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January 29, 2010

Amazon & Macmillan
Posted by Patrick at 11:29 PM *

From the New York Times’ “Bits” blog: Amazon Pulls Macmillan Books Over E-book Price Disagreement.

Tor is part of Macmillan, but I have no more idea what’s actually going on than you do. And yes, I’m not thrilled with that fact.

UPDATE: John Scalzi making tons of sense. Also, TNH weighs in.

FURTHER UPDATE: CEO John Sargent has issued a statement.

Comments on Amazon & Macmillan:
#1 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:30 AM:

Well, there's only one thing for me to do.

I'll be de-listing Amazon.com from all my book links. BN.com can have the business I bring.

#2 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:34 AM:

Yargh. Can't they stick to fighting this sort of thing out in large inflatable sumo suits, or somethin'? At least that way we'll be amused while it goes on...

#3 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:36 AM:

So... Amazon decides to screw its business partners over ebook prices in the same month as one major ebook competitor ships and another is announced?

Not that I'm cheering for higher prices, but... how does this logic make the logical?

#4 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:39 AM:

Andrew: It is only logical if Amazon believes that Macmillan will blink first and allow Amazon to maintain the current e-book price-point. They must believe that publishers need Amazon more than Amazon needs any individual publisher.

I do not know if they are right, but it sounds pretty hardball.

#5 ::: Aaron D. Ball ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:52 AM:

Love you guys, but $15? For an ebook? Seriously? Sounds like your corporate masters are batty.

A reasonable reader should certainly be willing to pay $5 with no DRM, or perhaps as much as $0.02 with. Charging $10 says loud and clear "we would really rather you bought this on paper", and charging $15 says "it's such a nuisance when people buy stuff; I wish they'd just fetch it themselves and save us the trouble".

I suppose it would be another story if the fight is really publishers saying "we want $2 per book" and Amazon saying "don't be silly: then we'd have to charge $15 to maintain our customary 87% markup, and who'd fall for that?". *Is* that the real story?

#6 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:59 AM:

Aaron Ball: As I understand (which is presumably less well than our host), Amazon pays the publishers wholesale prices that are acceptable to them, but then sells at a thin margin/loss (not clear which) to maintain the $9.99 price point. Publishers dislike this because of their probably justified belief that once $9.99 is settled as a price point, Amazon will then start paying them lower wholesale rates commensurate with that price.

Steve Jobs, a man who never charged anyone less money when he could charge more, went to the publishers and promised them that they could charge $15 on the iPad, so various publishers are in favour of that.

But all that's a tangential side point (almost nobody reads ebooks!) to the main point that it is effectively impossible to buy Tor books right now. Which is pretty insane on the part of whoever is responsible.

#7 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:00 AM:

Agreed with Aaron re. pricing. I enjoy reading books digitally and would happily do it on my BlackBerry or laptop. (And do, with Gutenberg works.) But ebook prices just haven't come down enough for me to invest in them. At half the price of a new paperback, I'd be buying them left and right. At twice the price of a new paperback, it's not happening.

Either way, hopefully Macmillan and Amazon get this worked out; the real people who are hurt by things like this are the authors whose work isn't available for sale.

#8 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:02 AM:

Oops, crossposted with Mike @6. Basically, what he said.

#9 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:07 AM:

Before we all jump on Amazon, isn't there some chance that Macmillan could have demanded the de-listing?

#10 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:11 AM:

caffeine, #7: "Either way, hopefully Macmillan and Amazon get this worked out; the real people who are hurt by things like this are the authors whose work isn't available for sale."

So, any other people who are hurt by "things like this" aren't "real"? Interesting outlook.

#11 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:15 AM:

Avram, #9: I'm not certain, but based on my initial investigations, I don't think so.

#12 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:19 AM:

Whoa. Apologies, that's not what I meant at all. My thought was basically that there's no way of knowing at this point what's going on with the corporations involved, but that, my personal opinion on e-book pricing aside, I'm sympathetic for the people whose books have been pulled from Amazon. I agreed with Aaron @5, but didn't want to derail the thread away from authors and their work. I hope that's more clear.

#13 ::: Michael Bennett Cohn ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:21 AM:

When Amazon launched the first Kindle, they temporarily solved this problem by taking a loss on some titles so that they could offer them at the prices they had in mind. Some executive from Penguin was quoted in an article, saying that Penguin would never sell their content for the prices Amazon had in mind. And yet, the journalist went on to say, Penguin books were in fact going for those low prices on the Kindle... Amazon had just paid what Penguin wanted for licensing, and then artificially lowered the prices. (Unfortunately, I don't remember who wrote this article or where it appeared.)

I suppose that that sort of thing can only last for so long. But it seems to me that right now is a time when it would have behooved Amazon to focus more on showing customers that they are the great provider of all books, than on showing publishers that they are the all-powerful gatekeeper of which books get sold.

#14 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:28 AM:

Jobs has commented somewhat cryptically on pricing for iBookstore and Amazon books will be "the same" and alludes to publishers withholding books here and see also the coverage here.

I also remember a previous Amazon Fail.

#15 ::: Joe ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:30 AM:

Patrick, I think it's pretty easy for people to forget about the other folks who go into book production (editors, typesetters, layout people, cover artists, marketers, etc.) and dismiss them as being 'a big company'. They don't list the editor or the typesetter on the cover, after all [unless it's an anthology :)].

Hope this gets resolved soon, either way. And either way would really like to see Tor books available at physical book release day, at some price point, rather than waiting weeks or months for some... maybe the upside of this issue will be the resolution of Macmillan ebook delays.

#16 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:38 AM:

To my way of thinking, that makes three times Amazon has pulled this kind of crap.

First, they decided to delist any POD publisher that didn't print their physical books at CreateSpace. Then they made all gay books vanish from searches. Now this.

"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action."

#17 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:39 AM:

Aaron Ball, Caffeine:

A fixed $10 price point would certainly be good for Amazon's ebook business, but it would take a shark-sized bite out of the market for hot new bestsellers, which is trade book publishing's single most profitable area.

That revenue source is what keeps a lot of publishing companies afloat. It provides the liquidity that enables them to buy and publish smaller and less commercially secure titles: odd books, books by unknown writers, books with limited but enthusiastic audiences, et cetera.

My honest estimate is that the result would be fewer and less diverse titles overall, published less well than they are now.

I don't fancy having my industry gutted just so Amazon can maintain its stock prices.

#18 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:51 AM:

Teresa, that's fair enough. Other than reading blogs by authors and editors, my contact with the publishing world is as a consumer, so although I do understand some of the publishing world's mechanics, the lens through which I view it is essentially that of an iggerant consumer. I can't justify expensive e-books right now, but I have begun buying more new books (rather than strictly used) lately to try to support the authors I enjoy.

As Joe @15 pointed out, publishing requires the effort of many many more people than the author. I wasn't trying to discount that in any way; the authors were just the first people I thought of. My attempt to express that apparently went all wrong.

#19 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:55 AM:

Man, I am seriously irked with Amazon about this.

And I have just gone and dumped everything out of my Amazon shopping cart. They don't get any of my money until they shape the heck up.

Contemplating nuking the wishlist while I'm at it, too.

#21 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 02:41 AM:

Goddamn, the comments under that Scalzi post make me want to roam around the Internet with a baseball bat, opening up people's skulls in the hope that maybe a clue might fall in.

#22 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 02:43 AM:

Is the cost of paper and printing and shipping and warehousing really low enough that 90% or more of the cost of a $30 MSRP hardcover or a $15 MSRP trade paperback or a $9 MSRP mass-market paperback is the royalties to the author, the editing and copy-editing, the marketing, and so on? If that's the case, then I guess I can see Macmillan's argument -- if they sell their ebooks for less, especially at release, they're taking a fairly serious loss. It then seems reasonable to ask $15 for an e-book version of a new hardcover release, though Amazon does so love to discount those hardcovers. Then again, if Amazon can discount the hardcover (presumably by taking a loss on it), they can surely discount the e-book the same way. (Well, assuming the contracts are written sanely.) And the e-book price presumably decreases commensurately as the book comes out in increasingly cheap forms.

I guess part of the problem is that e-books are still considered inferior goods, though of course Amazon is trying to change that (unsuccessfully, at least for me) with the Kindle -- and e-books will always be inferior goods for me as long as the publishers insist on obtrusive DRM, since I don't believe in not-owning things I've bought and paid for. Right now I tend to think of an e-books as interchangeable with a mass-market paperback -- I'm purchasing it because it's convenient, not because I expect to re-read the book, lend it to anyone, or donate it to my library -- which makes even $10 at the time of release seem ludicrous. (And I will happily drop $30 on a new-release hardcover at one of the local independent bookstores in order to have the physical object right the fuck now. I often justify that because I either value the physical object and plan to re-read it, or because I plan to lend the book to friends or donate it to my library, but I still will spend the money.) Coupled with that is my belief, heretofore unchallenged, that e-books are actually cheaper for the publisher to make and distribute than paper books -- why should I pay as much or more for something that cost the publisher less?

Compare e-books, which are struggling to go digital, with computer games, which went digital without a whole lot of fuss -- my gold standard here is Steam. To start with, games were digital to begin with, so most of what you're removing is the schlep to the store and the time spent copying the game off the DVDs, which is a net win for me. The experience of playing the game doesn't change, and generally I expect software to see frequent updates, so the bits on the media were almost certainly outdated, and I'd be downloading updates anyway. There's copy-protection, but it's unobtrusive. I have contractual rights which are functionally equivalent to the rights I'd have if I'd bought the physical media -- most notably, on the relatively frequent occasion when I reformat and reinstall my computer, I can reinstall all the games, no questions asked. I guess if I was in the habit of lending games around to friends or libraries, Steam would be more problematic, but I don't, which, plus the better experience of digital distribution for games, is probably the reason it works for me in the context of games and not books. Between the multi-pack deals at release time, the frequent sales, and the general fact that the price drops by half to two-thirds by the time a game has been out for a year, the prices mostly don't bother me. If I really want a game at release time, I'll pay the $50-60 bucks (exactly what I'd pay in-store), and otherwise I'll wait until it's cheaper.

So there's my answer to the question of e-book pricing, I guess -- if e-books are as good for my purposes as paper books (Baen does it right) and no cheaper for the publisher, I'll happily pay $30 at release date for an e-book. Otherwise I'll continue to buy lumps of dead tree, which I expect will suit the purposes of the people here just as well. :-)

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 02:52 AM:

Elise: I, too, dumped the contents of my Amazon shopping cart and wish list. Then I replaced them with an iPad, plus a note saying that Amazon had just convinced me that I don't want to own a Kindle or read Kindle ebooks.

#24 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 02:54 AM:

Kevin, a funny thing happened on the way to Brooklyn. Amazon launched its MP3 sales division while I was living in Jersey City, in a duplex apartment with a lot of storage space. I looked at the prices, and decided they weren't low enough considering that I wasn't getting a physical object.

Then I moved back to Brooklyn, to a small apartment already filled with lots of stuff. Suddenly, those Amazon MP3s looked like a great deal: I was paying a lower price, and I didn't have to deal with storing a physical object!

#25 ::: Jennifer ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 03:17 AM:

For me, the question of ebooks is rather simple. I won't buy an ebook reader until I can get one that works the way I want it to. I want no DRM, because if I buy something, I want to OWN it, not lease some of the rights to it conditionally for a limited time. I want it to be able to download magazines and newspapers; I want it to read my RSS feeds. It must have a good user interface that is easy to use, intuitive, and simple.

And I want to be able to read any gorram ebook I want to. Barnes and Noble have a reader out, with their own DRM, we all know about the Kindle and its DRM. Apple, with the iPad is clearly moving for a chunk of the print media market, and will most likely have their own version of DRM. I'd like to have to own only one ereader and still be able to purchase ebooks from all of the above purveyors of ebooks.

While I'm dreaming, how about something that'll do ebooks, mp3s, flash videos, audio books...

I want the future in the palm of my hand, and I don't want to pay too much for it.

By its nature digital media is not a lasting format. Archivists are already having problems with data stored in archaic formats; got any 3.5 inch disks laying around? I do, and I don't even have a computer with a drive to accept them! (I even have a 5.25, just to show the kids...)

If I'm going to pay money for an ethereal object that may or may not last past the next tech update, I'm not spending a whole lot on it.

So, enough of beating the ebook subject to death, on to Amazon being... well, being Amazon.

Friday night is when this hits the internet, bringing echoes of the timing for the last big Amazon fail; there probably isn't anyone in the Amazon offices to respond to this, and won't be until Monday. You'd think they would learn from this sort of thing, and keep someone on 'call' over the weekends to deal with giant PR messes. Even if all they can do is send a tweet saying "oopsy, something got messed up, will be cleared up on Monday, sorry about that..."

It will be interesting to hear from Amazon on Monday, though.

The cynic in me is whispering about how if they manage to 'fix' this, they'll be the golden child again, especially if they can manage to spin this into Macmillan's 'fault' -- big publishing business trying to gouge the poor reading public for more money...

#26 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 03:43 AM:

Avram @24: That's why I donate books to my local library, and will probably continue to do so even if I move to Brooklyn.[1] It lets me keep the problem in one damn place. *g*

Your point is taken, however. There are certainly times where e-books are more convenient than dead trees.


[1] (Anybody in the Boston area hiring software sales engineers/solutions architects? There's this great company in NYC, but NYC is just not Boston...)

#27 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 03:43 AM:

The cynic in me is whispering about how if they manage to 'fix' this, they'll be the golden child again, especially if they can manage to spin this into Macmillan's 'fault' -- big publishing business trying to gouge the poor reading public for more money...

Maybe they'll be the Golden Child again, but they'll never again have a link from me.

And, based on my Amazon Affiliate account data, that was $3,077.95 in revenue for them in 4th quarter 2009.

Not enough for them to notice that they've lost it, probably. But I don't feel like giving it to them.

#28 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 03:47 AM:

I have been intrigued, recently, with Big Fish Games' approach to digital distribution. Most of their own games, and others they sell, are $6.99. But they have started to sell their shiniest games in two parallel formats; the regular game and a $19.99 'Collectors' Edition'. The CE arrives a little earlier (a few weeks, not months), and has lots of extra chrome (backstory, videos, special features) and a tiny bit of extra gameplay. They are upfront about its purpose being to get fans to pay more and subsidise game development.

The equivalent in books would be to have actually *more book* in the e-hardback. Not a lot. Just enough that the fanboys would prefer it. Like those slipcased editions that are signed with an extra story. Enough to not just charge more on day one, but continue to have the more expensive book as a revenue stream throughout the time the book is on sale.

#29 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 03:54 AM:

Alison @28: Subterranean Press does a lot of that with chapbooks (and limited-edition chapbooks). I'll buy them to read the stories, but I worry that if they're too valuable, they'll get stolen if I donate them to my library (which is my usual thing to do with books). I suppose I could sell them and buy a later, cheaper collected edition, but then it's years before the library has that story in it... But that's only my own personal psychlim, and in general I'm all in favor of that model.

#30 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 04:18 AM:

Since I work for a company in the same corporate family as Bowker, I'm interested to find out if this incident breaks the perception of Amazon as a viable replacement for Books in Print.

Speaking for myself, my English-language book shopping alternatives are limited. I can't say Amazon has lost my business, because we have had some serious failures of shipments from the UK (Dutch parcel delivery service problem) and I don't always have time to hoick into Amsterdam on the off-chance that Waterstone's or the American Book Center will have the title I want.

#31 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 04:38 AM:

abi @ 30: Have you tried The Book Depository? They deliver free worldwide, and I've found them reliable and quick. Their quoted prices don't always match up to Amazon UK's, but once I factor in delivery to France, I generally find I save money with them. (Possible downside: free shipping means there's no incentive to batch your purchases, so impulse buying is a lot easier.)

#32 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 05:02 AM:

I've just dumped my shopping cart, next will go the wish lists. (To make it easier for me to re-create them in some form or other, I did a "save page as" copy to my hard drive. *counts* 12 pages of wish lists. Yikes.) (And my birthday is next weekend, and people were planning to buy me things from those wishlists *sigh*)

#33 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 06:30 AM:

I am on the raod with a wee netbook right now, but when I get home I can feel a long essay/rant on supply chains, the internet's disintermediating effect, competing media business models (Apple/Amazon/Google), and what this means for the future coming on.

Shorter version: if traditional book publishing is like a series of inflexible metal tubes and ceramic appliances soldered together, the internet is like a flexible bendable accordion-style plastic hose that can be cut to length. The plumbers (Apple, Amazon, Google) are seeing which bits of metalwork they can throw away and replace with the new wonder material. Unfortunately when they get it wrong they may leave us trying to shit down a plastic hose ...

Longer version: Amazon are fckng rpcs bstrds. (That second word can be padded out with 'aaiou' to taste.)

#34 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 06:40 AM:

Oh, and when I get home I'll be joining Powell's affiliate scheme and moving the 'buy my books' links on my blog away from AMZN. As they've been generating a couple of kilobucks in annual sales for AMZN lately, it's their loss. (As someone upthread noted: once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, but three times is enemy action.)

I like Powell's. I like Amazon at first. But lately it seems like they've been trying to make me hate them, and they've finally succeeded. (I know a few additional things that I'm unwilling to post in a public forum, but that don't give me the warm fuzzies towards Mr Bezos.)

#36 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 07:27 AM:

I've been meaning for a while to start selling my excess books (a lot of them) on amazon, but this has a certain last straw quality.

The previous amazonfail could possibly be written off to not caring enough rather than an active fuck-up. The current fail shows a deliberate willingness to be unreliable.

Any suggestions about best place to get a little money for what's mostly a lot of sf paperbacks?

IIRC, Jeff Bezos was never a book person-- he was simply smart enough to realize that books (unlike pet food) were a natural product to sell online.

#37 ::: Torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 07:41 AM:

Right now I tend to think of an e-books as interchangeable with a mass-market paperback -- I'm purchasing it because it's convenient, not because I expect to re-read the book, lend it to anyone, or donate it to my library -- which makes even $10 at the time of release seem ludicrous.

$10 is what I'd pay for a new paperback original. It's fresh in my mind since we don't have a copy of Jhegaala and $10 for it was more than we could afford this month. The $30 for Iorich was even more out of the question. We don't buy books unless we intend to keep them, since the local library takes donated books and sticks them in the library book sale pile. NOT the best use of funds... they and we would be better off if I spent the $10 on the Friends of the Library or a direct donation.

I don't mind paying $10 for a "hot off the presses" e-book that is also out in paperback... if it means I'm getting service as good as Steam or Arena.net with their Guild Wars series, or the guys who did World of Goo. Currently, everyone who wants to sell me e-books wants to sell me something that is less functional than the paperback, and doesn't have any advantages for me in return. One cannot read an electronic book in the bath, and the space "advantage" isn't when I compare to a library. And if you accidentally drop an electronic book in water... it's gonna be a helluva lot more expensive to replace than a paperback. (yes, I've done this. yes, it sucked. thank god the only stuff on there was from Gutenberg, instead of my $300 calculus textbook)

#38 ::: Summer ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 08:23 AM:

This reminds me of financial haggling between media content producers and cable TV companies, disputes which lead the cable companies to black out channels from their systems until they can extract more money from the company that owns the channels.

