weight in an argument over book distribution.)

"And frankly, I'm just as glad that childhood dream of doing it full-time didn't work out because thanks to the publishers long before Amazon came along being a full time professional writer who is not in the top 0.01% has fucking sucked. Maybe you should ask Norman Spinrad about it instad of jscalzi."

And the grapes, they're so sour!

"Barnes & Noble tried that and Amazon won. Face it, they are the ebook market for at least a generation. It will take someone with at least half a billion dollars to invest to seriously challenge them now and nobody with that kind of cash believes in the market for printed words enough to go there now."

When you say things like that I think that either you don't know how long a generation is, or you have no longterm memory. Or do you think that Blackberry was the smart phone of a generation? It's idiotic and contradictory to insist on a fixed platform in a dynamic system while decrying older fixed models.

"Dangit, how could I have forgotten! Of course they have to kill trees to print each and every ebook, and expensively ship those dead treebooks to the bookstores where many of them will go unsold and be shipped back sans covers to be incinerated. What with all those continuing expenses it makes perfect sense to charge the same for a dead tree book as an ebook with the same kind of production expenses."

It's OK to say that you don't know things. You could have just answered "No, I have no fucking idea what I'm talking about, but my therapist says that posting ignorant whining about traditional publishing helps ease my impotent rage."

"THAT was snark. This is not: Yeah, publishers still have to do book design, which I mentioned upthread. This is a different game though than it is with printed books and still a very small one-time expense compared with manufacturing and shipping costs for physical objects. People aren't stupid and as the music industry learned they will know they're being ripped off and respond in kind if you try to charge them the same for an electronically distributed file as you did for a physical item that had to be made and delivered to you."

It's OK to say that you don't know things. You could have just answered "No, I have no fucking idea what I'm talking about, but my therapist says that posting ignorant whining about traditional publishing helps ease my impotent rage."

"The whole industry pretty much stopped doing its job between 1975 and 1985 because it found it could get away with that, because there was no competition. Well, now it has competition, and they're all OH SHIT THE WORLD IS ENDING and fuck them."

o_0

There were no new books from '75 to '85? No changes in printing technology, publishing infrastructure, author contracts, book promotion, book distribution or retail? Are you sure that's not just, like, a blackout period for you?

"Now that those professionals have given us 50 Shades who would trust them any more than they trust the Amazon customer reviews which don't care who published you?"

What a weird place to end up on. There has always been mass-produced crap, and arguing that the primary feature of publishers is as gatekeepers is simultaneously elitist and deluded. The point of putting out some mass market crap is generally to have enough profits to support putting out good books that may not find as much, or as quick, of an audience. It's a hedge. Thinking about publishers as brands is something that outside of genre fiction, very, very few people do. There's no, "Oh shit, the Knopf catalog is dropping!" The number of people who could tell you who published the last non-genre novel that they read is tiny. And that's not evidence that the utility of publishers is dead — that's because a lot of the utility that comes from publishers is not obvious to consumers, nor, evidently, you.
posted by klangklangston at 6:10 PM on August 13, 2014


Well Klang, I'm just going to ask you one thing. Did you ask Norman Spinrad about it? Because his bonafides are much better than mine, and my opinions on this mostly come from him.
posted by localroger at 6:38 PM on August 13, 2014


Guys, chill out. You're both great at the snark, but it's exhausting to read in such large quantities. If there's a point buried under all this rude assurance, I can't find it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:38 PM on August 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


AnotherP, I don't think either of us is doing snark here. I have generally admired Klang's posts but I don't understand the point of, for example, "I just don't know things" because I think like things like physical resourse scarcity might make physical book selling a little bit different than the ebook trade.
posted by localroger at 6:42 PM on August 13, 2014


Oh, and Klang: While there has always been mass-produced crap, before roughly 1990 it was fucking edited for quality. The decline in editing has been very apparent to those of us who remember the era, because it began with the very obvious non-editing of certain superstars like Stephen King, which was very jarring and noticeable. The non-editing has worked its way down from then to the current day from superstars whose names sell anyway to, well, they just don't seem to fucking edit anything at all.

