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"When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers." — Kikuyu proverb
January 30, 2010 9:18 AM   Subscribe

The announcement of the iPad earlier this week has prompted a lot of discussion about ebook prices among publishers and their sales partners. That discussion took a major turn yesterday when Amazon pulled the buy buttons for Macmillan's books off their site. Many of Macmillan's titles are still available through Amazon, but only through third parties. Right now, one of the largest publishers in America is no longer available from Amazon because they can not agree on ebook prices.

Some of the imprints affected:

Bloomsbury
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Drawn & Quarterly
Henry Holt
Manchester University Press
Pluto Press
Rodale
St. Martin's Press
Tom Doherty Associates, and their stable of science fiction imprints including Forge and Tor
W. H. Freeman
Watson-Guptill
Zed Books

Predicted by Steve Jobs.
Cory Doctorow on the move.
Teleread weighs in.
John Scalzi's coverage, and thoughts.
posted by Toekneesan (306 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fuck Macmillan. They need Amazon more than Amazon needs them. $15 for a book with ZERO construction, ZERO transportation and ZERO storage costs?
Fuck.
You.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:23 AM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


As someone who has a knee-jerk reaction to this, and generally sides with writers, I hope this device brings more shiny duckets to many struggling in this industry.
posted by uraniumwilly at 9:26 AM on January 30, 2010


It's hard to figure out who I hate more in this story.

Note to authors: Go indie, release books in an open format and cut out this middlemen.
posted by DU at 9:28 AM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Steve Jobs is kind of a dick.
posted by empath at 9:29 AM on January 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


ZERO construction

Depends how you define construction. Printing the hardcopy book (it's not like they are going to stop doing that) plus generating the XML and any other formatting required for ebook production, plus any costs associated with developing content differently depending on the e-reader, etc, is 'construction' and adds cost. I agree, though...15 bucks is REDONK.
posted by spicynuts at 9:30 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ducats?

Also, maybe I am being crotchety at 31, but man, fuck ebooks anyway. Nothing replaces the real thing. I've already got a cold and unfeeling device to make calls on, and a cold and unfeeling device to work on, why would I use a cold and unfeeling device for pleasure reading?

Give me something I can grip, curl, dog-ear. Give me that smell, the smell of knowledge and effort and paper. Watch the motes float up when a page is turned. I'll keep my big, single-purpose, organic, archaic books, thank you.
posted by m0nm0n at 9:35 AM on January 30, 2010 [36 favorites]


BTW, the eventual price of e-books, once a sufficient number of ebook readers are out there, will be "free" -- or damn close to it.

Right now you can get 100s of ebooks in not very large torrent files. There is no chance in HELL I would ever pay $10 or $15 for an ebook when I can get it for free in about 10 seconds. I'd happily pay a dollar or two for one, though.
posted by empath at 9:36 AM on January 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


This is the opposite of interesting.
posted by chlorus at 9:37 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Give me something I can grip, curl, dog-ear. Give me that smell, the smell of knowledge and effort and paper. Watch the motes float up when a page is turned. I'll keep my big, single-purpose, organic, archaic books, thank you.

You couldn't do that with books back in the days when paper/writing were expensive. Once we have cheap, flexible electronic displays you can do all this again.
posted by DU at 9:37 AM on January 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


Give me that smell, the smell of knowledge and effort and paper.

And the cigarette smoke and perfumes of the library users who've read it before me...
posted by not that girl at 9:38 AM on January 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Note to authors: Go indie, release books in an open format and cut out this middlemen.

Heh, Kindle doesn't support ePub, though the iPad will, so the indie authors would still be cutting off Kindle owners. Once you have an ePub book you could convert it to a Kindle appropriate format, but that's a hassle some people won't want to deal with. Nah, I think if you're going to go indie you have to release it in a format the Kindle natively supports in addition to ePub.
posted by jedicus at 9:38 AM on January 30, 2010


As an indie and relatively small run (2500 copies) writer and publisher, I'm loving eBooks. The profit sharing is way better than for physical books, and the production cost is way lower. Amazon is in the right here, and publishers who think they can jack up prices on eBooks are going to fail.

The Kindle and other ebook readers/networks seem like one of the first time that content producers have created an online model that makes sense. Music and movies failed because they couldn't see the advantages of online distribution, but I think book publishers -- or Amazon at least -- have learned from those mistakes.

MacMillon does not seem to have learned a thing, and with actions like this they'll find people either ignoring or pirating their content rather than purchasing it at a fair price.

I wouldn't be surprised as well if the big publishing houses are having a lot of fear due to the playing field leveling effect of the ebook model. For once indie publishers can compete and win, and that's got to be scary for them.
posted by glider at 9:38 AM on January 30, 2010 [12 favorites]


$15 for something I can't lend, can't show off on my bookshelf, and is so many useless bits without the proprietary reading machine? Are they fucking insane?

Kindle prices are already absurd. I'm not paying more than the price of a paperback for anything, especially for something I'm only leasing until my reader breaks or the DRM company goes out of business.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 9:41 AM on January 30, 2010 [12 favorites]


Give me something I can grip, curl, dog-ear. Give me that smell, the smell of knowledge and effort and paper. Watch the motes float up when a page is turned. I'll keep my big, single-purpose, organic, archaic books, thank you.

By the way, I thought this for a long time, and in fact am sitting here in my home library surrounded by thousands upon thousands of books in shelves lining my walls. I was very surprised when I tried the Kindle how much I liked it. After having my reading skills slowly decay after a decade and a half of chaotic short-snippet web reading, and skimming books on the throne, the single-page sequential focus of the Kindle has actual made me a more focuessed and better reader.

I'm currently in the process of converting my books, previously published physically, into Kindle and other eBook formats, and couldn't be happier.
posted by glider at 9:41 AM on January 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


I think if you're going to go indie you have to release it in a format the Kindle natively supports in addition to ePub.

Does the Kindle support any open format?
posted by DU at 9:43 AM on January 30, 2010


You know it occurs to me that this move comes after Amazon decided to flip its cut of the sales of ebooks form 70% to 30%. So McMillan was already in a position to make substantially more money than they had been but they still weren't satisfied.
posted by jedicus at 9:43 AM on January 30, 2010


Will e-books spell the end of great writing?
posted by Joe Beese at 9:43 AM on January 30, 2010


Yeah, it’s redonk, but it’s Macmillan’s right to be redonk, and in theory there’s marketplaces out there ready and willing to demonstrate how redonk they are without Amazon’s petulant, unilateral “help.” Macmillan wanting to be stupid and shortsighted is not anywhere near the same scale as Amazon dick-moving their way to becoming the Walmart of ebooks. The only thing approaching a good guy in this are the little people squashed between two dumb-as-fuck dinosaurs, but one of the dinosaurs in this dispute is orders of magnitude worse for us than the other.
posted by kipmanley at 9:44 AM on January 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


Jedicus, do you have a source for that? And do you mean with Macmillan or all publishers, because I'm pretty ebook sales terms vary by publisher agreement. Yes, they have a boilerplate, but I don't think there's a single split scenario.
posted by Toekneesan at 9:46 AM on January 30, 2010


Probably silly question: The artist's share of the profit per physical unit seems fairly well-established; how about authors or cartoonists when it comes to books or comics, and does iTunes or eBooks translate into a larger piece of the pie for creators?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:46 AM on January 30, 2010


@DU: Kindle now has a DRM-free option for publishers, but it’s still their proprietary format, and you can’t take a book you purchased in Kindle-form and transfer it to another reader without violating the license. —I’ve been tinkering with e-book formats lately, and was tempted by the ease of listing something on Amazon through Kindle self-publishing, despite the various #fails; this pretty much has put the kibosh on that. (epub or bust, baby. epub or bust.)
posted by kipmanley at 9:46 AM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does the Kindle support any open format?

Well, yeah. The main one is Mobipocket. It supports PDF natively now, and it has the built-in but not free ability to convert HTML documents to its native AZW format.

Jedicus, do you have a source for that?

Yeah, the royalty change is limited to ebooks whose price is $2.99 - $9.99, so it doesn't cover all ebooks, but it seems to be pretty broad otherwise.
posted by jedicus at 9:51 AM on January 30, 2010


Anyone who thinks this shows abject greed on the part of publishers totally lacks any grasp of the current economics of publishing. And anyone who thinks book publishers are near-pointless middlemen in the manner of record companies doesn't begin to understand what publishing entails.

It's not only Macmillan's right to push back against years of the devaluing of books and authorship through deeper and deeper discounts, supermarket sales, buyback schemes, and Amazon's (and others') efforts to use new technologies as an excuse to transmit ever lower sums of money to content creators for their work.

Amazon isn't the cool hip open-source information-wants-to-be-free forward thinker here, people. They're a huge corporation doing whatever they can to make as much money as possible and sell as much as they can for as much money as possible. For as long as publishers continue to behave relatively decently to authors (in terms of not forcing advances and royalty percentages ever lower) compared to how Amazon is behaving towards publishers, Macmillan et al should be praised for attempting to preserve the value of what they sell.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:52 AM on January 30, 2010 [26 favorites]


Whatever happened to papyrus? I hate the feel of this slick paper stuff. What with its mass-produced inky-type. You never had to wet your fingers with papyrus! And these books are all glarey in the sunlight! My eyeballs hurt and that gives me headaches and that makes my thoughts hurt. Books, bad!
posted by uraniumwilly at 9:54 AM on January 30, 2010 [13 favorites]


Yeah I was just thinking of doing some self-mocking about vellum myself, uraniumwilly.
posted by m0nm0n at 9:57 AM on January 30, 2010


Will e-books spell the end of great writing?
Did mp3s spell the end of great Music? Most people read crap, if they read at all. That's hardly going to change. e-books may change the way we read, but that hardly affects great writing. Do you think there will be no more great writers? That's what great writing depends on, not the publishing format.
posted by twistedonion at 10:04 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bloomsbury isn't part of Macmillan. If they're blocking our ebooks, then something seriously fishy is happening. (I'm an editor there, but don't speak for the company.)
posted by ocherdraco at 10:05 AM on January 30, 2010


Will e-books spell the end of great writing?.

I like to imagine that a pseudonymous Don DeLillo wrote that in a silent, angry haze of panic.

I also like to imagine that the long-term kerfuffle over eBooks will translate into something other than the landscape we have today where celebrity authors with famous, enormous books are crowned geniuses. As the publishing big dogs scramble around, it would be great if a number of boutique e-publishing houses could emerge, each devoted to an imprint of quality, quirky work from a wide range of authors in a wide range of styles.

For example, if I knew of an e-publisher that made strange, funny, sophisticated horror novels, I would happily pay $10 for each download, knowing that less of the money would go to middlemen and shipping costs.

Who knows if the proliferation of that kind of business will happen in reality. And what will happen to those quirky imprints, such as Archipelago Books, NYRB Classics, and Centipede/Millipede Press, that already exist? Will they survive this era? I genuinely don't know.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:05 AM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


People think $10 is too much to pay for an e- book, but they have no problem paying $250 to read them?
posted by drezdn at 10:07 AM on January 30, 2010 [11 favorites]


Jedicus that, program called DTP is actually their self-publishing program. It wouldn't change the discount MacMillan gets. It also encourages authors to challenge a publisher's claim to ebook rights, which has been another sore spot between Amazon and publishers, and between authors and their estates and publishers. There's also more fine print, the price must be at least 20% below any physical copies.

ocherdraco I assumed it affected all publishers listed on Macmillan's site as imprints. Bloomsbury is listed there (first inside link).
posted by Toekneesan at 10:10 AM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


BTW, the eventual price of e-books, once a sufficient number of ebook readers are out there, will be "free" -- or damn close to it.

Right now you can get 100s of ebooks in not very large torrent files. There is no chance in HELL I would ever pay $10 or $15 for an ebook when I can get it for free in about 10 seconds. I'd happily pay a dollar or two for one, though.


"Empath" how do you justify this attitude? Have you ever written a book? Do you have any idea of the amount of work it takes? I typically spend a year on a book, but some have taken me three and some five and I know people who've taken 10 years of full time work to write one.

Now, I write nonfiction and the kind of books I write typically require intensive research and often, intensive reporting. For just one of them, I'd estimate at minimum I interviewed 100 people and the interviews were often several hours long and many required travel. I emailed with several hundred others. I read probably 100 books and I can't even count how many webposts I read and I know I read tens of thousands of pages of documents.

You can't argue that this isn't work and that people will do it anyway for love. They won't and can't-- unless you want a world in which only rich people pursue analytic and investigative reporting or only academics. This idea that "information wants to be free" has already completely destroyed the only other industry that supports investigative reporting: print journalism. So, now you want to destroy publishing, too? You should change your username.
posted by Maias at 10:10 AM on January 30, 2010 [37 favorites]


Note to authors: Go indie, release books in an open format and cut out this middlemen.


A lot of those MacMillan imprints publish peer-reviewed scholarship. You can't self-publish a peer-reviewed book; even if you somehow figured out a credible way to have your self-published book peer-reviewed (hard to imagine that working on a one-off project, since standardization is the cement of the peer-review process, and how colleagues know they can trust content in unfamiliar journals, etc.), the publication would have little to no value as a credential for tenure or promotion or hiring. Not all authors publish books to sell the maximum number of copies, or even to make back more than the cost of production plus a small profit (here, I am no fan of big companies like MacMillan, however). But not all of us non-corporate/non-profit authors can go "indie" and retain the value of publishing for our fields or personal careers. Don't overstate the analogy to music. Music has no value apart from the subjective worth we assign it. Scientific knowledge has practical value that makes it worth money directly, but also worthy of social investment (there are reasons to socially invest in music of course; I mean *recorded* music, specifically. Obviously, music is good for people in many ways that inspire them to pay for it, or used to.)

That said, the lowering of distribution and production costs on digital platforms should drive prices much lower than we're seeing. There are, however, other significant costs in producing a book, especially one with a limited market.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:11 AM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


People think $10 is too much to pay for an e- book, but they have no problem paying $250 to read them?

Well, once you're out $250 I suspect you'd be pretty keen on cheap books, eh?

I should mention that technically you don't need a Kindle to read books from the Kindle store. There are reader programs for Windows and the iPhone, and Amazon is working on a Mac reader program. But that said I don't think too many people read a lot of Kindle store books on something other than a Kindle. I could be wrong, though.
posted by jedicus at 10:14 AM on January 30, 2010


Thanks for the correction, Toekneesan. The news articles I'd seen about it just said that it applied to 'authors and publishers,' not just self-publishing authors.
posted by jedicus at 10:15 AM on January 30, 2010


People think $10 is too much to pay for an e- book
Is the issue not what the price of the book is in dead tree format? Take away the dead trees then how much does that book cost to publish? Does the extra profit from e-publishing go to the author? Any writers out there care to explain the ins and outs of the industry, I'm curious and know next to nothing about publishing.
posted by twistedonion at 10:16 AM on January 30, 2010


I tried an experiment the other day. I tried to buy a popular novel as an ebook that I could read on my laptop without having to install a new operating system. Couldn't do it, at any price.

When the publishing industry is willing to treat me like a grown-up and sell me a non-broken PDF file, I'll be happy to buy from them. I'm not optimistic; it took the music industry decades, and the movie industry may never get there. Until then, I'll continue to walk to the library, and they'll continue to be the poorer for it.
posted by phooky at 10:18 AM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd use the shit out of a netflix for books and I'd imagine the economics would work at least as well for books as they do for movies in that format. I'll still buy hardcopies but only when I've already decided it's a keeper.
posted by Skorgu at 10:19 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maias: Would it not be the case that the majority who steal your work would not have bought it? If I enjoy an authors book I'll go out of my way to support them. Sure I could grab a free version somewhere but I'm aware doing that means that chances are there will be no more great reads from that author.

It's similar in my mind to software developers. Many reduce prices to what they know people are prepared to pay to support their work. In some cases developers do very well from donationware. Not everyone are dicks.
posted by twistedonion at 10:21 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Huh, Jobs actually said "They'll be the same price [on the iPad and kindle], publishers are going to pull their books off Amazon."
For example, if I knew of an e-publisher that made strange, funny, sophisticated horror novels, I would happily pay $10 for each download, knowing that less of the money would go to middlemen and shipping costs
Why not just find a good reviewer and buy the books they recommend directly from the authors? Publishers do a lot more then 'filtering' today (like actually typesetting and actually manufacturing the book). If all you need is a filter, then that particular task can be filled in another way, for less money (and the reviewer could make money off affiliate links)

It's a little weird that publishers can't just set whatever price they want for their books. Actually, who even needs a central store like Amazon? There's no reason publishers and independent authors couldn't just do online sales with Google checkout.
posted by delmoi at 10:21 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd use the shit out of a netflix for books

They have that, you know.
posted by jedicus at 10:22 AM on January 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


I find my personal valuation of an e-book to be somewhere between an audiobook and a paperback. It has the paperback qualities of being able to keep a permanent copy for future reference (even if you don't read it again), however it has the qualities of an audiobook in the fact that a lot of the sensory experience of book ownership is gone (smell, touch and the ability to share with others). Audiobooks are a cold format; they're getting you from A to B. There's an element of that in an e-book.

In that sense, I can't see myself paying ~$500 for a device so that I can pay more to read the same material. It just doesn't make sense; the instantaneous convenience of owning an e-book the second you want to buy it isn't worth a markup. There are still bookstores and even in my remote-ish location, Amazon ships in 3-4 days.

I find it a little dramatic to think that a re-valuation of the market for writing will spell the end of great writing. If you think back to the birth of fiction, the majority of writers weren't paid enough to survive on and held other jobs, yet they continued to write. The volume of their material might've been reduced for anyone who wasn't Sartre, but the quality was there. I think it's over the top to assume that a return to those types of conditions will stop anyone from putting pen to paper and sharing it in some way. (book, e-book, periodical, blog, etc.)
posted by Hiker at 10:23 AM on January 30, 2010


"Macmillan Publishing is distributing Bloomsbury Press on behalf of Bloomsbury Publishing." I'm not clear if that applies to other parts of Bloomsbury Publishing as well.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:24 AM on January 30, 2010


As I understand the book industry, their profit center is hardcover books that sell a lot of copies. The newest Dan Brown, the newest Stephenie Meyer. Without those books they couldn't afford to take chances on new authors, wouldn't keep publishing decent-selling midlist authors, wouldn't publish nearly as much literary fiction or books for small niche audiences. So, if they put out the new Dan Brown book as a $10 ebook -- it's suicide.

And I'm not going to buy a $15 ebook, but if they want to try to sell one, they can go for it. For Amazon to delist all of Macmillan's titles because of this is stupidly vindictive, though.
posted by Jeanne at 10:30 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Empath" how do you justify this attitude? Have you ever written a book?

Not to take anything away from your excellent defense of the work involved and the worth of good writing, but if I were presuming to speak for empath, I'd suspect we'd be talking about the near-zero marginal cost of producing copies and generally cheap distribution.

There is something that stings about paying a similar price for an electronic good as you do for a physical good -- the idea that you should pay less because there's no "thing" there is a pretty strong gut response. It's true that the work creators have to go through to write the thing doesn't go away, nor does the work of editing, layout, and packaging the book go away, and there's arguably lot of work that goes into the IT infrastructure for distribution. But the impulse to want an eBook to be cheaper seems defensible: IT distribution costs should generally spread low once you have a platform, and if nothing else, storage and inventory related costs should drop drastically, as should industrial/printing costs.

I don't think a $15 paperback should be free as an eBook, but seeing it 10-20% off doesn't seem unreasonable to me.
posted by weston at 10:33 AM on January 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


Give me something I can grip, curl, dog-ear.

I am so sick of hearing this knee-jerk reaction. How many Kindle owners do you know who don't also own (and continue to buy) physical books? I'm sure some people like this exist, but they're a tiny minority.

Most people who buy Kindles do so because they are devoted READERS. I am. My bookshelves are overflowing. Each shelf has books behind books, and I can't find anything without arduous searches. Yet I continue to buy more books -- even though I own a Kindle, which I use every day.

I buy Kindle books when I know I'll want to read them on the Subway or some other place where it's hard to hold a physical book and a pole at the same time. (I'm so grateful to the Kindle for allowing to read MORE!)

I also buy key-reference books in Kindle format, so that I can have many of them on one device. When I go to a play rehearsal, it's hard to bring with me a dictionary, a thesaurus, the complete works of Shakespeare and ten reference books -- or at least it used to be hard. (My posture is forever ruined because as a teen, I always toted around a big backback full of heavy books.)

I often buy a book in both Kindle and traditional format. If I like a book, I will sometimes buy it first on the Kindle and then in physical format -- so that I can mark it up or loan it to friends.

Even if your worst nightmare comes true, and eBooks become so popular that publishers stop using paper and ink, the world will still be filled with billions of used books. And used books have the properties you (and I) like -- the smell, etc. -- more strongly than new books do. There are enough books in the world that you and I will definitely be around them for the rest of our lives, even if all book publishing ceases.

For me, the packaging is ultimately superficial. Like you, I have all sorts of romantic feelings about paper, ink and blinding. But in the end, none of that helps saves a bad story? How often do you think, "Man, that book sucked, but it did smell good"?

The converse is true for good stories and good books. Yes, I love cover art and the feeling that a book has history, but in the end what's most important is the author's words entering my head. Those words have transcended stone, papyrus, paper, etc. One day they will transcend eInk. When I'm riveted by an exciting story, who cares what contains the words? My BRAIN contains them!

There are books I read last year that I honestly can't remember whether I read them as hardbacks, paperbacks, audiobooks or on the Kindle. I just remember the stories!
posted by grumblebee at 10:34 AM on January 30, 2010 [52 favorites]


Yeah, it’s redonk, but it’s Macmillan’s right to be redonk, and in theory there’s marketplaces out there ready and willing to demonstrate how redonk they are without Amazon’s petulant, unilateral “help.”

Amazon is part of the marketplace too. That free market is sometimes a little more complicated than producers would like.
posted by grouse at 10:34 AM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Give me something I can grip, curl, dog-ear. Give me that smell, the smell of knowledge and effort and paper.

Amazon's got that, too. They're called USED BOOKS. Oh, but the Author's Guild don't like those. Like a prostitute complaining about all the free sex out there, they'd rather you keep going to their pimp. And like a prostitute, they make peanuts compared to the pimps.

And anyone who thinks book publishers are near-pointless middlemen in the manner of record companies doesn't begin to understand what publishing entails.

Sorry, but that is precisely what publishers are. They front money. Author lives off money and writes book without requiring said author to get a Real Job™. Publisher then sells book for profit, giving pittance to author. Please explain how this is different than the music industry.

They're a huge corporation doing whatever they can to make as much money as possible and sell as much as they can for as much money as possible.