It works for the cable companies, sort of, because their customers are a captive audience. Unless the customers are willing to cancel their cable, there's not much they can do but wait it out.

But Amazon's customers aren't captive -- or at least not yet. Even if you don't live near good bookstores, there are still other bookstores on the web.

I think Amazon is handing its customers -- particularly Kindle owners, of whom I'm one -- an excellent reason not to let themselves get locked into an exclusive relationship with a bookseller, through a DRMed ereader or through sheer habit. Captive customers get treated like pawns. My relationship with my cable company is bad enough; I don't want a bookstore to treat me the same way.

#39 ::: Torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 08:25 AM:

Since I work for a company in the same corporate family as Bowker, I'm interested to find out if this incident breaks the perception of Amazon as a viable replacement for Books in Print.

Broke mine. Really, the last AmazonFail did that.

#40 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 08:40 AM:

(My post is currently with the Moderation Gnomes - I hadn't realised ML also had Gnomes involved in its operation),
but this is actually the _fourth_ AmazonFail - the third being the summary deletion of paid-for copies of 1984 from
various people's Kindles.

#41 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 08:54 AM:

Fifth time. They pulled a similar stunt on Hachette in the UK a while back over other pricing issues. It seems to have flown under the radar on this side of the pond.

#42 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 08:55 AM:

Cadbury @39:

The gnomes tell me your href formatting summoned a small dragon which set the curtains on fire in their basement workplace, stole all their lunch money to make itself a bed, and sharpened its claws on the wooden plinth where they keep the statue of their local deity*. It also, incidentally, ate all indication of where of your links pointed.

They asked me to direct your attention to the syntax above the posting box, and to the condition of your links at preview. You could even test them by clicking before you hit post.

Excuse me, now, I need to clean up some fewments. Feel free to repost with correctly formed links.

-----
* REALLY do not ask who it's of.

#43 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 09:50 AM:

I have begun the task of eliminating all links to Amazon from all sites under my control.

This may take some time.

#44 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 09:57 AM:

I think Amazon will find that it needs the big publishers more than the big publishers need Amazon. A lot of people will want to buy books from Amazon this weekend. Many of them will be annoyed to find the books they want are unavailable. Amazon isn't just going to lose the revenue from the Macmillan books, they're going to lose the revenue from the books those customers would have bought with the Macmillan books.

On price, I'm also reluctant to pay as much for an ebook as a physical book. In twenty years, my physical books will still be around; any ebooks I buy are likely to evaporate, whether or not they have DRM.

That said, I think $15 is a totally reasonable ebook price for a book that's physically in hardcover--it's less than I paid for Iorich.

Kevin Riggle, #22: I've heard that ebooks aren't that much cheaper to produce. I suspect a lot of the price really does go towards supporting all the people involved in editing, copyediting, design, fact-checking, et cetera. We may all have to revise our price expectations upwards over time.

Occasionally super-enthusiastic internet boosters (and, I suspect, failed writers) express the hope that someday writers will be able to bypass the publishing industry altogether. I think these people underestimate the value of publishers as a filter, and the work they do in whipping promising manuscripts into shape. Imagine browsing Amazon in a world where they didn't exist--every reader sifting through a giant slushpile to find a few gems, and even then they'd be unedited and uncorrected and most of the covers would look like vanity-published jobs...

#45 ::: Dave Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:17 AM:

I buy books and ebooks - and I rarely buy from MacMillan or Tor these days. However I completely support their right to decide how much they think their products are worth on the market, just as I'm free to decide whether I agree with that price or not.

As I've said elsewhere, I believe $15 is a perfectly reasonable price point for the e-book of a currently available new hardcover. I bought some of Mr. Stross's books in e-format for that price during the Baen/Tor experiment some years ago and thought it perfectly reasonable.

What I don't want to pay $15 for is the e-book of something I can buy in mass market paperback for $8. That's a major reason I will never buy the e-versions of Wheel of Time. Eye of the World has been in paperback for about two decades now - it's no longer worth the "get it while it's hot" hardcover-equivalent surcharge to me.

In the meantime, I'd like to say that I'd pull my buying from Amazon, but the fact is I don't buy much of anything there anyway-- they won't be getting my money, but they may not notice either. I shop at the local chain bookstores for dead tree, and I have a Sony Reader so Kindle is out for me anyway.

I think Amazon needs to lose this one.

#46 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:29 AM:

I am kind of curious -- did they also remove all used Macmillan books being sold by third parties through Amazon? Punishing used book sellers would hardly be a good idea, on top of all the other things going on here...

Someone up above asked about other places to sell used books. If all you plan to do with the money is buy MORE books (*raises hand*), then Bookmooch may be what you are looking for. List the books you don't want; request the books you do want; giver pays postage and that's it. It's international -- I've gotten books from all over the world and sent them out, too.

#47 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:30 AM:

I don't like reading books on any kind of screen, so even if I could afford an e-book reader I wouldn't be interested.

Thank God for libraries, Goodwill and abebooks.com. I do buy the occasional new book (e.g. Iorich and The Apocalypse Door), but with one kid in college and another about to start college, all the disposable income is going to textbooks and tuition.

Incidentally, this making books disappear thing is creepy and makes me even less inclined toward ebooks and Amazon.

#48 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:36 AM:

New/old business model:

http://www.harvard.com/bookmachine/fees.html

Harvard Book Store Printing Services
With Harvard Book Store’s new Espresso Book Machine (we call her Paige!)...publishing your novel for sale worldwide, or printing a family cookbook to present to your relatives, or bringing your previously out-of-print book back into circulation.....

Benefits of printing your work through Harvard Book Store:

[author control over content and no ceding of rights, true print on demand...]
Authors may choose to have their work on display—and for sale—at Harvard Book Store.
Books printed at Harvard Book Store may also be made for sale online at Harvard.com.
Authors also retain rights for non-exclusive distribution and may sell books printed at Harvard Book Store through any avenue they choose.

Modifications/alterations are allowed at any time, for a small additional fee.
The author sets the book price.

How It Works
[Provide HBS with print-ready final edited laid out etc. PDF compliant to HBS Submission Guidelines, DIY or] hire someone to help you. We are happy to recommend local freelancer editors and designers.

Fees
Standard Set-up Fee $70 per title. [services include PDF into machine, output of a proof copy, books can be available for sale in the store, book can be available for sale on-line from harvard.com, file remains on machine for future use]

[book printing] on a price-per-page fee:
40-99 pages - $0.08
100-149 pages - $0.065
150-199 pages - $0.055
200 – 249 pages - $0.045
250 and up - $0.04

Bulk purchase discounts
30 copies + | 10% off
75 copies + | 20% off
200 copies + | 25% off

i>Sliding scale discounts (for quantities purchased over an extended time period)
After 50 – 10% off
After 200 – 15% off
After 300 – 20% off

I write "new/old" because the second-oldest bookstore in the country (no, not the Harvard Book Store) apparently had an in-store printing press when it originally opened....

#49 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:38 AM:

For the record - this seems limited to amazon.com. Amazon.co.uk is still carrying Scalzi - I didn't check for other Macmillan titles.

#50 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:39 AM:

BTW, it occurs to me that if enough of this crap continues, some authors are going to go all Radiohead and offer their next book as a direct download.

#51 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:54 AM:

Incidentally, as I've pointed out elsewhere, it's Macmillan, not "MacMillan."

#52 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 11:02 AM:

Caroline @ 48 -- That was my immediate thought as well; amazon.ca doesn't appear to have delisted things.

#53 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 11:05 AM:

I spot-checked my Tor titles, and they don't seem to have been removed from the Amazon site. E-book editions, maybe? I don't know which books have e-book editions.

For my own new books, I would suggest you buy them from The University Bookstore in Seattle. (Just one problem: they seem to list them with only one author, so you'll have to look for them under my husband's name. ) For older hardcover titles, I suggest L.W.Currey (lwcurey.com). Lloyd is amply supplied with Hartwell & Cramer hardcovers. Also, most (but not all) of my Tor titles can be purchased from Tor.com, as well as a number of our other books.

#54 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 11:15 AM:

Mike Kozlowski@6: "Steve Jobs, a man who never charged anyone less money when he could charge more..."

This is not an accurate summary of Apple's policy. Apple wants to sell you expensive *hardware*. When the iTunes music store opened, it was Steve who nailed it down at $1/song, flat, when the music companies were screaming for more. Cheap music sells iPods. (That line has slipped upward but he got DRM-free music out of them, against further screaming.)

I was hoping that the same model would apply to Apple's bookstore: cheaper books (maybe even DRM-free ones) to sell more iPads.

"...went to the publishers and promised them that they could charge $15 on the iPad, so various publishers are in favour of that."

Apparently my hope is dashed, at least for the first generation.

#55 ::: Glaurung_quena ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 11:22 AM:

Kevin Riggle @22:

Yes, the actual physical cost of production is really very small (around 10% or less). Most of the costs are fixed (proofreading, editing, advertising/promotion, etc) and don’t go away for an ebook.

The main reason hardcovers cost so much more than paperbacks is because typical hardcovers have 1/10 the print run of typical mass market paperbacks, and thus the cost per copy for all those fixed costs is much higher.

I don’t know the exact numbers for ebook sales, but I doubt that ebook sales exceed hard copy sales (outside of a few specific categories like computer books), so the cost per ebook copy for the fixed editorial costs are actually higher, which is why publishers want to sell them for more, not less.

Also I think publishers are of two minds as to whether ebooks will represent a new market or simply cannibalize the market for paper books:
If ebooks are a new market, then publishers can sell them for less than the paper versions, and let the paper version's higher price continue to absorb the fixed costs. If ebooks are stealing from paper book sales, then they can't afford to lower the cost of ebooks, because they need to cover those fixed costs.

Article providing breakdowns of actual costs for all the various components of a (mass market paperback) book:
http://www.writersbeat.com/showthread.php?t=1767 (actually a cut and paste of an article originally from http://www.aleuromancy.net/article_series/demyst/index.html which is no longer online).

#56 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 11:29 AM:

I don't see where fifteen bucks for all the (coincident with hardcover) e-books comes from. I can't imagine that Amazon sells their books at a loss, and I usually buy new popular books for under fifteen bucks. Just loading the front-page for Amazon shows three recommended pre-orders for $14.50, and they'll end up with free shipping if I get two.

Are those gonna be more expensive as an e-book? Where is the cost of printing/shipping/etcetera disappearing in this equation?

(I'm not trying to make a statement about one side or the other of this situation being in the wrong, I'm genuinely asking because this confuses me.)

---

On a largely unrelated note, I don't really see how the iPad is a replacement for a Kindle. There are too many situations where eight hours of battery life isn't enough time for sitting around reading, and even if an outlet is handy, sitting around reading with a cord sticking out of the bottom of the book is annoying. (In my experience, of course.)

#57 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 11:40 AM:

The device I personally want has the form factor of an iPhone, but is a smart remote for the laptop in my bag. For me that would be worth paying extra, but I'm not a large enough market segment to expect to see it.
So the first thing I looked for on the iPad was a USB port. There are competing G3 internet providers at $40/mo, who give you a USB dongle that's your internet connection. It seems the iPad has some sort of interface cable with a USB plug, but I'm waiting to see more details. (I'm not chasing very actively. I wouldn't buy version 1.0 of anything from Apple even if I could afford it and get good use out of it.)

I expect being Skype-ready to be serious "market differentiation" for the soon-to-come iPad competitors.
Similarly, a "good" ebook business model will have eaten the competitors' lunch before lunch time. I think we can rely on the invisible hand of the market place in this situation, in the medium term.

#58 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 11:43 AM:

Tangential questions:

I don't buy many books brand-new. I do buy a lot of books used.

I am unwilling to buy most books at the full retail price, but I get interested around one-third to one-fifth that price. If I am strongly interested and used copies are not cheap, I borrow a copy for free from a library (thanks to my property taxes).

I also borrow books from friends, and lend my own.

So: Can I buy a used book from a Kindle owner?

Will I be able to buy a used book from an Ipad owner?*

Can I borrow a book that a Kindle owner has purchased?

Will I be able to borrow a book that an Ipad owner has purchased?

* I recognize that the answer to this question may not be publicly known.

#59 ::: 'As You Know' Bob ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 11:46 AM:

Well, I sent Amazon Customer Service an email complaining about this.

I also pointed out that they had just ruined any possibility of my ever buying a Kindle.

#60 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 11:51 AM:

Bill Higgins@57:

The B&N Nook has a "lend a book" feature (only to another Nook owner, and the lending option is limited in various ways that I haven't looked into). The Kindle doesn't have that, and nobody's mentioned it for the iPad, so I don't expect it.

Re-selling ebooks is not possible in any of the three systems.

#61 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:02 PM:

On book prices.

Judging from price and availability in countries where I have lived, the combination of high fixed costs and high price elasticity of demand mean that the book market can be be stable at several different price points.

Last year I spent four months in NZ and four months in the Netherlands; in both places English-language books are 50-100% more expensive than in Seattle. When I was there, I didn't just buy fewer books, I spent less money on books. The locals seem to behave the same way. New Zealand seems to be stuck in an equilibrium where people buy fewer books, less variety is available, and prices are higher. In the past this might have been due to transport costs, but that doesn't make sense now. Nor do sales taxes explain the difference, because the prices of consumer electronics, which are subject to the same taxes, are pretty similar in NZ and US.

Now, it may be that the US is already at the best possible equilibrium and that lowering prices would wreck the market. That would be a Bad Thing. On the other hand, it could be that people would spend more money on books if they were less expensive, which would be a Good Thing. It's pity there isn't a safe way to find out...

#62 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:09 PM:

Patrick @ 50... Nor "McMillan and Wife"

#63 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:11 PM:

I requested and got a Sony Pocket Edition for the birthday/Cmas gift. It actually fits in a pocket! I've been formatting books for it in InDesign -- downloaded from Gutenberg and from some shadowy libraries, mostly Russian (I've already bought these things two or three times on paper).

Other books have come from Google's scans, and archive.org, though these are in fairly shocking OC-arglebargle. I've already replaced some of them with either Gutenberg editions or bit the bullet and paid from 98 cents to a few dollars. I didn't feel like formatting the entire Shakespeare canon (though I will have to do that eventually anyway if I want original spelling; for now I just have the sonnets with Shakespeare's orthography).

The price of new books is indeed shocking, but with few exceptions, I don't want them anyway. The Sony book store is every bit as uninteresting to me as 90% of any regular book store I walk into. No slight intended to living authors; it's my present preference, and it could change, though the prices tend to reinforce the way it is.

On the other hand, I'd gladly pay, say, $25 for an ebook edition of the two-volume Library of America set of Twain's short pieces. I can find much of the material in his older collections at PG and so forth, but far from all, and not nearly as well organized.

ps: Reading on the Sony doesn't feel like I'm looking at a screen, exactly. It's not generating light. That might be why.

#64 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:21 PM:

Kip, archive.org has PDFs available for a lot of theirs, if you really want one of the antiques (I have a few for various reasons).

#65 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:42 PM:

#54 Glauring
I thought that the binding on hardcovers was a significant expense? Trade paperback and hardcover are essentially the same in a lot of cases except for the binding method (and the handling of e.g. making "signature" and such for hardcovers, versus paperbacks having pages all the same size and a cover with glue and heat/pressure applied to do metamorphosis of stack of pages into a bound book -- the Book Machine takes a whopping four minutes from customer selection of offering in the catalog to book in customer's hands apparently) -- there is significantly more effort and expense to make a hardcover as opposed to a trade paperback, from my understanding of the situation.

It's why e.g. the hardbound original editions of NESFA Guest of Honor Boskone books cost so significantly more than the trade paperback reprints--the price difference really is due to the difference in production expense for hardcover versus trade paperback. [Disclaimer, I am not speaking for NESFA Press. I am speaking for myself as a individual who is a member of NESFA who's been present at detailed discussions of expenses and pricing and costs and such. ]

Additional note--the rates that the Harvard Bookstore charges for Print On Demand books (true POD...) are quite a bit higher than going to a printer of trade paperbacks which prints runs of hundreds of books at a time. The technologies are different--POD is not using e.g. offset printing, is not printing off wide sheets of roll paper, is it, at high speed printing many pages simultaneously on paper, POD uses toner I think, I don't know what the paper input is (I have not actually seen a POD machine live).

The paper cost per page for POD is higher than the paper cost for the higher print run systems. The higher print runs systems have large economy of scale savings... the downside is that that mean there is physical shipping, warehousing of physical items, more space required for storing supplies and produced books, there's guesstimating demand, there are inventory control expenses, there are the people needed for warehousing and inventory control and packaging and shipping and trucking books around and putting books out on shelves and the expense of the square footage of stores to put all those copies half of which are never going to sell, and there are the managers of all the people doing the trucking and production, and all the over overhead....

I've noticed that a lot of epublishers tend to price novels at or below $5.99. Some of them also publish print editions, of books that sell well in electronic versions first, or print books by authors with apparently good sales electronically (examples of epublishers or publishers doing both epublishing and print editions) -- Ellora's Cave, Loose ID, Changeling Press, Cobblestone Press, Samhain, Red Sage/eredsage ... one may or may not think much of what their content is, but the bottom line is that there are writers earning livings published by those publishers, and the publishers appear to be solvent and successful).

#66 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:46 PM:

I looked again at our books on Amazon. It looks like all our Tor books are 3rd party copies and not from Amazon itself. When I feel bored and need something to occupy some time, I think I can remove a bunch of the links to Amazon from my site. But in the meantime, I've taken the one out of my sidebar.

#67 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:47 PM:

I looked again at our books on Amazon. It looks like all our Tor books are 3rd party copies and not from Amazon itself. When I feel bored and need something to occupy some time, I think I can remove a bunch of the links to Amazon from my site. But in the meantime, I've taken the one out of my sidebar.

#68 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 12:59 PM:

I dumped my cart and sent them an e-mail telling them why - essentially, if they are lying to me about what books are available, then their value to me is greatly diminished. I went over to bn.com and created a cart of upcoming releases that I want to remember to order. I should probably cancel my pending preorders with amazon, but I'm not sure I will.

Sigh. I counted my Amazon prime membership as one of the things that was a noticeable plus in my life.

#69 ::: Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:00 PM:

Bill Higgins @57: My book-buying is similar to yours, but I find myself suddenly struggling with the concept of a "used" ebook. Books bear marks of their use: a coffee stain on page 103, broken spines, loose hinges, traces of dog ears, etc. These, we usually agree, devalue that iteration of the text. The same cannot be said of ebooks.

Yet, when I sell a book, used, it's because I no longer want to store it and want to recoup some of my investment in it--conditions which *do* apply to ebooks.

I think I'm missing part of the equation here...

#70 ::: Andrew Crystall ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:15 PM:

"I don't fancy having my industry gutted just so Amazon can maintain its stock prices."