Really, this seems to matter to you, so can you point to one instance in say the last ten years where a publisher has actually had an editing fight with ANY AUTHOR AT ALL? I remember when that was a regular occurrence. That would at least be evidence of the publishers doing something other than pushing a mouse cursor around.
posted by localroger at 7:02 PM on August 13, 2014


Oh, did I mention Spinrad?
Without BookScan, order to net, near monopolies on the retailing end, and a conglomeritized industry where the great idioyncratic independents like Scribners, Random House, and yes Knopf, have become mere brand names owned by a scant handful of multinational corporations, a Sonny Mehta, running on whatever motivation, would still be able to assassinate a single novel by publishing it badly, but not the author's ongoing career.

Or not for sure, anyway. Back in the day, you could write your way out of it if you were good enough by writing a novel great enough to be recognized as a great novel by a single editor with the passion and the leeway to ignore the previous strike-out at bat and swing for the fences. Back in the day, there were many more editors like that because there were many more independent major publishers, hence much more real competition on the acquisition end, hence as much reliance on analog editorial judgement as digital Nielsen numbers.
posted by localroger at 7:13 PM on August 13, 2014




In politics, this is known as “grasstops”—a fake-grassroots campaign created by special interests.


I have never heard that term. It's usually "astroturf." Perhaps the New Yorker is trying to avoid using a trademark?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:52 AM on August 14, 2014


CHT I think the distinction is that in "grasstops" there is actual grass -- that is, there are actual activists who are convinced to show up by the PR machine and once convinced they are self motivated. In "astroturf" there is, in fact, no grass; the only "activists" are paid shills and actors and nobody actually is convinced to believe in the cause.
posted by localroger at 6:13 PM on August 14, 2014


Ugh. That New Yorker article is even worse:

But Amazon believes in an iron law of cheapness: “When the price goes down, customers buy much more.” Specifically, they claim that an e-book priced at $14.99 that sells a hundred thousand copies will sell a hundred and seventy-four thousand if priced at $9.99. In this books-as-widgets thinking, sales of one-cent books would be nearly limitless.

That's not how price elasticity of demand works, or rather, that's not why it's important. One of Amazon's argument is that the current price point is such that lowering the price increases total revenue. How is it that no authors are actually responding intelligently on this point?
posted by suedehead at 8:15 PM on August 14, 2014


In this books-as-widgets thinking, sales of one-cent books would be nearly limitless.

That is not how Amazon's thinking works at all and is a total misrepresentation. They do know -- and have actually, as part of this whole thing, studied -- the point at which the diminishing returns kick in and the additional sales no longer increase revenue because you aren't charging enough.

Amazon has had the opportunity to research this across a wide variety of genres. Presumably if Westerns performed differently from Horror novels or from gearhead How To Fix Your Car books, thier research was almost certainly extensive enough to detect that. And it apparently didn't. They claim that it is generic in that you will earn more money at $9.99 than at $14.99, regardless of your book's genre. That actually seems like a reasonable result to me because outside of weird specialties like bird field guides and engineering handbooks which I'm forced to buy for specific purposes, my price resistance is pretty uniform across categories.

One thing I don't think has really been considered is the "by the pound" metric. In a bookshop you can easily tell the difference between IT and Carrie. One costs more than the other BOTH because of production and distribution costs AND because one was a much longer slog for the writer. In ebook land that's not nearly so obvious, and potentially a problem with market feedback.
posted by localroger at 8:44 PM on August 14, 2014


If Amazon has data proving this, why don't they release the data? Why does everyone have to just take their word that they know better than Hachette how to price Hachette's books? Why do you believe a for-profit company's claims without actually seeing their data?
posted by Toekneesan at 7:38 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why do you believe a for-profit company's claims without actually seeing their data?

Why would you believe any data they released more than their description of the results? If you think they're making shit up they could certainly make that shit up too. The thing is their claims make sense to me. Most of the objections to their claims are to straw men ("sales of one-cent books would be nearly limitless") which have nothing to do with what Amazon is really claiming.

There are really two issues here, whether Amazon is right in their reasoning (I think they are), and whether it is right of them to force the issue on people who depend on their practical monopoly for distribution (probably not). They probably should be doing a better job of making their case rather than forcing the issue, but I suspect they are holding back some of their conclusions (and the data that support them) for proprietary advantage. If they have a formula for perfecting some aspect of their business model, why should they share all the details with their competitors?
posted by localroger at 8:50 AM on August 15, 2014


Why does everyone have to just take their word that they know better than Hachette how to price Hachette's books?

Because they're the ones selling the books? And because Amazon has more insight into consumer spending than any company ever has in this history of retail?