I've got a beautiful herring to sell you. Lovely red plumage.

It just-so-happens that one of the easiest ways to make money is to leverage technological advancements to lower costs. I'm surprised you aren't weeping for the poor Scribe's Guilds that were mercilessly put out of business by your beloved publishers.

Technology marches on. Either you get with the times, or you bury your head in the sands as the tides rise around you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:36 AM on January 30, 2010 [15 favorites]


Yes, they are the distributor for our physical books, but our agreement with Amazon is separate. We use Macmillan's sales force and warehouse, but we're a completely separate company. (Many smaller publishers have such distribution agreements.) Oh, and Horace Rumpole, Bloomsbury Press is one of our three adult imprints: Bloomsbury, Bloomsbury Press, and Walker & Company. Our kids' imprints are Bloomsbury Kids and Walker Books for Young Readers.

Right now, I'm finding some of our books for sale on my kindle, but not others. We haven't digitized our whole catalogue yet, so that might mean nothing.

Regarding pricing: you're not just paying for the physical book. Much more of our expenditures go towards the editing and publicity for our books than towards the materials for physical books and their warehousing. This is one of our central problems in selling ebooks: we have to convince readers that what they've been buying from us for so many years weren't just the physical objects, but all the work that went into them that has nothing to do with their physical nature.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:42 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, say what you like about Steve Jobs/Apple/iTunes, but one thing iTunes helped bring about was a somewhat more sensible price point for music-as-collection-of-bits-and-bytes. For someone used to having to fork out £3.99 for a CD single -- £3.99! -- being able to buy tracks for 79p each, and without braving the weather or surly HMV staff, was a happy shock. (According to this Wikipedia article, before iTunes companies like Sony were trying to *rent* songs at $3.50 a time.)

I was hoping Steve would use his reality distortion field to strongarm the book publishers into pricing iPad ebooks for what they are: similar collections of bits and bytes, but smaller. Doesn't look that way from the demo at the Apple conference, but I'm still hopeful. Surely -- SURELY -- Jobs knows that iBooks will flop if people are asked to pay the same price for a digital book as a physical one.

(As a side note, I'm interested to see what the iPad does for game prices. Everyone got used to spending no more than a dollar/pound or two on iPhone games, because -- hey, they're all small and cute, aren't they? Now you can buy those same iPhone games for the same price and play them *on the iPad*, I can't see EA et al being able to get away with charging £30-40 -- i.e. 20 times the price -- for dedicated 'grown-up' iPad games.)
posted by sleepcrime at 10:44 AM on January 30, 2010


@grouse, the marketplace ought to be you or me deciding whether or not you or me wants to pay $15 for an ebook. Not Amazon deciding for us.
posted by kipmanley at 10:47 AM on January 30, 2010


For as long as publishers continue to behave relatively decently to authors (in terms of not forcing advances and royalty percentages ever lower) compared to how Amazon is behaving towards publishers, Macmillan et al should be praised for attempting to preserve the value of what they sell.

As eBooks enter the mainstream, the industry will need to adjust, for good or for ill. What sort of adjustments do you think publishers can make in order to cater to the ever-growing eBook market, where consumers will generally not be willing to pay $15 for an eBook that they cannot dog-ear, mark, etc.? Would a greater number of smaller publishers be more fit to address this issue than one large publisher?

I don't know too much about how the book publishing industry works, which is why I ask.

Elsewhere...

Why not just find a good reviewer and buy the books they recommend directly from the authors? Publishers do a lot more then 'filtering' today (like actually typesetting and actually manufacturing the book). If all you need is a filter, then that particular task can be filled in another way, for less money (and the reviewer could make money off affiliate links)

I would be more than happy to do this! My number one source for recommendations is on message boards and blogs, which is why I can afford to be sniffy about the idea of paying for things like book promotion, when so much of the fiction I read is in a little niche where word-of-mouth is the only way things can actually work.

However, while I do recognize that there's more to publishing than just filtering, I'm also aware of how effective a good editor can be, and that's someone you'd need just as much with an eBook as with a printed book. (I'm also aware of how shitty certain otherwise talented authors can "become" when they spurn the advice or even the very existence of their editors.)

Sidenote: with regard to DRM-ed PDFs - why not just stamp an otherwise un-DRMed PDF with the email address of the person who had originally bought it? You can freely lend it to your friends, but if you start posting your stuff to RapidShare on /lit/, eventually you'll be found out. Didn't Paizo do that?

It's a little weird that publishers can't just set whatever price they want for their books. Actually, who even needs a central store like Amazon? There's no reason publishers and independent authors couldn't just do online sales with Google checkout.

This is an excellent point.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:48 AM on January 30, 2010


As a soon-to-be-published-with-one-of-the-majors author, I have given this a lot of thought. And I still think I'd rather have visibility (sell lots of books for CHEAP, building my name in the process) instead of money. Except for that little caveat...if my book doesn't earn out its advance, I'm way less likely to sell a second book. So the visibility might not be worth its salt, in the end.
posted by mynameisluka at 10:55 AM on January 30, 2010


Anecdotal datapoint coming up. Disregard as needed.

I'm a UK-based author whose first book was published by an imprint of a large publisher which is not Macmillan. I was recently sent a contract addendum changing the royalty share on ebook sales in their favour. In the original contract, ebook royalties were ridiculously generous simply because it wasn't seen as a serious proposition at the time (only three years ago).

So from an author's-eye view, it seems like publishers are still trying to work out the economics of ebooks and there's a lot of uncertainty. Personally, I'm happy to reduce my (notional) take on ebook royalties if it means they actually get my book onto Kindles and iPads. I guess I might feel differently if I was a top-of-the-list author who was guaranteed good sales anyway. As it is, I'll sign up for anything that gets me a few sales.
posted by him at 10:57 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


ocherdraco, I used to know that Bloomsbury was only distributed and not a imprint (been away from bookselling too long). And I do know that Manchester University is NOT a division of Macmillan. I should have wrote "publishers and imprints affected" and Macmillan's page should read "Publishers, imprints, and ISBNs." As for finding Kindle editions, they're probably not missing as yes, I'll bet those are submitted and managed by you folks, but this is about physical books, too. I can't tell just by my sampling how much, if any, of your physical books are missing but if Macmillan is distributing your physical books, Bloomsbury could be affected.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:57 AM on January 30, 2010


"Empath" how do you justify this attitude? Have you ever written a book? Do you have any idea of the amount of work it takes? I typically spend a year on a book, but some have taken me three and some five and I know people who've taken 10 years of full time work to write one.

Family members who are or were professional writers: father, sister (first novel just bought by Penguin), brother-in-law (second novel just out from Houghton Mifflin), grandfather (novelist, essayist, editor of the Tennessean, an episode of Maverick!)

Time I waited for the second book in a series I'm really enjoying to be published for the Kindle so I could pay $10 to read it: 5 months

Time it took me after finally giving up to find a torrent, download it, and install a perfectly-formatted ePub copy on Stanza on my iPad (just kidding! iPhone): 90 seconds

Amount of money I then mailed in cash to the author's home address: $10

Guilt I feel: minimal.
posted by nicwolff at 11:01 AM on January 30, 2010 [14 favorites]


Actually, who even needs a central store like Amazon? There's no reason publishers and independent authors couldn't just do online sales with Google checkout.

For this to work, you need to get consumers to change their habits. If I'm looking for a specific, obscure book, I'll check various sites. But if I just want, say, a book about the Roman Empire, I'll go straight to Amazon without bothering to look anywhere else. And I'll buy one of Amazon's offerings, even though there might be a better book somewhere else.

This Macmillan thing makes me angry at Amazon. I feel like they don't care about me (as a consumer of Macmillan books). I don't want them to limit my choices because they are having internal battles with publishers. I specifically shop at Amazon because they have "everything." (Not really, of course, but most of the time I find what I'm looking for on their site.)

Since my book-buying experience is with them, not with Macmillan, my simple mind blames them for not having the books I want -- not Macmillan for pricing books too high and thus "forcing" Amazon to play this game.

I understand that they would argue that they are doing this FOR the consumer -- to protect the consumer from having to pay high prices (and, of course, making the consumer want to buy from Amazon, due to Amazon's low prices.) But I'd rather be offered the opportunity to buy a product -- even if it's overpriced. I can always say no.
posted by grumblebee at 11:02 AM on January 30, 2010


Should anyone care, I've checked in with folks from work, and we're unaffected by this. Carry on.

Stitcherbeast, you're right that word of mouth is incredibly important for books; publishers do as much as we can to help it spread. But there's a certain amount of publicity that has to happen before enough readers will have picked up a book for word of mouth to get going. It's that initial publicity hump that we focus our efforts on.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:02 AM on January 30, 2010


Stitcherbeast, you're right that word of mouth is incredibly important for books; publishers do as much as we can to help it spread. But there's a certain amount of publicity that has to happen before enough readers will have picked up a book for word of mouth to get going. It's that initial publicity hump that we focus our efforts on.

I grok that, especially with regard to how various kinds of books need various kinds of publicity. A lot of my more utopian visions with regard to boutique publishers and independent authors only really applies to people who approach writing fiction as a paid hobby.

Just out of curiosity, what kind of publicity would go into, say, the new release of a Centipede Press-type book, where it's niche fiction with an attentive but narrow audience?
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:06 AM on January 30, 2010


Would it not be the case that the majority who steal your work would not have bought it?

In some cases, sure. But I think there are fewer and fewer people for whom illegally downloading media (or not) represents some kind of an ethical choice -- fewer and fewer people who say, "Yes, I will buy this with real money so as to support the creator" or "No, I will not buy this with real money because I wouldn't dream of supporting its creator but I will engage with it for free illegally because I want to mock it with my friends who also are not paying for it but are having a great time making fun of it" (see, for instance, Twilight) or even "I would totally support the creator of this but I am broke right now/I would totally support the creator of this but you know and I know the creator isn't seeing shit from sales of it and damn the motherfucking Man, damn that motherfucker to hell." I think the choice it represents for most people who illegally download media is effort of any kind + expenditure + (in some cases) wait-time between purchase/rental and consumption of said media vs. I-get-it-free-right-now. I really think, for most people who do this, it's a matter of absolute convenience versus (quite frankly) a whole hell of a lot of convenience that just isn't as convenient as getting something for nothing by clicking on it. It's not a decision arrived at via conscious immorality ("yay, I'm stealing from you, assholes! whoo!") or conscious morality ("I am defying your stranglehold on culture, entitled gatekeepers! ...whoo!"), but semi-conscious amorality ("oh, hey, there's something I want. ...click.").
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:07 AM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


grouse, the marketplace ought to be you or me deciding whether or not you or me wants to pay $15 for an ebook. Not Amazon deciding for us.

I'm happy to let Amazon try to get lower prices. If you and Macmillan don't like it, you are welcome to use the marketplace yourself to establish another channel where you can pay them $15 for e-books.
posted by grouse at 11:12 AM on January 30, 2010


So Macmillan attempts to force Amazon to engage in price fixing, Amazon takes offense and punishes Macmillan by removing them from the virtual shelves...and people are mad at Amazon?

Macmillan can eat a bucket of...hmm, what would be a good thing for them to eat a bucket of? Help me out here. eBooks are intrinsically worthless and there is no reason in the world for them to be priced anywhere near physical copies. Tell me, what is the resale value for an eBook? Oh that's right, same as a digital copy of anything else: ZERO. Can you donate it when you're done reading it? No. Can you share it? No. The sale price should be a multiple of zero, plus a realistic fraction of the production cost and the author's cut.

Trying to price fix is a great way to drive people to roll their own distribution network, and nobody in publishing wants to learn the hard lesson that people will merrily do for free what they want lots of money for.
posted by mullingitover at 11:25 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Did mp3s spell the end of great Music?

Uh, yes?
posted by mpbx at 11:31 AM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't want them to limit my choices because they are having internal battles with publishers.

Limit your choices? Your choices before Amazon came along: buy a real book from a bookstore, or check one out from a library. You can still do that. Amazon hasn't limited anything.

I understand that they would argue that they are doing this FOR the consumer

Hardly. Amazon is doing this because if they cave to Macmillan, next thing you know all the publishers will be wanting more. They're doing this for their bottom line.

We're witnessing the democratization of the arts. Things that used to be costly like printing or recording and distribution could be controlled by the wealthy few. Those limitations are disappearing before their eyes and they're fighting for—not their lives—but their wealth. The floodgates are opening, and their petty fiefdoms are going to be drowned by the torrents (pardon the pun).

The sooner these archaic relics are killed off, the better.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:32 AM on January 30, 2010


Though I lack a solution, this bears restating:

You can't argue that this isn't work and that people will do it anyway for love. They won't and can't-- unless you want a world in which only rich people pursue analytic and investigative reporting or only academics. This idea that "information wants to be free" has already completely destroyed the only other industry that supports investigative reporting: print journalism.
posted by setanor at 11:32 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh that's right, same as a digital copy of anything else: ZERO. Can you donate it when you're done reading it? No. Can you share it? No.

This may not be what you meant, but it's crucial to keep emphasizing that this is not a property of digital copies, but of the "license" scam Amazon perpetrates with ebooks. You cannot purchase an ebook from Amazon, and that's the reason you can't donate or share it. I like to own things, so I have no interest in Amazon's ebooks.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:34 AM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Things that used to be costly like printing or recording and distribution could be controlled by the wealthy few. Those limitations are disappearing before their eyes...

You forgot time. Time is very expensive. How many authors can afford the time to do the sort of work that sustains our culture?
posted by setanor at 11:34 AM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Amount of money I then mailed in cash to the author's home address: $10

Great. Let's everybody do that so that Scholastic sees total sales of 9 books and drops her in favor of more Twilight clones.
posted by setanor at 11:37 AM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's a little weird that publishers can't just set whatever price they want for their books.

I think it's somewhat analogous to if the publishers said they wanted to raise the wholesale price from 60% to 70% of the retail price. Yes, they have the right, but that doesn't mean the booksellers wouldn't flip out. It's their profits that the money is coming out of.
posted by smackfu at 11:38 AM on January 30, 2010


I borrowed Peter Watts' Blindsight from the library. Read it, enjoyed it. Picked up Starfish, read some of it, got intrigued with the science, found his website with nice auxiliary information, and read there too. Found he'd released all four [five] books for free download. Found them in Stanza on the iPhone, grabbed them and finished reading Starfish and then Maelstrom and Behemoth on a 3 1/2 inch screen (with my glasses off, no problem). Somewhere in there I found that he had a tip jar on his site, so I sent him money. More money than he would have made if I'd got them all from the library, and more money than he'd have made if I'd bought the books.

I'd kind of like the whole "pay for music and books" thing better if payment was traditionally rendered after consumption rather than before. So one could pay what reflects one's enjoyment for the work. Or, at least, if every author had a tip jar so I could rattle pennies, quarters and/or toonies around in there at whim based on my appreciation of their work.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:39 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


People think $10 is too much to pay for an e- book, but they have no problem paying $250 to read them?

To be honest, I have not heard this sentiment from Kindle owners. They seem fine paying $10 for the e-books. I've heard it mainly from people who say "I would buy a Kindle if it cost $100 and the books were $5". Yeah, good luck with that.
posted by smackfu at 11:42 AM on January 30, 2010


grouse, the marketplace ought to be you or me deciding whether or not you or me wants to pay $15 for an ebook. Not Amazon deciding for us.

I'm happy to let Amazon try to get lower prices. If you and Macmillan don't like it, you are welcome to use the marketplace yourself to establish another channel where you can pay them $15 for e-books.
posted by grouse


Oh the "marketplace". This is same marketplace that has already spoken about the discounts on brick and mortar books? Why buy a book at a mom & pop for the cover price of $29 when you can get it at Borders, Walmart or Amazon for $19?

This is how things work. Amazon created the Kindle to make money selling book content. They believe the magic $9.99 price point is what the market will pay for these books. This is like the $0.99 MP3 price point. Amazon has a little experience in the electronic content delivery market (music and movies ) and know the price point can't be the same for the physical product than the e-version. And as good merchandisers they know there are certain price points that move merchandise. The fact is Amazon and the publisher will make a lot more money selling a book at $9.99 than at $15 because of the extra volume. And as an electronic delivery there's not higher material cost/shipping/etc. What the publishers worry about is if the e-product is so successful, it will put pressure on the dead tree edition price points.

As with music, if you can find the magic price point that drives more casual impulse shopper, you make more money. Because the number of units will go up. The publishers all seem to think the volume is the same in each case at $10 or $15 and they're losing money. But with a lot of books, that's not the case. You're at the airport and realize you don't have anything to read. Between two mass market paperbacks are you going to buy the $10 one or the $15 one? (assuming you're not a superfan of the $15 one). If they were both $15 you might be more likely to just get a magazine or take your chances on the American Way magazine in the seat back.

And these guys are all competing with free -- ebooks on newsgroups or those socialists at the library that let you borrow books for free.
posted by birdherder at 11:50 AM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


setanor: "Great. Let's everybody do that so that Scholastic sees total sales of 9 books and drops her in favor of more Twilight clones."

I guess the author would be in the terrible position of having a lot more money but no book deal. Maybe she could put a bunch of that money in a pile and set fire to it, thus simulating the experience of having the book deal?
posted by mullingitover at 11:51 AM on January 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


It supports PDF natively now, and it has the built-in but not free ability to convert HTML documents to its native AZW format.

It's free to convert them via the username@free.kindle.com email address. Attach, send, receive your documents in compatible format via email, then load them onto your Kindle via USB. It's not a hassle.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:51 AM on January 30, 2010


Time is very expensive
No, it's just relative.
posted by twistedonion at 11:56 AM on January 30, 2010


Dittos to all those plagued with the problem of too many books. I love books but I can only access 1/3 of them, living in a one bedroom apartment with wife. Two thirds of my library is in my garage. And I swear there's a book in there, in a box, that I can't find.
posted by uraniumwilly at 11:57 AM on January 30, 2010


Maias: Would it not be the case that the majority who steal your work would not have bought it? If I enjoy an authors book I'll go out of my way to support them. Sure I could grab a free version somewhere but I'm aware doing that means that chances are there will be no more great reads from that author.

That would be true if there's an ethic of paying for it among those who can afford it and those people somehow become aware of its existence. I'm perfectly happy for poor people to have it for free. I give away a lot of content and I send many free books to people who can't afford them, when I can afford to do so. But if empath's attitude-- ie, fuck the author, I want what I want, no one should have to pay-- prevails, then, no.

I'm fine with $10 ebook pricing to reflect reduced distribution costs, but when you start talking about $1-2, it's simply not going to support the work and the publicity necessary to draw readers to it. And I don't think the idea of "pay after you've read only if you like" makes sense either. Do you do that with massage? Interior design? Any fucking service at all? Even prostitutes get paid up front.

The kind of work I do often pisses people off-- the people I'd most like to read it are often the ones who will be the most angered by it. Hopefully, I convince a decent proportion that I'm correct and I reach people with power who can make change. But the people who would be most likely to "tip" me would be the ones who can least afford to do so (they're often kids)-- and the ones who could afford to do so are the ones most likely to be pissed off. This is the essential dilemma of investigative and analytical journalism and of "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted."
posted by Maias at 11:59 AM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


If I see a book I like, I request it at my library then forget about it until I get an email notice that it's arrived. If it's really great, I buy a used copy on Amazon. If the used price is close to the new price or it falls into the category of "super awesome" then I'll go to a bookstore and purchase it. If I'm curious about whether I want to read it, I use the #bookz channel to grab a copy. With all of those options, a DRM'd Amazon Ebook for $15 is about as appealing as a capsacin enema.
posted by mecran01 at 12:02 PM on January 30, 2010


Why read books when you read Nature ?
Books are for students and the bored.
posted by Postroad at 12:05 PM on January 30, 2010


I'm not paying more than the price of a paperback for anythin....

It is interesting that the publishers have always sold books as if the package determined the price, rather than the contents. Hardcovers cost more than trade paperbacks cost more than mass-market paperbacks. If it's due to decreased publishing costs, it would follow that e-books should be priced below paperbacks
posted by smackfu at 12:05 PM on January 30, 2010


CivilDisobedient: Sorry, but that is precisely what publishers are. They front money.

They front money. They track down new talent. They filter slushpiles. They edit, edit, edit the fuck out of books, using human creative talent to turn an author's promising first stab at a manuscript into (in the best cases, and to risk pretentiousness) transcendent works of art that resonate for generations. They use their economies of scale to preserve better royalties for authors than individual authors could, to publicize and market and provide legal services to protect copyright.

The problem with being deeply mired in technological determinism, as you seem to be, is that you miss any sense of the real, complicated, messy, human interactions that actually constitute culture, markets, and society. You don't appear to actually understand what goes on in book publishing, but because you've identified a grand structural dynamic about the Future, you've decided that the details don't matter. Actually the details are the point.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:05 PM on January 30, 2010 [17 favorites]


They use their economies of scale to preserve better royalties for authors than individual authors could

Hmm? Isn't the royalty just a dividing line between the money that goes to the publisher and what goes to the author? And publishers are the one pushing for the author side?
posted by smackfu at 12:07 PM on January 30, 2010


Hmm? Isn't the royalty just a dividing line between the money that goes to the publisher and what goes to the author? And publishers are the one pushing for the author side?

Sorry, I mean better in the sense that they have a mutual interest with authors in pushing for a bigger proportion of net receipts from booksellers.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:09 PM on January 30, 2010


er, and of course more income from bookselling in the first place, which goes more to the topic of this post.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:11 PM on January 30, 2010


Nothing replaces the real thing. I've already got a cold and unfeeling device to make calls on, and a cold and unfeeling device to work on, why would I use a cold and unfeeling device for pleasure reading?

Wha? And what is the real thing? Does my eBook copy somehow have less content than yours? Does it somehow modify the core information digested from reading a book. I love my beat up little gen 1 Kindle with the stress cracks at the top and the wearing faux leather cover it's precariously held in, but, much like a physical book, it's a just a shell that contains the goodness I really crave, the words. And, just like a physical book, it has no feelings.

The loss of Tom Doherty and Associates kinda throws me here. I generally split reading between physical copies and Kindle these days, but I usually sample things on the Kindle first. If I can't get Tor book samples, I may go insane. I don't have a side to take in this, but I do know that I'm willing to pay more than $10 for a Kindle copy knowing that it keeps a great publisher like Doherty alive and the great stable of writers they have working.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:15 PM on January 30, 2010


jedicus I did not know. Intriguing but a quick look shows their catalog is (understandably) pretty shallow. Also they claim $9 a month yet their cheapest plan is $23/mo, not sure if I'm misreading or something.

So pretending the publishing industry is interested in what us pesky customers want out of the relationship instead of dick size wars here's my user story.