I don't fancy a new New Book Agreement. Publishers should only be able to set a RRP.

If your current business model won't support that? Well, times change. In the pen and paper RPG industry, if we had anything *like* your overheads we'd never get to market. And what we do - using work-for-hire a lot - is hardly unreplicable.

Paula - And of course, there's Baen. It's not coincidence that they get the majority of my ebook purchases, because I won't buy DRM'ed ebooks - $6 books, $15-for-at-least-four-new-books webscriptions...and the $15 ARC's, of which I have a number!

#71 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:34 PM:

I canceled my Amazon account with the last round of Amazonfail. This 800-pound-gorilla grandstanding does not encourage me to go back.

(At least, I think they canceled it. I told them to and why, they told me they did, but they didn't exactly make it easy.)

Kevin Riggle @ 22:

Steam is a content-delivery and DRM system all in one. I'm not sure how holding up Steam as an ideal for ebooks without DRM makes your case. You say it's convenient, which it is (I've used it and continue to use it), you say that it doesn't give you any hassle for reinstalling on your computer, which I haven't tested but I also believe to be true. But with a real book you can still lend it out, resell it, or give it away, which you can't do under Steam's model. This is, of course, a more general problem for anything where the cost of making a faithful copy is nothing.

Jennifer @ 25:

By its nature digital media is not a lasting format. Archivists are already having problems with data stored in archaic formats; got any 3.5 inch disks laying around? I do, and I don't even have a computer with a drive to accept them! (I even have a 5.25, just to show the kids...)

Then there's the BBC Domesday Project, which was an attempt to store all sorts of data on laserdiscs, to be a modern analog to the original Domesday book, which was a survey taken for William the Conqueror in 1086. Unfortunately, technology marches on and the Domesday Project is unreadable only a few years on (unless someone's finally found a way around that), but the original Domesday book is still readable.

#72 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:39 PM:

Say... Can people have a book burning if all the books are on iPad or Kindle?

#73 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:42 PM:

Well, I haven't ordered anything from Amazon in a while, but now I'm going to start telling my friends not to. Bastards. As for the Kindle...it should be kindling, as Serge points out.

#74 ::: Jennifer ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:44 PM:

It just occurred to me that one way to send a rather pointed message to amzn vis a vis the wishlists and shopping carts would be to, instead of simply emptying them, fill them. With Macmillan and related publishing house titles.

Remove everything except for the books they're not carrying.

...but then, I'm just a little bit mean.

#75 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:46 PM:

The cost and process for producing an ebook that is anything other than a text dump is identical to the cost and process for producing a printed mass market/trade/ hardcover, right up to the point the book is printed or flowed. Publishers who do a lot of ebooks and printed books fork (redirect) the digital file at the point it is sent to the printer. Printing costs for most books are a lot a less than most people think because of the kind of press and the large print runs. A paperback by a BNA can be under two dollars for printing and binding. Printed books have warehouse costs and shipping; ebooks have server and software license and often DRM costs. Once an ebook is out and finished and waiting to be downloaded a year or two after initial release it makes sense to lower the price, except unlike with a printed book, that ebook can be technically obsolete, and must be produced again. So there's both potential savings, and potential expense for the publisher and retailers.

I'd like to see identical or close to (within a dollar) prices. I'd like day-and-date releases, and site licenses for libraries. I don't think DRM (Digital Rights management or software locks) works. Pirates break DRM, and often the layout of a book, in seconds. Honest people become frustrated because they can't read something they paid for. Even way back in 1992 in the Borders study, it was clear that people of the books will buy multiple copies of books so they can have them to loan or give away and keep copies in different places. We also found that ebook buyers were quite likely to buy the same book in printed form as well. The codex book is completely debugged and portable technology. It isn't going away, and we do read it in different ways and places than ebooks.

Amazon will lock your out of Kindles books you've purchased if you download a title "too often." If you are a university looking at using Kindles for texts and testing several Kindles and devices that read Kindle files and want to compare the same book on different devices, you may get locked out. This is why some schools are not adopting Kindles.

Apple and Steve Jobs are not fans of DRM. iTunes Plus has no DRM. Even the older iTunes DRM allows you to make backups and up to audio CDs of a single playlist, share your purchased music with up to five computers, and put it on more than one iPod/iPhone. The iPad used the ePub file standard for Apples iBooks and iBooks store. ePub is sort of a crude but easy; what isn't clear is if they will fully support the "reflowable" aspect of ePub, or if they will include DRM.

I note that the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch all can be used to read many many ebook file formats, including Kindle, ePub, eReader (my favorite-I've been using it for 10 years, on multiple computers and devices) mobi, etc. etc.

I am still removing Amazon links from my site from last April and Amazon's fail is is time consuming. I suggest that people also include ISBNs where possible to encourage us to use indie bookstores. Dreamhaven books, btw, is a fabulous bookstore in Minneapolis that specializes in SF/F and comics, but carries a lot more and has cheerfully special ordered everything from textbooks to scholarly monographs to searching out old hardcovers for me. Their Web site is here.

#76 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 01:49 PM:

There's an essay or series of linked essays patchworked in my mind that involve object and information persistence, perishability, pertinence, mutability, etc., which involve multiple dimensions....

the dimensionality considerations include:
o time-dependence
o level of dependence/independence on externalia, and changes in that over time
o cultural and temporal dependencies [one example--I was proofreading was it Gather in the Halls of Planets ? It was one of the Malzberg short novels republished by NESFA, and there was a term that I blinked at. Said Tony Lewis to me, It's a newspaper edition!
At the time of the original publication, newspapers not only were not an endangered species, they published sometimes up to four? or maybe more editions the same day of the paper! But, when I was proof reading, only highly occasionally did papers have more than one edition in a day, and so the term I blinked at, was one that had been GONE for decades, and outside my then-current cognizance, and got "huh?" from me for the term that was there with no comprehension on my part....

Being ephemeral is the nature of lots of stuff--milk goes sour, annual plants spring up and die off within a single year growing season, trees have lifespans varying from a few years to for the really long lives species a few millennia, small mammal live weeks to a few short years, most bestseller books have no sales potential except for people doing historical research a few years after publication, personal computers if they don't have hardware fail first, become obsolete too slow/underpowered/underequipped to handle leading edge contemporary software applications in generally five years or less, next year's digital camera will cost no more than this year's and have more resolution, more features, etc., than this year's model--and this year's model likely is going to fail anyway in under five years, and replacement is less expensive than trying to get it fixed....

Information may or may not be technically "perishable" but there are limits on how long it has much in the way of utility/value/interest/pertinence. Cracking a code three days after the surprise attack operation occurred that the code was protecting the operations directions for, is a waste of effort as regards defending aginst a surprise attack.
A storm warning arriving after you're stuck out in the middle of the road with the floodwaters rising, is useless as regards "flood warning." It might be useful if it has an accurate prediction of how high the flooding is going to be, but the notification warning of flooding, is too late when it arrives after you already are out and are getting cut off by flood waters....

As for books... publisher print up books and distribute them, retailer order book product... they make assumptions about what the market will bear. Those that don't sell, sit around eating up space that costs money for heating, air conditioning, property taxes, building upkeep, building custodian, inventory counts and inventory control systems, haulage around, and even cover stripping and reporting of destruction as surplus unsold costs-more-to-keep-than-the-sales-value-potential-and-is-least-expensive-to-destroy-than-do-anything-else-with merchandise.

"Clutter" and that includes "hangar queen" items, gets expensive, and occupies space and attention that therefore isn;t available for other items, which peoople pay money for and take away. Clutter also gets in the -way-....

#77 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 02:24 PM:

We need to get a team of one hundred Mac and Zon corporate executives together for a Rubber Room A Plague a' Both Your Houses Death Match. Each team would be armed with tooth, nail, fist and Kindle. Last executive alive wins the pricing dispute for their company. Pay-per-view moneys for the event would support the EFF's anti-DRM efforts. Win-win!

I despise DRM'd ebook platforms utterly, but I also avoid ebooks that cost too much. A real win would be for Macmillan to go rogue with an independent ebook sales portal and drop both DRM and prices.

#78 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 02:39 PM:

Andrew Crystal: And what we do - using work-for-hire a lot - is hardly unreplicable.

Yeah, and how's that working out for you, personally? That bit about not getting paid for their work is not unreplicable either, but I can hardly blame people for wanting to avoid it.

#79 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 02:46 PM:

Macmillan is owned by Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck. Macmillan publishing is a long list of publishers/presses, not least of which are Tor and Farrar, Straus & Giroux. They also own St. Martin's Press, and the Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group.

St. Martin's does fiction, but they and Bedford do a huge business in textbooks, mostly for higher education. It looks to me like those are also being de-listed. I'm seeing listing for Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference, and the Bedford Handbook and various other best selling textbooks disappear even as I search.

I wonder how this will work for the university and college text book stores who use Amazon for online class book fulfillment?

#80 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 03:12 PM:

When Amazon de-lists books, what it means is that the book is not available from Amazon. Third-party is the only way those books are available. "Available from these sellers" rather than "In Stock. Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available." It's essentially marking them out of print.

#81 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 03:14 PM:

Charlie @ 34:

Good on you for switching to Powell's. I would recommend that to any writer who wants to get away from Amazon. I've had my differences with the current management there, but we've had a long relationship; I've been buying and selling books there since 1979, was on regular speaking terms with old man Powell, the founder, until he turned the company over to his son and retired (we used to go there just about every weekend).

Thinking about the timing of this latest bit of thuggery at Amazon, I'm of the opinion that the iPad introduction scared them; this whole circus is intended to bolster the market for Kindles by holding down book prices in the months before the iPad is available with possibly higher book prices, and before Apple starts adding more features in later versions.

#82 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 03:23 PM:

Lisa@78: I wonder how this will work for the university and college text book stores who use Amazon for online class book fulfillment?

My guess is that it'll drive them straight into the arms of Barnes and Noble, which already has a firm foothold in the college-bookstore business.

#83 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 03:28 PM:

Are authors currently getting a fair share of Macmillan ebook profits?

#84 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 03:34 PM:

Ah, well. I should have been more clear. What I meant to ask was: if Macmillan gets to raise their ebook prices at Amazon by 50%, will the authors get a 50% increase in the amount of money they receive for each ebook sale?

#85 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 03:48 PM:

Earl @83, Scalzi says his royalties are "a percentage of the sale price." I'm guessing that's typical.

#86 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 03:48 PM:

A spot-check of Tor and Macmillan titles* on Amazon in Germany shows that they're still listed at the moment.** Not just third-party sellers, but from Amazon.

*Including "A Writer's Reference" and Cory Doctorow's "Makers".
**current time is 9:45 p.m. (GMT+1)

#87 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 04:22 PM:

Royalties are typically based on cover price.

#88 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 04:26 PM:

something I don't understand about Amazon and ebooks. Publishers are saying that the $10 price point for an ebook is too low, that it should be $15. I belong to Audible. I pay $22 every month for two books - for my $11/book, I'm getting not only the edited etc. text of the book but the performance as well, but no publisher is pulling their books from Audible over the price point. I'm not complaining, mind you, but I just don't understand the economics of the situation.

#89 ::: Andrea Phillips ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 04:35 PM:

My husband gave me a Kindle for Winter Holiday of Your Choice. My preliminary investigating shows that I can get Gutenberg books onto it without a fuss, but other sources of ebooks don't pan out.

B&N makes a big claim about 'reading ebooks on the ereader you already own.' This turns out to be quite a deceptive piece of marketing copy; B&N eBooks are sold as .pdb file, locked so you can't transform them into a Kindle-friendly format.

Borders has eBooks, but won't even let you gaze at them from afar unless you download and install their Windows-only e-library application. O, the money I might spend there if I did not own a Mac!

What's a Kindle owner of conscience to do? High-tech device for reading only long-out-of-copyright classics? Or is there another source for ebooks in a format I could read, where I am paying and not pirating?

#90 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 04:37 PM:

AKICIML: what's the difference between a "price point" and a "price"? Is it buzzwordy trendiness, or a real distinction?

#91 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 04:42 PM:

Andrea Phillips #88: What's a Kindle owner of conscience to do?

Load it full of free Project Gutenberg titles and donate it to a literacy charity.

#92 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 04:48 PM:

I am very irritated at Amazon. Valentine's Day is a couple of weeks away and they delisted 4 possible gifts for my hubby. He's not the type to appreciate being given flowers. I had no idea that he reads so many Tor authors and no idea that Macmillan was Tor (or is it vice versa?). Doesn't affect me much, but I spend months prepping to get him books for Christmas and his birthday. And I was just so happy to have Valentine's Day nailed and lots of time til Father's Day.

Guess I'll try BN.com. My local BN shelves mostly paranomal romance in the SF section and driving all the way to the Tattered Cover is not in the cards right now. I am gnashing my teeth.

#93 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 04:52 PM:

Has anyone yet come up with a way to sell DRM-free e-books that won't have a piracy concern?

#94 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 04:57 PM:

Steve, there's this little company name of Baen that's been doing just that for over ten years now. For considerably less (most of the time) than Amazon's cherished $9.99 price point, yet. Doesn't seem to have hurt them any.

#95 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 05:26 PM:

The LA Times has noticed.

#97 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 05:33 PM:

TexAnne@90 on price vs price point.

There may well be a difference as standard terminology, but I was using "price point" to refer to the whole set of prices: hardcover, trade paper, mass market paper, etc, etc.

#98 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 05:39 PM:

Thomas: Ah, that makes sense, thanks.

#99 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 05:44 PM:

Baen not only has DRMless books, but in every Baen hardcover I've bought they've included a CD-ROM with what looks like their entire back list of ebooks.

I do want publishers and authors and artists to be paid. I oppose piracy. But I don't think the assertion that a pirated ebook=a lost sale. I also note that the last time I participated in a large survey of pirate books sources, in December of 2008, the source of most pirated books was not DRM-broken or DRMless books but books that had been scanned and crudely proofed.

I just did a quick and crude check, and even now I don't see many Baen books in the main pirate channels, Torrent feeds, and most especially, UseNet.

I really do suspect that good data in the form of professionally made DRMless books would push out bad data in the form of pirate books.

#100 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 05:54 PM:

I just said this thing elsewhere:

It would be one thing if Amazon said, "We want you to price your ebooks the way we tell you to," and Macmillan said, "No," and Amazon said, "Well, then, we won't carry your ebooks, because we don't like your pricing."

That's not what they did, though. As far as I can tell, they seem to be saying, "You won't do what we want about ebooks? Fine. We won't carry ANY of your merchandise then." Which is a whole nother thing than declining to carry an item -- or a class of items -- due to a disagreement on pricing.

#101 ::: K.C. Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 06:06 PM:

Count me as another person who's about to empty her Amazon wishlist and move it over to B&N. I don't love B&N, but as far as I know they've never pulled anything as boneheaded as Amazon's repeated fails.

Not that I'm excited about $15 ebooks either--but at least I'd have the choice to buy or not buy them. I have a Sony Reader but I don't use it very much; the typical price for an ebook available in stores as a $7.99 paperback is $7.19. I'd rather spend the extra three quarters (plus tax) and buy a physical copy I can loan out or sell to a used book store later. The most I've ever spent on an ebook was $11, and that was for a book that had just come out in hardback. I went ahead and bought it because the extra $3 was worth not waiting a year for the paperback to be released.

#102 ::: Chris Lawson ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 06:09 PM:

Steve @93: Nobody has come up with a DRM-heavy model that solves piracy issues either.

#103 ::: Christopher Hawley ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 06:11 PM:

A rapid scan of am*z*n.de shows a curious mix of delisted titles and a few still present, though so far all of the latter are "Auf Lager" => "on order", as opposed to being in stock. Perhaps these reflect physical copies already in transit across the pond?

Other titles -- e.g Cory Doctorow's Little Brother) -- do appear to be available for direct sale, but these are not from the same publisher (especially German translated versions).

#104 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 06:25 PM:

TexAnne@90

I've always had the impression that "price point" was a target price driven by marketing.

I would have said the commonplace $x.99 was a price point. If the book couldn't be manufactured at a cost leaving a profit from $4.99, it had to be sold at $5.99 rather than $5.50

And, yes, I suppose that would cover a pattern of relative pricing for hardback and paperback.

This idea of a particular price that isn't directly related to cost may be why the reduction of VAT last year (to the final buyer it's a percentage sales tax) didn't much affect prices. It's didn't make enough difference to jump to the next price point. But I bet the prices have gone up, now the reduction has ended,

#105 ::: John Hawkinson ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 06:33 PM:

John Sargent, Jr., Macmillan's CEO, has released a statement (via Publisher's 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 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

#106 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 06:33 PM:

In a special Saturday Publishers Lunch, John Sargent of Macmillan has a paid ad where he explains his take on the result of talks on Thursday between him and Amazon.

http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/lunch/free/

I call your attention to this bit:

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.

#107 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 06:34 PM:

Serge@72: Say... Can people have a book burning if all the books are on iPad or Kindle?

a) Yes. And people will manifest against the gas emissions and general pollution rather than the destruction of books.

b) I guess, technical difficulties aside, a complete book wipe from all existing every hard drives would be less theatrical and symbolic, but could still prove interesting for a setting in which paper-based books had to be completely abandoned.

A few years back all the books went away. We woke up one morning, and they just weren't there anymore. They didn't even leave us a note, or say good-bye. We never figured out quite where they'd gone.

From personal experience: I see the point of PDFs for work documents. I can see them as added value to the investment when I buy a book (I actually love those Book+PDF bundles, gives me a fully search-able copy to browse in case I need it, as well as an easy way to transport my library during trips). PDFs as a product in themselves ? Unless the book has long gone out of print and I can't track back a copy, not happening. Transmission of ownership notwithstanding, I still find it just too uncomfortable for long reading sessions, and think it unlikely they'll address the complaints anytime soon.

Andy Wilton@31: thanks for the Book Depository link. Had forgotten I wanted to check them out.

#108 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 06:48 PM:

My dismal conclusion is that until a business model is established that precludes piracy -- perceived or otherwise -- some form of digital restrictions will be enforced, primarily for the big sellers.


#109 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 06:54 PM:

Joe, #15, a number of books list the editor on the page with the copyright into and list typesetters on one of the last pages of the book.

Janet Croft, #46, yes, the other sellers are what Amazon is showing for Macmillan books.

Chris Meadows, #94, there are few Baen authors that I want to read, so that doesn't help me.

#110 ::: P.N. Elrod ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 07:07 PM:

Amazon links are coming off my website. B&N links remain, and I will add in other sellers as I find them. I don't have time for this crap, but I'll do it.

While many of us adore reading books that don't require batteries, the up and coming kids are perfectly comfortable with reading devices. Some like getting a library into their pocket, others prefer not to kill trees, whatever.

But tons of them balk at paying 10 bucks for a new e-book, let alone 15.00, so they "shop" at e-pirate sites and download 100s of titles for nothing. Copyright is a meaningless concept to many.