But maybe this is all part of Amazon's dastardly plan. Step 1: Lie about efficient pricing. Step 2: drive all authors and publishers out of business. Step 3: ???. Step 4: Profit!
posted by Nelson at 10:03 AM on August 15, 2014


"How is it that no authors are actually responding intelligently on this point?"

Read the Scalzi rebuttal. Just because Amazon's total book sales go up or that total ebook sales go up does not mean that people are necessarily buying more of Hachette's books, i.e. dropping their prices can still be a net loss for them even if it is a net gain for Amazon and other publishers. The numbers are not 1:1 fungible.
posted by klangklangston at 10:07 AM on August 15, 2014


I think this is the weakest part of Scalzi's argument. It amounts to a) him not believing that the numbers apply to him and b) not believing in the validity of Amazon's statistics.

His other arguments, that the single price point isn't good business sense for anybody other than Amazon, those I can buy. However, his arguments about the pricing and demand data that Amazon reports smell like a special snowflake exceptionalism fallacy to me.
posted by bonehead at 11:45 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Amazon has more insight into consumer spending than any company ever has in this history of retail

Hachette was founded in 1826 giving it almost 200 years of experience with pricing its content. Amazon has been in business for 20 years and in ebooks for 7 years. I'm not sure I agree that Amazon has more experience pricing Hachette books than Hachette.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:57 AM on August 15, 2014


I'm not sure nineteenth century experience translates.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:04 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Nobody has been selling ebooks for more than a few years. The way that market works is significantly different from the wholesale/retail physical book model, with multiple sales along the supply chain, physical limits on shipping and supply, as well as the policies on book stripping and vendor refunds, all of which don't apply to ebooks.
posted by bonehead at 12:19 PM on August 15, 2014


almost 200 years of experience with pricing its content

Why, the cloth for the binding for a Kindle edition probably costs 15 sous. And it's hard to come by the tallow for the glue these days, thank god Hachette's still around with their store of valuable historical knowledge.
posted by Nelson at 12:33 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Amazon has more insight into consumer spending... ON AMAZON... than any company ever has in this history of retail

I can imagine if you reduce your ebook price to 9.99 you make more ON AMAZON, but you could be cannibalizing your sales elsewhere. And even if you make more, that more more might be minor and you are also buying into an Amazon monopsony. Hatchette has a strong interest in there being non Amazon sales channels that are still able to compete with Amazon.
posted by aspo at 12:37 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's a fair point about Amazon's pricing being best for Amazon, and it's made well in Scalzi's takedown. According to cstross in this thread Amazon has some 80% of the ebook market in the US. So in some sense, efficient pricing on Amazon is efficient pricing for authors. But Amazon's monopoly is the problem and I'm fully in support of anything that undermines it.

The problem is that 200 year old publishers protecting their legacy business aren't going to be the ones to break Amazon's monopoly. They lack the vision or market power, other than occasionally indulging in illegal price fixing. Personally I hope to see more authors going out on their own without predatory publishers taking their cut, but that has a lot of challenges to it.
posted by Nelson at 12:46 PM on August 15, 2014


I can imagine if you reduce your ebook price to 9.99 you make more ON AMAZON, but you could be cannibalizing your sales elsewhere.

Your sales elsewhere are going to be cannibalized, full stop. Eventually people are going to figure out that it does not cost $14.99 to pay the author a fair shake and produce and deliver an ebook, and at that point nobody is going to be willing to pay $14.99 even if it means passing on a book that's unavailable through a cheaper channel (or, more likely, pirating it).

I think the experience of the music industry translates EXACTLY here (and if you disagree, you need to explain why in some detail). Paper books of any sort are going to become luxury display items, much like hardbacks are today. Right now the only thing holding up ebook prices is an artificial price-fixing monopoly, and history has shown repeatedly that you can only hold that up for so long.

Apple broke through that monopoly in the music industry, and I suspect Amazon is very explicitly trying to do the same thing for books.
posted by localroger at 3:16 PM on August 15, 2014


How would you, or anyone else know how much it costs to make an ebook out of anything more than self-published genre fiction? Same magic powers that make you trust Amazon's pricing figures? You don't have any data to support your assertions. I could guess about how any number of businesses should run, and further guess what I think they're costs and margins are, but those, like yours are, guesses.

Amazon can price ebooks at any price they want, as they have shown by selling below their cost for years. What they want now is to be able to continue to make that choice, and turn a profit. The only way they can do that is by controlling the list price Hachette charges them. They don't get that power, and shouldn't have that power.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:22 PM on August 15, 2014


How would you, or anyone else know how much it costs to make an ebook out of anything more than self-published genre fiction?