I read a lot but I don't read a lot of books. I read about a lot of books. Specifically I read jscalzi's Whatever semi religiously so I'm exposed to a lot of "hey this is a new book, it sounds interesting." I rarely go from that thought to reading the book much less purchasing it. I won't drop $10 on a paperback of something on the off chance it'll be any good, I certainly won't do so for a similarly priced ebook license.

So I miss out on a lot of books and lots of small, independent authors miss out on my filthy lucre.

Make reading a book to see if I like it risk free and stupidly easy: Netflix style, very low price ebooks, time- or chapter-limited ebooks for free, I don't know. Something.

Then make money on the upsell: sell a no-DRM PDF of it to keep, sell a signed hardcover for $50, sell subscriptions to the author to have the new stuff auto-delivered before it's publicly available, whatever. Get clever.

But for the love of god stop trying to sell bits like you sell hardcovers.
posted by Skorgu at 12:18 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not only Macmillan's right to push back against years of the devaluing of books and authorship through deeper and deeper discounts, supermarket sales, buyback schemes, and Amazon's (and others') efforts to use new technologies as an excuse to transmit ever lower sums of money to content creators for their work.

Yes, but this a really stupid hill to die on. Amazon is the largest bookseller in the world and the largest e-book seller in the world. While Wal-Mart may sell more books, most of what they sell is bestseller list stuff -- few downlist authors sell through Wal-Mart (or Target or Costco).

Amazon's response has cut Macmillan off from almost half the US book market. How long to you think Macmillan can live without that much of the market for their books, given they've been slashing expenses and laying people off? Amazon can certainly hold out -- their stock is still trading over $100 and they're sitting on billions in reserves.

Yes, the iPad would save Macmillan... in 60 days. 60 days with a 50% reduction of revenue just to be saved by a device that will probably take a year to surpass Kindle sales.

Macmillan is learning what the record companies did with Apple and iTunes -- you don't try to dink with prices when it means pissing off the store that produces most of your sales. (Eventually Apple and the record companies did agree to raise prices, but that ended up being part of the framework of removing DRM.)

Amazon isn't the cool hip open-source information-wants-to-be-free forward thinker here, people.

Who the hell said that here? Amazon is a corporation, just like Macmillan. They do stupid things and make stupid decisions. Macmillan, in this case, was far stupider. It's the Russo-Japanese War, with Macmillan playing the part of Tsarist Russia.
posted by dw at 12:24 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not only Macmillan's right to push back against years of the devaluing of books and authorship through deeper and deeper discounts

OTOH, it seems like the publishers never cared how much Amazon discounted physical books, as long as they got their same old share. They could have enforced minimum pricing, etc. Now the consequences of that uncaring are becoming clear, that people value the book at what Amazon is selling it for and not the cover price. When the publishers reference the $28 average cover price in relation to the e-book price, I can only laugh because no one pays the cover price.
posted by smackfu at 12:34 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


This idea that "information wants to be free" has already completely destroyed the only other industry that supports investigative reporting: print journalism.

No. Broadcast media destroyed print journalism. First radio, followed by television. Loooong time before the internet ever came around.

And yet the field of journalism, agnostic of the distribution, somehow manages to carry on. Like with the arts, journalism is being democratized. We now have Blogs for our political news, Twitter for news as-it-happens, WikiLeaks for uncensored information the governments of this world would rather us not read. What did we have before that? A tiny industry, controlled by an even tinier body of owners that called the shots, replaced a few decades later with shareholders that called the shots.

They front money.

So do banks. So do kings and princes. So do popes. So do, for that matter, friends and family. What makes one dollar better than another?

They track down new talent.

And who are they to decide what is talent? Fuck that. The market decides what's talent. And thanks to the dismantling of the technological barriers of publishing, now anyone can self-publish. Authors don't need pimps. www.johnsmithauthor.com is just as accessible as www.stevenking.com.

They filter slushpiles.

See: the readers.

They edit, edit, edit the fuck out of books, using human creative talent to turn an author's promising first stab at a manuscript into (in the best cases, and to risk pretentiousness) transcendent works of art that resonate for generations.

That's funny. I thought editors did that. And guess what? There will still be a place for editors when the barricades fall.

They use their economies of scale to preserve better royalties for authors than individual authors could, to publicize and market and provide legal services to protect copyright.

No, they use their economies of scale to artificially limit those "products" they decide the masses will pay for. And please don't get started on copyright, another huge ball of twine we could bat around for hours.

The problem with being deeply mired in technological determinism, as you seem to be, is that you miss any sense of the real, complicated, messy, human interactions that actually constitute culture, markets, and society.

How is that, exactly? Your drive-by swipes make for great copy.

You don't appear to actually understand what goes on in book publishing, but because you've identified a grand structural dynamic about the Future, you've decided that the details don't matter. Actually the details are the point.

And there's another one! Great, great stuff!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:44 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anytime copying comes up against commercial interests, I can never help but think of Bruce Sterling's Free as Air, Free as Water, Free as Knowledge, a rant from 1992 and still frighteningly relevant:
The American library system was invented in a different cultural climate. This is how it happened. You're Benjamin Franklin, a printer and your average universal genius, and it's the Year of Our Lord 1731. You have this freewheeling debating club called the Junto, and you decide you're going to pool your books and charge everybody a very small fee to join in and read them. There's about fifty of you. You're not big people, in the Junto. You're not aristocrats or well-born people or even philanthropists. You're mostly apprentices and young people who work with their hands. If you were rich, you wouldn't be so anxious to pool your information in the first place. So you put all your leatherbound books into the old Philadelphia clubhouse, and you charge people forty shillings to join and ten shillings dues per annum....

Now forget 1731. It's 1991. Forget the leatherbound books. You start swopping floppy disks and using a bulletin board system. Public spirited? A benefit to society? Democratic institution, knowledge is power, power to the people? Maybe... or maybe you're an idealistic nut, Mr. Franklin. Not only that, but you're menacing our commercial interests. What about our trade secrets, Mr Franklin? Our trademarks, copyrights, and patents. Our intellectual property rights. Our look-and-feel. Our patented algorithms. Our national security clearances . Our export licenses. Our FBI surveillance policy. Don't copy that floppy, Mr. Franklin! And you're telling me you want us to pay taxes to support your suspicious activities? Hey, if there's a real need here, the market will meet it, Mr Franklin. I really think this ``library'' idea of yours is something better left to the private sector, Mr Franklin. No author could possibly want his books read for free, sir. Are you trying to starve the creative artist?
posted by artlung at 12:48 PM on January 30, 2010 [14 favorites]


> (As a side note, I'm interested to see what the iPad does for game prices. Everyone got used to spending no more than a dollar/pound or two on iPhone games, because -- hey, they're all small and cute, aren't they? Now you can buy those same iPhone games for the same price and play them *on the iPad*, I can't see EA et al being able to get away with charging £30-40 -- i.e. 20 times the price -- for dedicated 'grown-up' iPad games.)

Electronic Arts has been publishing games for the iPhone (link goes to iTunes Store) for a while now. As of this afternoon their prices range from $3 to $7 for most games (in the States), with outliers at $2 and $10, and free limited demos of most of them.

The difference between Tiger Woods PGA Tour on the iPhone and the XBox is not just $50, it's that they're pretty much different games: The UI is different, gameplay is different, screens are different; presumably the number of levels/courses/opponents -- choose what fits -- are also more limited on the iPhone. EA isn't undercutting their sales to console systems because of the iPhone market; they're adapting the games to not only suit the market but suit the device, and it's pretty much the opposite of competing with themselves.

Presumably iPad versions of those games will share a similar middle ground. Without a dedicated hardware controller, game interaction will have to be different than on a dedicated gaming console, and so prices will have to be limited to suit the limitations of the format. EA will probably continue to limit the depth of the games as well, not to be bastards about it but simply because building more depth into the game costs them more money as well.
posted by ardgedee at 12:59 PM on January 30, 2010


Right now you can get 100s of ebooks in not very large torrent files. There is no chance in HELL I would ever pay $10 or $15 for an ebook when I can get it for free in about 10 seconds. I'd happily pay a dollar or two for one, though.

A dollar? A dollar?!? Do you have any idea how much it costs to publish a book even when you leave aside printing and shipping costs? The author needs to get paid. The editor needs to get paid. The publisher needs to get paid. And the store needs to get paid.

Even if you're someone, like Civil Disobedient (see below), who believes we don't need publishers to act as a filter that is still the author, editor, and store. So you're going to pay three groups of people out of a DOLLAR? Now, lets say the book sells 20,000 copies. Thats $20,000 to go around. How the hell is this supposed to work? Answer: It does not. A dollar or two is utterly and completely ridiculous on every single imaginable level.

[re: slushpiles] See: the readers.

Holy shit, you don't know what you're talking about! You have time to read 100 books for every 1 that is marginally decent, and 10 of those for every good one?

...

I'm actually suffering some cognitive dissonance. I spend a lot of time online reading two distinct (if overlapping) sets of blogs and websites. One is the metafiltery set, and here it seems FUCK MACMILLAN is the loudest subset. That may be a function of a vocal minority, but still. The other set of blogs and people I spend a lot of time reading is the old RASFW contingent and associated people (a lot of TOR books people, Charlie Stross, Scalzi, various editors and readers like James Nicoll, Jo Walton, and so on) and among those smart, literate, good people AMAZON ARE EVIL BASTARDS is pretty much the ubiquitous response.

Personally, I'm a little torn. I completely understand where Macmillan is coming from: the cost of an ebook, to them, really is something like 85% the cost of a physical book. They simply cannot charge the prices Amazon wants them to charge and make money. On the other hand, I completely understand why people don't want to pay $15 for an ebook.

I'm not sure how this is going to end. I do know that it is not as simple as the FUCK MACMILLAN response espoused by some in this thread.
posted by Justinian at 1:03 PM on January 30, 2010 [9 favorites]


For example, Metafilter's Own Charlie Stross (who I think most people here would accept as Good People?):

"Amazon.com can kiss my ass. Shorter version: they're engaging in monopolistic practices that damn well ought to be illegal, in an attempt to use their near-monopoly position to fuck over authors and bring publishers to heel."
...
"Srsly. They can fuck right off..."

And so on. I wish Charlie had been more clear, but I get the impression if I read between the lines that he isn't a fan of Amazon's move.
posted by Justinian at 1:09 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Amazon shutting down sales of MacMillan's books sets something of an ugly precedent.

That said, Macmillan can sell elsewhere. (If there were some binding stipulation that Macmillan could not sell elsewhere, and this stipulation was tacked on after the initial contract, I'd view this not merely as ugly but unconscionably wrong on Amazon's part.)

> Amazon's response has cut Macmillan off from almost half the US book market.

I take a somewhat more laissez-faire view of Amazon than I do, say, of Google. In the end, Amazon is just a big, very sophisticated shopping cart. Those who sell through it could, if need be, spend a few hours setting up an account and selling just as easily through BiggerMorePopularShoppingCart.com, if such a thing were to come along. (Taking on something like Google, which has spent years and years indexing everything and enjoys a remarkable head start of accumulated info on any would-be competitors, is a task of a different order.)

Understandably, there are many people on MeFi who want eBooks to be a) cheaper and b) more freely distributable.

Unfortunately, a) militates against b), and vice-versa.

When someone buys at a cheap price, he/she tends to be more likely to not value what he/she has gotten... and to give copies to a friend, or-- far, far worse-- put it up on a torrent. ("Doodz! Look what I'm giving you for free! Love me!")

The fact is, with every single instance of digital distribution, an author runs a risk of that file being copied, either locally and to a few of the consumer's (now non-buying) friends, or globally, via a torrent site, and therefore to a few thousand people. And this is viral and exponential; any one of those non-paying recipients can do the same thing. And the process for copying and distribution is laughably easy and convenient.

Copying and distribution of physical books is not laughably convenient-- mass copying with a photocopier and a stapler tends to be reserved for impassioned, soon-to-be-martyred producers of samizdat, impelled by visions of the secret police ever about to knock on the door--, which is why libraries for physical books are very good things, and file-sharing for eBooks, on the other hand, is a very problematic thing.

Many seem to be assuming that there's a straight trend line between price and distribution: If the price drops by X%, then sales will increase by X%. The thing is, there are some nuances and quirks of buying psychology that complicate the matter. People tend to associate price with value: If I sell you the alchemical secret to transforming lead into gold, and price it at $1000, maybe 1 in 100, or 1 in 1000, will go, "Huh. Why not? Maybe it'll work. I'll buy."

On the other hand, if I sell the same information at $1, reasoning that, "Hey! Everyone wants to turn lead into gold! I'm gonna make a mint!", very few will believe the offer, and I'd lose money relative to that higher price. This is so, irrespective of how powerful or useful the information actually is; this is so, even I were to spend page after page yammering, or patiently explaining, that yes, this is real; yes, this is how it works; yes, here is feedback from other successful users; etc.

And sometimes the difference between $9 and $15 isn't just six-bucks-of-convenience, but important-enough-for-my-time vs. not-important-enough-for-my-time. Consumers spend both money and time; sometimes if you don't ask for enough money, they won't believe that they should spend the time.

In any case, time and money are relative scales; making things free and ubiquitous tosses these scales out the window. And as publishing, as a free-standing industry, gets crushed, the things that rise to take its place will not be free-standing; will be dependent on other, subtler transactions; will be paid for by the profit extracted through other means and according to other agendas.

Don't want to pay for a book? Cool. Here's a free book. Mind that you don't smudge the Fox News update screen at the bottom of the page.
posted by darth_tedious at 1:15 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


This idea that "information wants to be free" has already completely destroyed the only other industry that supports investigative reporting: print journalism.

I really don't think that's a fair description of the decades-long process of profit-taking when it was easy, lack of investment and poor business decisions that have helped to destroy many corporate newspaper chains in our lifetimes. "Information wants to be free" is not at the top of the list of knives sticking out of that body.
posted by mediareport at 1:15 PM on January 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


>They track down new talent.

And who are they to decide what is talent? Fuck that. The market decides what's talent.


I thought jessamyn and cortex decided what's talent.
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:26 PM on January 30, 2010


I have hundreds of books in my office that I will never read in their entirety again. The space they take up, the work it takes to move them when I switch offices every few years, and the trouble it takes for me to get the right book and find the right passage -- all eliminated when the books are digital and searchable. The entire library -- nay, universe -- of books available to me on my laptop screen has transformed my life as a scholar in ways that have made me smarter, more productive, and more creative.

I don't miss paper books. I can't wait for them all to be searchable online.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:32 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I work for a publisher and we sell some of our book as ebooks, and I'm usually responsible for negotiating the terms for the platforms or sales channels that sell those ebooks. One of the most annoying things I find with some of the platforms is the section of the agreement on pricing which usually states that you will not sell an ebook on another platform for a lower price. Sometimes I’m able to negotiate this out of a contract. If I can’t, I usually won’t submit our content to that platform or sales channel.

The reason I’m dead set against this is because I believe ebooks should be priced based on functionality. I sell our Kindle editions for a pretty low price. Reason being it’s a great deal for the publisher (DRM by default, locked sales channel, reduces used market for physical books, and there’s no such thing as a used market for the Kindle edition, they can not be shared) but a terrible proposition for the consumer (see above). I also find it a clumsy device with terrible navigation and a pathetic network connection.

The iPad editions should cost more. Much better device, ePub file format (though it should be noted that DRM can be applied to an ePub file), and probably device agnostic. We’ll see. If the iBookstore becomes or remains a locked sales channel then I’d price closer to our Kindle editions but if their model accommodates sharing, it will and should cost a bit more.

As for PDFs, we actually give some of our whole books away for free as unlocked PDFs, but that program is subsidized. If I had to cover costs based on the sales of open files, I would need to subsidize. I’ve yet to find a model in publishing the kinds of books we publish (mostly scholarly monographs, art books, and Mid-Atlantic regional books) that would be sustainable otherwise.

Another option might be to either ask for payment upfront for the first book (price based on pre-sell) or to find someone to pay for that first copy (Scholarly Monograph = $25,000, Art book = $60,000, Regional book = $40,000) and associated ebook costs (monograph or regional book an additional $2,000, there’s no such thing as a real art ebook and there won’t be for a while. Though if some third party e-rights issues could finally be resolved, looks like the iPad may be a way to read them.) These are the costs of a non-profit publisher. Raise all those costs when considering a publisher with non-subsidized overhead and a responsibility to shareholders. A non-illustrated Open Access scholarly humanities monograph needs about $10,000 beyond the sales revenue to break even.

One of the issues I’d like to see more closely addressed is ebook design. You really can’t and shouldn’t just use your print files for ebooks, but that’s pretty much what happens with a majority of ebooks. Printer PDF files are tweeked to the sepcifications of the ebook vendor and then submitted. Ebooks should instead be designed with more care and extensive tagging. We’ve only begun to see some of the functionality ebooks could provide, but to add that value we’re going to need to be willing to pay for it. Publishers shouldn’t just cut and paste their print publishing program onto their ebook program, but as long as ebooks cost $9.99 there’s not enough revenue for much of an alternative. If we want to see better ebooks, we’ll need to pay more. If you just want to read writing and don't care about something that has been prepared for maximum comprehension and/or enjoyment, consider reading just reading blogs. If you prefer a value added experience, be willing to pay for the work of the person who added the value and the infrastructure that makes it possible.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:41 PM on January 30, 2010 [13 favorites]


Civil Disobedient: editors are publishers. You can't disassociate the two.

It makes me sad to see the work that I do (because I love it, and because I love books) slandered and devalued. Most books lose money. We don't publish books because we think they'll all make a profit. We publish them because we think they're worth reading, and hope that enough of them will make a profit to support publishing the rest of them.

I'd love to stick around in this thread to explain more about what it looks like from my perspective, but I'm in the midst of editing a biography of Will Eisner, and I need to focus on that. But before I leave for the evening, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I and publishers like me are not pimps, and authors aren't prostitutes. To make such a comparison is demeaning and hurtful. If I were in this for material gain, or to make money off of someone else's hard work, I'd be in a different business. My bank account would probably thank me, but I love what I do far too much to leave.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:47 PM on January 30, 2010 [19 favorites]


It's free to convert them via the username@free.kindle.com email address.

I did not realize that. I had read that it cost 25 cents or something to convert documents. Did they change that or did I mishear from the beginning?
posted by jedicus at 1:50 PM on January 30, 2010


This Macmillan thing makes me angry at Amazon. I feel like they don't care about me (as a consumer of Macmillan books). I don't want them to limit my choices because they are having internal battles with publishers. I specifically shop at Amazon because they have "everything." (Not really, of course, but most of the time I find what I'm looking for on their site.)
Amazon doesn't have everything on Kindle. They're not getting rid of paper books, obviously.
Amazon's response has cut Macmillan off from almost half the US book market. How long to you think Macmillan can live without that much of the market for their books, given they've been slashing expenses and laying people off?
Uh, e-books only. for example (pulled off this page on wikipedia). Obviously they haven't stopped selling actual books. Just kindle books which for now probably only takes up a small portion of their sales.
No. Broadcast media destroyed print journalism. First radio, followed by television. Loooong time before the internet ever came around.
Not at all. If you look at when newspaper employment it actually peaks in the '80s. (IIRC -- I saw a chart once) Newspapers were golden because they each had a local monopoly on text. Sure, lots of people just watched TV, but lots of people still read the paper. There was no alternative for in depth reporting. Now there is. They all wrote the same story and covered the same topics. A lot of the time they just ran wire copy. And most importantly they were the only way for individuals and small businesses to advertise if they couldn't afford local TV.
I think it's somewhat analogous to if the publishers said they wanted to raise the wholesale price from 60% to 70% of the retail price. Yes, they have the right, but that doesn't mean the booksellers wouldn't flip out. It's their profits that the money is coming out of.
Well, realistically, what right does Amazon have to make money off kindle books? They're not giving out the readers for free. The only cost is the wireless bandwidth (which they pay for, there's no monthly fee). So past that cost, what right do they have to set prices? Of course publishers will have weird deals with bookstores (like, you can't sell the book for less then X, etc)
Even if you're someone, like Civil Disobedient (see below), who believes we don't need publishers to act as a filter that is still the author, editor, and store. So you're going to pay three groups of people out of a DOLLAR? Now, lets say the book sells 20,000 copies. Thats $20,000 to go around. How the hell is this supposed to work? Answer: It does not. A dollar or two is utterly and completely ridiculous on every single imaginable level.
If you're talking about non-best seller fiction, that's like about 4 times what an author will get up front. I do think $1 is kind of cheap for a book. I think $5 would be more reasonable. But it's ridiculous to pay $10 for something you can buy in paperback for $7.99

Oh, and technical books usually cost way more then $10 on kindle. for example.

Oh and check this out, I had no idea but now you can actually read kindle books on your PC. Interesting.
posted by delmoi at 2:21 PM on January 30, 2010


Civil Disobedient: editors are publishers. You can't disassociate the two.

Huh? Why not? Of course they can be disassociated. Isn't it common for established authors to work with their own editor?
posted by delmoi at 2:23 PM on January 30, 2010


So if somebody (i.e. me) wanted to get into the business of being a small publisher who sells ebooks, through whom should they sell them and in what formats? Does the answer change if the books contain artwork? (I'm thinking very seriously of starting a poetry ebook publishing business but am finding getting up to speed on the technological side of things quite challenging.)
posted by joannemerriam at 2:25 PM on January 30, 2010


I take a somewhat more laissez-faire view of Amazon than I do, say, of Google. In the end, Amazon is just a big, very sophisticated shopping cart.

With mindshare and supply operations just short of the magnitude of Wal-Mart.
posted by weston at 2:27 PM on January 30, 2010


f you're talking about non-best seller fiction, that's like about 4 times what an author will get up front.

This isn't true at all. It's barely true if you're only talking about first novels. Then what do you do when and if the book earns out? How do you pay the editor and such? How does the retailer make any money?

But it's ridiculous to pay $10 for something you can buy in paperback for $7.99

Sure, which is why they should price e-books high at the beginning when the book is available only in hardcover, and then drop the price when the paperback comes out. I think $15 at release and $7 when the paperback comes out is about what will end up being the price point for e-books.
posted by Justinian at 2:34 PM on January 30, 2010


> With mindshare and supply operations just short of the magnitude of Wal-Mart.

When it comes to physical products, and therefore supply operations, and therefore physical books, this is both true and inescapably relevant.

When it comes to ebooks, and digital products generally, the supply operations stop being relevant.

What is left is mindshare.

And in your browser, a few keystrokes makes all the difference between one habitual destination and another (cf., AltaVista.com).

Because, again, Amazon is just a glorified shopping cart-- a better shopping cart, or more to the point, a more widely advertised shopping cart-- some hypothetical competitor has a reasonable shot at vying against Amazon.