I'm not at all pleased with one of my publishers who has the e-versions of my books up for the same price as the now out-of-print hardcovers. It's ridiculous to expect buyers to pay that much for a download.

I hope this mess is settled soon, as I have several collections with St. Martin's and they're not earning money on Amazon today.

At this point I'm in a "plague on both your houses" mood. Amazon for trying for yet another monopoly, and Macmillan for trying to hike the price up even more.

But Amazon is the bigger baddie for me. I've no intention of ever getting one of their damned Kindles. For the price of one I can buy a hell of a lot more books than I have time to read.

Also, when I drop a book on the floor--and I usually do because I am a KLUTZ--it ain't gonna go dark and turn into a costly paperweight.

#111 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 07:08 PM:

In partial defense of .PDFs, they're rarely made as well as they might be for screen reading. They can be beautifully typeset for the screen, and indexed, and you can have useful links internally and to external files, and even fairly sophisticated annotation with citation note taking, but it's time consuming to do this sort of thing, just as it is time consuming and difficulty and a matter of art and skill to produce printed designed and typeset books.

But yes, reading on a screen is not the same. I honestly don't see any danger of printed books going away.

#112 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 07:19 PM:

At this point I'm in a "plague on both your houses" mood. Amazon for trying for yet another monopoly, and Macmillan for trying to hike the price up even more.

As a reader, I'd be perfectly happy to pay the prices Macmillan want for ebooks (as per paragraph 4 of John Sargent's letter). DRM issues aside, it sounds a lot like the deal we already get for printed books. I'd love to get dead tree books instead of ebooks, but space is a real problem.

In any case, Amazon just made sure I won't ever shell out money for a Kindle.

#113 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 07:38 PM:

Steve C@93: Has anyone come up with a way to sell DRMed ebooks that won't have a piracy concern? DRM doesn't actually stop piracy. Real world experience tells us this much.

Chris@94: Yes, maybe the answer is to do what Baen does, not use Amazon at all to distribute ebooks. As Gavin Grant points out at the Small Beer press blog, their authors make more money if you buy the ebook directly from the Small Beer website.

Of course, it's not that simple. They sell only a "small percentage of ebooks" at their website. 50% of a largish number may be larger than 100% of a smallish number. Apple's iBookstore will pay publishers 70% of retail rather 50% of retail. If the iBookstore becomes viable competition against Amazon, that would certainly be a better deal for publishers than Amazon.

(Still hoping that Apple will not impose DRM on ebooks, and will have some convenient way of getting ebooks on and off the iPad. And iPhone and iPod touch for that matter. Surely, the iBookstore will not be limited to iPad.)

#114 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 07:39 PM:

PJ, I mentioned archive.org. Their PDFs are often hard on the eyes on a 3" x 4" screen, though I've seen some scanned books that look like they'd be readable at that size. Their text is theoretically better, but the OC-argles are so strong they threaten to overpower the sense of the text completely.

My best results tend to be from moderately well-proofed PG titles, carefully groomed as much as possible to avoid things like screwy line returns and strange dingbats taking the place of, I guess, high ASCII characters or something. Line returns can be a problem in text that mixes prose and verse especially, because if you take them out automatically, the verse layout gets turned into a paragraph with extra capitals here and there.

I can format texts and output them on PDFs made to match my screen dimensions in a generous font size, particularly if I want clickable contents pages. Sometimes I can just dump an .rtf text right in and it comes out looking just great.

#115 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 07:41 PM:

John@105: Okay, that nails it for me. Macmillan is trying to institute a huge control grab, and wants to control ebook prices. No thank you! Not buying!

It's unfortunate that this mess is playing out this nastily, and in ways that have direct economic effects on friends of mine. And Amazon is trying to control too much ALSO; and I certainly won't have a Kindle ever, because a separate device for book reading is absurd and because I won't ever own a DRMed book (unless I can immediately break it out). But this kerfuffle does appear to be about Macmillan trying for a huge power grab, and I hope failing.

#116 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 07:47 PM:

DRM doesn't work.

Too bad the profiteering scaredy-cats won't pay attention.

#117 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 07:49 PM:

David @ 115
I'm not seeing 'huge power grab' by Macmillan, really.

#118 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 08:03 PM:

Hmmm... if we take Macmillan's CEO, Mr. Sargent, at his word, then it looks like Amazon pulling all of the books right now was in response to Sargent's threat to pull most of them soon --- unless Amazon switched to an agency model. (I'm not sure what else "deep winnowing of titles" could mean in this context.)

I'm not sure that changes anyone's view of who's in the right in this, but it certainly is an interesting wrinkle. Canceling a long-standing business relationship without warning strikes me as skeevy at best --- but it's also not great when one party attempts to unilaterally dictate a change in terms.

A couple of other notes:

Paula@65: the Harvard Book Store's POD machine is actually in public space, and it's kind of fun to watch it work. (It's a few blocks away from the Harvard T stop if anyone visiting Boston is curious; if you want to be sure you see it in action, be prepared to order a book. You demand, they print.) One point of interest: the page-printing engine looks to me like it literally is a high-end laser printer --- IIRC, it's got the "Xerox" logo still on it. That feeds into custom machinery which glues the pages together and to the cover.

Also, re: Powell's --- the electronic affiliate program might be nice, but the physical store is a marvel. Quite literally a full city block, and that excludes the technical books, which are in an annex a few blocks away which is itself larger than most independent bookstores. Very much worth seeing if you're ever nearby...

#119 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 08:09 PM:

(BTW, #118 wasn't replying to either TexAnne or P.J. --- I was writing at the same time they were, I think. Apologies if it looks like I was casting aspersions...)

#120 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 08:16 PM:

(I'm not sure what else "deep winnowing of titles" could mean in this context.)

"winDowing", actually. I don't remember which of the many sites I read explains it, but apparently this means that ebook versions would be made available several months after the release of the printed books. I hope people who know more about how this works can explain it better.

#121 ::: Pete ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 08:56 PM:

For those looking for alternative places to point their affiliate links, I'd also recommend The Book Depository.

While I've only used them as a customer, I've found them to be well-priced, efficient , and enormously helpful when contacted.

Their free worldwide shipping actually makes them cheaper than buying from retailers here in Australia, and usually cheaper than Amazon too, so I'm seeing a growing interest in them locally.

#122 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 09:03 PM:

PJEvans@117: "Agency model" doesn't sound like a huge power grab to you? Does to me; a total change of the philosophical and legal basis on which bookselling works.

#123 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 09:10 PM:

Charlie, 119: No problem--in fact it never crossed my mind.

#124 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 09:15 PM:

Andrea Phillips @#89: Kindle* will read anything in Mobipocket format. I believe some e-book stores sell mobipocket books, and some sell them in open formats (including, IIRC, Baen books). With any open format you can run it through the free Mobipocket book creator thingy to make it kindle-compatible.

*true of version 1, anyway. I haven't checked as to whether this is still true of the current one, but I haven't heard otherwise.

#125 ::: Robert Glaub ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 09:26 PM:

I'm amazed that Amazon is actually willing to forego the amount of cash that the next Robert Jordan book will bring in this fall...

#126 ::: Gavin Edwards ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 09:27 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet@122: I remain unconvinced that the "philosophical and legal basis on which bookselling works" transfers especially well to electronic files, as opposed to physical objects that need to be returned if they don't sell.

#127 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 09:41 PM:

Calibre is used very very often to convert all sorts of files into all sorts of files for ereading.

http://calibre-ebook.com/

It's quite usable, with good docs, and a supportive community in terms of converting open ebook formats, as well as creating ebooks.

#128 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:00 PM:

Charles@118: That's not how I read John Sargent's letter. I think he's saying is if they stay under the current terms of sale, they will release the ebook version of a book later than the hardcover version. This doesn't involve removing anything from Amazon. It just means future ebooks will be show up at Amazon later than their hardcover counterparts. (They want to get the folks who'll pay top dollar first, then release the cheaper versions.)

It's clear that Macmillan wants a new model. Amazon wants to treat ebooks like trade books. Macmillan wants to treat ebooks like AAC at the iTunes Music Store. I don't see why ebooks should be treated like trade books, or mass-market paperbacks for that matter. (What does it mean to return or strip an ebook?) Maybe ebooks are closer to AAC than dead tree books, but I suspect that ebooks are really their own thing and require their own model.

#129 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:08 PM:

John, 128: I was discussing this with a friend, and we think the Netflix model would work--if it's set up as a rental, and we don't think it's our own book, we'd be willing to pay a monthly fee for an all-you-can-read plan. If they keep selling ebooks as "books," with DRM and high prices, it'll cripple the market.

#130 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:09 PM:

Pendrift@120 --- thanks for the correction on Windowing.

And one other sidelight: Amazon's already announced that they're willing to go to an agency model, and one which matches the App Store 70/30% split. But only under conditions which conventional publishers would gag on, such as: the Kindle price must match the lowest in any channel, must be cheaper than print by at least 20%, and --- perhaps the crux of the matter --- must not exceed $9.99.

It's hard to say what the sticking point really is here, but it seems more likely to have to do with pricing than with the agency model per se...

#131 ::: romsfuulynn ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:14 PM:

http://www.dlapiper.com/files/upload/Executive_Counsel_Reprint_MarApr08.pdf

So - where in all this do the current anti-trust laws fall? On the one hand is Macmillan trying to do pricefixing? On the other hand - has Amazon been engaging in predatory pricing?

Once I started thinking about this, I'm getting even more confused.

#132 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:29 PM:

While the prices I've seen here aren't entirely unreasonable, those don't reflect what is reasonable for those parts of America where folks make a lot less and buying an ebook for $15 just isn't reasonable when there are groceries to buy and a mortgage or rent to pay, not to mention all the other things that families need. Personally, even though I'm a writer and most of my books are produced as ebooks, I feel that a $5 price is really about right. In fact, considering the likelihood that many formats will fall by the wayside, it's a very reasonable price for something that may not be usable as soon as next year. It might seem strange but I still have a Polaroid camera with one cartridge left. My wife and I are planning to use that this year. After that the camera gets donated to Goodwill though I doubt they'll want it. Then it's only a matter of time before the 35mm camera reaches its end. Film is still available, but I can see it becoming another roadkill on the technology road. Yes, I've got a digital camera and it's handy. Let's me take pictures, download them to my computer, and then reuse the camera memory to take more. Still, I know when the computer I store them on bellies up, those photos are lost unless I printed them out and even those fade much too quickly compared to commercially printed photos and instant photos. But the cost is cheap so long as the storage media remains operational.

Well, that's what I look for in books. I can't afford hundreds of books each year. I'd sure like to, but my purchases are driven by what I make and how much the cost of living is where I live. I'd like to see some of those executives live where I do and make what I make. I bet they'll want to sell ebooks for a more realistic price. Odds are they'll sell even more and still make a reasonable profit. And yes, I'd like to see my ebooks earn more, but I want a wide readership and reasonable prices figure in just as much as good writing.

#133 ::: romsfuulynn ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:44 PM:

Here is some more on the antitrust stuff, but it's clearly a heavily lawyered area.

http://www.wilmerhale.com/publications/whPubsDetail.aspx?publication=319

#134 ::: Pamela ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:49 PM:

Torrilin @#37:

Reading in the bath is actually what I like best about ebooks. Take one reader of choice, encase in ziploc freezer bag, read at will. Because you can press to turn pages, it works much better than a physical book. No more soggy spots from turning pages with damp fingers!

I have no idea whether this will work with an iPad, nor how long one could leave the bag immersed for without problems, but I will vouch for safety from splashes and one terrifying time when I dozed off and dunked it.

#135 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:58 PM:

@132 ::: Dave Kuzminski

While the prices I've seen here aren't entirely unreasonable, those don't reflect what is reasonable for those parts of America where folks make a lot less and buying an ebook for $15 just isn't reasonable when there are groceries to buy and a mortgage or rent to pay, not to mention all the other things that families need.

This is actually offensive. People who work in publishing, digital or conventional pay rent and mortgages and probably are in favor of food as well. Books are a luxury. Ebook in particular are a mark of middle class and better in terms of economics--people who can afford to have gadgets and computers.

Regarding file formats and usability, that's another reason to look towards professionally produced ebooks. I've been buying and reading books from Peanut Press/eReader, now owned by Fictionwise, and hence Barnes and Noble, since 2000. They all still work--and now, I can read the same file on my Palm PDA, my iPhone, on Mac and Windows and a variety of other devices including the iPad.

#136 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 10:59 PM:

Pamela @134's plastic bag trick works with BlackBerry Storms as well, although I've only used a ziploc sandwich bag (tested in advance!) and not a freezer bag. I believe it works with iPhones too.

#137 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 11:28 PM:

TexAnne, #90: I can tell you what "price point" means to me -- it's the more-or-less standard market price for items of a specific type, and if you get too much above it people just won't buy the item. For example, single-disc CDs being sold direct by the artist seem to have a price point of around $15; that's the standard market price, and I'd be far less likely to buy such a CD offered at $18, and absolutely unwilling to buy one at $21.

#138 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 11:29 PM:

Has anyone figured out how and author could autograph or inscribe an ebook?

About the only ebooks I'd be willing to pay $15 for are the ebooks in my technical library that I carry around with me on my USB thumbdrive. A lot of those were made available at a steep discount by the original publisher if I bought a physical copy of the book at the same time.

#139 ::: Dave Slusher ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 11:45 PM:

DDB@115 & Lisa@127:

Every single Kindle book I've bought from Amazon has had its DRM removed via a well known python script. The resulting mobi files sit in my Calibre library. I've never given one to anyone else but they are available to me for future uses in whatever format I might need them. Seems fair to me.

#140 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2010, 11:50 PM:

Lisa@135: Regarding file formats and usability, that's another reason to look towards professionally produced ebooks.

Disagree completely. Gutenbert's HTML or ASCII ebooks will be readable forever. The proprietary ebook formats are the dangerous ones.

#141 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 12:06 AM:

I'm deeply suspicious of the motives of both Macmillan and Amazon.

In particular, when I see the CEO of a corporation standing there with a pat of butter not melting in his mouth talking about how Macmillan wants to make less money so Amazon can make more in the name of preserving the viability of the market? Yeah, that sits really well with me, uh-huh. (Hint: corporations are profit-making ventures, not market-viability-preserving ventures.)

And it really does not sit well with me for a supplier to be able to control resale prices. I'm pretty sure there have been anti-trust cases about that kind of thing in the past. Regardless, it's just plain anti-competitive and not good for the consumer.

The only things Macmillan has any right deciding are whether to sell to a retailer, when to sell to that retailer, and how much to charge that retailer. They shouldn't get to tell the retailer what he can charge, too, as long as he pays the wholesale price they set.

On the other hand, I don't like Amazon all that much either, with their restrictive DRM and various crap they've pulled. But in this instance they definitely seem like the lesser of two evils to me.

#142 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 12:14 AM:

Amazon should thank their lucky stars that they didn't decide to dump on Scholastic; delisting the Harry Potter books would have been a spectacular disaster.

#143 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 12:25 AM:

Charlie@130: Amazon isn't offering an agency model, at least not in the sense that Macmillan means it. In addition to the conditions you mention, you also have to publish your ebook via the Kindle Digital Text Platform. As opposed to Amazon retaining a 30% commission as in the agency model, Amazon is paying out a 70% royalty less delivery costs.

In that case, Amazon isn't acting as an agent; it's acting as the publisher. The press release you linked to is primarily aimed at authors who want to "self-publish" (Amazon's word, not mine). A quick browse at the DTP website shows that DTP is aimed at people who want to self-publish, not publishers who want Amazon to just sell their ebooks.

Moreover, the terms and conditions for DTP say "We or our sub-distributors have sole and complete discretion to set the retail price at which your Digital Books are sold through the Program." i.e., while you can specify a list price, Amazon gets to decide how much they will sell your book for. (Note though that the royalties are based off of the list price.) Part of the agency model that Macmillan proposes is that they, not Amazon, get to set the retail price.

For that reason alone, I doubt Amazon likes the agency model. Having prices dictated to them is a significant change to the way they do business. Rather than being the retailer, the publisher becomes the retailer and Amazon is merely a conduit. (i.e., they turn into ebay or half.com.)

Should they just rollover and acquiesce to the change? Probably not. Should they have retaliated to the proposal by removing all of Macmillan's books from their store? Probably not. Do they have every right to retaliate this way? Absolutely.

What I don't get is why releasing the ebook after the hardcover is so horrible. Amazon must think so or else they wouldn't have gone to this trouble in the first place. People who can't afford or don't want the hardcover wait for the mass market paperback, go to the library or borrow it from a friend. I guess people just can't wait for the ebook? (The latter two aren't typically options for ebooks in any case.)

Earl@138: Some ebook readers allow you to annotate. A few even use a stylus and digitizer so that you can draw your annotations. That's one way an author could sign an ebook. However, I'd want the author to sign something more substantial than the graphical representation of a file stored in flash memory. For a whole bunch of reasons, I don't think ebooks will replace books, even if ebooks are the future.

#144 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 12:31 AM:

So we still haven't heard anything out of Amazon on this subject? 24 hours in?

Judge the previous couple of Amazon explosions as you will, but they *did* come forth with reasonably timely apologies (or roughly apology-shaped statements). If they're not even pretending to regret inconveniencing customers this time, that's a pretty nailed-down position.

#145 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 12:47 AM:

#140 @David Dyer-Bennet

I think Gutenberg digital files are professional produced. There are texts there that are fifteen years old. They have a smart standard, and they adhere to it.

I note that the ebooks from eReader that I purchased in 2000, when they only worked on Palm PDAs, still work today--on my Palm TX, my Mac, on Windows, my iPhone, and a slew of other devices.

I note that Baen ebooks I purchased all the way back in 1999 all still work just fine, now, and on more devices. They too are professionally produced.

It's one of many reason I favor DRMless files.

#146 ::: Cory Doctorow ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 12:52 AM:

Publisher's Lunch has apparently not encountered the notion of permanent links (and Macmillan doesn't seem to have its own CEO's public statement on the most significant news to affect it this century anywhere on its website), so I've put a copy up here:

http://craphound.com/sargentamazon.html

#147 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 12:56 AM:

Cory, 146: you mean this permalink here?

#148 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:02 AM:

Andrew Plotkin @ 144:

If you can point me at an apology, or even an official statement about what happened (as opposed to what a blogger said that an insider said), for when Amazon deranked all the GLBT books, I'd appreciate it very much. I never saw one at the time, and I still haven't seen one.

#149 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:15 AM:

From Wikipedia via Hyperwords:

Price points are prices at which demand is relatively high. ... the price elasticity of demand is low (inelastic) at a price lower than the price point (steep section of the demand curve), and high (elastic) at a price higher than a price point (gently sloping part of the demand curve). Firms commonly set prices at existing price-points as a marketing strategy.

There are a couple of illustrative charts there.

#150 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:19 AM:

Pamela @134: Take one reader of choice, encase in ziploc freezer bag, read at will.

Have you tried this with an iPhone or iPod Touch? Because I think those devices (as well as the upcoming iPad) require actually touching the screen with your finger, or something else electrically conductive.