It's not fucking rocket science. The production costs for a book are writing, book design, printing, physical distribution, and in the model that's been used about forever loss returns. Those are all known quantities.

For ebooks you still have to pay the writer and another specialist to do a somewhat different kind of book design, but it's a similar labor cost to physical book design. And that's it. You punch the little button labeled PUBLISH and it's available to as many people as might want it, instantly. The electrons and tubes that get it to those end users are free compared to the traditional costs. If you're charging for access the cost of arranging the financial transaction is probably going to be more than the cost of physically shoveling the book across the internet to a reader.

There are certain very narrow genres where the IP costs of production are very high, such as the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics and birder field guides, which have a lot of expensive artwork. Those are not, generally, good candidates for ebooks though for the very reasons that make them expensive as print books, and those aren't the books we're talking about here.

Amazon is talking about the vast majority of just-books, which are published under very similar arrangements by print distributors -- 10 to 20 percent to the author, and final sale price of $15 to $30 hardback and $8 to $15 paperback, with the rest covering book design in part but mostly the physical production, distribution, and return loss costs.

The funding and remittance structure for those books has been remarkably constant since before the beginning of the 20th century. It's not like some kind of big secret you have to have been in business since 1789 to grok.

And in a perfect market where ebooks and print books would have to compete in raw terms, print books would fail spectacularly except for specialized niches where the physical object is important, either because you want it on your coffee table or you want it to work in the Costa Rican rainforest without worrying about batteries. There is no legitimate reason whatsoever for an e-copy of a novel, biography, memoir, or other mostly text print book to cost even half what a physical printed copy does.

Propping up the sales of the printed copies is not a legitimate reason. The technology has changed, just as it changed for music 15 years ago and just as it changed for the manufacturers of tack accessories when automobiles got popular. Amazon may not be the best agent of that change we could hope for, but then Apple probably wasn't for music either. The thing is, the change is coming whether anyone likes it or not, and it can only be slowed down a bit. Stopping it is impossible.
posted by localroger at 6:39 PM on August 15, 2014


Tell me more about this little button. I've been in publishing for 14 years and haven't yet come across it. So, does the button do the copy editing or marketing? Does it work on illustrated books, or books with notes or callouts?

No publishing isn't rocket science, but it's not a button either.

When print is still 80% or more of your sales, as it is for most publishers, they have a legitimate reason to continue to factor it in. It's not like the ebook market is growing in triple digits anymore. They're not propping up a format that's quickly heading toward oblivion—the rumors of print's death are greatly exaggerated—they are wisely considering where there is demand in the market, and taking that into account. There are some who would prefer publishers give up on print and pass the savings onto the book buyer, but there is absolutely no reason for most publishers to do that. Demand for print is still a majority of the demand for books, and it's likely to stay that way at least for the next ten years. It's what the market wants, and it doesn't really matter that Amazon would prefer to take 30% on the distribution of bits rather than 50% on the distribution of print. Yeah, they profit a hell of a lot more on the distribution of bits than books, but how is that the publisher's problem?
posted by Toekneesan at 5:06 AM on August 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


It would be super-useful to separate genre fiction from the rest of publishing. There are a lot of arguments being made about publishing in general that actually only apply to genre fiction. That there is overwhelming consumer demand for electronic content is one of them. That is almost true in genre fiction, not true in publishing in general. Consumers shop by price point; true in genre fiction, not in publishing in general. Publishing can be reduced to an automated process; generally true in genre fiction, not true of the majority of publishing. Genre fiction doesn't make up the majority of what's published every year, so it would be foolish for publishers to treat the majority of their programs like they would genre fiction.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:53 AM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Show me where the copy editing was done for 50 Shades of Grey.

Show me where the marketing is done when new authors are being advised to spend their advances hiring a publicist because if they don't the publisher won't do anything to promote them and if their book doesn't leap off the shelves their next one won't be bought.

This is what I meant upthread by the industry not doing its job since the 1980's. They did do those things once, and not just for the A-list writers who were guaranteed to sell anyway. I remember seeing cardboard displays for James P. Hogan's Giant's Star. That would never, ever happen today. Those displays are reserved for Stephen King and Anne Rice, even when they ran out of ideas 15 years ago and are just phoning it in and everybody knows it.