What's fascinating is that the various major publishing houses haven't banded together to create justebooks.com, serving up all their digital editions while cutting out Amazon. Or, for that matter, not doing the same with physical books. The majors seem to forget that Amazon has only three things: visitors, a fast supply chain, and branding as low cost plus fast delivery... and unless they make a move against Amazon, the latter's parasitic strength and leverage against them and their pricing will grow ever greater. (Would there be legal issues surrounding such a cartel-driven website or supply chain? Possibly. But they probably aren't insoluble.))
posted by darth_tedious at 2:54 PM on January 30, 2010


> Amazon has only three things:

Oh, and used (and therefore radically discounted) books... which add another layer of complexity. Again, though, only to physical books.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:57 PM on January 30, 2010


Civil Disobedient: editors are publishers. You can't disassociate the two.

Huh? Why not? Of course they can be disassociated. Isn't it common for established authors to work with their own editor?
posted by delmoi at 5:23 PM on January 30 [+] [!] [quote]Other [3/3]: «≡·
Because editors are paid by publishers. They work for the publisher on the authors manuscript. Even authors who work with the same editor over and over do so because they work with the same publisher over and over.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:05 PM on January 30, 2010


Uh, e-books only. for example (pulled off this page on wikipedia). Obviously they haven't stopped selling actual books.

No, it is real books, that's why this is such a big deal. Look at either edition of Wolf Hall (cloth, paper).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2010


Or Middlesex. Although they're still selling the audiobook version of that, interestingly enough.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:13 PM on January 30, 2010


I don't want them to limit my choices because they are having internal battles with publishers.

Limit your choices? Your choices before Amazon came along: buy a real book from a bookstore, or check one out from a library. You can still do that. Amazon hasn't limited anything.

I meant Amazon is limiting my choices ON AMAZON -- not in the world at large.

I have a very selfish view of shopping. I think stores should cater to what I want. I really don't give a shit about what goes on under their hoods. When I go into a supermarket, I want them to have bananas. If they say, "See, we stopped stocking them, because our banana supplier insulted our CEO's mother," I feel like, "How is that my problem? Deal with that in some other way besides hurting my shopping experience."

If Amazon is going to use my choices (when shopping on Amazon) as a pawn in its power-struggle with Macmillan, then I'd rather shop at Barnes And Noble.
posted by grumblebee at 3:19 PM on January 30, 2010


spicynuts wrote: Printing the hardcopy book (it's not like they are going to stop doing that) plus generating the XML and any other formatting required for ebook production

If they aren't doing layout in a digital format that can be easily converted into an eBook, MacMillan are a bunch of idiots who need their heads examined. Producing an eBook should be a matter of running a latex file or whatever through a conversion program.
posted by wierdo at 3:24 PM on January 30, 2010


Civil Disobedient: editors are publishers. You can't disassociate the two.

You're talking past each other, I think — ocherdraco, you must mean that acquisition editors are publishers, right? Because I can certainly hire an editor to polish something I then self-publish.
posted by nicwolff at 3:28 PM on January 30, 2010


Producing an eBook should be a matter of running a latex file or whatever through a conversion program.

Yes and no. There are often substantial difference in layout and pagination just for going from hard cover to soft cover that I would think would be more than just a matter of converting a file. I haven't played much with any of the available readers, but I would imagine that there's a similar amount of complexity going from hardcover to ebook reader, if not more.


You're talking past each other, I think — ocherdraco, you must mean that acquisition editors are publishers, right? Because I can certainly hire an editor to polish something I then self-publish.


This is technically true, but I always thought the vast majority of authors worked with editors who were employed by their publisher. In many cases I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have a choice, for reasons of internal quality control on the part of the publisher.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:36 PM on January 30, 2010


No, it is real books, that's why this is such a big deal. Look at either edition of Wolf Hall (cloth, paper).
Huh. Sounds like an invitation to an antitrust action. Of course you can still actually buy the books (new and used) from other providers through Amazon's store.
posted by delmoi at 3:48 PM on January 30, 2010


darth_tedious wrote: When someone buys at a cheap price, he/she tends to be more likely to not value what he/she has gotten... and to give copies to a friend, or-- far, far worse-- put it up on a torrent.

Odd, then, that my friends loan me their hardcovers. There is no freaking way that your run-of-the-mill fiction novel ought to cost more than $10 in eBook format. I hardly pay more than that for a new release hardcover from a national book retailer. And with paperbacks going for $6-$7, how can it possibly be argued that an eBook of that should cost any more than that after the first few months (where you can charge a premium because it's new)

Unless printing and destroying books is really a lot cheaper than I think it is?

Now, obviously, there are some niche and technical books that should have a higher price point, just as they do when I go to the book store and buy a physical copy.

I just don't get what's so hard about providing a book in an open file format for slightly less than the current market price of books.

Yes and no. There are often substantial difference in layout and pagination just for going from hard cover to soft cover that I would think would be more than just a matter of converting a file. I haven't played much with any of the available readers, but I would imagine that there's a similar amount of complexity going from hardcover to ebook reader, if not more.

If the original file were properly marked up, any needed layout changes could easily be (mostly) automated. Obviously, one would need to pay somebody to proof the output and possibly make minor changes, but it shouldn't be much work at all, especially if the acceptable error rate is akin to what it is with today's print books.
posted by wierdo at 3:54 PM on January 30, 2010


I think regardless of which side we stand on this topic we can all join together in wishing publishers the very best of luck in taking the exact course of action which has thus far failed for the music industry, the television industry, the film industry and the newspaper industry. I'm sure you will be able to convince people to pay more for an electronic version of your product than the physical version.
posted by markr at 4:03 PM on January 30, 2010


Macmillan's CEO, John Sargent, has released a statement which gives some detail on what happened:
To: All Macmillan authors/illustrators and the literary agent community
Editors' note: This message ran as a paid advertisement in a special Saturday edition of Publishers Lunch

To: All Macmillan authors/illustrators and the literary agent community
From: John Sargent

This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on Amazon.com through third parties.

I regret that we have reached this impasse. Amazon has been a valuable customer for a long time, and it is my great hope that they will continue to be in the very near future. They have been a great innovator in our industry, and I suspect they will continue to be for decades to come.

It is those decades that concern me now, as I am sure they concern you. In the ink-on-paper world we sell books to retailers far and wide on a business model that provides a level playing field, and allows all retailers the possibility of selling books profitably. Looking to the future and to a growing digital business, we need to establish the same sort of business model, one that encourages new devices and new stores. One that encourages healthy competition. One that is stable and rational. It also needs to insure that intellectual property can be widely available digitally at a price that is both fair to the consumer and allows those who create it and publish it to be fairly compensated.

Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers. Our retailers will act as our agents and will take a 30% commission (the standard split today for many digital media businesses). The price will be set the price for each book individually. Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99. At first release, concurrent with a hardcover, most titles will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99. E books will almost always appear day on date with the physical edition. Pricing will be dynamic over time.

The agency model would allow Amazon to make more money selling our books, not less. We would make less money in our dealings with Amazon under the new model. Our disagreement is not about short-term profitability but rather about the long-term viability and stability of the digital book market.

Amazon and Macmillan both want a healthy and vibrant future for books. We clearly do not agree on how to get there. Meanwhile, the action they chose to take last night clearly defines the importance they attribute to their view. We hold our view equally strongly. I hope you agree with us.

You are a vast and wonderful crew. It is impossible to reach you all in the very limited timeframe we are working under, so I have sent this message in unorthodox form. I hope it reaches you all, and quickly. Monday morning I will fully brief all of our editors, and they will be able to answer your questions. I hope to speak to many of you over the coming days.

Thanks for all the support you have shown in the last few hours; it is much appreciated.

All best,
John
posted by Justinian at 4:05 PM on January 30, 2010


Why is Amazon obligated to sell Macmillan's books? What other publishers are they obligated to act as a storefront for? Why is it not Amazon's right to charge whatever they wish?
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:06 PM on January 30, 2010


Assuming Sargent is telling the truth, I believe I am coming down on Macmillan's side here. They proposed the exact model that most people here are saying they would be okay with: pricing e-books a bit less than whichever paper edition is currently available. So, a book only available in hardcover would have e-books priced from $12.99 to $14.99, which is around 20% less than a hardcover book. When the paperback is released, the price would drop to around $5.99, or around 20% less than the price of a paperback. Sargent presented this to them on Thursday.

And then, rather than negotiate or whatever, they yanked all of Macmillans books (e-books and otherwise) off of Amazon by the time Sargent got back to New York on Friday.

So I guess I'm going to have to go with the "FUCK AMAZON" side of the equation. Which hurts, because I've been buying from Amazon since freakin' 1996 and spend a really huge percentage of my disposable income there. 1996! But they really do appear to be attempting to prop themselves up in the short term (through their pricing relative to the Apple e-books) by destroying the business of publishing as we have known it.
posted by Justinian at 4:10 PM on January 30, 2010


Why is it not Amazon's right to charge whatever they wish?

Of course it is, just as it is anyone else's right to call Amazon names for doing so.
posted by Justinian at 4:11 PM on January 30, 2010


Pope Guilty: It occurs to me that maybe you don't realize exactly what Amazon's position appears to be. Amazon is, as you say, free to charge whatever they want for the e-books. But when Macmillan said they didn't want to accept those terms, Amazon didn't just stop selling Macmillan's e-books, they stopped selling all of Macmillan's books including the physical ones.

So it's not a matter of Amazon having a right to charge whatever they want, it's more akin to Amazon sidling up to Macmillan in a bar and saying, "Nice books you got there, it'd be a real shame if something happened to them". Amazon is holding Macmillan's paper book business hostage to Amazon's e-book terms; accept them or we won't sell ANY of your books.

So I turn your quesiton on it's head: Why doesn't Macmillan have the right to charge whatever they want for their e-books? Amazon could simply stop carrying the e-books if they don't like it. Instead they are attempting to damage Macmillan's business to the point that they capitulate.
posted by Justinian at 4:20 PM on January 30, 2010


Assuming Sargent is telling the truth

Probably, but I wouldn't assume he is telling the whole truth, or that he is making Amazon's side of the story crystal clear. I'm not sure what "deep and extensive windowing of titles" means, but my first guess is that it was a threat that if Amazon didn't start doing things Macmillan's way, they would withhold some e-books from Amazon for some period of time. In response to this threat, Amazon pulled the rug out from under Macmillan.

This "agency model" makes it sound like Macmillan wants to change the deal so that they are in control of pricing. That situation sucks for retailers (and in my opinion, consumers) in the channels where it is the norm, so it's not surprising that Amazon wants to avoid it. And they're big enough that they don't have to put up with it.

As for FUCK MACMILLAN versus FUCK AMAZON, I really can't fall on either side of the dispute. Two businesses are having a commercial dispute over money and control. I'm not a free market absolutist or anything, but I really think it will work out in the end, and Amazon can't stop Macmillan from selling to people through other channels, so consumer choice isn't really limited. I don't really care if e-books cost $15 or $10 at the end, or if Amazon never sells Macmillan books ever again.

Why is it not Amazon's right to charge whatever they wish?

They do, but if Macmillan doesn't agree, they can't sell Macmillan's books that way.

Why doesn't Macmillan have the right to charge whatever they want for their e-books?

They do, but if Amazon doesn't agree, they can't sell books through Amazon that way.
posted by grouse at 4:35 PM on January 30, 2010


just as it is anyone else's right to call Amazon names for doing so.

Surely you jest! Clearly no right-thinking Citizen would dare call a Company by unsavory names? Of course not.

You forget yourself, and would be well-advised to consider your words more carefully in the future.
posted by aramaic at 4:39 PM on January 30, 2010


"Empath" how do you justify this attitude? Have you ever written a book? Do you have any idea of the amount of work it takes? I typically spend a year on a book, but some have taken me three and some five and I know people who've taken 10 years of full time work to write one.

I justify it by not caring. There are tens of thousands of great books I haven't read; if you don't write yours, then I'll read one written last year, or a hundred hears ago.

Besides, 10 years ago I stopped buying books and started getting them from the library instead. If you don't like it, don't write.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:43 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


But when Macmillan said they didn't want to accept those terms, Amazon didn't just stop selling Macmillan's e-books, they stopped selling all of Macmillan's books including the physical ones.

So Amazon is somehow morally obligated to sell Macmillan's books?

So it's not a matter of Amazon having a right to charge whatever they want, it's more akin to Amazon sidling up to Macmillan in a bar and saying, "Nice books you got there, it'd be a real shame if something happened to them"

No, you are mistaken. A protection racket is when a person who has nothing to do with a business makes criminal threats against that business. This is Amazon- the owners of a business- declining to do business with a company under the terms the other company wants. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Amazon is holding Macmillan's paper book business hostage to Amazon's e-book terms; accept them or we won't sell ANY of your books.

No, that is dishonest. Macmillan is not an internet-only publishing house; their books are available through every bookstore, and I'm sure through every internet storefront that is not Amazon.com. Macmillan is free to set up their own storefront and operate their own ecommerce site to sell their books online. Amazon is not preventing them from doing so. Amazon is simply refusing to sell Macmillan's books.

Why doesn't Macmillan have the right to charge whatever they want for their e-books?

They absolutely have that right. They do not have the right many people in this thread appear to think they have to force Amazon to sell those e-books at the price Macmillan wants.

Amazon could simply stop carrying the e-books if they don't like it. Instead they are attempting to damage Macmillan's business to the point that they capitulate.

Amazon is under no obligation to sell anything. They are under no obligation to sell Macmillan's paper books. It should come as no surprise that they do not want to do business with a company that demands terms they are unwilling to accommodate.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:47 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Am I arguing that Amazon should be legally obligated to sell the physical copies? No, no I'm not. I'm saying Amazon is being a bunch of assholes.

Is there some reason you're offended by Amazon being called a bunch of assholes?
posted by Justinian at 4:54 PM on January 30, 2010


We don't have all the facts here, but I think this is more than Amazon charging whatever they want. It sounds like they're also asking to pay a percentage reflective of that retail, and Macmillan is saying that price is unreasonable. If Macmillan can be believed, it's more akin to WalMart using their leverage to dictate supplier costs, a comparison I hesitate to make as I generally have a lot of respect for Amazon and their business methods (even though I work for a competitor).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:56 PM on January 30, 2010


But they really do appear to be attempting to prop themselves up in the short term (through their pricing relative to the Apple e-books) by destroying the business of publishing as we have known it.

So...Apple is charging you more because they want to save the publishing industry? That's mighty big of them, I have to say!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:13 PM on January 30, 2010


I'm not offended, and I think it's silly to suggest that I am. I just think it's dumb is all.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:22 PM on January 30, 2010


I tried an experiment the other day. I tried to buy a popular novel as an ebook that I could read on my laptop without having to install a new operating system. Couldn't do it, at any price.

What? Are you rocking one of these? Maybe it's time to upgrade.
posted by MikeMc at 5:45 PM on January 30, 2010


I actually would pay more for an ebook than a paperback, but that's because I'm a voracious reader of english language book sitting in the heart of a spanish speaking country. I simply cannot buy the books I want to at any bookstore in the city. So I have two options: order online and hope that the books make it here (I already lost two packages due to the spotty postal system) or buy an ebook, that I know for sure will arrive. I have been waiting for the apple tablet before deciding on buying an ebook reader, and now it seems that I'm more inclined towards the kindle. In my view all the problems with Amazon are outweighed by the sheer accessibility of the books.
posted by dhruva at 5:54 PM on January 30, 2010


So I guess I'm going to have to go with the "FUCK AMAZON" side of the equation. Which hurts, because I've been buying from Amazon since freakin' 1996 and spend a really huge percentage of my disposable income there. 1996! But they really do appear to be attempting to prop themselves up in the short term (through their pricing relative to the Apple e-books) by destroying the business of publishing as we have known it.
How on earth does Amazon's refusal to agree to Macmillan's deal "Destroy publishing" That makes no sense to me at all. I mean we're essentially talking about a zero-sum deal between the customer, Amazon and the author/publisher -- How exactly does switching that permutation around "destroy publishing" as long as the publisher/author get a reasonable cut? In fact according to MacMillan's memo, Amazon would have made more money.

And the key sentence is this: I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles.

You know what the word 'winnow' means right? MacMillan was going to cut Amazon off if they didn't agree to their terms. It's just as likely that MacMillan tried to hold their paper books hostage. In fact, it's probably more likely.

We don't know if they were given a timeline but if you say "You have agree to my terms or you can't sell our books", and then they stop selling your books, you can't really complain.

And keep in mind you can still buy all the books through Amazon you just have to click on the "Available from these sellers" link.

--

Also, here's something totally weird I just discovered clicking around on Amazon:
Sarah Palin's Book "Going Rogue: An American Life" As Installation Art by Nigel Tomm (Not An Autobiography Or Memoir) (Kindle Edition)

Product Description: As the title says this is not a book by Sarah Palin. To be completely honest - this is not Nigel Tomm's book either. It is a drama "Hedda Gabler" by Henrik Ibsen (premiered in 1891) with a difference that the names of the main characters are interchanged with those from Sarah Palin's bio, i.e., Hedda Gabler now is Sarah Palin and George Tesman is Todd Palin (her husband). Wikipedia says: "The character of Hedda is considered by some critics as one of the great dramatic roles in theatre, the "female Hamlet," and some portrayals have been very controversial. Depending on the interpretation, Hedda may be portrayed as an idealistic heroine fighting society, a victim of circumstance, a prototypical feminist, or a manipulative villain." Can we call her Sarah Palin? The answer is up to you. The author of the book, Nigel Tomm calls it a textual installation art where such phenomenon as authorship, perception, cognition and law are being questioned. The book also questions the role of the author and its significance in today's mashup world.
And today's your lucky day empath! It's just 99¢!
posted by delmoi at 5:54 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


The most interesting thing I've read about the pricing part of the Amazon-Macmillan war is this post from a friend of mine who used to work for a bookstore and is now in some sort of accounting/financial job. It concentrates on the publisher's economic side of the equation and complements some of the information in the thread well.

Amazon is taking a risk here of losing business to BN or other online indie bookstores like Powell's. Some people who want to buy books and can't get them through Amazon will change providers and won't change back when this is over. While I don't have a dog in this hunt financially, although I know people who do, the inconvenience is a concern. I'm lazy and buy where it's easiest. I'm sure I'm not the only person out there who might not come back at the end of the day.
posted by immlass at 5:59 PM on January 30, 2010


You know what the word 'winnow' means right?

Probably something slightly different from the quoted word "window"? I think he's referring to delaying when new releases become available for the Kindle. (Which, as I pointed out above, I think is a terrible idea.)
posted by nicwolff at 6:20 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't see paying $15 for an e-version of a book (then again much of my 20,000+ volume ebook collection was acquired through alternative means). The publishing industry just doesn't get it, virtual price parity, delaying ebook releases etc... They're just begging people to download copies from P2P sites. The electronic version of "Under the Dome" was delayed six weeks to boost hardcover sales, who was served by that? People with the slightest bit of tech savvy who didn't want to wait six weeks had PDF or ePub (a format supported by virtually every reader but Kindle) copies within a day or two of the hardcover release. This is the publishing industry's first salvo against Amazon, B&N, Sony and Borders they're going to war just as the movie studios did with Redbox and Netflix. And they're going to lose.
posted by MikeMc at 6:24 PM on January 30, 2010


Some people who want to buy books and can't get them through Amazon will change providers and won't change back when this is over.

Or they will simply buy used copies of the physical books.

On Amazon.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:24 PM on January 30, 2010


"Empath" how do you justify this attitude? Have you ever written a book? Do you have any idea of the amount of work it takes? I typically spend a year on a book, but some have taken me three and some five and I know people who've taken 10 years of full time work to write one.

I justify it by not caring. There are tens of thousands of great books I haven't read; if you don't write yours, then I'll read one written last year, or a hundred hears ago.

Besides, 10 years ago I stopped buying books and started getting them from the library instead. If you don't like it, don't write.


Um, your username, is *not* empath, who cannot justify such a position by not caring unless the username is ironic. And I don't care if you don't buy my books-- I care about people who can afford to pay for books or who usually choose to pay for books switching to an ethic which says "it's OK to take all the ebooks you want" and who cares if it messes up society. I care about that because I think cultural products *are* valuable and while I have no problem sharing and giving and being part of cultural exchange, I have a big problem being *forced to share*. That's known as being exploited-- and it's not what I believe the advocates of "information wants to be free" had in mind.
posted by Maias at 6:29 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't forget that Amazon/Bezos is capable of very long-term thinking. How many years was Amazon in business before they turned a profit? I'm sure their e-book strategy is similarly farsighted. They're selling a lot of ebooks at a loss now. But what about 10 years from now?
posted by neuron at 6:29 PM on January 30, 2010


Places to get free ebooks (legally):

Google Books
Baen Free Library (sci-fi/fantasy)
Project Gutenberg
Amazon Kindle Store (usually multiple free books on offer, check the Bestsellers list. If you don't have a Kindle you'll need to download their app)
Sony Bookstore (usually most of the same free books as the Kindle store. If you don't have a Sony Reader you'll need to download their app)
Mobileread (If you are at all interested in electronic readers this is the place to go)
epubBooks.com
Smashwords ( A lot of self-published stuff here)

So, if you don't want to pay and you don't want to commit a DMCA violation there's some sites to get you started.
posted by MikeMc at 6:52 PM on January 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


Probably something slightly different from the quoted word "window"?

*blink* How did I manage to misread that? o_O

Oh well well same thing.
posted by delmoi at 6:53 PM on January 30, 2010


I'm pretty sick of hearing the justification for ebook prices that consists of "I spent a lot of time and effort on it, so it is worth a lot of money". This is not and has never been a logical statement. The reality is that it is impossible to stop people from copying text and they will continue to do it, regardless of all the moral talk you throw at them. The words "professional writer" may simply mean less in the future than they do now. Certainly I know I would never run out of books to read just selecting from those that were written between, say, 1983 and 1992. Society does not require full-time writers to run.
posted by tehloki at 7:14 PM on January 30, 2010


"Empath" how do you justify this attitude? Have you ever written a book? Do you have any idea of the amount of work it takes?

I'm so, so, so, so sick of reading this argument. People said music would be destroyed by music piracy. There is more and better music now than has ever been around for as long as I've been listening to it. What HAS happened is that large music publishers are going bankrupt, and as far as I'm concerned they can all go die in a fire.

I think that authors will not be very hurt by book publishing houses going under, and I don't feel the slightest twinge of remorse for not supporting the whole parasitic enterprise.