#151 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:20 AM:

From Wikipedia via Hyperwords:

Price points are prices at which demand is relatively high. ... the price elasticity of demand is low (inelastic) at a price lower than the price point (steep section of the demand curve), and high (elastic) at a price higher than a price point (gently sloping part of the demand curve). Firms commonly set prices at existing price-points as a marketing strategy.

There is an illustrative chart there.

#152 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:28 AM:

I know it all sounds weird right now but it will sort out. There will be lots of changes but I think that by far for the best with the exception of printers and bookstores.

One thing to consider that to some degree (hold flames) is that books are somewhat fungible e.g.. if you have a golf book or a thriller you have a choice of dozens and dozens of very good titles. Publishers/authors will inevitably compete with other groups and prices will drop. OF COURSE there are some UNIQUE titles but not as few as authors would like to believe. There are at least several hundred titles in my field every year -- I bet 20 or 30 are damned good. I can't really spend the time to read more than 8 or 10. I will not pay for the "over-priced" titles in favor of the cheaper ones. In fact if the prices come down as much as they cam I will probably buy all 20-30 simply because I am willing to browse and I spend the same amount overall -- I just get more of the titles.

Another factor is besides Amazon there will be at least 3 other BIG on-line store-fronts: Apple iBookstore, Google and (eventually unless they are fools) Books in Print. Each of the distributors will act to lower their own margins and there will be a LOT of competition since, in reality, that is not much for those on-line bookstores to do.

#153 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:29 AM:

Bah. Got a server error, so I reposted. The second post is slightly more accurate: there's only one chart on the Wiki page.

#154 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:29 AM:

#75 Lisa

Ebooks tend to not have returns and the sell-through rate is nearly 100% (there has to be at least one "original" file to make copies for delivery from, which remains accessible for the distributor to copy from). There is physical warehouse, trucking fees, spoilage of merchandise in warehouse or store, inventory control costs are substantially lower... the overhead is way lower, and the marginal costs are extremely low. And then there is, consider the difference between the costs and prices for trade paperbacks versus hardcovers... the production costs for editing and creating cover art etc. are basically the same I would think, up to where the manufacturing diverges for trade paper versus hardcover--but note that hardcovers prices tend to be nearly double what trade paperback prices are... both occupy roughly the same amount of space. Trade paperbacks tend to cost in the $14- $16.00 list, with e.g. Barnes & Noble giving its member customers a 10% discount--which puts the prices below $14.99, for a physical book the buyer doesn't need a third party device to access/read, and can sell to a used book store for say 20% of the cover price, or donate to a library, and recoup some of the money paid for the book.

I remember having heard unhappinesses regarding sellthrough rates of physical books meaning that a substantially larger number of books had to be printed that would sell, and that if the sell-through rates were higher, book prices could be lower because there would be a lot less what is effectively waste to have to dispose of costing money to produce and warehouse/ship, but either getting no revenue from, or revenue perhaps below costs (e.g., selling it to a jobber handling "hurt" books, overstock, and discontinued edition/books.

Hardcover pricing takes into account expectations for returns/unsold inventory.... as above, returns an unsold inventory are no-ops for ebooks, no needs for "reserve against returns"....

#155 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:31 AM:

@ Keith @148 The "apology" was the "an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error" email, or versions thereof, that they sent to every customer who complained.

I'm still not convinced by it.

#156 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:33 AM:

Lisa @ 145

Actually, Gutenberg.org's ebooks aren't professionally produced, in that nobody gets paid anything to produce them. About half are produced by independent producers, and the other half are produced by a volunteer organization called Distributed Proofreaders. I've been a volunteer there for about 6-1/2 years now.

We do have a system, and some fairly firm guidelines, for producing our ebooks, it's true. It usually takes something over a year for a set of scans to turn into an ebook; the wheels of DP grind fine, but exceeding slow, since each page is shown to four or five sets of eyes before it gets to the post-processor, who puts all the pages back together and turns it into an ebook. Still, most of the books we work on have been waiting for something over 80 years, so another year or three won't hurt them. And they're vastly more readable than raw OCR is.

We're always looking for more volunteers to help preserve history a page at a time. There's a walkthrough of the proofreading (OCR correcting) interface so you can see how we do it without having to sign up.

--Cally

#157 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:33 AM:

Of course, the greatest tragedy of the switch to ebooks is that there will be no further occasion to link to this.

#158 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:43 AM:

Avram @ 150:

It works on my phone, which has a capacitive touchscreen, and I've been told that it works on the iPhone/iPod Touch, which also has that kind of touchscreen.

Lisa Spangenberg @ 155:

I complained, and I didn't get that email. I got the "glitch in the system" one from before they even sorted out their story. I'm not convinced by the "cataloging error" explanation either.

#159 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:57 AM:

David Dyer-Bennett @ 140: Gutenbert's HTML or ASCII ebooks will be readable forever.

That comes with a pretty big downside: many (i would guess most) texts of interest contain characters that can't be represented in ASCII, and so the Gutenberg editions are corrupt by design.

#160 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 02:06 AM:

I'd like to emphasize the novelty of the ebook market, too. I read something somewhere about how "Amazon has a commanding market share of ebooks and must jump every publisher."

My own sense is that Amazon's commanding market share will last for about another 5 minutes. There is every good reason reason why "publishers" -- and the term gets very loose these days -- will establish their own on-line "stores" and using any digital format they desire -- even if Amazon doesn't like it.

A book like (and I am just using it as a business example) Sarah Palin's does not need Amazon. And while most readers don't care about the brand" of a publishers, there are some specialty publishers who can draw their own customers.

And again, once you start getting into the Google Books habit, Amazon may start to worry about the part of their digital business.

#161 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 04:05 AM:

Hmm, thinking in terms of electronics:

Epublishing--fabless book production!

["wafer fab[rication]" is the term for one of the key parts of production of semiconductors [which includen microprocessors] "chips". The billion dollar facilities that make the processors in the computers that everyone who visits this forum uses, get referre to in the vernacular as "fab labs" A very large number of companies decided they didn't want to have to fork out tons and tons of money, even for fab labs smaller and less complicated than the ones the Intel and IBM have. Instead, they design circuits using software the produces chip designs which then then take to companies which make the chips for them--the leading name in all that is TSMC, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation, which does production of chips for companies all over the rest of the world. AMD some months back sold off/spun out all its chip production plants. IBM and Intel continue to own and run "captive" semiconductor processing facilities. While there is term for small facilities that can produce low run semiconductor product (I forget the term for it), most businesses wanting "custom designs" and even a lot of large corporation in the semiconductor business, generally farm the production out to a someone else to produce.

E-publishing involves not even a physical book to have to produce, the book buyer gets a file or access to a file, and a Kindle or computer screen or Nook etc., converts file contents into human-readable page content interactively...

There's the issue of value of content, value of carrier medium, and value of content delivered in a particular fashion.... people will often buy different items carrying the same image, consider sports team logos on everything from cakes to jackets to whatever. People pay a sometimes fat premium to get an official logo of a team on a jacket, that up the price of the jacket by ten or twenty dollars or sometimes much more more over the price of a jacket of the same material made by the same company etc. without the logo.

While prior to ebooks people had gotten accustomed to "books" being print on paper, that's not always/not always been the case. Consider Torah scrolls, for example.... the same words in a printed book don't cost thousands of dollars, but then Torah scrolls are handwritten long rolls of genuine parchment (sheepskin I think) using technology and methods which predate printing and bound leaved paper books (and paper, for that matter)

The printing press revolutionized the world and spread literacy, cut the cost of book production, and writing fiction for a living possible.... =

#162 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 04:13 AM:

Avram @150 Works with iPod Touch. I've been doing that for months, ever since someone suggested it here, in fact.

#163 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 04:32 AM:

I haven't gotten my main blog broadside finished (away from home, with netbook) but here's my interim comment on the situation ... am I missing anything?

This whole mess is basically about duelling supply chains:

Publishing is made out of pipes. Traditionally the supply chain ran: author -> publisher -> wholesaler -> bookstore -> consumer.

Then the internet came along, a communications medium the main effect of which is to disintermediate indirect relationships, for example by collapsing supply chains with lots of middle-men.

From the point of view of the public, to whom they sell, Amazon is a bookstore.

From the point of view of the publishers, from whom they buy, Amazon is a wholesaler.

From the point of view of Jeff Bezos' bank account, Amazon is the entire supply chain and should take that share of the cake that formerly went to both wholesalers and booksellers. They do this by buying wholesale and selling retail, taking up to a 70% discount from the publishers and selling for whatever they can get. Their stalking horse for this is the Kindle publishing platform; they're trying to in-source the publisher by asserting contractual terms that mean the publisher isn't merely selling them books wholesale, but is sublicencing the works to be republished via the Kindle publishing platform. Publishers sublicensing rights is SOP in the industry, but not normally handled this way -- and it allows Amazon to grab another chunk of the supply chain if they get away with it, turning the traditional publishers into vestigial editing/marketing appendages.

The agency model Apple proposed -- and that publishers like Macmillan enthusiastically endorse -- collapses the supply chain in a different direction, so it looks like: author -> publisher -> fixed-price distributor -> reader. In this model Amazon is shoved back into the box labelled 'fixed-price distributor' and get to take the retail cut only. Meanwhile: fewer supply chain links mean lower overheads and, ultimately, cheaper books without cutting into the authors or publishers profits.

Amazon are going to fight this one ruthlessly because if the publishers win, it destroys the profitability of their business and pushes prices down.

See? It's the internet crushing middle-men again, except this time the middle-man is Amazon.

(Note that Amazon have been trying to grab a larger share of the cake by dipping into the publishers -- and the authors -- share of what meagre profits there are, even though they've already got the wholesale and retail supply chains stitched up. Their buy wholesale/sell retail model screws publishers' ability to manage their cash flow and tends to induce price wars on the supply side, which is okay if we're talking widgets with a range of competing suppliers, but books are individually unique products and the industry already runs on alarmingly narrow margins: this isn't the music or movie biz.)

Now, as to pricing and DRM -- those issues are entirely irrelevant -- at least at this stage of affairs. They're different battles. For what it's worth, the ePub format Apple are going with doesn't mandate DRM (although it provides an optional vendor-specified DRM layer). The DRM push comes from the board level of the corporations who own both the book publishers and the music vendors, and individual editors and publishers know it's crap. This is a battle that'll be lost or won within the publishers.

Pricing ... we sell books by reverse auction, most expensive editions first, then cheaper editions, then mass market, until we get to the remainder shelves. What any sane publisher would like to do is to get away from the current crude fixed-price points -- a system they can't do anything about right now because it's locked in via the wholesale/retail distribution model -- and get round to flexible pricing on books: start selling high, then drop the price incrementally with much higher granularity than is currently possible. Such a system would allow them to get a lock on the price elasticity of demand, and thus work out the price point at which they can maximize book sales. A fixed-percentage agency model (distributor takes a flat 30 or 35%, whatever the price, while the price is set by the publisher) lets them do that.

It's interesting to note that unlike the music industry who had to be pushed, the big publishers seem to be willing to grab a passing lifeline.

Finally, to DD-B: 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 -- or did you think Amazon would offer Charlie Stross, sole trader, better terms than Macmillan publishing group?)

#164 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 04:33 AM:

TexAnne #157: Of course, the greatest tragedy of the switch to ebooks is that there will be no further occasion to link to this.

In praise of audiobooks, that poem is also available from Clive James' web site.

As for remaindering ebooks, fear not, for technology will find a way....

#165 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 04:38 AM:

Final note: to customers, Amazon would like to be a monopoly (i.e. the only store in town). To suppliers, Amazon would like to be a monopsony (i.e. the only customer in town). Their goal is to profit via arbitrage. They are, in fact, exactly the kind of middle-man operation that the internet tends to squish, gooily.

#166 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 04:40 AM:

bruce,

Good on you for switching to Powell's. I would recommend that to any writer who wants to get away from Amazon.

unfortunately, when i self-published my graphic novel, i couldn't find a way to distribute it through powell's. so i will continue to sell my book through amazon, as well as on my website & through comic-market distributors. their rates are lousy, but not lousier than diamond, which is a whole nother evil monopoly.

jim,

Royalties are typically based on cover price.

they're not based on wholesale price? that's what i would've assumed. & of course, in each of discussed models (the bookstore model, the amazon model & the "agency" model), there's a different relationship between wholesale price & cover price.

#167 ::: JP ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 05:43 AM:

Macmillan should stick to dictating the price Amazon pays them and keep their nose out of *dictating* the price the consumer will pay.

$10 to *rent* an ebook (and you are indeed only renting it) is quite a lot to ask, but $15 is absurd. You can only use it on your one device from that one manufacturer. You can't take it with you anywhere else. You can't loan it or give it to a friend. You can't sell it when you're done with it. And you can't donate it to your local library or coffee shop with a free-for-all bookshelf. An ebook is less of a book in every sense of the word and should absolutely reflect that in the pricing.

Publishers need to get their heads out of their collective asses and get some REAL ebooks (non-DRMed like MP3s) out there, charge a price to each retailer that they negotiate based on volume/size/promotion/etc, let the retailer charge whatever they damn well please, and do royalties that are not contingent on cover price.

#168 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:02 AM:

Charlie, I'm not at all sure that fewer links in the supply chain is going to work out well for the consumer. It's often the mediation of the retailer who is more directly answerable to consumer issues that prevents retail price maintenance. Seeing the agency model in action in other sectors makes me *extremely* wary of supporting it now for publishers.

In any case, this isn't simply a pricing war. It's a battle about the retail model for eBooks. It's disingenuous of Macmillan to suggest otherwise.

#169 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:36 AM:

Cheryl @ 168: It's a battle about the retail model for eBooks. It's disingenuous of Macmillan to suggest otherwise.

Are Macmillan suggesting otherwise? My reading of John Sargent's statement was that it was about the retail model for eBooks, and specifically that they want to move to an agency model as per the iTunes store etc.

On the downsides of the agency model, which sectors did you have in mind? In the one I'm familiar with - smartphone apps before and after the iPhone AppStore - the 70:30 agency model has been a powerful force in reducing prices, even as it's vastly increased overall sales by value. I don't know anyone, consumer, publisher or developer, who thinks things were better before the carriers got cut out of the supply chain.

#170 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 07:28 AM:

abi @ 42

Hmmm... sorry about that. (I don't think we're missing a firedrake (last seen behind the bar in the Lundquist Arms), but I'll check.

Apologies to the Gnomes.

Meanwhile, having dragged Keeper_of_the_Moose out from behind his copy of The Apocalypse Door in order to lend a hand with
profredding of HTML, here's another go at the Amazon MiniTrue link:

AmazonFail#3 - MiniTrue

#171 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 08:39 AM:

@Andy Wilton Perhaps I shouldn't call it an agency model, but the best example of the consequences of vertical integration is the Golden Age film industry. I'm sure a little bit of exploration of antitrust laws would come up with more examples of why retail price maintenance has failed (at least from the consumer perspective.)

I'm not sure that iPhone apps is a good example of what can happen, since there's no clear consolidation in that market. It becomes trickier in markets with only a few dominant players.

#172 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 08:45 AM:

John@143 --- didn't mean to disagree. As I noted, Amazon's offering their 70%-of-purchase royalty only with the acceptance of a whole bunch of conditions that conventional publishers would gag on. Every condition I mentioned (and some that I didn't) involves Amazon trying once again to grab for stuff that they've tried to grab for in the past, and failed. (And not just to the publishers. If you want the high rate, you can't turn off text-to-speech, or any other feature that Amazon might choose to add to the platform. IIRC, that fight was with the author's guild, which was worried about their members losing a separate revenue stream from audio books.)

I just meant to note that the fight seems to be more about the other conditions --- and particularly the availability and end-buyer price point for new works --- than about agency model per se vs. more traditional wholesaling.

#173 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 10:11 AM:

A note to those not directly financially involved: The Amazon article on WIkipedia needs some updating in light of the situation.

#174 ::: -dsr- ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 10:47 AM:

Now I'm wondering why we don't cut the chain down to:

author - publisher - searchable_tags - customer

with searchable_tags being a microformat that Google and Bing and who-cares can accumulate and index, listing all the relevant sales information and probably including a cover pic or three. Ebooks don't need physical distribution systems; there's no reason to buy them from Amazon or Powell's or any other distributor/whole-saler/retail outlet.

#175 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 10:52 AM:

-dsr- @174:
with searchable_tags being a microformat that Google and Bing and who-cares can accumulate and index, listing all the relevant sales information and probably including a cover pic or three.

LibraryThing as eBook vendor. What an interesting idea. (They have a substantial body of user-generated tags, as well as "if you liked this you might also like..." recommendations.)

#176 ::: Cirret ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 10:58 AM:

Linkmeister@151 - in slightly plainer language, because this bear of little brain had to give it some thought, a price point is (or is supposed to be) a sweet spot where a slightly higher price would bring down revenue by reducing demand, but a slightly lower price wouldn't increase demand enough to earn more revenue. What the market will bear, more or less. Is that fair?

#177 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 11:09 AM:

#163 Charlie

You missed a model--the one that the Harvard Book Store offers, where an individual author can do a non-exclusive contract for POD printing, POD in-store production and sales to store customers, and ebook distribution through the store's eboook site (book listed in the business' catalog), with item pricing specified by the author....

Amazon has pulled a number noxious nasty things, including via BookSurge-since-renamed-to-something-else printing and distributing books it did not have publication rights for and authors having to spend money out of their own pockets to hire lawyers to force Amazon to cease and desist....

Getting back to the first paragraph, though, the issues with self-publication include vetting and quality assessment and promotion/marketing/mindshare/publicity.

The Harvard Book Store in its pitch explicitly points out to prospective associates that it offers contact information for local people who do design and editing. While that's no guarantee of quality, it appears to be a key note as regards garbage-production-prevention. Also HBS has guidelines that a prospective associate needs to comply with; I have no idea what those guidelines are, or if HBS would have noticed various of the issues/defect with e.g. Atlanta Nights and pointed them out. (If someone really wants to pay someone else to produce a bad book....)

Getting attention for commercial sales to a buying market is a different issue, the world is already full of more books published in a year that someone can read in dozens of lifetimes....and even figuring out how to figure out what to pay attention to and how to find what to pay attention to, is a challenge....

