As you may've heard, a new kind of economic warfare has begun. Over the last few months, publishers and Amazon have been battling over the price Amazon charges for downloading e-books to their e-reader, the Kindle. Publishers - and authors - have spoken up about this price and the impact it will have on printed books and whether such a low price is economically sustainable for publishers and authors.
Things heated up in the last couple of days once Apple introduced their new e-reader, the iPad. The major difference between the two readers is that the Apple version allows for color, photos and graphics and embedded links to the net. Textbooks will reportedly be one of their major targets. All of this renders the Kindle as being about as flexible and visually interesting as a Big Chief tablet.
Apple has lined up agreements with most of the corporate publishers and stories have mentioned that downloading books to their reader will cost around $15, when Amazon's price is under $10. Various stories note that the publishers had been negotiating (or 'begging' as it is known in the regular world) for Amazon to raise the price of their e-book downloads to the $15 neighborhood, so far to no result.
News came out Friday, Jan 29th, that Amazon had removed all of the books from one major publisher from their website. Macmillan is not just a small, American publisher - or even just a large American publisher - they're a huge, multinational publishing behemoth. In the US, they have the imprints St. Martin's (and the Minotaur mystery press), Forge, Tor, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Henry Holt, Bloomsbury and many more.
Mystery and crime authors affected include Carola Dunn, S.J Rozan, Steve Hamilton, M.C. Beaton, Rhys Bowen, Donna Andrews, Tasha Alexander, Ken Bruen,James D. Doss, J.D. Rhoades, Lindsey Davis, Janet Evanovich, Joseph Finder, Alan Folsom, Brent Ghelfi, Andrew Grant, James W. Hall, Joan Hess, Steve Hockensmith, Michael Koryta, Louise Penny, Lisa Scottoline, Kelli Stanley - and those are just the names I can read from my perch here at this computer looking across the way at the new hardcover shelves. While I hate to think about how many of these authors' books are sold through Amazon and not through independents like us, their sales will take some kind of a hit - has to be.
What if Amazon expands this to other publishers? Do other publishers have any sort of recourse, can they stop selling to Amazon? Can Macmillan? What happens to all those 'millions', as Amazon claims, who have Kindles but whom can no longer get the e-books they want? Or, what happens to those millions who refuse to pay more than the $9.99 - as Amazon says they will - if the publishers don't allow Amazon to provide their books?
The biggest point to all of this comes down to how the major publishers have allowed themselves to become beholden to these huge conglomerates. Sometime ago, it was reported that the huge chains were not paying their bills with money but with the return of books. It was reported that the chains were not reporting individual damaged books as we must, but were taking a percentage deduction from their bills as compensation for any expected damages whether they happened or not. We know of instances where covers of books were changed because the big chains didn't like them. We've been told by sales reps that this author's paperback or that author's new release was canceled because the chains didn't order enough. There used to be a terrific mystery calendar that came out each year in the late 90s. It was dropped because one year a big chain decided to not carry it.
This dangerous concentration of power impact us all in different ways: there is less variety of books and authors because of what the chains will or won't stock; it is no longer a given that a book will come out in paperback in a year as it once was, as many never do come out in softcover; the corporate booksellers drive out local independents who keep the money and jobs local and the money is often funneled out of state; book prices continue to escalate seemingly with the understanding that they'll be discounted by the chains anyway, so what does it matter; and, finally, it puts publishers in a place where they can be pushed around by one company, one corporation, one conglomerate.
That benefits no one. That hurts us all. That way lies madness, as recent events have proven.
And the madness, we can be sure, is just beginning.