There are other ways to support writers, musicians, etc than purchasing bits after the product has been produced. If your business model depends on doing the impossible (assigning a high price to information), you are going to lose money, and I don't feel sorry for you.
posted by empath at 7:39 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


and I don't feel sorry for you. ... posted by empath

Anti-eponysterical?
posted by Justinian at 7:51 PM on January 30, 2010


I'm a fan of ironic usernames.
posted by empath at 7:55 PM on January 30, 2010


The reality is that it is impossible to stop people from copying text and they will continue to do it, regardless of all the moral talk you throw at them. The words "professional writer" may simply mean less in the future than they do now. Certainly I know I would never run out of books to read just selecting from those that were written between, say, 1983 and 1992. Society does not require full-time writers to run.

Fuck that shit. As far as I can tell, all we really need, ever, are:

- People who practice medicine
- People who can cook
- People who can hunt and/or grow vegetables
- People who can make clothes
- People who can chop down trees
- People who are expert carpenters
- People who bury dead people
- People who clean up piss/shit/vomit

The creator of shiny new iCrap isn't there, but in the real world he makes a hell of a lot more money than anyone on that list of people society does need very much. Frankly, we don't need that guy for anything. But enough of us want his stuff, and have no easy choice but to pay for it, so we do. I mean, we could steal it, but that would be hard. We'd probably go to jail if we tried it. Because it's easy to steal something else, though, does that make that thing worth less than a computer? No. It just means you're more likely to steal it if you're the kind of person who would steal something if he knew he could get away with it. You know what society doesn't need? People who think it's okay to steal things.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:38 PM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Try saying that again without using the word "stealing", thanks. Stealing does not occur when you copy something without the copyright owner's permission.
posted by tehloki at 8:45 PM on January 30, 2010


This is the publishing industry's first salvo against Amazon, B&N, Sony and Borders they're going to war just as the movie studios did with Redbox and Netflix. And they're going to lose.
posted by MikeMc at 9:24 PM on January 30 [+] [!] [quote]


I sort of agree and am horrified at the prospect of 5 million pirate books floating around. It would change everything, not only publishers, but libraries, internet used book sellers, retail book sellers - everything about the book industry would suffer. It is not good, but obviously the train has left the station and building steam fast.

Places to get free ebooks (legally):

..and the best: Internet Archive - Google Books is the AOL of scanned books.
posted by stbalbach at 8:47 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm just not finding the hate in my heart for the book publishers that I harbor for the big record labels. They have not, thus far, conspired to fuck us in every way possible. Therefore, I do not wish to see their demise, as they provide me great services (marketing, which includes book tours; and editing) for a relatively low price.

I understand why people don't want to pay $20 for a CD for the one or two good songs you might find there. I understand why people don't want to pay for DRM-encrusted content. I don't understand why people think books should be worth so little that a decent writer can't make a modest living. That's just silly. As if the sea of mostly crappy fiction represents all of bookdom.

I think meatspace books are, for the most part, priced quite appropriately. Knock off a couple of bucks for printing and distribution costs, and I think you've got yourself a price point that the vast majority of us will be fine with.
posted by wierdo at 8:53 PM on January 30, 2010


Society does not require full-time writers to run.

...Seriously?!?

"Society" requires nothing. It does not require your job. It does not require mine, either. It doesn't even require teachers or farmers or law enforcement. But because we have your job, and mine, and teachers and farmers and law enforcement, we have a particular kind of society.

If you want to live in a society without full-time artists, more power to you, but it's certainly not the sort of society I want to live in.
posted by artemisia at 8:53 PM on January 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


tehloki:

Attacked by a roving pack of professional writers when we were young, were we?
posted by jscalzi at 8:53 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, the main reason people don't steal things isn't because they have some internal moral imperative, it's because stealing is difficult and wrought with terrible consequences. This is why filesharing is so popular: you get free stuff with none of the effort and risk to yourself that comes with actually stealing things! Unless you have some weird notions about altruism and human nature I don't see how you can think that people can actually be prevented from filesharing. Certainly none of the clumsy countermeasures or moralizing speeches have had any effectiveness, so why pretend it's some kind of evil aberration? The attitudes of the general public towards filesharing are pretty positive. We need to stop pretending we can rewrite reality and somehow eliminate effortless copying and transferring of data, stop pretending we can convince people not to do it out of the goodness of their hearts, and accept the reality of the situation. If you're a musician or a writer, millions of people will download your work for free no matter what you do. It doesn't matter how wrong it is, IT WILL HAPPEN. You must live your life according to these facts.

I'm sure the above paragraph makes me see like a total asshole, but then again, I make music and give it free to all of metafilter. I have no delusions about being able to support myself on art.
posted by tehloki at 8:53 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


artemesia: If society decides it does not require my job any more, I will find a job society needs me to do. I won't post about how society should change its behaviour so my job becomes useful again.
posted by tehloki at 8:54 PM on January 30, 2010


Stealing does not occur when you copy something without the copyright owner's permission.

I'm pretty sure our legal system does not agree with you?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:56 PM on January 30, 2010


I'm pretty sure you're not too familiar with your legal system.
posted by tehloki at 8:59 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Copyright infringement is a crime. Theft is a crime. They are different crimes.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:01 PM on January 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Uh, anyway, dude, people are comfortable with things much worse than stealing books, etc., which is why we have laws that state explicitly that these things are not to be done. If no one was ever going to do them, we would not require laws. I'm not sure where you're going with this argument, but yes, I agree, as long as it is possible, people will steal shit, yes.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:03 PM on January 30, 2010


tehloki: I think I have found a great new writer you might enjoy! Have you heard of Ayn Rand?
posted by Justinian at 9:03 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Let's assume it was stealing; why would you spend your life trying to support yourself by making and selling something that was trivially easy to steal?
posted by tehloki at 9:06 PM on January 30, 2010


Oh, I have a dim view of human nature and a pragmatic stance on the nature of work so I must be an unthinking Randian, great assessment.
posted by tehloki at 9:08 PM on January 30, 2010


By all means, if you're a writer, write, if you're a musician, record, but don't expect the government to dismantle the internet and outlaw the computer so your work can remain profitable.
posted by tehloki at 9:10 PM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


No, you just sound a lot like the pseudo-Randian libertarian types I used to encounter on Usenet. Well, that or the Aspergy college and just post-college techy types who thought anything squishy was not worth doing as a profession. I'm guessing you're one or the other.
posted by Justinian at 9:24 PM on January 30, 2010


Let's assume it was stealing; why would you spend your life trying to support yourself by making and selling something that was trivially easy to steal?

Well, I don't know. Why do you suppose someone would spend his life making ceramic vases when it would be trivially easy for some asshole to smash them against a wall?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:25 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I used to work in libraries for a living, and ever since I've been following what's going on here and sort of thinking about it. And at this point, I take something more like a long view of it.

I don't say "fuck MacMillan;" they haven't done anything to me, and at this point any minor business-driven faults aren't really a big deal to me. But it seems to me that publishing as an industry is a very new and very wasteful one based on some of the least healthy aspects of our society, capitalist and consumerist as it is. We hardly ever actually think about the repercussions of our industries, and the case of the publishing industry is one we're even less likely to want to consider because it falls under the venerable aegis of education and learning, but it seems like it's worth it to try to consider what good it does and what harm it might be capable of causing.

Millions upon millions upon millions are printed every year. Monumental piles of books, the existence of every one predicated on the notion that someone, somewhere, must have just this copy and cannot find any other, and therefore will be induced to pay for it.

If we stopped printing books today, it would be trivially easy to assure us that the availability of books to the average person wouldn't go down in the slightest for the next hundred years. There are enough books to put ten copies on the shelf of every library, to ensure that no one would ever go to the library and find that the book they sought wasn't there ever again. All these little packages of pages that we so blithely purchase and carry home – it's pointless. It's a waste of money, it's a waste of paper, it's just purely wasteful. The publishing industry is an indirect method of funding things that are relatively unrelated to it, and even then it's not much of a method so much as a crutch. It's not viable; it's just another piece of the consumer-driven world that we could do much better without if we only tried. A hundred years ago, people had it rough – it was often hard to find a copy of this or a translation of that, and you had to be in a university to really readily find what you were looking for. We've swung with the pendulum to the other side; we print so many books it's insane, many of them utterly unnecessary, printed while another copy of the same book lies totally unused on a library bookshelf or in a dustbin.

artemisia: “If you want to live in a society without full-time artists, more power to you, but it's certainly not the sort of society I want to live in.”

The problem isn't that our society is rewarding artists. The problem is that our society is rewarding artists badly – and it's rewarding artists badly because we assumed that capitalism would be a fine system for rewarding them.
posted by koeselitz at 10:10 PM on January 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


stbalbach: “I sort of agree and am horrified at the prospect of 5 million pirate books floating around. It would change everything, not only publishers, but libraries, internet used book sellers, retail book sellers - everything about the book industry would suffer. It is not good, but obviously the train has left the station and building steam fast.”

Why would libraries suffer?
posted by koeselitz at 10:18 PM on January 30, 2010


Pope Guilty: “Copyright infringement is a crime. Theft is a crime. They are different crimes.”

Copyright infringement is using media as though it were your property. Property is theft. Therefore, they are the same crime.
posted by koeselitz at 10:21 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


It would apparently be an unalloyed tragedy for everyone on the planet that has access to the internet to have free access to the collected knowledge of the world.

THIS MUST BE PREVENTED AT ALL COSTS.
posted by empath at 10:25 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Copyright infringement is using media as though it were your property.

Actually, copyright infringement is producing and distributing unauthorized copies. Downloading copyrighted material is actually perfectly legal.
posted by empath at 10:26 PM on January 30, 2010


Koeselitz, I might just be really tired, but you seem to be talking about several things all at the same time that do all kind of pertain to the same subject but don't exactly link up in an entirely meaningful way. The music of "the problem is that our society is rewarding artists badly – and it's rewarding artists badly because we assumed that capitalism would be a fine system for rewarding them," for instance, sounds great, but what you're really saying there is very difficult to parse (is capitalism just generally bad for everyone? is it bad only for artists, and okay for everyone else? etc.), and what in the world it has to do with how many books are in print is a mystery to me. But I can address this part, which stuck out for me as a total whaaa:

There are enough books to put ten copies on the shelf of every library, to ensure that no one would ever go to the library and find that the book they sought wasn't there ever again.

Well, no. On the basis of what physical books are extant in the world right now, we can ensure that there are ten copies of every book ever written by Dan Brown or Stephen King on the shelves of every library in the world. We cannot ensure that every book ever written is thusly represented on the basis of books currently in print. I can with absolute certainty guarantee that we cannot fill libraries in this fashion. We have an enormous number of physical books, but they are all largely duplicates of a very small percentage of all works in print. For anything more obscure than bestsellers from the last decade and a much smaller number of perennially popular works, you will have to put effort in to find a copy of the book you're looking for -- a thing that is only likely to change as the e-book becomes the dominant format.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:45 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


kittens for breakfast: “We have an enormous number of physical books, but they are all largely duplicates of a very small percentage of all works in print. For anything more obscure than bestsellers from the last decade and a much smaller number of perennially popular works, you will have to put effort in to find a copy of the book you're looking for -- a thing that is only likely to change as the e-book becomes the dominant format.”

But that's exactly what I mean. The system, as it works today, is tremendously wasteful and inefficient; printing all those copies of books which the people who publish them hope will be replaced within a few months by other bestsellers is an absolute waste; it doesn't need to happen. Ostensibly, publishing is defended because people say it supports writers, but it does so in a terrible and unnecessary way; they shouldn't have to print billions of Dan Brown books just so a person can read a new translation of Nietzsche. It's one of the most vast and irrational examples of the wastefulness of consumer society I can imagine. I'm not saying that I have a clear solution, but I do know that, if we suddenly found ourselves, technologically, in the same place we were in 100 years ago, relatively unable to print books – the availability of books in general wouldn't go down much at all. It'd only be that, instead of purchasing them, at worst we'd order them through inter-library loan.
posted by koeselitz at 11:14 PM on January 30, 2010


But guys, don't you get it, information wants to be freeeeeeeee!
posted by incessant at 11:26 PM on January 30, 2010


It's one of the most vast and irrational examples of the wastefulness of consumer society I can imagine.

You're not imagining very hard, then.
posted by incessant at 11:27 PM on January 30, 2010


they shouldn't have to print billions of Dan Brown books just so a person can read a new translation of Nietzsche.

I still don't get what you're saying. The print billons of Dan Brown books because billions of people want to buy books by Dan Brown. Are you saying that they shouldn't print enough books for all the people who want to buy them?
posted by Justinian at 11:29 PM on January 30, 2010


Yes. That's what I'm saying. At the end of the day, it's too many books. It's a waste. And people defend the continued existence of publishing on the basis of the support that writers deserve, but there has to be a better way to support writers.
posted by koeselitz at 11:45 PM on January 30, 2010


Are there people who seriously believe we should be able to "own" DRM-free ebooks with the same re-sale rights as real books? I buy DRM free music from emusic (not any more) and amazon because DRM interferes with my ability to listen to music but I have no intention of re-selling them.

So... if we take the physical model at face value I should be able to put up a website and offer up the 100s of mp3s I purchased for sale at whatever price I wish based on the promise that I won't sell any of them more than once?

That's it? That's your grand plan?

Can anyone recall the name of that book where they basically torture people to death for piracy? I believe that this torture involves physical implantation into a cable. I consider that book prescient. Just because a law is difficult to enforce does not mean that drastic methods will not be used. I have a friend from CS grad school who told me he stopped illegal downloading because "I have a house now".

That's the stick. Apple and Netflix and Amazon are waving the carrot: make it real easy to come in out of the cold.
posted by Wood at 12:28 AM on January 31, 2010


Copyright infringement is using media as though it were your property. Property is theft. Therefore, they are the same crime.

The law does not agree, and it is the law that we are discussing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:40 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes. That's what I'm saying. At the end of the day, it's too many books.

Too many books for what?!? If people buy the books how can it possibly be "too many"? Are you simply talking about the paper or what? Because that strikes me as a gross misplacement of your priorities.

Publishers don't print a billion books by Dan Brown to "support writers", they print them because people want to read them. I just don't get the disconnect here. It's like you're saying that we grow too much food so we should grow less, even if it meant people wouldn't be able to eat.
posted by Justinian at 12:43 AM on January 31, 2010


Cstross is apparently writing a large and ever-expanding thesis on this topic for his blog, which will no doubt be ready long after the situation has resolved. In the meantime, here is another interim comment from him on the NH's blog.

Small excerpt from the end:
you see this as an unprecedented power grab by the publishers. I see it as a long-overdue response to Amazon's unprecedented power grab and attempt to monopolize the supply chain (which ultimately threatens authors' ability to earn a living
As is obvious, I've come to agree with Charlie. If it looks like Macmillan is being obstinate, it is only because every time Amazon is given an inch they take a mile, and they've been given a whole lot of inches already.
posted by Justinian at 2:41 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Justinian: “Too many books for what?!? If people buy the books how can it possibly be "too many"? Are you simply talking about the paper or what? Because that strikes me as a gross misplacement of your priorities. Publishers don't print a billion books by Dan Brown to "support writers", they print them because people want to read them. I just don't get the disconnect here. It's like you're saying that we grow too much food so we should grow less, even if it meant people wouldn't be able to eat.”

There are much better ways for people to read them. Yes, the paper. And the money, and the time of manufacture. Printing up enough copies of Dan Brown's latest book so that everyone who wants to read it can buy their very own personal copy and then throw it away (which is what's done now, effectively) is like letting everybody buy five cars so they can drive the car that's the color they happen to prefer any given day. It's ridiculous. Do you have any idea how many billions of books are printed every day? And the tiny proportion of those that will see more than two or three days of use by anybody anywhere?

Like I said: publishing doesn't make sense. You keep saying "but people want to read them!" That's why pure capitalism isn't finally sustainable: because it gives people exactly what they happen to be desiring at the moment, no matter what it is, and tosses any consideration of usefulness or wastefulness to the winds. How much paper does the publishing industry have to waste before it seems like too much to you?
posted by koeselitz at 6:14 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


And I know they don't print copies of Dan Brown to 'support writers' in the abstract; I didn't explain that very well, I guess, but what meant was: the only salient argument I've ever heard for the continued existence of the publishing industry as it is is that it supports those who write, and those people have great value. I quoted artemesia's comment to exactly that effect in my first statement here for that reason. But I don't think the publishing industry is the only way to accomplish that.
posted by koeselitz at 6:17 AM on January 31, 2010


Society does not require full-time writers to run.

artemesia: If society decides it does not require my job any more, I will find a job society needs me to do. I won't post about how society should change its behaviour so my job becomes useful again.


...aaaand there you have it. Let's not pretend that the people at the really vicious end of the "fuck publishers, I don't give a shit, let everything burn!" position are really interested in discussing means of delivery, pricing structures, or the ways in which we can deploy new technologies for the benefit of the most people. Instead, it's about a) not believing that cultural products really have any value, and/or b) that there's something (morally?) wrong about attempting to contravene the will of "society", or "technology" (which "marches on"), or of anything that isn't "useful" to society — in which "society" apparently means Amazon's efforts to become as rich a corporation as possible.

The original slogan was "information wants to be free". Not "information wants to destroy the means for its future production so that Jeff Bezos can buy a bigger private jet." At some point in the process, the "creative destructionists" got fleeced.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:50 AM on January 31, 2010


And please note my self-restraint in not having yet Godwinned this thread, despite tehloki and Civil_Disobedient's arguments in favor of the Will of Society, in which Technology leads us to an indisputably bright new future, and artists must "get with times" for fear of becoming out of tune with the Spirit of the Age...
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:53 AM on January 31, 2010


One of the other justifications for the publishing industry has been the passing on of knowledge through generations. Most books aren't read by only one person and then thrown away. They're kind of a durable good. A well built book lasts several generations. koeselitz, your billions of books a day number seems a little high to me. I think it's more seasonal but I'll bet even millions a day isn't common. And if it's higher, so what? Are books really the first priority resource we need to focus on conserving? Are they really cluttering up our lives and threatening to bury us? Do you think they and their benefits are evenly distributed and their production can finally be curtailed? Not all books are written by Dan Brown and not everyone has your broadband.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:10 AM on January 31, 2010


Let's not pretend that the people at the really vicious end of the "fuck publishers, I don't give a shit, let everything burn!" position are really interested in discussing means of delivery, pricing structures, or the ways in which we can deploy new technologies for the benefit of the most people.

No, it's about what's realistic and what kind of authoritarian police state needs to be in power in order to enforce draconian and grossly unfair copyright laws.
posted by empath at 7:29 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, it's about what's realistic and what kind of authoritarian police state needs to be in power in order to enforce draconian and grossly unfair copyright laws.

Why exactly is it unfair to expect people to pay for the products of other people's labor, if those products are things they find desirable enough to consume? You know, just because a thing is free and easy for you to obtain doesn't mean it was free and easy to create. I'm very much afraid that our technology is creating a bunch of spoiled brats of all ages who have no idea how much actual work -- and, often, how much money -- goes into creating things.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:23 AM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


What I see here is a supplier demanding to dictate retail prices to a retailer- something which MeFites would never have countenanced if the supplier was an RIAA member and the retailer was Apple, especially given the enormous market share Macmillan has- and people getting very upset that the retailer's response is "no and go fuck yourself." Macmillan thought its size entitled it to make what are frankly immoral demands, and Amazon thinks its size enables it to hit back. There is no good guy here- there are two monstrously huge entities fighting each other, neither of which gives a shit about anything other than its own monetary self-interest, and the narrative in this thread, where little Macmillan is being oppressed by big ol' mean Amazon, is utterly absurd.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:41 AM on January 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


There are much better ways for people to read them. Yes, the paper. And the money, and the time of manufacture. Printing up enough copies of Dan Brown's latest book so that everyone who wants to read it can buy their very own personal copy and then throw it away (which is what's done now, effectively) is like letting everybody buy five cars so they can drive the car that's the color they happen to prefer any given day. It's ridiculous. Do you have any idea how many billions of books are printed every day? And the tiny proportion of those that will see more than two or three days of use by anybody anywhere?

Like I said: publishing doesn't make sense. You keep saying "but people want to read them!" That's why pure capitalism isn't finally sustainable: because it


Okay. I think you're making this an argument about capitalism because that's generally how you roll, but this is more properly an argument about how wasteful the publication of print books is. There was until very very recently good reason to produce the number of print books we do: People wanted (or at least publishers, who do not want to be stuck with huge amounts of unsold product, thought they wanted) all those books -- or, to be exact, wanted the contents of those books -- and print was the most effective means of getting those books to those people. People who wanted these books, by and large, would not have been satisfied with having to wait to read them were all books distributed via library loan. Perhaps (in a non-capitalist system in which no one relied on the profits of book sales to live) that would have been a more responsible way to handle things, w/r/t paper conservation or whatever, but it's not what most people would actually have been terribly excited about, and anyway we do live in a capitalist society, so this is a little like saying how for years we could have fitted amputees with luke arms had we only had the technology to create them during the Civil War or something: It's true, but it ignores actual facts of history to create a parallel utopia that has no bearing whatsoever on the real world, regardless of how desirable that utopia may be, and is consequently not terribly helpful when it comes to solving real world problems. So moving on.

We can, right now, see to it that no more paper books are published ever again. Of course, this was always possible, but aside from idiots for whom books have no value anyway, it has never been desirable, as paper was the only really effective medium for books. Now books can be distributed more easily electronically and are (with the proper reader) just as easy to read in an electronic format. The companies that profit from physically printing and binding and shipping books will suffer, but with any luck we can redirect their efforts into something that will be useful going forward. (I am sure that paper books will always exist, even if only as specialty items, but not to a degree that it can support printing presses, etc., as they are today.) I think the eventual almost-end of print books is both inevitable and not undesirable.

However, there is no reason why this should mean the end of books as a means of making creators -- and even publishing houses -- money. Publishing houses do much more than just print up some books and, like, shit; but that's a separate issue others can delve into in much more detail, and is to me ultimately less important than creators being able to make a living from their work. I see no reason why electronic publishing should be a back door into a species of socialism that isn't really socialism at all, but the philosophy espoused by people who think that such terms mean gimme-gimme-I-wan'-it. I'm not saying that's where you're at, but I am saying that's where a great many "information wants to be free!" chuckleheads are at, and it's not a good thing for anybody in the long run. Obviously, so long as we're in a capitalist society, people who make goods that other people are willing to consume should be compensated for the creation of those goods. If that's going to be a problem, then laws will have to come into play that make the internet a whole lot less fun for everyone, and those laws will have to be enforced, and it'll suck and no one will like it, and it'll all be because kids couldn't play right. Dad will have to stop the car and threaten to turn us all right around and not go to Disneyland. If the solution to is "well, don't have capitalism, then!" I don't think that's much of a solution, because we've already seen the lengths we're willing to go to in order to artificially support capitalism when it out-and-out screws the pooch. Capitalism isn't going anywhere. I'm sorry.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:58 AM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


If that's going to be a problem, then laws will have to come into play that make the internet a whole lot less fun for everyone, and those laws will have to be enforced, and it'll suck and no one will like it, and it'll all be because kids couldn't play right.