Some additional possible models, would be to have geographically distributed concepts related to the one that HBS is implementing:
a) There is a publisher, but instead of going to a store and buying a copy of a mass produced printing of a book, there is an in-store POD machine. There may be a copy of the book on display as a sample--one of my perceptions of shortcomings about ebooks is that I can't go and randomly go into a copy and read sections to help decide whether or not to buy or not.
b) There is a publisher, go to an outlet and buy an electronic copy.
c) The outlet handles both POD and EOD (electronic on demand)
d) Pay-per-read.... Barnes & Noble in Burlington has 12 veteran overstuffed chairs and a bunch of other chairs. The overstuffed chairs get a lot of use of people going there to work on homework, or to skim through books and magazines. Sometimes they even buy books and magazines they've been skimming through. Once upon a time there used to be commercial lending libraries... public libraries in the USA took over the lending role with the book purchasing being paid for out of taxes; some parts of the USA libraries and the most popular in terms of people's willingness to pay taxes for services, government service.... Anyway, I wonder if there is a model where people would be willing to pay a fee for reading time, per book or content--this would different from "fee for article" in that the person would be paying for the duration of the time they're accessing the content.... it can take hours to read one of the big fat fantasy novels out there, and deciding 30 pages in "I don't want to continue reading this" one probably gets quite annoyed at having spent $14.99 for ebook reading privilege... Spending 4% of the full book access price, though, the person might feel, "it cost me something, but I didn't waste both my time and the cost of the full price for that turkey! I saved myself most of the cost of the book and satisfied my curiosity about it."

#178 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 11:14 AM:

#163 Charlie

You missed a model--the one that the Harvard Book Store offers, where an individual author can do a non-exclusive contract for POD printing, POD in-store production and sales to store customers, and ebook distribution through the store's eboook site (book listed in the business' catalog), with item pricing specified by the author....

Amazon has pulled a number noxious nasty things, including via BookSurge-since-renamed-to-something-else printing and distributing books it did not have publication rights for and authors having to spend money out of their own pockets to hire lawyers to force Amazon to cease and desist....

Getting back to the first paragraph, though, the issues with self-publication include vetting and quality assessment and promotion/marketing/mindshare/publicity.

The Harvard Book Store in its pitch explicitly points out to prospective associates that it offers contact information for local people who do design and editing. While that's no guarantee of quality, it appears to be a key note as regards garbage-production-prevention. Also HBS has guidelines that a prospective associate needs to comply with; I have no idea what those guidelines are, or if HBS would have noticed various of the issues/defect with e.g. Atlanta Nights and pointed them out. (If someone really wants to pay someone else to produce a bad book....)

Getting attention for commercial sales to a buying market is a different issue, the world is already full of more books published in a year that someone can read in dozens of lifetimes....and even figuring out how to figure out what to pay attention to and how to find what to pay attention to, is a challenge....

Some additional possible models, would be to have geographically distributed concepts related to the one that HBS is implementing:
a) There is a publisher, but instead of going to a store and buying a copy of a mass produced printing of a book, there is an in-store POD machine. There may be a copy of the book on display as a sample--one of my perceptions of shortcomings about ebooks is that I can't go and randomly go into a copy and read sections to help decide whether or not to buy or not.
b) There is a publisher, go to an outlet and buy an electronic copy.
c) The outlet handles both POD and EOD (electronic on demand)
d) Pay-per-read.... Barnes & Noble in Burlington has 12 veteran overstuffed chairs and a bunch of other chairs. The overstuffed chairs get a lot of use of people going there to work on homework, or to skim through books and magazines. Sometimes they even buy books and magazines they've been skimming through. Once upon a time there used to be commercial lending libraries... public libraries in the USA took over the lending role with the book purchasing being paid for out of taxes; some parts of the USA libraries and the most popular in terms of people's willingness to pay taxes for services, government service.... Anyway, I wonder if there is a model where people would be willing to pay a fee for reading time, per book or content--this would different from "fee for article" in that the person would be paying for the duration of the time they're accessing the content.... it can take hours to read one of the big fat fantasy novels out there, and deciding 30 pages in "I don't want to continue reading this" one probably gets quite annoyed at having spent $14.99 for ebook reading privilege... Spending 4% of the full book access price, though, the person might feel, "it cost me something, but I didn't waste both my time and the cost of the full price for that turkey! I saved myself most of the cost of the book and satisfied my curiosity about it."

#179 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 11:20 AM:

I think it was piranha who pointed out this blinding fact about ebook pricing: with ebooks, there's no alternative to paying full price other than piracy.

I am sometimes both willing and able to pay $15 for a book. Given I read about 50 books a year (that's tiny compared to some of the people here, but that's not my point), I am absolutely not rich enough to spend $15 on every book I read. If I didn't have libraries, loans and gifts from friends, used books, etc, I simply wouldn't be able to afford to read. And I wouldn't be able to find out which authors are worth spending a major part of my discretionary income on.

That's pretty much exactly what happens with ebooks: there are no cheap or free ways of sampling what's available. Therefore I end up... not buying ebooks at all. I don't care whether ebooks cost $10 or $15 or as much as a new hardback; as long as DRM prohibits sharing, recommending and reselling, I'm not buying ebooks.

#180 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 11:52 AM:

Tim@159: They could, but don't, represent italic and bold in ASCII in a readable way, to preserve information. (At least I don't think they do; they may have changed their policy.) However, the HTML editions (and others that I didn't mention) capture that, so I don't think it's fair to tar the whole enterprise as "corrupt by design". Given that the information is there, they should start including it in the ASCII editions, because I agree with you that it's important.

#181 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 12:00 PM:

Incidentally, Jim Henley is writing some great blog posts on this subject. I'd especially recommend his latest post.

#182 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 12:02 PM:

DD-B @180

There are people HTMLizing the older ASCII versions, but again, this does not proceed with blinding speed, as it's something various volunteers do in their free time when they're not doing yet other things.

#183 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 12:08 PM:

Do we need big retailers? Big ebook retailers, in the hypothetical future in which some form of ebook is the dominant publishing form? And will this shift increase or decrease the share of book buying done by "regular readers" (people who read frequently, as opposed to people who only grab a book if stuck unexpectedly in the airport for two hours)?

The more things concentrate in narrow channels, the more I think prices will constrain readers, and the extra money won't mostly flow to authors. I've been unhappy since lots of books started coming out ONLY in hardcover or trade paper editions; because those cost 2-3 times as much as MMPB (and take more storage space, and are harder to carry around, and so forth; they're somewhat more durable, though). Partly it's just "old-guy" syndrome; I still have paperbacks I bought new and paid a cover price of $0.40 for. The concept of paying 20 times that as the normal price offends me.

The kind of readers *I* know will seek out and find the books they want, whether they're sold from a mega-conglomerate, direct from the author's website, or somewhere else. This gives me hope, though nothing remotely resembling confidence, that a wildly diverse ecosystem of publishing / retailing might be viable.

#184 ::: Teiresias ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 12:22 PM:

I've never seen so many people in favor of a rise in prices for consumers! Oh well, enjoy paying the more expensive costs that don't get passed on to the authors.

#185 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 12:57 PM:

Teresias @184:

Oh well, enjoy paying the more expensive costs that don't get passed on to the authors.

First off, authors are not the only people in book production. And the other people in the process need a living wage, too.

For my part, I'm not desperate to buy books at sweatshop pay rates for the copyeditors, editors, designers and production people, much less endure what the lowest-priced such people will produce. Price does not trump quality, not in my reading matter.

Secondly, read what Teresa said @17:

That revenue source is what keeps a lot of publishing companies afloat. It provides the liquidity that enables them to buy and publish smaller and less commercially secure titles: odd books, books by unknown writers, books with limited but enthusiastic audiences, et cetera.

So the money does go to authors: first time authors, unknown quantities, niche authors, peripheral voices. It's what stocks the shelves with books by people other than Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer.

It's also the industry's seed corn, because you don't know in advance who the next JK Rowling is going to be.

#186 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:19 PM:

David Dyer-Bennett @ 180: That would help, but there's still no way to represent diacritical marks, Greek characters, etc.

The correct way to proceed is the same as for any other digitization project: make a master with the highest resolution practical (in this case probably something like UTF-8 marked up in some way; HTML or RTF might be good enough, but if not some form of XML); render lower-resolution versions from that master as necessary; make it available at whatever resolution the reader can handle.

The design error, in my opinion, was making the jump from "we need a future-proof, universally accessible version" to "all our versions must be future-proof and universally accessible." As a result, a fair amount of information (in the older books at least--I don't know their current process) has been lost, short of going back to the original documents.

All that said, "corrupt by design" sounds a little harsher than I meant it to, and of course I understand that there were many fewer good options available when they started, that hindsight is 20/20, and that in any case it's a lot easier for me to sit here and carp than for them to do it my way. Project Gutenberg is still totally awesome and one of the great achievements of the net.

#187 ::: Gavin Edwards ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:21 PM:

Re #184: I'm agnostic as to whether the Amazon distribution model or the Macmillan one is superior for consumers/authors/the industry--but I know I don't like seeing books yanked off shelves. So for the moment at least, Amazon has chosen to wear the black hat and the twirly mustache.

#188 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:26 PM:

#179 @individ-ewe-al

But there are lots of free ebooks, from recognizable publishing houses and authors, especially in SF. Cory Doctorow, Steve Brust, Peter Watts, lots of Baen authors, are available free in DRMless ebooks.

There are also lots of publishers and authors who offer a chapter or more as a sample.

#189 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:30 PM:

Cally Soukup @ 182: There are people HTMLizing the older ASCII versions

The ones I've seen, though, don't restore italics, diacritical marks, etc. from the original text, but rather just wrap the ASCII.

#190 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:39 PM:

Tim, I just looked at the Distributed Proofreaders link Cally posted (and boy do I wish I had time to get to the "hard poetry" level in time to proof the Skeat I have sitting on my bookshelf here)...and there are pulldown menus for all sorts of diacriticals and things.

#191 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 01:57 PM:

#156 @Cally Soukup

Cally, I go way back in terms of ebooks, and know Michael Hart in that context. I was a Gutenberg Project volunteer off and on for years; the last book I worked on was the Middle Scots Aeneid by Gavin Douglas. I've even delivered a paper about the workflow and nature of the distributed proofing model.

The multi-pass system is one of the many reasons I see Project Gutenberg books as professional ebooks/etexts. The standard is important, and adhered to. That's another reason. There's a QA system; that's a third.

#192 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 02:14 PM:

TexAnne @ 190: Cool. My complaints are probably out of date.

#193 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 02:14 PM:

This smells like a panic move on Amazon's part. I can't imagine the embargo lasting once the feedback loop closes.

#194 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 02:35 PM:

What happens to Macmillian if Amazon returns all their physical stock as unsold returns?

#195 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 02:37 PM:

Tim @ 186 & 189

Yes, in the older books, and in books that aren't produced by DP, there is loss of diacriticals. Some of the people doing HTMLization are putting them back; some presumably aren't. Since it's individual volunteers doing the work on their own, there's not always a standard.

For the past few years, DP has been strongly encouraging creating at least Latin-1 or UTF-8 plain text versions when there are diacriticals to preserve, and preferably also HTML versions along with the ASCII, so as to preserve formatting and diacriticals (not to mention Greek, Hebrew, and illustrations). Final uploaders no longer automatically generate ASCII versions of non-English etexts, either, recognizing that the loss of diacriticals often cripples the text. We do have a transliteration scheme for Greek in ASCII, but naturally it's not as good as the Greek itself.

For math-heavy works, there are also people working in LaTeX. And for books with music, instead of just including the scan of the image of the music in the book, we're often re-typesetting it so it's clearer, and even including mp3s so people can hear what it sounds like.

As tech gets better, DP and Gutenberg gets better.

Lisa @ 191:

Thanks! I'm glad you feel we do professional work. Not bad for a bunch of unpaid volunteers working in their spare time!

#196 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 02:46 PM:

TexAnne @190

If your Skeat is out of copyright, I can see if I can find someone to Project Manage it through DP for you, given scans. Poetry takes longer than fiction to go through DP as a general rule, because fewer people enjoy proofing and formatting it, not to mention post-processing it (putting it together as a finished ebook), but given a few years, it could be on PG.

Of course, PG does allow individuals to produce their own etexts, as well, if you'd like to go that route.

If you let me know what the title and publication date is, I can check copyright for you, and find out if anyone's officially working on adding it to PG already.

#197 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 02:48 PM:

I've been reading about this on several sites, and the following came to mind:

1. One of the big problems with eBook pricing is that most consumers just don't buy the argument that they cost as much to produce as printed books. It's easy enough to find out why and how they cost the same, on balance, but I'm not sure a lot of people will take the time to dig up that information.
The other thing is that in making the ebooks-cost-nothing argument, there's an underlying assumption that every book sells enough copies to cover initial production costs, which, from what I gather, is hardly the case. That's one aspect that publishers haven't been able to publicize enough.

2. There have been a lot of comparisons between music and books when the discussion goes into piracy. DRM aspect aside, I'm a bit puzzled by this, because music and books just aren't consumed the same way. You can multitask with music; on a single day, you can listen to a hundred tracks while doing other things (jogging, making dinner, working, commuting to work). It's not exactly easy to read while chopping vegetables or driving on the freeway.
My question is: do people who read pirated ebooks download them the way people download pirated music? Is someone who reads a book a month downloading 300 books just because it's possible?

3. Serials have worked well in the past, and iTunes haven't done too badly with the 0.99 cents/track, 9.99/album model. Could publishers adopt something like a buck-a-chapter, tenner-a-book model, or is this too expensive or complicated to implement?
I see several advantages to me-the-consumer: I can buy the first three chapters and not feel like I wasted too much money if I don't like the book after all; I can pay the full price if I do; and if I can't afford to shell out $15 for the whole book, I can at least buy it on a chapter-by-chapter basis, which may cost me more in the end but is more manageable in the short run.

#198 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 03:04 PM:

Cally, 196: Thank you, but I don't want the etext--I just really love the idea of proofing the same edition of Chaucer my grandfather taught from. Scholarship transmitting itself from word of mouth, to manuscript, to print, to electrons, makes me giddy.

#199 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 03:17 PM:

I never stated that publishers and their employees aren't entitled to a fair wage. What I did state was that book prices should be in line with the cost of living in different areas of the country. Otherwise, you not only further segregate the country into more exclusive areas where some people are well educated and have access to lots of books of all sorts, but you create another where the people become even worse off. Eventually, the industry finds itself subsisting on a smaller and smaller market and that leads to fewer jobs for those who work in publishing.

In other words, it's like the gasoline market. Some areas pay more while others pay less. In effect, some areas subsidize others just like it once was with telephone service. By the way, I last paid $2.47 a gallon when I filled my car a few days ago. Odds are you pay more than I do and I know that's very likely because I can drive less than five miles to find the same gasoline for ten cents more per gallon and it gets worse the closer I drive to a large city.

#200 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 03:18 PM:

I like the pricing model that Packt Publishing uses, where ebook PDF files when bought alone are priced as a fairly hefty percentage of the physical book price (which I presume means the author gets a decent chunk for writing the book), but the physical book plus ebook bundle has a steep discount for the ebook. Yes, the physical book is still a bit less expensive on Amazon, but the added benefit of the non-Kindle ebook bundle far outweighs that, at least for me. Plus PDF, yay, you know.

#201 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 03:20 PM:

Cirret @ #176, I think you've got it. My econ classes were 32 years in the past.

Current slightly pertinent example: MMPs have been at $7.99 for quite a while, and I've paid that price. Recently some have gone up to $9.99. I've concluded that I'll haunt used bookstores for the higher-priced ones, because $10 for a paperback is too much for my wallet. Demand at the $10 price has gone down at my microeconomic level. The price point was set too high. (If the price had gone to $8.99 first? I dunno.)

#202 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 03:29 PM:

Cadbury Moose #40: but this is actually the _fourth_ AmazonFail - the third being the summary deletion of paid-for copies of 1984 from
various people's Kindles.

Ah, right, so Amazon actually has conquered the technical challenge of how to remainder an ebook: ex post facto. heh.

#203 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 03:31 PM:

#188 @ Lisa: oh, I know free ebooks exist. I'm both a volunteer and a consumer at Project Gutenberg. I don't need a free trial to be able to decide whether I'm comfortable reading ebooks in general; I've already decided!

The problem is that I need free or cheap samples of the specific books I'm considering buying. The fact that Doctorow has free books out is pretty useless in helping me decide whether to spend $15 on the latest Elizabeth Bear. I don't like long fantasy series on the whole, so the marketing ploy of giving away the first book in a series in the hope that people will pay for the sequels doesn't appeal to me. Reading sample chapters to see whether I will like the whole book feels like squandering my reading time somehow.

I did like Scalzi's suggestion that ebooks could be expensive at the time of release, but get cheaper when they're no longer the latest new thing. I could get behind that, but it's not what happens at the moment.

#204 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 03:39 PM:

individ-ewe-al @179 said with ebooks: there are no cheap or free ways of sampling what's available.

My local public library offers a service, through the Maryland Digital eLibrary Consortium, where you (so it says - I haven't tried) can download books in pdf or EPUB format. They "return themselves" after 7 or 14 days, which I take to mean that the download deletes itself in some way. Their selection of new genre is not good, alas. (The selection of new genre in dead tree edition is not great either.) But better than nothing. They do audiobooks, too.

Lisa Spangenburg @188 said There are also lots of publishers and authors who offer a chapter or more as a sample. The hard thing about this is finding them. If I have heard of Author A's book and want to find out if I'm interested, I can go look, but if I haven't heard of Author A's book I'm unlikely to stumble over it this way. Something that enables this browsing feature across publishers and with multiple ways of searching available offerings would be really useful.

Speaking solely as a customer of Amazon, their value to me is/was their comprehensiveness and status as an "honest broker." I could use them to browse widely, keep up with what was new and upcoming, and order things from multiple genres and multiple publishers easily. (Perhaps a little too easily, but that's a whole nother kettle of fish.) When they do this - when they fix it so that great swathes of material don't show up through their lens - they damage that value.

#205 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 03:40 PM:

TexAnne @198

I can certainly understand that; it would be a serious coolness!

#206 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 03:55 PM:

OtterB (204): Yes, my library (consortium) also offers downloadable ebooks (and audiobooks, which we experimented with first). The licensing expires after 14(?) days, but it's not clear to me whether the file itself disappears automatically. We use Overdrive, but there may be other companies supplying similar services to libraries.

#207 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 04:01 PM:

Tim@186: I agree about good design, best master, etc. I don't think the tools to work with Unicode were very good when they started.

And it's certainly totally awesome, what they're doing.

At lunch today I suddenly imagined a scene, or at least background detail, for a moderate-future story (I don't do stories, but sometimes I do ideas for bits): The formal event where Project Gutenberg disbands, because they've finished.

As to current process: I know they're capturing diacriticals and Greek letters, at least, because I worked on some things that had them a while ago.

(Trivial nit: My last name ends with a single "t", not double. No biggy.)

#208 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 04:31 PM:

In other words, it's like the gasoline market. Some areas pay more while others pay less. In effect, some areas subsidize others just like it once was with telephone service. By the way, I last paid $2.47 a gallon when I filled my car a few days ago. Odds are you pay more than I do and I know that's very likely because I can drive less than five miles to find the same gasoline for ten cents more per gallon and it gets worse the closer I drive to a large city.

I'm not intimately familiar with the gasoline retail industry, but I don't think differences in gasoline prices are actually a subsidy of some areas by other areas. I'd look first at real estate costs, taxes, wages, and other costs of operating a gas station, which are likely to vary a lot from place to place. (On a larger scale, difficulty of getting wholesale gas from a refining plant to you may also play a role, e.g., in the mountains.)