They offered the author of a band fanfic half a million dollars precisely because all they want to do is search-replace and hit the PUBLISH button. Do you think they will copy edit that thing? Let us go through 50 shades enumerating the massive number of overwritten run-on sentences and glaring grammar errors.

In a perfect world, yes, there would be more costs, but the publishing industry learned between 1975 and 1985 that they could get away without paying them. Now they're being called on it.

Toekneesan -- I've pointed out a couple of examples myself of publications that don't conform to this model, but could you point out any more that amount to more than one or two full bookshelves in the Barnes & Noble? Because it seems to me if what we're talking about here is "genre fiction" then the minor niche market is everything else.
posted by localroger at 7:00 AM on August 16, 2014


Also, let us not forget that the one writer who has been cited here as JUST READ HIS REBUTTAL is a science fiction writer.
posted by localroger at 7:02 AM on August 16, 2014


"I think this is the weakest part of Scalzi's argument. It amounts to a) him not believing that the numbers apply to him and b) not believing in the validity of Amazon's statistics."

No, it doesn't. It comes down to pointing out that Amazon's contentions require some assumptions very favorable to Amazon, and assumptions that are hard to support regarding sales distribution. These are questions that have to be addressed in every statement of statistical inference: What reason do we have to believe that this sample is representative, and what reason do we have to believe that there is a normal distribution (which is what the chi2 test relies on to calculate the likelyhood of a null hypothesis) relative to this sample.

"However, his arguments about the pricing and demand data that Amazon reports smell like a special snowflake exceptionalism fallacy to me."

They're not. They're basic stat questions that should be asked any time anyone tries to part you with money based on their proffered figures.
posted by klangklangston at 9:22 AM on August 16, 2014


Show me where the copy editing was done for 50 Shades of Grey.

You know that was self-published, right? Distribution rights were sold after it hit big, but I don't know why you'd use that as an example of crappy publishing services when it wasn't edited by a publisher.

I've pointed out a couple of examples myself of publications that don't conform to this model, but could you point out any more that amount to more than one or two full bookshelves in the Barnes & Noble? Because it seems to me if what we're talking about here is "genre fiction" then the minor niche market is everything else.

Textbooks, children's books, current events, history, art books, cookbooks, scholarship, self-help, popular science, nature, I could go on and on, if you like. Look at this year's publishing sensation, Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Some sections of bookstores are probably gone for good, replaced by the mobile web, like atlases and travel or reference. BTW B&N's selection isn't exactly a useful barometer of the book market, and that isn't due to bad publishing, it's due to B&N's own terrible management. Heck, warehouse clubs like Costco are selling practically the same number of books as B&N annually. And Amazon has about 60% of the consumer market so using a brick and mortar's selection as a barometer is like using the sickliest gazelle in the pack to assess the health of the species.
posted by Toekneesan at 12:35 PM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Genre fiction doesn't make up the majority of what's published every year,

Cite for this? I guess there are a ton of small audience nonfiction books published every year, but it seems likely that a majority of book SALES are genre fiction, if not individual books published, because literary fiction + popular nonfiction + drama + poetry is pretty small compared to the behemoth that is romance, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, mystery, thriller, adventure, children's and whatever assorted "other" gets under that umbrella. I mean, just look at the sizes of those sections in a bookstore: unless there's a lot more tiny titles in the long tail of non-genre fiction books, it seems like treating genre fiction as default isn't a bad bet.

And I have to say that all the whining about fanfic from someone self-published is pretty rich. At least most successful fan writers have beta readers.
posted by NoraReed at 2:00 PM on August 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


You know that was self-published, right? Distribution rights were sold after it hit big, but I don't know why you'd use that as an example of crappy publishing services when it wasn't edited by a publisher.

I will bet the contract that E.L. James signed was no different than the ones they offer any other author. They had to redesign the book for print publication; there's no reason at all they couldn't have also cleaned up the many glaring technical problems. They decided that doing that was unnecessary and put out the result under their house name in perfect seriousness, with no apologies or explanations for its many flaws.

In any case I had a long conversation today with an old friend who went back to college at the age of 50 and completed a Ph.D. in literature. And when the topic came out she went on a good half-hour rant about the end of copy editing -- see, she remembers it being different like I do, and she's read a lot of stuff in the last ten years. She had example after example, many winners of awards and prominent in their varied genres, full of run-on sentences and fragments, incorrect homonyms, and obvious spellchecker misses like "pubic" for "public." So it's not just me.
posted by localroger at 3:53 PM on August 16, 2014


And I have to say that all the whining about fanfic from someone self-published is pretty rich. At least most successful fan writers have beta readers.

