We've been largely silent for the last few months on the questions about, and the actions of, Amazon. Frankly, we got tired of the fight. So few seemed to care or be willing to do anything about the dangers we see. However, there have been a few developements recently that we thought deserve attention.
In no particular order:
Journalist David Streitfeld of the NYTimes published a terrific article on Nov 4th, Booksellers Resisting Amazon’s Disruption. The article deals with Timothy Ferriss who has been writing a couple of books on how to do things swiftly. His The Four-Hour Workweek was a bestseller for him and his traditional publisher, Crown. For his latest book, The Four-Hour Chef, Mr. Ferriss has gone with Amazon as the publisher and seems honestly stunned that other booksellers will not carry the book.
Signing Mr. Ferriss was seen as a smart choice by Amazon, which wanted books that would make a splash in both the digital and physical worlds. When the seven-figure deal was announced in August 2011, Mr. Ferriss, a former nutritional supplements marketer, said this was “a chance to really show what the future of books looks like.”
The implication there is that Amazon is the only future of the book. If that was and is his attitude, he cannot be surprised that other booksellers would 1) be insulted by his attitude AND comment, and 2) would not be interested in helping him by selling his book.
When Mr. Ferriss signed with Amazon, he celebrated the new at the expense of the old. “I don’t feel like I’m giving up anything, financially or otherwise,” he said.
He has a somewhat different view these days. “By signing with Amazon, I expected this type of blowback,” he said. “I’ve been girding my loins.”
If he'd been expecting it, he cannot be shocked that it is taking place.
Now that publication is at hand, that future looks messy and angry. Barnes & Noble, struggling to remain relevant in Amazon’s shadow, has been emphatic that it will not carry its competitor’s books. Other large physical and digital stores seem to be uninterested or even opposed to the book. Many independent stores feel betrayed by Mr. Ferriss, whom they had championed. They will do nothing to help him if it involves helping a company they feel is hellbent on their destruction.
“At a certain point you have to decide how far you want to nail your own coffin shut,” said Michael Tucker, owner of the Books Inc. chain here. “Amazon wants to completely control the entire book trade. You’re crazy if you want to play that game with them.”
The irony, he [Mr. Ferriss] added, is that the $35 book was meant to be inviting to the casual browser. Amazon can do many things, but it still cannot let readers examine a book before buying. “This is the kind of book that physical booksellers would be most excited to sell,” Mr. Ferriss said.
But what Mr. Ferriss clearly does not grasp is the economics of the bookselling world. They're key. His book is $35. Amazon is selling it at a 40% discount, for $21. That is the same price that any bookseller would need to pay Amazon to stock it. If they wanted to compete directly with Amazon strickly on price and sell the book for that same amount - $21 – they would be making no money at all. If any bookseller wanted to make something on the sale (to say, oh, pay the rent or the employees or the phone
bill or for heat), they’d have to sell the book at a higher price than Amazon, thereby making their copies less competitive. Amazon is a massive, MASSIVE corporation that sells tires and tube socks in addition to books and e-files and can afford – or is willing to afford – to lose money on printed books.
And keep in mind that Amazon is perfectly willing to undercut its own printed books – the Kindle edition of his book is just $9.99, which saves the buyer 71%. How much less does Mr. Ferriss make on the sale of e-files rather than printed copies? How aware is Mr. Ferriss of the economic practices of his new publisher?
So, as we’ve written many times in the past, it is not only a matter of not wanting to enrich a corporation that is destroying our chosen and honorable profession, it also make zero financial sense. The math is clear. When Bill Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage, a large store in suburban Marin County, said “We don’t think it’s in our best interests to do business with Amazon,” he’s talking about the these issues.
Then, on Nov 6th, came this story:
Amazon Goes After Netflix With New Monthly Subscriptions Now that they've done their best to conquer publishing, they're going after Hollywood. Like e-books, streaming movies and TV shows really is the next logical world for them to conquer. Here they go!
On Nov 8th, it was learned that the 'buy-buttons' for the e-books from the major NYC publishing houses had vanished. You could still buy printed books and e-books from a few other publishers but not from Hachette, Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and HarperCollins.
Just to be clear what we're talking about (and this is not meant to be exhaustive, just a sampling) -
Hachette: Grand Central, Little Brown and Mulholland Books (authors include Marcia Muller, Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, Margaret Maron, Michael Robotham, Michael Koryta, James Patterson, Nelson Demille, Lawrence Block)
Random House: Crown, Vintage, Bantam, Doubleday, Delacorte, Ballantine, Knopf, Titan, Hard Case Crime (authors include Mary Daheim, Lee Child, Gillian Flynn, Jo Nesbo, Rex Stout, Rita Mae Brown, Anne Perry, Peter Lovesey, Martin Limon, Cara Black, Stuart Neville, Janet Evanovich, Dean Koontz)
Penguin: Putnam, Dutton, Viking, Berkley NAL (authors include Aaron Elkins, Craig Johnson, Robert Crais, Clive Cussler, Ace Atkins, Deborah Harkness, Kat Richardson, Yasmine Galenorn, James Thompson, Susan Hill, Sara Paretsky, Jayne Ann Krentz)
Simon & Schuster: Scribner, Pocket, Atria (authors include Jan Burke, Ann Rule, John Connolly, Vince Flynn, Stephen Hunter, Jeffrey Deaver)
MacMillan: St. Martin's, FSG, Holt, Tor, Forge, Minotaur (authors include Louise Penny, Loren D. Estleman, Dana Stabenow)
HarperCollins: Harper, Avon, Morrow (authors include Dennis Lehane, Mary Daheim, JA Jance, Jess Walter, Phillip Margolin, Peter Robinson, James Rollins)
The next day the buttons were returned and working with the explanation that it had been merely a technical issue.
However, there are a few things to bear in mind:
~ Back in Feb, Amazon removed the 'buy-buttons' from IPG books over a disagreement of terms.
~ In Jan of 2010, in another dispute with a publisher, Amazon removed all 'buy-buttons' from ALL of Macmillan's books due to a disagreement of terms. MacMillan has been the victim twice.
~ And which publishers were sued by the US Department of Justice over the issue of price fixing of e-books? Hachette, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and HarperCollins. They had tried a new pricing structure to attempt to stop the coming monopolization of the world of e-books by Amazon.
Coincidence? Or the opening of a new battle over the pricing of e-books?
Finally, a timely note of a sick twist: We've been referring to Amazon as SPECTRE, the outfit fought by James Bond. We see many similarities. SPECTRE is not bound by nationhood or the common rules of society, and its mission is to enrich itself at the cost of anyone and everyone and will do its best to wipe out anyone who stands in its way. With the release of the new James Bond movie, we've been puzzled that Penguin, who had been publishing all of the Ian Fleming Bond books, had let them go out of print. Seems like now would be the time to have them all available, right? Last weekend we stumbled on the reason: Amazon is now publishing them.
SPECTRE is now James Bond's publisher.