Presumably it's hard for book prices to exhibit the same kind of variation partly because the price is printed on the book, and partly because books are a durable good purchased infrequently, which makes people more likely to be willing to go where they're cheaper if there is a substantial difference. There's only so far you can drive for cheaper gas before it becomes self-defeating, and you can't buy a month's worth of gas in one trip even if you wanted to.

#209 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 04:31 PM:

DD-B, 207: Sounds like the secular humanist version of "The Nine Billion Names of God."

#210 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 05:14 PM:

Pendrift @ 197, you have hit upon what sounds, to my ears, like a Clever Bit. The amount of text in the 99¢ sample file could be, to pick an arbitrary measure, the same amount now found in the back of some MMPs after a page proclaiming "Don't Miss So-and-So's Next Thrilling Adventure..." and perhaps end with a link to buy either the rest of the book at the list price less the 99¢ you already paid, or the next 99¢ segment of such length that buying the whole book by segments would be, say, a 15-20% markup from buying it all at once.

Industry folk, does this sound like a reasonable model?

#211 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 05:34 PM:

Tireisias, #184: Welcome to Making Light. Your comment might carry a little more weight if it showed any evidence of having read (or, perhaps, of having understood) all the nuances already discussed earlier in the thread, rather than looking like a corporate sound-bite.

#212 ::: Dave Slusher ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:03 PM:

Stand down, Macmillan soldiers. Looks like Amazon is surrendering .

I didn't notice anyone in this thread bringing up the fact that the position Amazon was fighting against makes them more money per Kindle book. 30% of $15 is certainly more than they are making per unit at $9.99. Now that Macmillan has won, let's see how many units they move per title and whether they make more or less profit. I'll wager $10 with anyone that the higher price will be offset by far lower unit sales and lead to higher margins but lower total profits for all participants in the chain.

#213 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:04 PM:

-dsr- @174: Ebooks don't need physical distribution systems; there's no reason to buy them from Amazon or Powell's or any other distributor/whole-saler/retail outlet.

Except inasmuch as Amazon or Powell's fulfills the aggregation role you forsee Google or Bing playing. It's nice to be able to just know that something will be available on Amazon (or, I should say, it was nice... grr).

abi @30: I'm interested to find out if this incident breaks the perception of Amazon as a viable replacement for Books in Print.

It sure as hell annoys me, but even as an amateur librarian I won't switch to using Books in Print until I can easily and cheaply get access to it. (I tend to interpret "to get access, talk to our sales people" as "if you have to ask, you can't afford it". Amazon's primary advantage for me is that it's free.)

#214 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:07 PM:

Regarding Wikipedia, someone from an IP (24.131.17.145) apparently out of Pittsburgh added the following passage to both the Amazon.com and the Macmillan Wikipedia entries:

Following the announcement of the Apple iPad on January 27 2010, MacMillan entered into a pricing dispute with Amazon.com regarding electronic publications. MacMillan attempted to force Amazon to accept a new pricing scheme it had worked out with Apple, which would have resulted in higher revenue and a price hike of nearly $5 per book for consumers. In response to what it considered an ultimatum, Amazon pulled all of MacMillan's books, both electronic and physical, from their website (although affiliates selling the books were still listed). The CEO of MacMillan officially confirmed the dispute over the following weekend. [103][104]
What's interesting is Amazon's claimed motivations when Amazon has yet to make a public statement.

#215 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:16 PM:

. . . or maybe the Amazon POV is coming from discussions within its site. #212 (Dave Slusher) link to a statement from the Kindle team with the interesting passage we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles. (Um, and I guess David and I have a "monopoly" over the rights to our future books.)

#216 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:18 PM:

#212 Stand down, Macmillan soldiers. Looks like Amazon is surrendering.

Too little, too late.

I am continuing to remove Amazon links from all the places that I've put them over the years. I will not stop until that job is done.

They need to be taught a lesson.

#217 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:33 PM:

RE #216: I think I am the one who learned the lesson. Bezos can learn or not learn. I wish him well.

Here is what I learned: I had been lazy and sloppy both in my online buying habits and in my linking habits. I bought lots of stuff from Amazon just because I was too lazy to walk across the room and get my credit card and they already had it on file. I knew there were problems with buying from them. But Amazon had to really rub my nose in the doodoo for me to be willing to live differently.

So I have taken the time to see where people might get my books other than Amazon, and I've got a pretty long list. Here it is:

Angus & Robertson
Barnes & Noble
Blackwell Bookshop
Bob Brown & Associates
Book Passage
BookPeople
Books & Books
Books Inc.
Books-a-Million
Borders
Boulder Book Store
Brookline Booksmith
Changing Hands Bookstore
Cold Tonnage Books
Collins Booksellers
Dark Carnival Bookstore
Harvard Book Store
IndieBound
Indigo
Canada
Kepler's Books
L. W. Currey
Canada
Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore
Politics and Prose
Porter Square Books
Powell's Books
Rainy Day Books
Schuler Books & Music
Strand Bookstore
Tattered Cover Book Store
The Book Stall at Chestnut Court
The Elliott Bay Book Company
The University Book Store
Tor.com Store
Watermark Books

Some of these stores are run by my friends, some are great store that I'd never noticed had started selling online. In some cases I've done events there. Some are places I've never heard of that have nice sites.

Why on Earth was I linking so casually and freely to Amazon? What was I thinking?

(Links to these stores are now in my sidebar.)

#218 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:35 PM:

(The Canadas in the list are an editing error.)

#219 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:36 PM:

Kathryn Cramer @215: Well, copyright is a monopoly. It's a monopoly granted by the government "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries," but it's still a monopoly. Inasmuch as you license your copyright to your publishers, it's then your publishers' monopoly.

#220 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:43 PM:

Monopoly is also a board game. Usage matters.

Anyway, NYT takes note of Amazon's concession.

Are our books back yet?

#221 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:43 PM:

Dave Kuzminski: The gasoline model isn't a very good analogy. The seller has a capped profit, and the producer charges what they like. ARCO used to have (my second stepfather worked for them, I don't know if this is still the case now), a station which was supplied from the refinery.

They charged a premium. Why? Because they could. They assumed employees would stop there out of company loyalty, and they added abut 5 cents a gallon (when the going rate was about $.80 per gallon). I've seen prices jump 10-15 cents per gallon, in a mile. The cost to the refiner hasn't really changed, and the only real difference I can see... the more expensive gas is in the poorer parts of town.

#222 ::: Dave Slusher ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:44 PM:

Kathryn@215 , the language in the Amazon post is definitely weird and slanted but then so was John Sargent's. When there is a fumble, you always point like your team got the ball. It's all part of the game.

I have to say that I'm increasingly less willing to be morally invested in corporate negotiations between large businesses. The constant umbrage is too exhausting. What I do like very much is the people suggesting switching affiliate links to Powells. It's a better alignment of money and mouth than a boycott. If lots of people did that, maybe it would erode Amazon dominance and force them to be more competitive over time.

If y'all really want to be activist, why not a genre wide push to convince all SF/F/H authors to switch to the Powells.com affiliate program (or other similar ones from the indy world)? If you don't like the big guys flexing muscles, put them on a diet.

PS - between writing and previewing the comment, I see Kathyn doing just that. Right on, sister. Don't forget you can buy e-texts directly from Book View Cafe . I bought Ursula K. Le Guin's King Dog for $5 from BVC and read it on my Kindle. I found it a great read and a very fair price.

#223 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:46 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 207: (Trivial nit: My last name ends with a single "t", not double. No biggy.)

D'oh! Sorry about that. What's scary is that I double-checked that at least once. That thing where there are typos in any message complaining about typos? Powerful stuff.

#224 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:51 PM:

Kevin Riggle@219: Exactly. The way Amazon puts it kind of reads as if they were thinking, "If only that pesky copyright didn't exist, we could publish cheaper editions for you all instead." I don't think that's what they'd intended. The kerfuffle with 1984 shows, among other things, that Amazon is serious about protecting copyright.

#225 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 06:52 PM:

Amazon may have conceded, but they haven't fixed the damage yet.

Test link. That's where the Kindle edition of Year's Best Fantasy 9 ought to be. When I click it, Amazon still asks "Looking for something?"

#226 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 07:20 PM:

Tim@223: two house closings ago, roughly, the closer couldn't transcribe my name correctly from where it was printed in a nice clean large font on the check, onto the documents. It took her SIX tries to finally get it right! (At least she made no attempt to claim that it wasn't important to get it right.) (I suppose in that context, since my wife and I were buying the house together, it should be "our name", but in this context that also encourages the inference that the hyphenation was something we created, and that's false; the hyphenation came down from my great-grandfather, and my wife chose to adopt it despite all my warnings about how often it was misspelled.)

#227 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 07:32 PM:

@TexAnne #190

Depending on what you want that Skeat edited, it's probably available via the Oxford Text Archive.

I think Amazon looked at Gillette/Xerox/Ink Jet printers and thought--that's our model.

Gillette just about gave away razors, Xerox gave incredible deals on photocopiers, and many ink jet printers did give them away or charged under 50.00 for a color printer.

But. Gillette had a lock in on the razor blades; for a long time, you could only get them from Gilette. Xerox used to have a lock in on paper and toner. Lots of ink jet printers took a loss on the printer (or sold at cost) but the cartridges were $40.00 to even $80.00, you at first had to replace all of them, even if only was was empty, and the cartridges were proprietary and tied to the printer type.

I think Amazon thought they could do that with the Kindle, and DRM. I think they thought "We will make the Kindle. We will price it so it is just within reach of lots of reading fanatics. We will then price the books so that they only buy ebooks from us."

But they, unlike Gillette, or Xerox, are the only market for the content. They don't, in fact, control the content. Publishers license it from authors.

And Kindle isn't the only reader in town. In fact, 5 million devices, while not shabby, isn't really that much when you think about how many devices with ereaders there are.

And then you have to think about the fact that it's early adopters, geeks, and book fanatics, who are going to read ebooks.

And I think they didn't realize that most of us who are ebook fanatics also buy printed books.

I think Amazon may have something in common with the underwear gnomes. Press

#228 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 07:49 PM:

The post on the Amazon site seems to be from the Kindle team, rather than Amazon top management. Although they are at the heart of the dispute, I doubt they could get the physical books pulled from Amazon. Announcing the inevitable capitulation, however true, is really odd.

Overall, I'm not really not happy about books I want to buy disappearing, and I'm not sure as a book buyer I want Macmillan setting the retail price on books.

I do know I want professionally produced (edited, copyedited, designed, etc) books and ebooks, and I want to be able to continue to buy them.

#229 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 08:57 PM:

Dave Kuzminski:

Which way do you want the imbalance to go? Should I pay less for books, to make up for the fact that I'm paying a lot more for housing and electricity than people in most parts of the U.S.? Or is the assumption that because it already costs me more for some things, I should pay more for everything?

If the latter, because you're assuming that I'm also paid more than if I lived in Kansas, how do you price books for people who are living on social security, or in civil service jobs that pay the same wherever in the country the person is assigned? (There are other flaws in that assumption, including that people are working for minimum wage—or, effectively, less, if they work in retail and their employers are imposing things like unpaid overtime—in places with high costs of living.) And what if a person in an area you've zoned for expensive books has a relative in a low-price zone who wants to buy her a birthday present?

If we're going to try socialism in one country, let's actually share the wealth: justice does not mean a poor person in one area of the country should pay more for a book than a rich person in another area.

#230 ::: Jan Vaněk jr. ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 09:45 PM:

Re abi @42 (or should any of the ML Gnomes read this), or perhaps rather Cadbury Moose @170 to explain: This happens quite regularly when people fail to put the URL in the HREF parameter of A tag into quotes (which - as you know, Bob - is allowed on much of the web, like the comment interface of Blogger.com, though not in XHTML that is ML's DTD [I really don't see why: just this page is invalid 153 times as of the time of writing]). The server then discards the whole parameter without explicit warning though it can indeed be spotted in preview, even in the textarea for the comment source. (And I discovered that in this case there's a nested A tag: The source looks, "<a> What about their MiniTrue affair?<a></a></a>" [leading space sic] which might be an artifact of the server's algorithm rather than the actual input. Well, let me try it at once: parameter-less A and unquoted - hmm, no nesting in preview; so perhaps really just a copypasting mishap.)

A couple years ago, I suggested that stressing this and the consequent cruciality of quotes in the HTML help above the comments form would be a simple prevention; I still think so.

#231 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 10:02 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @#226: To my eyes, your way of spelling it seems like the only right way...probably because I grew up with a few beloved LPs that bore the name Dyer-Bennet.

#232 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 10:20 PM:

Earl @ 138: Has anyone figured out how and author could autograph or inscribe an ebook?

That reminds me of the scene in The Diamond Age where the benefactor asks if he can write a dedication on the book, and the developer instead of a yes/no answer starts in on a geeky explanation of how the medium inherits from both output-paper and input-paper.

#233 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 11:09 PM:

Hmmm, buy buttons still not back.

#234 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 11:15 PM:

#203 @individ-ewe-al

Ebooks that decline in price, in part because of the release of a paperback, following a hardcover, and often, because of an even less expensive re-issue or a book club edition, were standard long before Amazon. It goes back in my persona experience in terms of licensing books to at least 1994. It is also exactly the model John Sargent of Macmillan is proposing:

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.

http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/lunch/macmillan_30jan10.html

#197 @Pendrift

Serials, like publishing by subscription, are both very old models, and yes, they've been tried with ebooks. Serials were tried by Stephen King, and Bill Gibson, and Baen via Baen's Universe. It didn't work -- though the Baen's bundled monthly release via Web Scriptions as far as I can tell have worked quite well, from a book buyer's POV.

I think the experience of Analog and other SF/F magazines as downloadable versions is very much worth following, though, again, my data is based on buying them. I don't know about the incremental micropayment scheme working; it hasn't worked well for Amazon.

What I do know is that for the last twenty years, most of the people buying ebooks, even on Kindle have at least sometimes bought the same book in multiple formats, much like music lovers will buy digital, CDs, and DVDs and even vinyl of the same album. I also know that people like objects that they can control, and fondle, and that only one ebook format of the many I use (and I'm defining ebook here as digital data with a specialized GUI for reading a book) only one has lasted ten years; I can still read files in one ebook format that I bought in 2000. (I am not counting the Baen HTMl files, and I did not buy Mobi format or anything but HTML from them for a while).

#235 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 11:15 PM:

The examples I offered may not be good for comparison purposes, but they did show that there are price ranges based on where one lives. It's different with books where one price is being charged regardless of where. I'm not advocating socialism, but I was trying to point out that I felt and still do that book prices are too high in some areas. So which area of the country are those prices based upon? I don't know but I do know that books that can disappear when the technology changes and frequently have DRM to deal with simply shouldn't cost as much as paperbacks and hard covers which have a longer life span.

#236 ::: Elyse M. Grasso ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 11:36 PM:

A semi-OT note about B&M bookstores: I'm on a business trip living in a hotel quite close to both a Borders and a Barnes & Noble. I stopped by both stores this weekend and was reminded why I have been spending far less money in brick and mortar bookstores lately than I did even a couple of years ago: their stock is sparse and their selection is worse. Half-empty shelves and lots of books by a few big-name authors (some of whom haven't done anything major in years) and very little else.

Browsing isn't much use if there is nothing to browse. If I did not hear about new and interesting authors and books on-line (Tor.com, Whatever, various other blogs), I would never encounter them at all, because they never show up on the shelves (Do Daniel Abraham's books actually exist anywhere other than the SF Book Club?).

I don't think the publishers OR the booksellers are doing a very good job of getting books into the hands of readers. And don't doubt that the publishers' computers are dinging the authors for lack of sales.

#237 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 11:37 PM:

Lisa, #233: I think your analogy to music is a little off. People who buy the same album in multiple formats generally do so because of advances in technology -- I slowly replaced a lot of my vinyl albums and cassette tapes with CDs because of the increase in shelf life. However, I have NOT bought mp3 versions of anything I already own on CD because I don't like paying for the same thing twice, and the technology to rip my own mp3 files is free (CDex) and very easy to use, and I still prefer to buy things on CD because I want the equivalent of hard-copy. The point at which I buy mp3 files directly is when I want only a couple of songs off an album.

I view books very similarly. I like owning the hard-copy, and in fact have not gotten into the whole e-book craze at all; and when I buy more than one copy of a book, it's generally because the first one has been read to the point of falling apart, not because I want to have copies in different formats. Obviously, there are people who like e-books for reasons I don't share, such as the bathtub readers upthread -- this is not a one-size-fits-all equation.

WRT visual media, the switch from VCR to DVD happened because it carried many of the same advantages as the switch from vinyl to CD. But now there's starting to be a backlash against the marketing droids wanting to make people replace all their DVDs again with Blu-Ray, because many people do not see enough of an improvement in the new format to make it worthwhile.

Bottom line: a new format has to offer the consumer something that they consider a genuine advantage before they'll buy it.

#238 ::: paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2010, 11:51 PM:

This is all very interesting and actually very salient to a class I took in college. In 1977 or 78. John Langford taught a class on book publishing, in the journalism school, at the University of Kansas.

He taught us how to read contracts, which I bless him for every day. He handed out a standard hardback fiction book contract and the graded exercise was to highlight in one way the responsibilities of the publisher and in another way the responsibilities of the authors.

It has to be the best thing I learned in college Evah.

Well, except for editing from John Bremner, who looked like most peoples' vision of Jehovah, six-foot-tall, flowing, curling white hair and beard and booming voice, full of disapproval if he asked you an editing question and you answered wrong. He had been a Jesuit but fell in love with a nun. They ended up being married and he ended up being a professor at U. Kans.

#239 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 12:34 AM:

#237 @Lee

No, really, I'm talking about true music fans, and true specific author fans. I'm not only talking about me (I have multiple editions of Emma Bull's War for the Oaks, because, yes, there are differences, and the Tor hardcover is better) but people who have multiple versions of audio CDs by their favorite band.

I bought Whisperado in MP3 because I couldn't get the CD locally, but then I bought the CD so I could have the object (and get it signed).

PNH--How many versions of the same Beatles albums on CD do you have? Most Beatles fans I know bought the stereo and the mono boxed sets.

I'm talking about people like this guy. I'm talking about people like me who bought a Baen E-Arc, at a higher price by a particular author, then bought the official release ebook, and yes, I also bought the hardcover.

Right now, ebook readers are people who, generally speaking, have disposable income. They have computer, cell phones, or other devices with ebook ability. They have easy access to the Internet. They are book fanatics, and early adapters in terms of technology.

They are fans, of one sort or another, and bibliophiles.

#240 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 12:41 AM:

I just finished reading the ARC of Connie Willis' Blackout. It's a book that I fiercely want an e-copy of on my laptop, which goes everywhere with me.

I would willingly and joyfully scrape together a LOT of money for All Clear in pretty much any format. Ebook, ARC, hardcover, loose-leaf binder....