If you're talking about me I'm not whining about "fanfic," I"m whining about "fanfic being passed off as regular literature without any additional work by houses which expect to get paid the same as if they were doing that work."

And 50 Shades was very extensively beta read before it was bought and passed off as regular literature. Unfortunately the beta readers must have been interested in less technical aspects of the story. But those details are what copy editors used to be paid for.
posted by localroger at 3:56 PM on August 16, 2014


Cite for this?

I learned about it from this, the BISG BookStats report, but I don't own that because I can't afford it, so I can't give you the exact page. What I learned when I read it was K-12 (books going into schools) was the largest segment, and it also wasn't a majority of what's published. In fact few categories made up more than 10% of total titles published. Genre was growing, thanks to self publishing, but it wasn't a majority. Now you could argue that we don't know how much genre fiction is published because a lot is published without an ISBN, but I find it hard to believe it's anywhere near a majority of what's published. We could argue this into oblivion. When The Giver, or Something Wicked... is taught in schools, is it a textbook or is it genre fiction? But even then you've got a tough case to make because Twain and Shakespeare are probably used more and they'd have to go into one category or the other too, diluting the ratio either way.

Here's something you probably didn't know. B&N has about the same number of college bookstores as it does regular bookstores (around 700 of each), yet in spite of that, Amazon sells more textbooks than all US brick and mortar stores combined, and have been doing so since 2012. Still think the majority of books published in the US are genre fiction? Had you considered the education market?
posted by Toekneesan at 4:41 PM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Toekneesan, instead of using the phrase "genre fiction" like it's some kind of ghetto, why not look at the way I started to put it upthread: Books that are mostly text, without color plates, for which the author gets 10% to 20% royalty, for which the final price of a hardback is $15 to $30 and for a paperback $8 to $15. That excludes about half your counter-examples and the other half I'd say are the reason I object to your use of the phrase "genre fiction." This has been the standard business model for non-specialty books since the 19th century. It applies to science fiction but also to a lot of bestsellers, both fiction and non-fiction.

Most of the books that are outside of this model are not candidates to be ebooks for various reasons, and do not apply to this discussion because Amazon poses no danger to them. Until the technology improves -- a lot -- there will be no electronic bird field guides.

It shouldn't be hard to see that whatever the fixed costs are of publishing, some of those apply to both ebooks and print books but some very large costs apply only to print books. There are no comparable costs which apply to ebooks but not print books. So really no matter what you think the details are, the idea that ebooks should cost the same as print books is stupid. It would be stupid even if publishers hadn't abdicated their jobs en masse circa 1980 and stopped editing or reading their slush piles.
posted by localroger at 8:02 PM on August 16, 2014


Ah, right, textbooks. Since they come out with new editions constantly I guess that counts. I was thinking, you know, of books that people actually read, and in terms of books that actually sell more than a handful of copies per title, plus I was counting pretty much all fiction that isn't literary as genre, and not counting new editions of classics as new books. My experience is with selling books to humans, not the silos/categories used by companies, so I can see what you mean; I'm just on a totally different page. Or screen, if you prefer.

I have no fucking clue how one shitty erotica novel getting published renders everything after 1980 as somehow moot; that's fucking ridiculous. Most of what I read came out in the past 20 years because it like sci-fi and fantasy but am not interested in authors who were misogynists and/or total failures at writing women; I find stuff I like constantly and stuff that I love at least a few times every year.

And regarding field guides, there really SHOULD be because that kind of identification information would be way easier to organize in an app. I remember the "field guide" identification guide in SimPark was great because it asked you a series of questions which you then narrowed down and then matched a picture; something like that would work great for birders. And, after a quick search in the app store, it looks like Peterson's has done that already and it's $15, so cool: those books are too big to fit in your binoculars bag and looking shit up in them is an esoteric skill that deserves to be made obsolete because tech can do it better. I bet it plays calls too, show me the book that does that. "Twee-twee", motherfucker.

Anyway, there should be costs for doing some ebooks-- reference and textbooks mainly-- to make them not total pieces of shitstain garbage and be searchable and interlinked but there's so little competition that the ebook textbooks I've had were formatted like shit on any screen and barely had a working index. Some of them only worked in IE. But that's what happens when you have a relatively inflexible market and not a lot of competition.