I will admit that I care a lot more about my ability to do whatever the fuck I want with my computer than I care about a tiny number of authors, musicians, and the like being able to live on their creativity. I don't think it's actually necessary to lock down computing to ensure that people can profit on their creativity, but if it came down to that, I think we'd be losing much, much more than we gained.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:04 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


kittens for breakfast: “Publishing houses do much more than just print up some books and, like, shit; but that's a separate issue others can delve into in much more detail, and is to me ultimately less important than creators being able to make a living from their work. I see no reason why electronic publishing should be a back door into a species of socialism that isn't really socialism at all, but the philosophy espoused by people who think that such terms mean gimme-gimme-I-wan'-it. I'm not saying that's where you're at, but I am saying that's where a great many "information wants to be free!" chuckleheads are at, and it's not a good thing for anybody in the long run.”

That's very fair - and you're right, drop the references to 'capitalism,' as they're more of a distraction than anything else. (I seem to be forgetting these days that I'm not a Marxist. Heh.)

Personally, I value the same thing in the equation that I think you do - creators, and their ability to make their living by doing their work. I feel like it's worthwhile to note, however, that there were creators for several millennia before the publishing houses even existed, and I'll bet those creators will be there afterwards, too. I don't know how much worth the publishing houses actually contribute beyond physically printing the books. Unfortunately I'm skeptical about micropayments; so it seems as though there's really no option besides having some kind of middle-man. But I don't want to have any illusions about the current middle-man being the once and future ally of artists and creators everywhere.
posted by koeselitz at 9:41 AM on January 31, 2010


No one is suggesting creating a totalitarian society just so that writers and artists can get paid for their work. But the idea that because it's easy to take something, it's right to take it-- that's simply not moral. It's pretty easy to rape children, too-- I don't think anyone would try to make the case that that makes it right.

We need an ethic that recognizes the value of cultural products and is willing to pay for them *without* heavy handed enforcement. That means proper pricing and distribution and payment mechanisms that obviously need to be worked out somehow. It also means instilling values in people that simply taking the intellectual property of others is wrong unless *they share it* and just because it can be done easily, doesn't mean you should. There's a difference between stealing and being given a gift.

Will there still be lots of piracy? Surely-- but hopefully, most of it will be by people who can't afford to pay or have some good reason other than I take because I want. In reality, most people don't steal because of social norms against stealing and the guilt they would feel for doing so-- if people didn't restrain their behavior themselves this way, all the police in the world wouldn't help.

In fact, a lack of trust that people will do the right thing is what marks failed states and economies that stagnate-- the countries with the highest economic growth are those where you can trust others to do the right thing, thereby minimizing the "tax" that lack of trust creates (lawyers, notaries, bribes, delays, locks, bureaucracies, etc.).

So, go on, advocate stealing because it's easy if you want. But I'm going to call it what it is.
posted by Maias at 10:22 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


And as I say, the morality of the issue is irrelevant to the fact that this is what's happening. The social taboo against theft has not extended, in the public consciousness, to downloading. We can argue the morality of it all we want, but that will not change the fact that this is what is actually happening, and we need to react to the world as it is instead of standing there wagging a finger and making irrelevant moral arguments.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:29 AM on January 31, 2010


We can argue the morality of it all we want, but that will not change the fact that this is what is actually happening, and we need to react to the world as it is instead of standing there wagging a finger and making irrelevant moral arguments.

Or we can make stronger arguments that stealing is what this is. The social taboo against stealing hasn't extended to illegal downloading because, in the minds of many, illegal downloading is not stealing. That it is in fact stealing is, to borrow a phrase, a bit of an inconvenient truth for people who are much happier not paying for things they want, as of course we all would be -- who likes paying for stuff? So I think there's a certain personal incentive for some to craft elaborate arguments to the effect that it's perfectly okay not to pay for stuff. But that doesn't make the arguments sound, or impervious to change.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:03 AM on January 31, 2010


And as I say, the morality of the issue is irrelevant to the fact that this is what's happening.

You could sort of justify any bad action with that that reasoning. Let's play Ethical Mad Libs!

The social taboo against ______ has not extended, in the public consciousness, to _______. We can argue the morality of it all we want, but that will not change the fact that this is what is actually happening, and we need to react to the world as it is instead of standing there wagging a finger and making irrelevant moral arguments.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:10 AM on January 31, 2010


PopeGuilty, I don't agree the battle is over, not for digital books, not even for digital music. iTunes is finding a bit of success moving a few mp3 files as I understand it. So there are people willing to pay for content they could otherwise just take. I think the same is true with books. I will continue to try and convince people to respect the work of others, rather than surrender. I may lose out, but I actually believe there will be enough of a market out there of people who find value in the work done by the people who work in publishing, at least enough to continue publishing. It may need to change radically, but it's not over. Rather than pressing for technical ways of preventing piracy, I prefer to use the rhetorical approach. I'd rather convince individuals they have a stake in all this, they probably want their work respected too. And by all this, maybe I mean civilization.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:23 AM on January 31, 2010


Why is it that people always want to compare copying music/books/movies to things like raping children and petty theft? It's not the same thing, most people don't think it's the same thing, and no matter how much you call it the same thing, almost nobody agrees with you.
posted by empath at 11:27 AM on January 31, 2010


In the case of books:

Is borrowing a book from the library, reading it and taking it back stealing?

Is borrowing an book from a friend stealing?

Is borrowing an ebook reader with a book on it from a friend stealing?

Is a friend giving you a copy of an ebook, you reading it and then deleting it when you're finished stealing?

Is a friend giving you a copy of an ebook which you keep, stealing?


Is reading the only thing that you wanted from a book in Google Books preview stealing?

I'm trying to figure out which of these is equivalent to raping a child, in your view, and how it differs significantly from the others in how an author gets paid for his work?
posted by empath at 11:32 AM on January 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


"And, what if your family don't like bread? They like... cigarettes?"
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:38 AM on January 31, 2010


Yes, lets:

The social taboo against drugs has not extended, in the public consciousness, to alcohol or tobacco. We can argue the morality of it all we want, but that will not change the fact that this is what is actually happening, and we need to react to the world as it is instead of standing there wagging a finger and making irrelevant moral arguments.

Not a perfect analogy given the timescales involved with bit-perfect copying but relevant I think.

The bottom line is that the existence of 'blogger' (or 'webcartoonist') as an occupation puts paid in my mind to the theory that a publishing industry or strict IP law is necessary to reward creative endeavor. I will happily pay more than I pay now for quality content; I will only pay substantially less for content I have not yet determined is quality.
posted by Skorgu at 11:42 AM on January 31, 2010


kittens for breakfast, you said:

"I'm very much afraid that our technology is creating a bunch of spoiled brats of all ages who have no idea how much actual work -- and, often, how much money -- goes into creating things."

I'm more afraid that our technology (specifically DRM) has created a bunch of spoiled content owners who fail to understand the preferences -- and, often, the legal rights -- of content consumers.

Content consumers are not the idiots you make us out to be. We understand the value of time and money - yours and ours. Give us something cheaper and we'll buy it. Give us something sooner and we'll pay good money for it. Give us something easier to use? Make our lives easier in some way? Save us time? We (collectively) will gladly pay your mortgage, your bills and your child's education.

Try to sell us something infected with DRM? Delay release to bolster the sales of less usable (and, for many people in remote locations, unusable) formats? Charge more for it than we are prepared (or in some cases able) to pay? Of course, we will seek easier, quicker and cheaper alternatives.

kittens for breakfast, you also said:

"You know what society doesn't need? People who think it's okay to steal things."

You know what society doesn't need? People who think it's okay to trample the rights of others.

DRM is a jackboot that tramples on our right to space-shift. If I purchase content, I'd like to be able to view it on my desktop, laptop, car pc and cell phone. It's called space-shifting. We all have a legal right to space-shift content we purchased.

DRM violates this legal right.

Before calling content consumers thieves and criminals, you should realize that many of us view content owners who use DRM schemes backed up with draconian copyright laws as thieves and criminals, too.
posted by stringbean at 11:57 AM on January 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Empath, all of the examples you site are not illegal. Provisions in the law allow them. Now your friend is another story. It would depend on how he got those copies. And if he rapes kids.
posted by Toekneesan at 12:04 PM on January 31, 2010


You could sort of justify any bad action with that that reasoning. Let's play Ethical Mad Libs!

I'm not advocating any sort of bad action. I'm saying that people who are still arguing about whether or not it's right or wrong, moral or immoral, are behind the curve, and need to be figuring out how to react to a world in which most people have made that decision. The war's over, and it's time to figure out how to rebuild and carry on ahead instead of sitting around arguing over where to send a no-longer existent army, if that makes any sense.


iTunes is finding a bit of success moving a few mp3 files as I understand it. So there are people willing to pay for content they could otherwise just take.

Would you be willing to bet that legal mp3 downloads make up more than a small fraction of downloads? I mean, if you think it's going to help, go ahead. But I think you're fighting a battle that you not only already lost but never could've won.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:29 PM on January 31, 2010


What concerns me about switching to a new book format is the trashy books. I really like stupid regency novels and historical romances. These are not good books, except that they make me giggle like a hyena on nitrous oxide for the time it takes to consume them. These books are published by the wagon load, formulaic crap that gets dumped into supermarkets and the back shelves of book stores and then forgotten.

I can't afford to buy these books new; however I get a lot out of second hand shopping and libraries. Lately, living in a big city, I get a lot out of free book heaps When I buy these books second hand, many are outright unreadable or only useable once, so I cycle them back out, leaving them in cafes and Laundromats and other places. I also recycle any other books I'm bored with, from knitting guides to great lit.

Because of the sheer volume of these books I can easily steal enough to feed my reading habit, often nicely formatted into PDFs, but unless I want to actively participate in something illegal, I'm not in a position to pass books along anymore, or participate in bottom feeding from second hand book sales.

I'm also concerned what this will do to text book sales. Regularly updated, specialty books cost an arm and a leg. I understand some of this is evil on the part of publishers and some of it is the nature of the market. Right now, I can survive by buying second hand text books and professors who are lenient enough to permit using past editions, where it's a new textbook. I am deeply pessimistic about the possibility that this will appreciably lower the cost of text books, just make it hard to get more uses out of your 'book'.
posted by Phalene at 12:50 PM on January 31, 2010


"I'm very much afraid that our technology is creating a bunch of spoiled brats of all ages who have no idea how much actual work -- and, often, how much money -- goes into creating things."

It may be that they know and don't care. Until someone whose work I actually care about actually stops working because people are pirating their material, I'll just take everyone's complaints as so much whining. Strangely, that has yet to happen.
posted by empath at 1:01 PM on January 31, 2010


Until someone whose work I actually care about...

There you go. In spite of your user name, perhaps the problem is your ability to care about others, and their work.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:05 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I care about actual people, not fictional people. As far as I've been able to determine, it's only been theoretical people that have been hurt by piracy, while a whole lot of real people have benefited from it tremendously.
posted by empath at 1:24 PM on January 31, 2010


The 90,000 people who lost their publishing jobs last year don't feel so fictional.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:32 PM on January 31, 2010


DRM is a jackboot that tramples on our right to space-shift. If I purchase content, I'd like to be able to view it on my desktop, laptop, car pc and cell phone. It's called space-shifting. We all have a legal right to space-shift content we purchased.

I agree -- DRM sucks. If people could be counted upon to be more trustworthy, no one would use it. This thread makes it obvious that people cannot be so counted upon. DRM exists because of viewers like you. Sorry, but there you go.

DRM violates this legal right.

I am unfamiliar with your legal right to space-shift. I agree that space-shifting is preferable to not. I don't actually think your lack ability to space-shift materials, particularly materials you bought under a TOS agreement that makes it clear you will not be able to space-shift these materials, makes you the victim of a crime, however.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:44 PM on January 31, 2010


Toekneesan wrote: "The 90,000 people who lost their publishing jobs last year don't feel so fictional."

Which has fuck all to do with book piracy and everything to do with the declining real price of hardcopy books.
posted by wierdo at 1:55 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Would you be willing to bet that legal mp3 downloads make up more than a small fraction of downloads? I mean, if you think it's going to help, go ahead. But I think you're fighting a battle that you not only already lost but never could've won.

I'm not sure there's a way to know the number of illegal downloads vs. legal ones (if there is, please share it), so I can only offer the anecdotal personal information that (a) ten years ago people who used Napster were the white knights of information freedom and people who opposed it were money-grubbing assholes, and (b) now, some years after iTunes and similar services have emerged as imperfect but viable models for electronic music sales, people who buy music digitally outnumber people who buy it on CDs, and people who still champion the rights of all to pirate music are likely to be stereotyped as weirdos and cranks who've read The Matrix Warrior a few too many times, or just as bums. What has changed is that digital distribution of music barely existed (legally) a decade ago, and what was coming from official channels was an inferior distribution service. Napster was better than what the actual labels were doing not just because it was free, but because it was just an all-around better service. Duplicate the service and make it affordable and you can't really bitch, unless you're just all about getting some shit you didn't pay for.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:56 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]



The 90,000 people who lost their publishing jobs last year don't feel so fictional.


This. And I'm not arguing for DRM-- DRM wouldn't be necessary if people played nice! It's people like "Empath" who believe they are entitled to everyone else's work for less than it costs to do who make creators think about supporting desperate things like this.

OTOH, moral suasion is powerful, free and-- unlike heavy handed enforcement-- works. Which is why I will continue to argue this point. The reason morals change over time-- for example, regarding drugs-- is that people realize that for example, marijuana isn't as harmful as people claimed, the original people making the claims of its evils were driven by racism and false information and the harm related to enforcing the law as it is done now is demonstrably greater than the harm done by the substance.

If everyone simply takes intellectual property, intellectual property will get a lot crappier. Which is what we're seeing. A big reason why so much journalism is so shallow these days is because everyone has to write it in five minutes and therefore fact checking, multiple sourcing and most importantly, analysis and context go out the window.

If you prefer a world where the only way to make a living is by making things or working for people who make things and where the only high quality information is limited to finance and possibly pharmaceuticals and kept exclusive to the rich, you are preferring a world of massive inequality, a world with a tiny minority of rich people and a vast underclass, a world where corruption or social problems only get reported only if a rich person happens to have the time and inclination to write about it and where artists have an even harder time than they do now. We've had that in the past-- and many countries have it now. They are the most miserable places on earth.

You think you're going to get some kind of information utopia by demanding the right to everything free-- try looking at the world of crap that is Demand Studios content.
posted by Maias at 2:06 PM on January 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


A big reason why so much journalism is so shallow these days is because everyone has to write it in five minutes and therefore fact checking, multiple sourcing and most importantly, analysis and context go out the window.

If you think this started with the internet I have some really, really bad news for you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:12 PM on January 31, 2010


If everyone simply takes intellectual property, intellectual property will get a lot crappier. Which is what we're seeing. A big reason why so much journalism is so shallow these days is because everyone has to write it in five minutes and therefore fact checking, multiple sourcing and most importantly, analysis and context go out the window.

What does journalism having to compete with bloggers have to do with piracy? Unless you're calling the fair use of links and quotes from newspapers and magazines "stealing" as well...

The 90,000 people who lost their publishing jobs last year don't feel so fictional.

Again, given that the linked article makes clear that the jobs lost includes "newspapers, magazines, and books as well as direct-mail shops", the 90,000 people who lost their publishing jobs due to piracy are indeed mostly fictional.
posted by nicwolff at 2:31 PM on January 31, 2010



If you think this started with the internet I have some really, really bad news for you.


Of course it didn't start with the internet, but the internet clearly massively accelerated it. The fact that corporate chains fucked up by cutting costs when they should have been investing doesn't make the decline of journalism the fault of *journalists*.

And Nicwolff, where did I say anything in my posts about journalists competing with bloggers? When bloggers do original reporting and get paid, they *are* journalists; if they are just opinionizing, they are little different from op-ed writers, most of whom get paid only marginally (not talking columnists, op-ed writers). The fight over "blogs v. journalists" is pretty much over-- journalism and blogging is now so intertwined, it's impossible to say who "won," other than that blogging has made cut-rate journalism a lot more common.

Where books come in is as the last place anyone could make a living writing nonfiction. If you eliminate magazines, newspapers, books, the web, radio and TV as places for journalists to make a living, you've eliminated journalism.
posted by Maias at 2:58 PM on January 31, 2010


Thank God! Corky is on the case.



/yawns
posted by Ratio at 3:06 PM on January 31, 2010


Amazon has responded to some of this via the Kindle Forums.
posted by Justinian at 3:12 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


A big problem with this debate in general, and this thread in particular, is that a whole bunch of people don't know the first thing about what they're talking about, but that we're living through a phase of history where that ignorance is celebrated — because if you actually bring to the debate some real understanding of what, say, publishing involves, you must be a neanderthal old-timer desperately trying to preserve the status quo out of self-interest. Civil_Disobedient and empath don't appear to know anything about publishing. That's not a criticism: I don't know anything about sports or fine arts or rock music or a hundred other things. The difference is that I don't believe my ignorance puts me in touch with The Future.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:28 PM on January 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


Granted, the 90,000 put out of work last year weren't all the direct result of piracy, but ask any of them if they think the rampant uncompensated use of their work was a factor and what do you think they'd say? Are any of you really arguing that none of them lost their jobs due to piracy?

As for the declining price of books causing the job losses, does that happen in a vacuum or is it a response to competing with free? I set the prices of our books, and I set them low to compete with piracy. I don't think I'm alone trying in that.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:33 PM on January 31, 2010


I probably should have stuck around early to defend my position a little better, but here goes:

I'm not a Randian, I'm not a Libertarian, and I'm not arguing that copyright infringement is somehow my god-given right. I am simply trying to put forth the idea that perhaps the reality of the information situation should be recognized, and not everybody who copies a song is a morally bankrupt thief who has no concern for artists' welfare.

I would not say that one shouldn't make beautiful ceramic vases because they are easy to smash, because you have to be a total asshole to run around smashing vases. Smashing a vase does not leave the original vase intact and create a copy of it. Smashing a vase is stealing and destroying somebody's creative work. STOP MAKING THIS GOD DAMNED COMPARISON. IT DOES NOT WORK; IT IS NOT VALID.
posted by tehloki at 3:38 PM on January 31, 2010


Toekneesan wrote: "Granted, the 90,000 put out of work last year weren't all the direct result of piracy, but ask any of them if they think the rampant uncompensated use of their work was a factor and what do you think they'd say?"

You may as well ask them if the phase of the moon was a factor. It's a stupid question. (Today. Next month we may have NapsterBooks, for all I know)
posted by wierdo at 3:47 PM on January 31, 2010


Smashing a vase is stealing and destroying somebody's creative work. STOP MAKING THIS GOD DAMNED COMPARISON. IT DOES NOT WORK; IT IS NOT VALID.

I thought I was pretty clever in coming up with that comparison, actually, but you're misunderstanding what it is to which I am drawing a parallel. You asked me why a person would attempt to make a living doing something that could be easily pirated. You read my reply and assumed that my ceramic vase analogy was meant to draw a line between the vase and the work that was pirated. No. My analogy was meant to draw a line between a person who makes his/her living creating things that other people could easily destroy and a person who makes his/her living creating things that other people could easily strip of monetary value. In either case, should a person turn away from a profession because someone else could come along and fuck it up for them? Isn't the person who fucks it up the one who really ought to knock that shit the fuck off already?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:55 PM on January 31, 2010


Weirdo, so you are arguing that none of them lost their job as a result of the uncompensated use of their work?
posted by Toekneesan at 4:04 PM on January 31, 2010


Granted, the 90,000 put out of work last year weren't all the direct result of piracy, but ask any of them if they think the rampant uncompensated use of their work was a factor and what do you think they'd say?

If I ask the ones who worked at newspapers and magazines, I think they'll say "Huh? There's rampant piracy of news now?" If I ask the ones who worked for direct-mail firms, I think they'll say "What are you babbling about?"

If I found one who used to work at a book publisher, and asked them to list the reasons they were laid off, I doubt they'd spontaneously mention piracy.

Can we talk about Amazon and Macmillan now?
posted by nicwolff at 4:18 PM on January 31, 2010


Are we really trying to shift the blame for the loss of those print jobs on infringement? Sure, let's ignore craigslist and the fact that the print industry is competing against a vastly superior information distribution system. Nope, it's those damn downloaders! Cue the moral panic!
posted by mullingitover at 4:20 PM on January 31, 2010


"Can we talk about Amazon and Macmillan now?"

No. Metafilter's average user is now pushing 40. This is a handy reference for understanding the average age of a commenter in a community forum:

Forum's average age is 20: "Downloading is hella wicked awesome. I can has invietz?"
Forum's average age is 30: "Downloading is boring, I have already downloaded everything"

(Something magical/sad happens here where people turn into their parents. I suspect it's the making babies that poisons the brain.)

Forum's average age is 40: "Downloading is bad, stealing is bad, therefore downloading is stealing. Let's belabor this fallacy at length, if you disagree I will talk to you condescendingly." <<Metafilter has arrived here :(
Forum's average age is 50: "Downloading is bad, getting on my lawn is bad, therefore getting on my lawn is stealing my freedom. Stay off my lawn. Murica, stop killing babies with your abortions." <<Where this is going.
posted by mullingitover at 4:33 PM on January 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Downloading is bad, stealing is bad, therefore downloading is stealing" is a really weak strawman.

"Stealing" is a social construction; it is whatever society says it is. If society mostly agrees that pirating copyrighted material is stealing, then it is. If society mostly agrees that pirating copyrighted material is not stealing, then it is not. You can't simply assert that it is definitionally not-stealing because society gets to decide what the definition of stealing will be in the future.
posted by Justinian at 4:39 PM on January 31, 2010


I didn't say "ask them if they lost their job because of piracy". I said ask if it was because of the uncompensated use of their work. Do you think that wasn't a factor in the layoffs in media other than books? My point remains: Respect the work of others. It has a value, just like the work you do.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:44 PM on January 31, 2010


"Downloading is bad, stealing is bad, therefore downloading is stealing" is a really weak strawman.

Yeah, I got a little silly there, which was my point. It's the second sentence that was serious and accurate.
posted by mullingitover at 4:45 PM on January 31, 2010


NYT story covering Amazon's previously-linked concession from the Kindle forum

“We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles,” Amazon said. “We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books.”

