Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Amazon and Macmillan and E-Books, Oh My!

So, it's Wednesday and the war still wages between Amazon and the publishing house Macmillan. As of 9 a.m. today, consumers still cannot buy Macmillan books on Amazon, unless it's from a private seller.

In case you haven't heard the news, EW's Shelf Life fills readers in:

[T]he e-book pricing wars came to a head on Friday and Saturday, when Amazon stopped selling Macmillan titles (St. Martin’s, Holt, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux books), though customers could still purchase books on the site from other sellers. Macmillan CEO John Sargent issued an impassioned plea on Saturday night to explain his company’s position, and last night, Amazon gave in, posting a statement to customers on its Kindle page that said, in part, “We want you to know that ultimately, 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 toyou even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative. Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!”

Read the rest of the article HERE

I couldn't believe it when I heard that Amazon pulled all Macmillan titles from their website on Friday afternoon, just late enough in the day that the publisher couldn't do anything about it with all it's staff off for the weekend. Talk about manipulative! Despite any argument that Amazon and Macmillan may be having, professionalism should still be in place. I would understand not posting any new titles from Macmillan until the situation is resolved, but pulling the titles already being sold? It's like a little kid throwing a temper tantrum. And then I couldn't believe it again when I heard about Amazon's post recognizing that they'd be forced to give in to Macmillan. Again, they're just being stubborn to be stubborn, instead of trying to address the problem in an adult and professional way.

While I can understand Amazon's reluctance to price an e-book at $14.99, from a publishing point of view, it's not as simple as Amazon thinks. Macmillan is right in that too low of a price point just doesn't make sense. Books are a business. One with very low profit margins, at that. EW points out that 3% is considered a healthy profit margin in the industry, which is startlingly low. Publishers also lose money of 90% of their titles. Most people don't know that. They think we're over here swimming in dough, but it's just the opposite. There are a lot of expenses that go into making, selling, and promoting a book, not to mention paying the advance to the author and salaries (though miniscule) to the employees. And then on top of that, 90% of the books don't even earn out, so the publisher doesn't even break even. This is why Macmillan has such a beef with Amazon's set pricing of e-books. While yes, e-books are less expensive to produce than physical books, it still costs money, and e-book sales are a necessary and helpful part of trying to earn out on a title.

So, with Amazon still in a tizzy about Macmillan's suggestion of a range of e-book prices, Macmillan has taken matter into their own hands, according to Publishers Marketplace:

Buy buttons for Macmillan's physical books have yet to return at Amazon (at least in any meaningful way), but the publisher quietly launched what may soon be just a remnant of their earlier strategy to keep up the price of ebooks: the "enhanced" edition.

Kristin Hannah's Winter Garden, which released yesterday, was one of the few (if only) Macmillan books you could buy directly from Amazon, which was offering the Kindle version only and not the trade hardcover. But the book carries the curious digital list price of $29.99--three dollars higher than the print book list price.

The Amazon information page offered no obvious explanation for the new pricing. But at Barnes &, they helpfully (and prominently) explained that the ebook version of Winter Garden is a "Special Edition eBook" with "a number of exciting features, including: An exclusive conversation with the author; a special essay written by the author describing her research process for the book; delicious recipes for making Russian food favorites in your kitchen at home; and more."

Read more HERE

I'm not sure "enhanced e-books" are necessarily the way to go, but it's one alternative. At least Macmillan is trying to do something productive and solve the problem. They aren't just crying and stamping their feet like some other company I know.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so fascinated by this whole argument. It makes me think of the paper book vs. e-book completely. Would pricing e-books the same as physical books slow the sales of e-books? Should e-books really be so much cheaper just by virtue of being cheaper to manufacture? I guess so. It makes sense. But at the same time, as a lover of my paper books, I'm almost rooting for Macmillan's higher e-book prices. Unfortunately, without Amazon, Macmillan could really be SOL. Here's hoping this gets resolved sooner rather than later.

    Also, completely agree that Amazon is being a big fat baby about this. Stupid corporate giant!