I also expect there's something between copy-editing and debugging for making sure ebooks look okay across devices (word splitting with hypens when size shifts make your lines end in different places has got to be a pain in the ass). It's more work, like with print books, that you only have to do once, but it costs a lot less to download a bit of data than to print, bind, store, ship, and accept returns of a dead tree book.
posted by NoraReed at 3:41 AM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure I brought up field guides first and they're a very interesting case, because they're brutally expensive to produce and are used in some very extreme conditions. There probably is a technological innovation waiting to be made, but I suspect it will be more along the lines of "point and ID" binoculars. Whoever pulls that off will make a fortune, but the tech isn't there yet. It will have to be good enough to overcome the need for electricity. It isn't unusual for hardcore birders to spend a month or more in places with no electricity. A Kindle is OK for that but it's not OK for rapidly scanning color photographs. For even the leanest tech capable of dealing with the photos you'd need a backpack full of batteries.

Anyway, things like that aren't what we're talking about here. The vast majority of books are mostly text, author royalty 10%-20%, and have very similar design issues regardless of genre. It's that vast majority of books, not specialties like field guides or textbooks or childrens' books topheavy with color illustrations, which Amazon is trying to commoditize.

Nobody has yet offered an actual argument as to why this won't go down the way it did in the music industry. (IT'S JUST DIFFERENT doesn't count. WHY is it different?) In fact, the more I think about it the more certain I am that Amazon is very explicitly trying to do with books what Apple did to music, and the more convinced I become that they will succeed.

There is no doubt that Amazon isn't the author's friend; the new Unlimited thing seems designed to kill a promising business model for niche market self-published authors. But in this AVP matchup where no matter who wins we all lose, it's Amazon which is on the right side of history. They will be assholes in their turn, and very quickly if not already, but the publishing houses are still trying to find the right parameters to keep people buying their buggy whips even though they're driving cars instead of horse-drawn carriages.
posted by localroger at 5:06 PM on August 17, 2014


There is no Rip, Mix, and Burn with ebooks. There aren't songs vs. albums with ebooks. There's no mp3 with ebooks. And there isn't an overwhelming demand for ebooks over print, seven years after the Kindle was launched. That is why Amazon isn't doing to books what Apple did to music.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:38 AM on August 18, 2014


There is no Rip, Mix, and Burn with ebooks.

Calibre + DeDRM
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:06 AM on August 18, 2014


So you'd mix a chapter from Dune, with a chapter from As I Lay Dying, and a chapter from Watership Down? You're talking about breaking DRM. Not actually the same thing.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:30 AM on August 18, 2014


Hugo Award Winners 2014
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:42 AM on August 18, 2014


There is no Rip, Mix, and Burn with ebooks.

There's an argument for this being one.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:47 AM on August 18, 2014


There's no mp3 with ebooks.

An un-DRM'd ebook is exactly analogous to a MP3. It is a fully electronic and easily transportable version of something normally sold as a physical object which is much more awkward to copy.

The fact that people consume books and music in different ways is irrelevant. The important thing is that books and CD's are both physical objects which people pay money for to get the information they contain, and that information can now be easily copied and consumed even more conveniently than ever without the physical object.
posted by localroger at 12:05 PM on August 18, 2014


Apple sells quite a few mp3s and iTunes came with a legal mp3 converter. How many un-DRMed Kindle files does Amazon sell? Is there a book slot on the side of your laptop for digitizing that book? You ask for the difference and then insist ease of digitizing is irrelevant. You point to a legal process (ripping a CD) and say it's analogous to an illegal one (breaking DRM for reasons not covered by DMCA) and insist that your comparison still holds.

I suspect this is my last post in this thread. Have a good evening.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:01 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Books are like music in a lot of awesome ways involving remixing and stuff but our long-ass copyright bullshit laws combined with a general inclination to shit on fanworks means we really stifle creativity on that front; you can only remix stuff that's fuckin' old as dirt and a lot of it isn't as culturally relevant as stuff that's modern. Though there is the silver lining that you get some pretty interesting communities out of groups of artists doing works they aren't technically allowed to profit off of.
posted by NoraReed at 4:40 PM on August 18, 2014


During the period when iTunes was busy destroying the traditional music distribution system they did not sell mp3's and defeating the DRM was very definitely illegal. They still destroyed the traditional music distribution system because people learned it was possible to buy music without being ripped off in the process. It's not that people aren't willing to pay, it's that they aren't willing to be ripped off and they know the electronic market should be cheaper and more convenient than the physical object market, and not artificially structured to preserve legacy scarcities. iTunes now sells mp3's precisely because everyone figured that out and that it wasn't giving away the farm to sell mp3's, because people will still pay the dollar if you're not forcing them to buy the rest of the album for twelve bucks to get two songs.