Amazon's saying "prices we believe are needlessly high," as opposed to prices set by the publisher rather than Amazon — that seems like a really evasive, dishonest way of describing this dispute.
posted by RogerB at 4:54 PM on January 31, 2010


"Amazon's saying "prices we believe are needlessly high," as opposed to prices set by the publisher rather than Amazon — that seems like a really evasive, dishonest way of describing this dispute."

Yes, I don't see why Macmillan doesn't just admit they want to engage in price fixing, and why Amazon won't call it for what it is.
posted by mullingitover at 4:58 PM on January 31, 2010


Uh, because it isn't price fixing. Price fixing would be if Macmillan conspired with the other publishers to set e-book prices. Amazon is not a publisher, it is a retailer.
posted by Justinian at 5:01 PM on January 31, 2010


"Uh, because it isn't price fixing. Price fixing would be if Macmillan conspired with the other publishers to set e-book prices. Amazon is not a publisher, it is a retailer."

They're both sellers. Macmillan is selling books to Amazon, which in turn is selling them to consumers. Macmillan is trying to dictate the price that Amazon can sell its books at. That is by definition Price fixing. You're talking about horizontal price fixing, which of course is explicitly illegal so the industry will be a lot less blatant about it. The supreme court (brought to you by Carl's Junior), in its infinite wisdom, recently decided that vertical price fixing of the type Macmillan is engaging in is not explicitly illegal. So here we are. It's still price fixing though, let's not split hairs.
posted by mullingitover at 5:13 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


kittens for breakfast:
The problem with that analogy is that there is no horde of average people with no particular malicious intent running around and destroying fragile art. Such a mob exists who are perfectly willing to download pirated media. My essential point is that making moral judgements on the matter is completely moot: there is no feasible technological way to stop this mob and most of them don't seem to think they're doing anything wrong. My biggest problem with your vase analogy is that it's not based on reality; the average person is not a prolifically destructive vandal but you bet your ass they're a casual copyright infringer. There is no motivation for - and large amounts of effort and risk involved with - the former, and plenty of motivation and little risk involved with the latter.

I'm aware how self-serving and hypocritical my position on this issue seems. Of course part of the reason I hold the views I do is because they support a behaviour that I partake in and enjoy. Of course to the average artist/writer/musician/filmmaker my ideas are that of an uncaring asshole - a hater of art. Maybe my position is tinged by the fact that it is not even remotely illegal to share copyrighted files over the internet where I live.
posted by tehloki at 5:28 PM on January 31, 2010


by the fact that it is not even remotely illegal to share copyrighted files over the internet where I live.

Uh, in Canada? Sharing copyrighted material is most definitely illegal in Canada. The only wrinkle is with music files where the situation is complex enough that I don't feel comfortable making a statement on it either way; but apart from that you're quite wrong.
posted by Justinian at 5:49 PM on January 31, 2010


About the Macmillan/Amazon thing. . .

Here's what I suspect is actually going on.

Let's publish a book. We'll call it Ten Happy Ugly Dogs, or THUD for short. We figure it costs us x to make, including editing, design, composition, printing, paper; and then we figure we're most likely to sell y copies of it. Take x divide by y and that is our unit cost. Now take x, your book costs, and add a bunch of other non-book factors like overhead, employee benefits, taxes, and a little something for the shareholders, and divide by y again. There's your average wholesaler/retailer price. To that add your average wholesaler/retailer discount, and there you have your retail price. For THUD, let's say that's $25.

We publish THUD, and offer it as a Kindle edition. We tell Amazon it will cost them $15 (that average wholesaler/retailer price) per copy, for either the physical or the Kindle edition (40% is a standard bookselling retailer discount, although Amazon is likely to be getting much better than that because of their volume). At first Amazon says fine, we're selling it at $9.99 and we'll eat the $5 we lose on every sale. We want to dominate this market so it's an investment in market share. But they can't afford that forever. So after a while Amazon tells us that as of, let's say late March, (or April if you want it with 3G) we're going to need to bring the Kindle price of our publications down so they're closer to the $9.99 price. Preferably lower. Now as the publishers of THUD, we know that that may be bringing us too close to that unit cost. So we tell Amazon, no, but what we're willing to do is wait until we've sold y at $15 (or $14.99 at the iBookstore) and then we'll sell it on your site for $9.99. That would be the "windowing" John Sargent referred to in his letter. Amazon saw the disadvantage that would put them at in competing with the iBookstore so they went nuclear. They flexed some muscle, just like they did with POD. They know they can't compete on functionality with Apple so they want to compete on price. But they can't and shouldn't dictate to the publishers of THUD or Macmillan what costs are. Yes, lower prices benefit consumers, but there is a limit.

That, I suspect, is what this is about.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:26 PM on January 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


Toekneesan wrote: "Weirdo, so you are arguing that none of them lost their job as a result of the uncompensated use of their work?"

You're making the claim, how about you provide the proof?
posted by wierdo at 6:30 PM on January 31, 2010


Toekneesan: "We figure it costs us x to make, including editing, design, composition, printing, paper; and then we figure we're most likely to sell y copies of it. Take x divide by y and that is our unit cost."

Of course! Those eForests and eInk to feed the ePrinting Presses don't come cheap. I forgot to factor these in. It's a little-known fact that each eBook requires the harvest of millions of integers.
/sarcasm

I can understand why Amazon would be hesitant to pay for these when they don't have anything to do with the cost of the eBook production.

Why isn't Amazon just reaching out to do direct deals with writers? Seems like now would be the time to bring them into the fold and help the middlemen find career retraining courses at their local community colleges.
posted by mullingitover at 6:45 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


We tell Amazon it will cost them $15 [...] At first Amazon says fine, we're selling it at $9.99 and we'll eat the $5 we lose

No, as cstross explains it, the terms (at least of Amazon's new 30%-cut Kindle pricing structure) actually prevent publishers from setting the price Amazon pays them — which I take to be the major point Macmillan's disputing:

to get the 30% rate, you have to [...] guarantee that you will not allow other ebook editions to sell for less than the Kindle price, and let Amazon set that price, with a ceiling of $9.99. In other words, Amazon choose how much to pay you, while using your books to undercut any possible rivals (including the paper editions you still sell).
posted by RogerB at 6:46 PM on January 31, 2010


Toekneesan has hit the nail on the head. Macmillan gets to decide the price their books will sell for, like any business. (Whether that price is smart or not.) Amazon is the one doing the strongarming here.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:49 PM on January 31, 2010


My essential point is that making moral judgements on the matter is completely moot: there is no feasible technological way to stop this mob and most of them don't seem to think they're doing anything wrong.

Tehloki, I agree with that last part, but like I said above, I think minds can be changed. There may not be great technological ways to stop this mob (there are certainly ways to hinder this mob that I don't think are very great at all), but that's irrelevant if the mob chooses to stop being a mob of its own volition.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:00 PM on January 31, 2010


Mullingitover, it's not the paper and ink costs, I assure you. And besides, use your head. Amazon makes more money selling a physical copy than they do a digital one. They don't want any publisher to go only digital. And a publisher would be an idiot to abandon print when digital is only ten percent of current revenue. All the costs are in the first book. Tens of thousands on that first copy and then pennies a copy after that.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:13 PM on January 31, 2010


Judging by the NYT's now more detailed story, Toekneesan's summary of the existing situation was, in fact, exactly right:

Last Thursday, Mr. Sargent flew to Seattle to explain the pricing and new sales model to Amazon. He said Amazon could continue to buy e-books on the same terms it does now — allowing the retailer to set consumer prices — but that the publisher would delay the release of all digital editions by several months after the hardcover publication.

Amazon buys and resells e-books in the same way it handles printed books, by paying publishers a wholesale price that is generally equivalent to half the list price of a print edition. Because Amazon has discounted the price of most new and popular e-books on its Kindle e-reader to $9.99, it loses money on most of those sales.

posted by RogerB at 7:14 PM on January 31, 2010


Civil_Disobedient and empath don't appear to know anything about publishing.

I probably know more than you think I do about publishing. I just happen to think that publishing in the sense of 'printing words on paper' is probably dying, and piracy has nothing to do with it.

And trying to blame 90,000 lost publishing jobs on book piracy is just pathetic. People are losing jobs in the industry because nobody is willing to pay money for what they're selling. Sucks for them, but it's not the end of the world. There are lots of people who are 'publishing' on the internet and doing just fine.
posted by empath at 7:24 PM on January 31, 2010


Why isn't Amazon just reaching out to do direct deals with writers?

Direct deals about what? No significant publishing house is going to sign a deal to publish an author's work which allows that author to sell the e-rights to Amazon in that fashion.
posted by Justinian at 7:33 PM on January 31, 2010


(which also completely leaves aside the fact that Amazon when then need to hire editors, marketers, artists, and so on and son on. Amazon is not a publisher, they are a retailer.)
posted by Justinian at 7:38 PM on January 31, 2010


Justinian: "(which also completely leaves aside the fact that Amazon when then need to hire editors, marketers, artists, and so on and son on. Amazon is not a publisher, they are a retailer.)"

These seem like pitifully weak barriers to entry if that's all that's stopping Amazon (and Apple, and Google, etc etc) from jumping in and disintermediating them. So basically the only thing that's protecting them from collapse is their cartel behavior in refusing to grant book deals which let authors retain their electronic publishing rights?
posted by mullingitover at 7:50 PM on January 31, 2010


Amazon has multiple venues for authors to self-publish. DTP for Kindle and CreateSpace for almost everything else. But I think most authors recognize that publishing isn't just submitting a Word document and then selling it with a binding or as a mobi file on Amazon.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:10 PM on January 31, 2010


Macmillan gets to decide the price their books will sell for, like any business.

Actually...most businesses don't determine final retail pricing unless they are the retailer. Do you think Wal*Mart lets P&G decide what the retail price of Tide is in their stores? It shouldn't be any different with books. Currently Macmillan sets a wholesale price per title and leaves it to Amazon to either mark it up enough to make a profit or sell it at a loss. This is how business is done (except here in Wisconsin where the state mandates a minimum markup over wholesale). The agent model Macmillan wants strips Amazon of the ability to set pricing in their own store. Of course, as pointed out previously, their relationship could continue as it is now if Amazon doesn't mind getting electronic titles months after the hardcover and iBookstore versions are released. Who wins? Pirates. YARRRRRRRRRRRR!!!
posted by MikeMc at 8:11 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who wins? Pirates. YARRRRRRRRRRRR!!!

And Howard Dean.
posted by MikeMc at 8:12 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Exactly, MikeMc. Macmillan's core unreasonableness (all concerns about specific prices aside) is their demand to dictate the terms of the relationship between Amazon and the customer. This is something no retailer in their right mind would agree to.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:37 PM on January 31, 2010


You're still misrepresenting the dispute. Amazon is the one being unreasonable: They want Macmillan to agree to take a percentage of the sale price and then also allow Amazon to set the sale price with a maximum of $9.99. What publisher in their right mind would agree to that?
posted by Justinian at 8:52 PM on January 31, 2010


Does that make sense? It's ridiculous to think a publisher would agree to take a percentage of an amount the other party gets to choose. Macmillan needs to either get a flat amount per e-book or being able to dictate what the e-book sells for. You can't expect them to let Amazon pay them basically whatever Amazon decides to pay them.
posted by Justinian at 8:54 PM on January 31, 2010


It's my understanding that Amazon pays based on the hardback price and then charges what they like, often incurring a loss as their price point is usually less than half the price of the hardback.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:56 PM on January 31, 2010


Justinian: "It's ridiculous to think a publisher would agree to take a percentage of an amount the other party gets to choose."

Why? Both parties want to to maximize sales revenue, and with a fixed cut of the revenue the publisher is getting a free ride while Amazon tries to sell as many copies as they can.
posted by mullingitover at 9:00 PM on January 31, 2010


Why? Both parties want to to maximize sales revenue, and with a fixed cut of the revenue the publisher is getting a free ride while Amazon tries to sell as many copies as they can.

Very untrue. Amazon and Macmillan do not have the same goal. Macmillan doesn't care where their books sell. They'd be just as happy to sell via the iStore. But Amazon very much does care and they, obviously, want everyone to buy from Amazon. So Amazon has an incentive to massively undercut Apple's pricing while Macmillan does not.

So, no, both parties do NOT want to maximize sales revenue. Macmillan wants to maximize sales revenue while (at least in the short term) Amazon wants to maximize market share. But, as I said, Macmillan doesn't care what Amazon's market share is any more than they care whether they sell more books at Barnes&Noble or Borders.

And that's the core of the problem. Amazon and Macmillan don't have the same goals.
posted by Justinian at 9:06 PM on January 31, 2010


It's my understanding that Amazon pays based on the hardback price and then charges what they like

Well, see, there's the problem. I don't believe this is the case. Prior to now Amazon was the only game in town and so publishers were forced to accept their shitty terms. My understanding is that Amazon was setting the price and keeping 70%(!). But now Apple is moving in and they are letting the publishers set the price and only keeping 30%(!). Macmillan asked Amazon for the same deal as Apple is giving them, or told Amazon they can keep the current deal but must delay release of the e-books for several months after the hardcover release ("windowing").

So it seems to me that some of the anti-Macmillan sentiment is based on a misunderstanding of the situation. Amazon has had an incredibly cushy deal because they were a monopoly on the e-book market. The NOOK and, especially, the Apple thingie are breaking that monopoly but Amazon doesn't want to give up their cushy deal. So they pulled all of Macmillan's books to try to force them to keep the same crappy deal where Macmillan gets a percentage of a price that Amazon sets.

Like I said, it's Amazon that is throwing the hissy fit here. They want to keep pricing like they are a monopoly when they are no longer a monopoly.
posted by Justinian at 9:10 PM on January 31, 2010


You're still misrepresenting the dispute. Amazon is the one being unreasonable: They want Macmillan to agree to take a percentage of the sale price and then also allow Amazon to set the sale price with a maximum of $9.99. What publisher in their right mind would agree to that?

It's my understanding that Amazon's 70/30 split with the $9.99 price cap is optional. If that's true than Macmillan could continue selling to Amazon at wholesale prices and letting Amazon take the loss on the retail end. The problem for Macmillan is that if Amazon continues to eat the losses and sell @ $9.99 it could kill the iBookstore agency model where Macmillan stands to make a greater profit. The agency model would be good for Macmillan and Apple but bad for consumers in general and Kindle owners in particular. The only real loser in this whole deal is the consumer.
posted by MikeMc at 9:11 PM on January 31, 2010


Well, see, there's the problem. I don't believe this is the case. Prior to now Amazon was the only game in town and so publishers were forced to accept their shitty terms. My understanding is that Amazon was setting the price and keeping 70%(!).

It's been my understanding that Amazon takes a loss on every $9.99 bestseller. I could be wrong but I think they use the $9.99 books as loss leaders to sell Kindles and non-subsidized Kindle editions (which are occasionally priced at par or even higher than available paper editions, paperbacks in particular).
posted by MikeMc at 9:17 PM on January 31, 2010


I looked into it further and there seems to be conflicting info on the current Amazon deal. Barrons, for example, agrees with you that Amazon currently pays Macmillan 50% of hardcover list price regardless of sales price.

This is a pretty key point. If you're correct and Macmillan is getting a fixed price regardless of sales price, it does indeed start looking pretty bad for Macmillan.
posted by Justinian at 9:18 PM on January 31, 2010


Does anyone have solid sourced info on the current Macmillan-Amazon deal?
posted by Justinian at 9:20 PM on January 31, 2010


According to this article in Publishers Weekly Amazon does indeed lose money on every $9.99 bestseller.
posted by MikeMc at 9:32 PM on January 31, 2010


Here's a good explanation of the new 70-30 royalty plan. I think the crucial thing is that Amazon is paying 70% of the "author or publisher-supplied list price." So, regardless of what Amazon decides to set the price at, it's the list price they're always paying royalties on.

Given that I haven't seen anything saying that this also changes which price Amazon pays royalties on, one could assume that the 35-65 split was also based on list price. And if this is true, this isn't about Amazon screwing Macmillan directly but about Macmillan protecting their deal with Apple.
posted by dw at 10:03 PM on January 31, 2010


kittens for breakfast you said:

"I agree -- DRM sucks. If people could be counted upon to be more trustworthy, no one would use it. This thread makes it obvious that people cannot be so counted upon. DRM exists because of viewers like you. Sorry, but there you go.

DRM exists because of viewers like me? Let's not get personal here. By "cheaper alternatives" I was referring to legal sources of outstanding literature such as Project Gutenberg, LibriVox and the Chinese Text Project.

And why does DRM exist? Do you even know? Before I hit you over the head with a clue by four let's address the other thing you said first:

"I am unfamiliar with your legal right to space-shift."

Then you should become familiar with the legal issues surrounding space shifting, time shifting and format shifting as it relates to personal use. If you are going to argue so passionately about an issue (to the point of implying that I'm a thief when all I did was express an opinion), at least understand the issue.

Now for the clue by four...

Why does DRM exist? You seem to think DRM exists because people are untrustworthy thieves.

Do you understand the difference between an excuse and a reason? The whole "file sharing is stealing" argument is just the excuse. The reason for DRM is locking in market share (and locking out competitors).

If content I purchased will only play on a certain proprietary device, operating system or DRM scheme, it makes it hard (and in many cases impossible) to move away from that company when it comes time to upgrade my device or OS. Industries are not spending literally billions of dollars on DRM that can be cracked and stripped in seconds to prevent stealing, they are investing in DRM in an attempt to hold on to their paying customers by making it as hard as possible for them to move to competing products.

It's about market share, not stealing.

If I can shift content I purchased to any device or OS, then the content owners would have to compete solely on the merits of their content, not the DRM schemes locking me in. And please keep in mind that the same DRM schemes that lock consumers in also serve to keep independent content creators out. The real crime here is not theft but stifling free market competition.

That's why it pisses me off when companies that I pay good money to cripple content I purchased with feeble attempts at DRM in the name of content protection. They inconvenience me. They make me dependent on them. They create "walled gardens" making it harder for smaller companies to compete. More importantly, they say to me (a paying customer) exactly what you implied, kittens for breakfast:

"You are a thief."

By feeding me an excuse and not a reason, they also say:

"You are an idiot."

If a business treats paying customers like thieves and idiots, then that business should shrivel up and die.
posted by stringbean at 11:02 PM on January 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


There's also the simple fact that DRM has failed before it begins; handing someone a lock and a key and relying on them not being bright enough to understand how to put the key in the lock is just dumb, especially because anybody bright enough to understand how to put the key in the lock can simply throw together an automatic key-putter-in-lock device.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:31 AM on February 1, 2010


Just as a note:

How many Kindle owners do you know who don't also own (and continue to buy) physical books? I'm sure some people like this exist, but they're a tiny minority.

I am one of these users. I travel a fair amount, and I simply cannot handle the weight of another book in my collection. This has all sorts of weird side effects, like bookstores moving from "places that might have something I might happily find" to "places that have names of things I should remember".

It's not actually entirely pleasant, even for me.
posted by effugas at 4:33 AM on February 1, 2010


Shelf Awareness has just posted some great coverage on the issues involved and the players responses.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:11 AM on February 1, 2010


I just want to point out how stellar this comment is. stringbean is on point, whether you support piracy or not. In a thread where people are actually claiming, with a straight face, that piracy killed print journalism (piracy? really? nobody pirates newspapers.) and that copyright infringement is legally the same thing as theft, it's nice to see someone who actually knows what they're talking about for a change.
posted by shmegegge at 6:12 AM on February 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Stringbean, my understanding is that companies like Apple (for instance) have worked against the music industry in efforts to get DRM removed from their music files. Reason being, people fucking hate DRM, and it makes them more likely to get their music elsewhere (like pirate sites). Here's a clue-by-four for you: Businesses would rather avoid practices that make it harder for them to sell you things.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:21 AM on February 1, 2010


Businesses would rather avoid practices that make it harder for them to sell you things.

Arguing from Apple trying to remove DRM to this conclusion is goofy. The record companies are also businesses, and they were the ones trying to put it in.
posted by grouse at 7:20 AM on February 1, 2010


Arguing from Apple trying to remove DRM to this conclusion is goofy.

The only reason why Apple would try to remove DRM is because removal of DRM would make the product more saleable. If the record industry was unable to come to this conclusion itself, well, it's the record industry. There you go.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:33 AM on February 1, 2010


Why isn't Amazon just reaching out to do direct deals with writers?

Here's one step closer to that: Top Author Shifts E-Book Rights to Amazon.com

The negative for consumers is that now you need a Kindle to read those books that are exclusive.
posted by smackfu at 7:44 AM on February 1, 2010


my understanding is that companies like Apple (for instance) have worked against the music industry in efforts to get DRM removed from their music files.

Books do seem a little different to me though. For an CD or DVD, I can buy the physical copy and produce a digital version that meets or exceeds the digital version that is for sale. So the DRM really provides no barrier to pirates. e-Books are much harder to create, so the DRM is more worthwhile to the publishers.
posted by smackfu at 7:46 AM on February 1, 2010


Sorry for the triple post but I just saw that the McMillan "windowing" discussed above is to delay the e-book by seven months, and they would still get the same money they are getting today from Amazon:
Macmillan said Amazon could continue to buy e-books under its current wholesale model, paying the publisher 50 percent of the hardcover list price while pricing the e-book at any level Amazon chooses, but that Macmillan would delay those e-book editions by seven months after hardcover release.
posted by smackfu at 7:50 AM on February 1, 2010


There are lots of people who are 'publishing' on the internet and doing just fine.

This isn't really the case. There are *few* people who are publishing on the internet doing just fine and they are at risk from crap content mills like Demand Studios, who are doing just fine because they pay people crap and hijack search engines (when people get to their content, they're not exactly posting it to twitter or mefi, they flee to find something readable). The people who are making it via ads alone are small or they primiarly use other people's content for free (AKA Huffpo). The New York Times isn't "doing just fine"-- the Washington Post isn't doing just fine.

And to the person who said that no one pirates newspapers, what the heck are you talking about? It's not literal piracy, but it's part of the same problem: the people making the content aren't being paid enough for it. Newspaper content is repurposed all over the web, usually without anyone paying for it. No one has figured out yet how to make it work such that the originator of the content can get paid appropriately for it. I'm not claiming that aggregation is piracy-- but someone's got to figure this out.

One answer that you guys seem to think is that appropriate pay for content creators is zero. Well, when it completely goes to zero or near-zero and no one can make a living at it, there's a serious quality problem in accessing original reporting or decent writing. If you want to live in that world, fine. I will continue to argue for a better one.
posted by Maias at 7:56 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


kittens for breakfast you said:

Stringbean, my understanding is that companies like Apple (for instance) have worked against the music industry in efforts to get DRM removed from their music files. Reason being, people fucking hate DRM, and it makes them more likely to get their music elsewhere (like pirate sites). Here's a clue-by-four for you: Businesses would rather avoid practices that make it harder for them to sell you things.

