The MacMillan – Amazon Dustup

Sometime Friday, people started noticing that all of the books published through the MacMillan family of publishers (which includes SF/F giant TOR) were no longer available for purchase directly from Amazon.  Of course, speculation grew wild and eventually, today, John Sargent of MacMillan sent out a release detailing the problem.

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 through third parties.

Essentially, MacMillan would like to price their ebook offerings at prices of about $12-$15 and Amazon is demanding that they stay at $10.

I think that it’s sad that it came this far, but publishing is a business just like any other.  Eventually, there will be disagreements.  Since I don’t have any books published, it’s hard for me to see things from the publisher/author point of view.  I can see where it would, obviously, be better to be able to sell the books for more money.  And it’s still a deal as most hardcovers are nearing the $30 mark these days.  But.  Looking at it from a readers perspective, I can’t help but wonder if the $15 is sustainable in the current methods.

Here’s the issue.  DRM.  Digital Rights.  Authors and publishers want to protect their rights to the works (rightfully so) and so they try to lock down the digital files so that the end user is unable to give copies away for free.  All well and good, right?  Wrong.  What happens when a book that you legitimately bought on Amazon or wherever is locked down and you are unable to transfer it?  What if I get an iPad to replace my Kindle (I don’t have a kindle, but we’re talking hypothetical here.)  and I can’t transfer my library of ebooks from my Kindle to my new iPad?  I become one ticked off reader.  Granted, that isn’t always the way it works.  Another key point here is the money saved by the publisher by being able to publish the book electronically rather than physically.  All the paper, and printing costs that are saved.  Is that 50% of costs?  I don’t know.

Overall, I think the whole mess is just Amazon flexing it’s muscle a little bit.  They have a pretty large market share for selling books online.  When it comes down to it, however, I don’t think they compare to the brick and mortar market share.  Not yet anyways. And there’s still walmart and B&N.  Not ideal, but in a pinch.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a resolution to this sometime this coming week and MacMillan books back on the “shelves” as well.