People aren't stupid and know that if you can sell a trade paperback for $14.99, there's no goddamn reason why you should be paying the same or even more for a product that doesn't require physical production and distribution.

Have a nice evening yourself. We'll see how it all shakes out in the next few years.
posted by localroger at 5:47 PM on August 18, 2014


You point to a legal process (ripping a CD) and say it's analogous to an illegal one (breaking DRM for reasons not covered by DMCA) and insist that your comparison still holds.


Because for almost everybody it does. There's a technological barrier, and a technological solution. The distinction is pretty arcane.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:22 PM on August 18, 2014


The reason iTunes was so successful is that it made buying music and then listening to it on your device substantially easier than the competition, including physical music stores and physical media. It is the same reason Amazon is so successful with Kindle. It's also why, now that the internet is ubiquitous (for the people who buy the music), Apple is now moving towards an even more convenient solution (streaming) and Amazon has a Kindle web-client.

The elephant in the room for book publishers is really the same as it's been for the last decade: the web. At some point, people are going to ask why an eBook in 2014 looks like the web in 1998 with OCR errors. I certainly do. A long post on a fucking blog page will generally look better and adjust better to different fonts and sizes than your typical eBook. And people *are* refusing to pay top dollar for OCRed, badly edited crap.

We are in the DRM protected slightly worse quality AAC phase -- people are getting very used to the idea of clicking a button and having a whole book. I think more and more will wonder why the eBooks aren't all that convenient or as high fidelity in other ways compared to the "internet" (it takes a while). We have high DPI color tablets now -- any guess as to how long publishers can hold out on the "rest" (non pure-text part) of their libraries? And then we enter the high quality AAC phase... and then we start wondering why we need to carry an eBook "file" around at all, the "internet" doesn't require that.

Naturally, the obvious end-game of the book is the same as music, which is the same as the newspaper or magazines. Ask the WSJ and Spotify and Apple. And the publishers don't seem smart enough to not need Amazon's help, to be frank about it. And just like Amazon sits under NetFlix, Amazon will sit under the infrastructure for online (and temporarily offline) books. Kind of scary, but there it is, the future of books is advertising and the paywall.

Enjoy! :-)
posted by smidgen at 11:53 PM on August 22, 2014


The always excellent newsletter Five Useful Articles linked to the internet law casebook out of Semaphore Press. I thought it might interest y'all in this matter, particularly given the FAQ and why they're pricing and selling the way they are.
Today, each standard law school casebook can cost $180 or more

We at Semaphore Press understand why the casebooks that are distributed by traditional casebook publishers typically have a suggested retail price of $180 or more. A lot of resources go into the business of casebook publishing: Authors have to write the casebook, edit the cases, and write the additional content contained in the book. Editors have to seek out and select which books to publish. Still more editors are needed to review the written material, format the text, prepare the indexes, and complete the layout of the book. The books have to be printed and bound. The published casebooks have to be marketed to professors for potential adoption, which includes sending free "review copies" to hundreds of professors, paying sales representatives to visit professors at their schools, and sponsoring sales booths at law professor conferences. And the books need to be shipped to bookstores and customers across the country. All in all, this traditional operation costs quite a bit, and it is why casebooks cost about $180.

It doesn't have to be that way

Semaphore Press does have costs. But our costs are not as high as those of a traditional publisher. We still have authors who write the content and editors who perform the variety of editorial functions. We have this website, which costs money to create and maintain. And we have the standard business expenses that any corporation faces (accountants, legal services, taxes, etc.). But we don't have significant marketing costs because we don't believe that traditional marketing best serves the ultimate goal of fair access to a high-quality education. We also don't have the printing and shipping costs associated with delivering hard copy books for sale, or even for review by professors who may or may not adopt a particular book.
posted by phearlez at 6:19 PM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I spoke too soon. One more link. The Profit Margin of Error: The ‘DRINK ME’ Economics of the Modern Book Business by Chris McCrudden.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:48 AM on September 4, 2014


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