You also said:

The only reason why Apple would try to remove DRM is because removal of DRM would make the product more saleable.

It's funny you should mention Apple.

*takes the clue by four out of kittens for breakfast's hands before he hurts himself*

Google "ipad DRM" please.
posted by stringbean at 7:58 AM on February 1, 2010


It's this crazy reading comprehension thing I take for granted and really shouldn't, but I believe the operative word in what I wrote was "try." I'll also thank you to be less of an insulting dick, if that's possible; believe me, there are plenty of people in this thread I'd have been thrilled to talk shit to in a much more straightforward fashion, you included, but that's really not encouraged here, as I'm sure you know, so you might want to drop the smug shit, for real.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:06 AM on February 1, 2010


And to the person who said that no one pirates newspapers, what the heck are you talking about? It's not literal piracy, but it's part of the same problem: the people making the content aren't being paid enough for it.

Uh, people who make the content have never been paid enough. I mean, you've seen journalists' salaries, right?

The people who were making the money were the publishers off advertising. And the issue was never that people "pirated" the content, it's that publishers once held a monopoly that allowed them to charge ridiculous prices for print advertising -- and they never invested in finding alternative revenue steams.

So they paid little for the content, wrapped it in expensive ads, and made a killing. And when the ads stopped selling, they laid off the content creators.

Newspaper content is repurposed all over the web, usually without anyone paying for it. No one has figured out yet how to make it work such that the originator of the content can get paid appropriately for it. I'm not claiming that aggregation is piracy-- but someone's got to figure this out.

Most of the "repurposed" content is blurbs on search engines. It's not full-text. Aggregation is not privacy so long as the excerpt is limited in size and there's a link to the original material. While there is privacy out there, most of it is small-time stuff -- small sites republishing articles -- and could easily be handled with DMCA. But stuff like AP ranting about Google is just dumb and demonstrates that these formerly rich publishers have no idea how this new world works.
posted by dw at 8:42 AM on February 1, 2010


Amazon capitulates.
posted by rtha at 8:44 AM on February 1, 2010


> It's free to convert them via the username@free.kindle.com email address. Attach, send, receive your documents in compatible format via email, then load them onto your Kindle via USB. It's not a hassle.

Really? To me that sounds like the gold standard for hassle. My parents could never handle that flow, but one click to buy and have it appear on the device? That they can do no problem.
posted by holycola at 8:54 AM on February 1, 2010


Amazon capitulates.

So Apple has essentially managed to raise the price of Kindle books by $5. Bravo.
posted by smackfu at 9:03 AM on February 1, 2010


Why not split up the book business?

Let the publishers only publish, and then spawn off the printing end to be merged with print-on-demand. Not all titles need to be printed upon release: some will go "straight-to-ebook" (e.g., ephemeral titles like how-to books on short-lived software). Others might be ebooks and POD right away (new authors), while still others will be printed in larger (Dan Brown, Steven King) or smaller runs (new series by established authors).

I used to work for a Bosotn service bureau near Houghton Mifflin, and I sometimes wondered about the publishing process: if you didn't have to count on all your titles being successful to some degree before wagering the cost of editing & printing, couldn't you then publish more titles?
posted by wenestvedt at 9:04 AM on February 1, 2010


I'll also thank you to be less of an insulting dick, if that's possible; believe me, there are plenty of people in this thread I'd have been thrilled to talk shit to in a much more straightforward fashion, you included, but that's really not encouraged here, as I'm sure you know, so you might want to drop the smug shit, for real.

Please read our comments again, kittens for breakfast. Who is showing restraint and who is using unnecessary expletives? Who is attacking arguments and who is attacking the character of people making arguments?

The "clue by four" was intended as a joke, not an attack.

Let's end this here before either of us say something we'll regret. Remember, Mefi is a small community, our comments last forever and I think we've hijacked this thread enough.

Thank you for taking the time to discuss DRM with me. It's an important subject that I'm very passionate about.
posted by stringbean at 9:21 AM on February 1, 2010


Late to the party, friends. As some of you know, I'm a writer. 10+ books with major publishers (including Watson Guptill -- but it looks like those books of mine are on sale again, so, um, yay). I also started a small publishing business of my own in 2007 which publishes both digital and print books.

This is what I do for a living.

I don't see anyone arguing that everyone can use a computer, and so therefore your IT guy should not charge X amount to fix your broken printer. I don't see anyone arguing "well, I can read the legal codes as well as anyone else can, so why pay for a lawyer?" I've had this argument before with ill-informed purchasers of my products. (Patterns, books, etc) For example: "Ok, purchaser, what you don't seem to understand is that not only do I need to pay my living expenses, etc, but I also need to pay the other people who work on these products, including technical editors, illustrators, etc, and I need to purchase materials with which to create them, including software."

To which I once got the following reply: "Well, you should only use open source software, not Adobe, and your tech editors shouldn't charge you that much, and and and." HELLO. MISSING THE POINT. You can buy the product or not, but having a debate about the inherent costs of producing the product is frankly, stupid as hell. I'm not forcing you to buy my product. Go download something free. When the directions don't work and everything sucks and you've just wasted a bunch of time, money and materials, have a little thought about why that is. This person probably would have been first in line to bitch if she'd bought my stuff and it didn't work.

So, what I do see from reading as much of this thread as I could without smashy smash smashing something on my desk is a whole LOT of grar about those who choose to make their living creating content such as books...empath and tehloki in particular. My god, tehloki. kittens for breakfast pointed out your complete inability to grasp what's actually being discussed.

kittens: You read my reply and assumed that my ceramic vase analogy was meant to draw a line between the vase and the work that was pirated. No. My analogy was meant to draw a line between a person who makes his/her living creating things that other people could easily destroy and a person who makes his/her living creating things that other people could easily strip of monetary value. In either case, should a person turn away from a profession because someone else could come along and fuck it up for them? Isn't the person who fucks it up the one who really ought to knock that shit the fuck off already?

I'm also arguing that the person who fucks it up should knock that shit off already. I don't want to DRM things. I don't want to make them harder for people to use on whatever device they like. And (I have dozens of examples here), I am VERY approachable when it comes to people ASKING if they can use/distribute my stuff. For example: a lot of homeschooling parents have written in asking if I mind if they copy the how-to section of my first Watson Guptill book for a lesson plan. I tell them sure, but you know what? That was actually excerpted online [here], so why don't you just have everyone download a color copy instead? Etc. I'm not some evil bitch who wants to make sure you pay pay pay before you get to play in my sandbox. I'm an evil bitch who wants to be compensated for all the work and expenses she pours into creating a quality product, and who wants to have some say in how her work is used.

Think of it this way, while we're on the crazy comparisons kick: I make a taco. It's got fresh tortillas made by a friend of mine, and the very highest-grade beef from a local farmer. The lettuce and tomatoes are organic. I made the sour cream myself. It is a REALLY FUCKING AWESOME TACO. Would you like a bite? I'll let you have a bite. Here, have two bites. Good, isn't it? Would you like to sell my tacos? Ok, here is what they cost. What? You want me to sell them for 59 cents? You know what, go to Taco Bell if you want 4 dozen tacos. I can't afford to sell them to you at 59 cents each. Not without having to take a second or third job to subsidize YOUR taco habit. There are plenty of people who like my tacos enough to pay what they're worth. Tacos do not want to be free. Tacos that are free are probably made of ground up horse butts and tomatoes that grew near a nuclear power plant.

(Note: my tacos -- umm, next e-book -- will actually sell for standard $9.99 on Amazon, and $14.99 for the deluxe PDF edition with extra content, while the print will be a few dollars more to account for printing costs. I'm not charging $800 for my damn tacos, just a price that's FAIR, given the content in that book reflects thousands upon thousands of dollars I've spent learning the information presented).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:29 AM on February 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


if you didn't have to count on all your titles being successful to some degree before wagering the cost of editing & printing, couldn't you then publish more titles? (wenestvedt)

But we already don't count on all our titles being successful to some degree. We hope they will be, of course, but the fact of the matter is (and it has always been this way) most books lose money.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:01 PM on February 1, 2010


here's an interesting article by a lawyer going into the actual details of the fight, from Charlie Stross's blog
Macmillan's position depends fundamentally on assuming full ownership and control of not just the rights actually transferred in publishing agreements with the authors, but of a full, unrestricted ownership interest in Macmillan's packaging of the author's intellectual property for market. Crucially, Macmillan could not maintain this position without having oligopoly power to exert — and we'll be returning to that shortly.

Nonetheless, most of the blame here goes to Amazon.30 It's actually fallout from a bad Supreme Court decision from a couple of years ago regarding ladies' leather accessories. (Sadly, this is about the closest we're going to get to "leather" in this whole discussion.) In Leegin31 the Supreme Court overturned a 95-year-old decision holding that resale price maintenance agreements represent a per se antitrust violation, holding instead that they must be judged under the antitrust "rule of reason" doctrine. In practical terms, that means that a plaintiff complaining that a resale price maintenance agreement violates antitrust law can win if, and only if, the plaintiff hires outrageously expensive lawyers, and has a smoking gun, while the defendant hires a bottom-of-the-class graduate of a bottom-of-the-heap law school who never took antitrust law and has never handled an antitrust matter before.

How this got to be yet another debate about whether or not copyright infringement is theft (it's not) is beyond me. Perhaps we need a new Goodwin's law corollary or something
The 90,000 people who lost their publishing jobs last year don't feel so fictional.
Were they authors? If not, why do we care? Why should society be structured in order to provide jobs in the "publishing industry"? rather then supporting authors directly?
posted by delmoi at 1:10 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


smackfu: "The negative for consumers is that now you need a Kindle to read those books that are exclusive."

Or not :)

ocherdraco: "But we already don't count on all our titles being successful to some degree. We hope they will be, of course, but the fact of the matter is (and it has always been this way) most books lose money."

So wouldn't the zero-cost printing expense for eBooks mean that an average book loses less money, thus allowing for many more books to be created without changing the overall profitability of the publishing house?
posted by mullingitover at 1:11 PM on February 1, 2010


It sounds like Amazon was, indeed, paying Macmillan the amount of money Macmillan wanted and Macmillan wanted Amazon to charge more even if Macmillan got less money. In which case... well... I don't know what to say. Now they both look like giant dickbags.
posted by Justinian at 1:18 PM on February 1, 2010


It sounds to me like the major players in the publishing industry have already coordinated a plan for (still thoroughly illegal) horizontal ebook price fixing, and used Macmillan to give Amazon a newly-legal vertical price-fixing beatdown. Now all the other publishers are free to require the same terms from Amazon and it'll appear to be a spontaneous, uncoordinated development that has nothing to do with the smoke-filled backroom where this scheme was hammered out. See also: Steve Jobs' confidently smug comment about Amazon and Apple-- "the prices will be the same."
posted by mullingitover at 1:34 PM on February 1, 2010


It sounds like Amazon was, indeed, paying Macmillan the amount of money Macmillan wanted and Macmillan wanted Amazon to charge more even if Macmillan got less money. In which case... well... I don't know what to say. Now they both look like giant dickbags.
What MacMillan wanted was to be able to set the retail price. That way they could start out charging a lot, and then gradually lower the price to sell more copies. What Amazon wanted was to pay MacMillan a fixed price and then sell the books for whatever they wanted. That's what they do with paper books. In particularly they could sell the books for less then the cover price.

And, if they sell books for less then the cover price (paper or otherwise), people will be more likely to buy from Amazon. In other words, Amazon pays $5, $17, $6 whatever for a book and sells it for $9.99.

Why would they do that? Because they want to establish the Kindle as a the reading device. It's not a loss, it's an Investment.

I say fuck 'em both.
posted by delmoi at 1:50 PM on February 1, 2010


Were they authors? If not, why do we care? Why should society be structured in order to provide jobs in the "publishing industry"? rather then supporting authors directly?

Support them directly how? Pay enough for a book so that each author can afford to pay for their own editors, proofreaders, designers, marketing, reps to brick-and-mortar stores, etc.? How would that work?
posted by rtha at 2:16 PM on February 1, 2010


DRM isn't about stopping piracy. That's just how the publishers distributors are selling it. The pirates never even see DRM. DRM is about restricting rights to make more money.

DRM is used to enforce regional differences of pricing. Australian prices on video games are a good example. Australians often pay anywhere from 50 to 80 percent more than Americans for new releases. They can usually import from other locations, but with DRM becoming more common, it will be less of an option. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is almost double the price as in North America and is sold online to Australians, from the website in USD. Trying to get around this, for example by buying keys from Asian retailers who have legally purchased the games, results in their accounts are disabled.

DRM is used to make us pay for the same content multiple times. We pay twice to have the book and the ebook. We pay twice to have the mp3 and the ringtone. If they could charge us monthly or per use, you can bet they would. If they could charge us for each person watching a movie in our livingroom you know they would.
posted by ODiV at 3:13 PM on February 1, 2010


Should be "results in their accounts getting disabled."

Like the FBI Warning Screen, DRM is something that only legitimate consumers are subject to.
posted by ODiV at 3:15 PM on February 1, 2010


So wouldn't the zero-cost printing expense for eBooks mean that an average book loses less money, thus allowing for many more books to be created without changing the overall profitability of the publishing house? (mullingitover)

This assumes that a publisher switches entirely to e-books, that the list price for an e-book and a physical book are the same, and that the e-book market is the same size as the physical book market. At the moment, the e-book market is much, much smaller than the market for physical books, so for a book publisher who currently primarily publishes physical books, switching to e-books exclusively would mean many fewer copies sold, and would therefore be a loss of revenue rather than a gain.

Though there is certainly much to be gained for publishers who start from a focus on e-books from the lower overhead, moving from a print focus to an e-book focus is more problematic. Because of the smaller market (and associated lower revenue) few publishers of any appreciable size (small presses, having smaller print runs, are less affected by the smaller e-book marketplace, and, in some instances, may find that their e-book market is larger than their physical market) are going to make the switch all at once, but will, rather, adjust their proportion of physical books to e-books over time. The costs associated with physical bookmaking (some of which are unchanged regardless of the size of a book's print run; e.g., the cost of designing the interior of a physical book is the same for an edition of 1,000 copies as it is for one of 10,000 or of 100,000) will persist as long as a publisher continues to print any physical books at all.

The whole thing is really complicated. Publishing has a strange business model with lots of interlocking pieces that make it difficult to make large changes all at one time. Were book publishing to be invented today—well, it wouldn't be, since a large part of why it exists is that it's an artifact of an earlier time, but bear with me—it would almost certainly be structured differently; the archaic systems of royalties, rights, and returns would either not exist at all, or would be so drastically different as to be unrecognizable. That, I think, is a large part of the frustration being expressed in this thread. Folks say "Were I a publisher, I would do it this way," and sometimes their suggestions are better than the way it is, so they can't see why publishers don't make that change. But those of us in the business are working with precedent and practice built up over decades (and in some cases centuries; have you ever wondered, for example, why there's a page, the half title, at the beginning of a book with only the title on it before the actual title page? It's because that's the way it was done in the sixteenth century). So we are changing the way we work, but slowly, and sometimes we're only changing from bad to less-bad or stupid to less-stupid. It's probable—inevitable, really—that some publishers will go out of business because they fail to change quickly enough, and it's also very possible that publishers that are behemoths today will only be small players in the brave new all-digital world that awaits us, playing second fiddle to nimbler companies that are today only twinkles in the eyes of their eventual founders. Rather than "smoke-filled backrooms," mullingitover (which, frankly, gives publishers credit for more foresight than we're generally capable of, particularly in regard to e-books) we're much closer to lemmings, just waiting for a few to jump off some cliffs before we pick one to follow and all throw ourselves—just as blind, just as unsure of whether we've made the right decision—behind it.

But I digress.

My point, I suppose, is that the whole issue is a gray area. Whether you're in the FUCK MACMILLAN camp or the FUCK AMAZON one (I'm in something nearer that one, though my buttons and placards probably ought to read PLEASE BE NICER, AMAZON since I don't actually want to screw them over), it isn't as black and white as either side (in this thread and elsewhere) makes it out to be.

In the end, here's what I believe: books matter. Books will continue to exist, whether they're paper or bits, and even if we don't call them books and stop thinking of them as such. I believe in books, and will devote my career to making them and getting them out in the world, even if the apparatus that makes them is hobbled and my personal prospects diminish. This kerfuffle is only one of many that are bound to happen over the next few decades (and have been happening, in one way or another, as long as publishing has existed; we publishers seem to love to bemoan our ever-imminent dissolution), and it, too, shall pass.

From where I sit, in, yes, the same building where Macmillan does its work, there's not much I as an individual editor can do other than wait out this storm (and the ones that will follow), keep making the best books I can, and hope that readers understand that I'm not in this to gouge them, but rather to provide them with good things to read. I hope you'll all understand that, and I hope you'll keep reading.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:44 PM on February 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Uh, e-books only. for example

Counter-example. As recently as last week Checklist Manifesto came up when I searched on my Kindle. Now, not only can I not find it on Kindle, it's "third party only" on the Amazon site. Ditto two others from Metropolitan Books (a division of Macmillan): Rewiring The World and The Secret Lives of Buildings.

Now, this could be an #amazonfail "we flipped the wrong switch" redux, but given the events of the last weekend it does makes you think that Amazon wasn't just targeting Kindle editions.
posted by dw at 4:35 PM on February 1, 2010


It sounds like Amazon was, indeed, paying Macmillan the amount of money Macmillan wanted and Macmillan wanted Amazon to charge more even if Macmillan got less money. In which case... well... I don't know what to say. Now they both look like giant dickbags.

There's plenty of dickbaggery to go around -- Macmillan, for price fixing; Apple, for encouraging said price-fixing; Amazon, for negotiating such a low royalty to begin with; certain authors, for wanting to stick it to Amazon and consumers; consumers, for being cheapskates, etc.

I don't feel like Amazon is that much in the wrong, honestly. If Macmillan felt like Amazon was giving them a raw deal, then they should have just ended their contract with Amazon and stopped selling to them. It's what electronics firms do all the time with discount electronics merchants who cut their prices too low (and it's also one reason why Amazon obscures electronics prices -- they're often selling so far below MSRP that firms like Sony and Samsung have complained). Yes, Amazon is trying to corner the market. Yes, Amazon's Kindle files are DRM-laden. Yes, Amazon is trying to maximize Kindle sales by reversing the "disposable blade razor" business model. But honestly, isn't that what Apple did with the iPod and iTunes? Isn't that exactly what they're trying to do now with iBookstore and the iPad? At this point in the process, it's exactly where you'd think we'd be.

Macmillan is trying to set a price floor. It's not exactly illegal (again, electronics manufacturers do it all the time), but it sure is dickish, and it could end up backfiring on them if they start making less money.

I expect consumers will force prices back to that $9.99 price point soon enough. And then maybe we'll see the publishers and e-book device sellers take their damn hands off the scale and let market elasticity take over.

And as for the authors who complain that everyone wants stuff for free, well, we do. But if you give us a simple way to compensate you, we will, so long as you don't treat us like criminals. And this is why piracy has been less of an issue in music since iTunes came out (and especially since Amazon started selling MP3).
posted by dw at 4:50 PM on February 1, 2010


Were they authors? If not, why do we care? Why should society be structured in order to provide jobs in the "publishing industry"? rather then supporting authors directly?

Well, at least now we know who reads the "editors are unnecessary"-era Anne Rice books.

Seriously, I like my books to be copy edited and fully proofed, please. Also my news, for that matter.
posted by rewil at 5:00 PM on February 1, 2010


[A few comments removed. kittens for breakfast, stringbean: cut it out.]
posted by cortex at 6:45 AM on February 2, 2010


People seem to have read the unsigned post by "Amazon Kindle Team" on a Kindle subforum of the Amazon forums to be a signal of surrender. I note, however, that Macmillan authors are still de-listed on Amazon which would seem to contradict that.

I'm a bit surprised this has extended past the weekend.
posted by Justinian at 11:23 AM on February 2, 2010


Yeah, that comment is bizarre. As has been pointed out, it's not very well done PR. Has Amazon made any real public statements on the subject?
posted by smackfu at 1:35 PM on February 2, 2010


Has Amazon made any real public statements on the subject?

Has Amazon made any real public statements on ANY subject?

As has been noted before, Amazon doesn't have bad PR as much as it has NO PR.
posted by dw at 2:00 PM on February 2, 2010


Actually, I believe Bezos himself has said quite publicly that they have sold many, many Kindles. And he's quite candidly admitted to selling many, many more Kindle editions of books for those Kindles.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:29 PM on February 2, 2010


dw: "Has Amazon made any real public statements on ANY subject?"

I'm not sure if you think it counts, but Jeff Bezos gets a wild hair and posts stuff to the Amazon homepage pretty regularly.

Meanwhile, back to the price-fixing festival, Rupert chiming in:

"Q: On books/e-books/Apple what’s going on with that? Murdoch: “We don’t like the Amazon model of $9.99….we think it really devalues books and hurts all the retailers of hardcover books. We’re not against electronic books, on the contrary, we like them very much, lower costs to us, but we want some room to manuever. “Apple deal…”does allow some flexibility and higher prices” thought they will still be lower than print. And now Amazon willing to sit down with us again." [via]

So another publisher signs on for vertical price fixing legalized by the supreme court (brought to you by Carl's Jr.) Transcripts from the smoke-filled backroom where the horizontal price fixing was orchestrated are not available at this time.

On the bright side, maybe in ten years we'll all get a few dollars mailed to us.
posted by mullingitover at 4:35 PM on February 2, 2010


Macmillan CEO John Sargent finally speaks up about the Amazon kerfuffle.
posted by dw at 12:17 PM on February 4, 2010


Former music exec and current Macmillan author Susan Piver with a pretty good post at, unfortunately, Huffington Post on the lessons publishing houses might learn from the centralization of the music industry in the 90s.

Shorter version: If giant centralized retailers (like Amazon) can use your product as loss leaders (which is what Amazon wants to do with e-books), your industry is screwed.
posted by Justinian at 9:23 PM on February 4, 2010


The buy buttons for Macmillan books are now back on, as far as I can tell.
posted by Prospero at 3:53 PM on February 5, 2010


Yep, the Macmillan titles are re-listed.

Including e-books. And a lot of them are selling for less than $9.99! OH NOES!
posted by Justinian at 4:56 PM on February 6, 2010


Are they paperbacks? A lot of paperbacks sell for paperback price, as you would expect.
posted by smackfu at 5:06 PM on February 6, 2010


The Authors Guild has a new site called Who Moved My Buy Button? that allows you to track your books and get an email if the buy button disappears.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:25 AM on February 17, 2010


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