And when these books come out (Blackout has a Feb 2 release date, I believe) I'll most certainly be buying ink and paper copies, as well.

#241 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 01:26 AM:

Lisa, #239: Okay, obviously I'm not a REAL music fan by your standards. (I also have ethics, unlike your linked example.) To me, things like the endless re-releases of the same Beatles collections in New!Improved!Formats! are primarily marketing hype intended to separate completists from their money. But then, I'm cynical that way.

And it just occurred to me that one thing which would make me much more receptive to the whole e-book idea would be BookChips. Give me the e-reader and let me buy books on SD cards, and you might convince me that it's the CD revolution all over again. But I want to be the one in control of what loads to my e-reader, and I REALLY don't like the idea of Amazon (or anyone else) being able to remotely access said reader and delete something at will.

#242 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 03:05 AM:

#234 Lisa

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller serialized the drafts of Fledgling and Saltation with the readers paying for the serialization. Later Baen picked up both books for print and ebook publication.

The difference perhaps was an motivated readership base which wanted the story and were sufficiently motivated to fork out the money, also, there was a "contribute at least $15 and if printed editions of the book get produced, you will get a printed edition of the book you contributed at least $15 for."

#243 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 03:54 AM:

Lisa @234, Paula @242: I wasn't thinking of traditional serialization à la Green Mile for ebooks, but rather two buying options—a "buy book" / "buy chapter" system, where buying the book outright would cost maybe 20% less than buying all chapters individually. It'd be like offering tracks of a 12-track album for 99 cents each, and the entire album at $9.99.

I am actually irritated by serials, both in print* and on TV. It's one of the reasons I don't watch sitcoms whose episodes can't stand alone, unless I have the boxed set. But when I'm checking out a new author, this would be a nice option to have. From my perspective as a former student who couldn't afford a fridge for a few months, it'd be great if I could start reading a book without dropping $13 on it in one go if I can't spare the cash.

*Book series are fine because most books are novels in their own right even though they fit into a larger story arc or world.

#244 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 07:46 AM:

Pendrift @#243: One of my favorite things about Tivo (and other DVRs) is being able to aggregate serials before watching them.

#245 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 08:00 AM:

Lee, 241: BRILLIANT. Sign me up. (Just as long as it's Mac-compatible; my MacBook doesn't have an SD slot.)

#246 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 09:26 AM:

Mary@231: Not even all of those got it right (the ones on his own record label did; but some of the records from other music labels spelled his name wrong on the jacket).

#247 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 09:52 AM:

Pendrift @ 243... One of the few series I follow is Fringe. Each episode pretty much stands on its own, but, if it's going to need some knowledge from previous stories, they usually put a montage from those episodes that'll make it easier to understand what's going on. The show is worth watching, by the way, if only because of the exchanges between Peter and his crazy-scientist father, Walter.

"I built a time machine once."
"Did it work?"

#248 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 10:05 AM:

Serge @#247: I think one of my favorite lines was actually Peter to Olivia. She says she's known she wanted to be a cop since the age of nine, and Peter replies, "When I was nine I think I wanted to be a brontosaurus."

When he heard that one, Liam remarked that for a while he considered being Rin Tin Tin. :)

#249 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 10:24 AM:

Carrie S @ 248... Heheheh

"The only thing better than a cow is a human! Unless you need milk. Then you really need a cow."

That explains why Walter keeps a cow in his lab.

#250 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 10:30 AM:

Lee (241): Yes! to BookChips. My friend, who maybe wants a Kindle, and I have been saying that for years (and were just discussing that again). It would help with the borrowing problem, too. Libraries could circulate the chips, or you could lend them to a friend.

#251 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 11:20 AM:

Serge @#249: "Am I required to keep him alive?"

Mary Aileen @#250, Lee et al: I think book chips are a perfectly fabulous idea, as long as they don't do the thing you know they'd try to do, where you can only read a given book chip on a limited number of registered readers. (See also: iPod)

#252 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 12:58 PM:

CarrieS (251): Absolutely. The whole point of the BookChips idea (at least for me) is that they could be read anywhere.

#253 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 01:39 PM:

One issue with Book Chips is that the media/production costs too much at the moment.

I don't know what the physical book production costs for a paperback are, but the Book Chip would need commensurate manufacturing and packaging costs.

The chip would be say a flash ROM or whatever the tech gets called these days, unless someone were willing to dedicate a production line making non-rewritable ROM chips, with the content burned into them in the actual production of the silicon chip itself before packaging it even into a packaged with leads into and out of the silicon chip inside the package.

There would have to be infastructure to write the book content to the chip...

Flash ROM is a relative on what's on the cards used in digital cameras and such... with a Book Chip one wouldn't need the hundreds of thousands of cycles of being able to write, erase, overwrite, etc.

Memory cards these days cost several dollars with no content on them and no segmented marketing--that is, San Disk and such make the things in quantities of tens of millions and sell them packaged up by the tens of millions in identical packaging and types of packaging.

Book Chips the options could be prepackaged (two million chip of Twilight--hmm, now THAT has a giant hairball, because it eliminates international borders, a file is a file is a file, and the same SD card of JPEG images opens on any SD card-reader-equipped personal computer running one of the standard operating systems, in the world, for view....)... the chips get made in China or elsewhere mostly in eastern Asia, and get distributed all over the world...)

with the prepackaging including promo marketing text and graphics, and the book content-perhaps even in multiple languages! on the card. Addtionaly as with DVDs there could be bonus materil --author interview, graphics, etc.

Another option would be for distributor and/or retailer to have blank Chips, and burn the content to the Chip, with labeling equipment to label the chips with the content written on them...

There are craft analogies, which are rip-offs. E.g., there are Cricut cartridges to cut shapes-letters, numbers, emblems..., the cards for embroidery machines which look like sewing machines to embroider Disney charcter etc. onto fabric, cards for craft printers to print images from the cards -- which tend to run $49.99 at a minimum for the cards with design to cut/print/embroider.

The cards and cartridge have flash memory in them generally--and cost a lot more as prodcuts, than most people are willling to pay for a book....

There are other issues, such as security, and relibility. A book with a torn page is repairable as regards reading generally, damaged books have some pages still readable otherwise. damaged chip is generally completely junk.

Regarding security, if someone wants to have the book on their ereading device, what mechanisms (including one which could be purely socialization.... most people don't find their cars turned into advertising placards not because it's directly expensive to spray paint cards with ad copy with a stencil and spray paint, but because people's socialization is that they don't -do- that.... it doesn;t occur to most people as an option, and people it does occur to generaly regard it as inappropriate/wrong/not worthwhile (e.g., I give it as an example of something that COULD be done, but isn't... but there are lots of people who plaster promotional stickers and spraypaint buildings, lampposts, walls.... ) are there to try to limit unauthorized redistribution of copies but still provide convenience to the authorized user (what about being able to load up the ereader with thousands of books)? And how noxious would it be if there were security, and what restrictions etc. might it involve and inconvenience and such?

#254 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:20 PM:

Re: serials, I'm not sure if they're perfectly comparable to the kind of ebooks the current discussion is focusing on, but Lawrence Watt-Evans has had some mixed success with serializing three novels that Tor wasn't interested in. The first two were Ethshar novels -- that series had a strong fan base, but not quite large enough I suppose to sell as many copies as his other fantasy novels; the serials brought in enough contributions to roughly equal the advance he would have gotten from a publisher, IIRC. The third serial was a sequel to Nightside City (IMO his best science fiction novel, and better than many of his fantasies), which had fewer fans than the Ethshar series; contributions stopped coming in after a few chapters. He finished the book and sent it privately to those of us who'd contributed already, but stopped posting new chapters on the serials website. I think he's said that hasn't discouraged him from doing more serials, and that there will probably be more Ethshar serials sometime when he's not busy with higher-paying work.

Dave Kuzminski @235:

In general, the differing prices of things in different areas of the country are probably due to two things -- transportation costs from the place the things come from, and overhead costs (esp. lease/rental of store space) for the retailer. I suspect the latter is the largest component in the differing costs of e.g. groceries and gasoline between cities, suburbs and rural areas. Why doesn't that make books as well as groceries cheaper in rural areas than in suburbs and small towns? Actually, I think it does, but not in the expected way: rural areas and small towns generally can't support new bookstores at all, and may only have used bookstores and thrift stores, but the book prices in said used bookstores are generally lower than in the used bookstores found in cities and suburbs. The differences in real estate costs between different cities across the country probably isn't big enough, relative to all the other costs in the book supply chain, to make a noticable difference in retail prices in the new bookstores.

#255 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:43 PM:

"Reverse auction" pricing: One thing that's important in publishing now is getting the people who are willing to to shell out the bucks for the hardcover (for books with a big enough audience to get both hardcover and paperback editions).

The basic mechanism for this is to publish the hardcover first, and the paperback a year (or sometimes more) later. This apparently works reasonably well, it's been going on for a long time.

Are two distinct physical packages necessary for this? (There are other benefits to one or the other package; I'm talking ONLY about the relevance of the packaging to the pricing.) The general impression that the hardcover is a classier package may play into people being willing to pay more for it (and I find they're popular as gifts, too).

Do we have any idea if people would be willing to pay $16 for a MMPB bought in the first year of availability, and $8 thereafter? At the very least, that last month or so I would expect to not show many sales. Would reducing the price gradually instead of in one big step work better, or worse (inverse boiled frog effect?).

If the physical packaging is key then it's hard to do with e-books. While I personally would prefer that all fiction were available for free (while all authors, and everybody else, earned salaries in the top 10% of the population), it may well be necessary to raid the wallets of the committed fans of major authors.

DVD versions of big movies seem to use the opposite strategy -- a general release first, and then various premium and special releases (look at the LotR movies for an example). Maybe something like that would work with ebooks, bundling additional material with premium versions, either early or late, for extra money. Making the "premium" involve altering the book (as is done with the movies) probably wouldn't play well (at least it wouldn't with me), but out-takes, interviews, and commentary might work.

Baen is selling ebook ARCs for $15; don't know how many they're selling. That does NOT include a copy of the final version, either, so if you want the cleaned-up version you have to pay for that, $6 for an individual book or $15 for one of their monthly bundles that contain 6 or more books, not all new (and I've seen books show up in more than one bundle). So they, and their authors, should know something about how effective it is in the current ebook market.

#256 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 02:46 PM:

Lisa Spangenberg @ 234: Like Paula Lieberman said at 242, the serialisation model worked for Sharon Lee & Steve Miller with "Fledgling" and "Saltation". Those of us who subscribed got a "fix" about once a week (usually with warnings if a chapter wasn't going to be released); somewhere to discuss the books, if we wanted; the chance to see the first-draft version and then (getting a copy sent for our $25 contributions) compare it with the final version. I'll probably buy the completed e-books some time as well, to add to the library I can carry around with me.

They worked on the basis that once they had raised enough in subscriptions ($300 per chapter, after Chapter 1), they put it up online for anyone to read. So people could find it, read what was written so far and decide whether they wanted to support the project (and the authors).

#257 ::: Adrienne Travis ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 04:20 PM:

Just for the record, everyone who's talking about dumping Wishlists: Wishpot (search for it, you'll find it) is a wishlist-aggregator service that has an Amazon import. So you can do that, then dump your Amazon list. Do note that if you've got a LOT of items in your Amazon wishlist, it's probably best to split it into smaller lists of less than 200 items before doing the import.

(I'm not a shill for Wishpot; they're just utility I've found useful.)

There are other options, too:

If your wishlist is mostly books, LibraryThing is a great option -- their Universal Import will take Wishlist URLs (you do have to paste in the URL for each page of the wishlist separately, though. Use the Compact view and you'll get 50 items per page. Check their FAQ for more details.)

And if you use Firefox, and just want a CSV export, there's a great Greasemonkey script to do that: http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/17278

#258 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 06:14 PM:

As of this hour, no, our books are still not back.

#259 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 08:04 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @#246: Oh, dear, that's unfortunate. My family name is Rodes, which is a fine old name but is vulnerable to having an h added. But I don't think that's happened in print so far.

#260 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2010, 10:22 PM:

Mary Aileen, #252: Yes, absolutely. (Side note: this is the other reason I prefer to rip my own mp3 files from a CD.) The whole point of the BookChip is that it would be equivalent to a CD, playable on any unit that takes the physical media. Try to DRM it, and you've lost me.

#261 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 01:41 AM:

Do we have any idea if people would be willing to pay $16 for a MMPB bought in the first year of availability, and $8 thereafter?

As a librarian, this model would seriously frustrate me, because MMPBs disintegrate significantly faster than hardcovers. I'm actually getting better value by spending the $16 on a hardcover.

#262 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 08:34 AM:

Would a cartridge, like a game for a gameboy, work? Maybe not; the hardware is specialized.

#263 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 09:20 AM:

Most of this discussion is over my head both technically and economically, but I'm curious: has anyone expressed the worry that if Amazon can remotely delete stuff from Kindles, so could (theoretically) hackers?

The idea was brought up by hearing on NPR that the Pentagon wants a lot more money for remote drones, not too long after a story about how they may be remotely hackable.

#264 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 09:42 AM:

#263 Lila

What the reporting seemed to indicate to me is that the video data stream -from- the vehicles could be viewed by third parties. That's a far different thing than being able to crack into the command and control link and the command and control system and takeover the vehicle.

It's not a good thing for third parties to get the mission data and data feed off something, but again that is a very different thing that getting into something--it's the difference between watching DirectTV without being a subscriber, versus taking control of the satellite distributing the DirectTV broadcast.

#265 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 10:03 AM:

#255 David Dyer-Bennet

Not all hardcovers get subsequent reissuing as paperbacks. Some have only the first printing as hardcover and no reissues at all. That also happens with books published in trade paper. There are a few of those that I have "waited" for the mass market paperback, futilely.

That's one of the concerns about high pricing an ebook, that the price stays high and the availablity gets more limited.

The situation about "how long does/will a publisher have (exclusive or even non-exclusive) distribution licensing to a work?" isn't that clear to me, thinking about it. While electronic storage costs a lot less than having to physically produce and transport and inventory physical books, there are still costs. There is a small storage cost, there are the computer cycles for database management and retrival of database information, there is the time and effort and labor cost for the persons doing the database maintenance of the catalog, there is the expense and effort of reviewing sales records... having thousands of titles available that sell three copies a year or whatever, while not necesarily being "more effort than they're worth" does make for long lists of moribund titles, which have to have the inventory control and reconciliation and sales records and royalty payments etc. tracked for. And the effort involved for that, may be more than the revenue.... and while one book doesn't take up that much storage, thousands of "underperforming" titles, at say a megabyte a title, come to gigabytes of storage, and longer database operations time and effort.

While right now the effort might look minimal to keep a nonperforming title in the catalog, again, if there are thousands of them, it becomes a signal to noise ratio issue--especially for customers, who probably don't want to have to wade through thousands of titles and thumbnails and blurbs when wanting a book to read. It's like the reaction to supersupermarkets, where the stores are so large that there are people who go out of their way to avoid them, not wanting to half to walk around in a 10,000 foot store and down aisles a hundred feet long, and have to select from among 120 different options, a loaf of bread.

#266 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 10:15 AM:

Well, when the Zombie Nuclear Apocalypse hits, the EMP won't be wiping out printed books.

#267 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:22 AM:

Or CDs, Steve C. Or CDs.

The players will be ruint, though.

#268 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:30 AM:

Steve C @ 266... I learned from Burgess Meredith that an extra pair of glasses is a must.

#269 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:33 AM:

So far, the medium with the greatest longevity is cuneiform on stone tablets. I'm waiting for Granite Publishing to start putting out chiseled books.

Right, Fred and Barney?

#270 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:46 AM:

Steve C. @269: Will those be hardcover or trade?

#271 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:55 AM:

Ginger: Mess Market.

#272 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 11:56 AM:

Ginger @ 270 -

Hardcover for those who prefer an heirloom library, but a separate trade division with smaller fonts and pages made from slate.

Oh, the dust jacket will be made from Mica, which should be popular for the romance novels (good cleavage).

#273 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 12:03 PM:

Re: bookchips. The practical concerns me. I just THINK I have a problem now with misplacing books...

#274 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 12:08 PM:

Will stone books ever make it to the Gneissed-Seller list?

#275 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 12:34 PM:

OtterB (173): But I could put my entire 1600+ book collection in a shoebox (or three)!

#276 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 01:40 PM:

OtterB @ 273 -- If each chip had an RFID tag, or something similar, you could use a scanner to find it. This would also simplify storing and indexing your collection. Of course, you might then need to line your home with tinfoil to prevent your neighbors from knowing what books you had.

#277 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 01:43 PM:

"The dog ate my library!"

#278 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 02:20 PM:

Serge @ 274: It would be tuff to get on that list. Everyone knows the internet is for porphyry.

Steve C. @ 272: The books would be set in a slab serif, yes?

#279 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 02:32 PM:

Not to be pedantic, but wasn't cuneiform was on clay tablets? It would be quite hard to push a stencil into a slab of granite.

Perhaps we should be using ochre on rock for all archival works?

#280 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 03:25 PM:

Lee @241: Give me the e-reader and let me buy books on SD cards, and you might convince me that it's the CD revolution all over again.

Why not distribute them on old 5.25" floppies, so you can skip right ahead to the stage where you've got a whole cabinet full that you're not sure you'll ever be able to read again?

#281 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 03:52 PM:

#269 @Steve C

Cuneiform is even better than that in terms of longevity. The UCLA Cuneiform Digital Library has high resolution scans of thousands of tablets. For a short time, they even had a 3D scanner that made plastic replicas . . .

The difficulty with ebooks and archival questions has to do with three issues:

1. The media Magnetic media, SD cards, optical media--none are archival quality. RAND has lots of nifty papers about this, but basically, in terms of archive standards, a low acid paperback book is better than any of them.

2. File format -- files have information that travels with them about where they begin and end, and how large they are, among other things, as well as what form the data is stored in. This means that you have to have an application that can read all of that data and knows how to display and manipulate it.

3. Hardware RAND is still saying that for true digital archives we need to be able to do complete hardware emulation, because the actual hardware doesn't last, and files and applications and OSs are all tied in various ways to hardware.

4. One of the many reasons I hate DRM is that as a medievalist I know we are lucky to have a single copy of Beowulf, a copy that barely survived a fire. We've got 64 or so copies of Canterbury Tales. Replication will save books. I want them to be replicated and all sorts of ways widely--but I also want people to be paid for their work. I realize the inherent pie-in-the-sky of that, but I still want it.

#282 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 06:26 PM:

Avram, #280: As opposed to an e-reader full of files that can be deleted at will by someone besides you, cannot be backed up anywhere else because of the DRM, and will still be subject to the sort of format issues you're postulating? Fuck that.

#283 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 06:43 PM:

Chapters/Indigo, Canada's answer to Borders (I think? not that familiar with US Bookstore chains) has just begun selling eBooks through something called 'Kobo':
http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/ebooks?pticket=sxt4fx55bh10rwqhzy3iryeqsm0eiKLWrq6Kf%2ffIV3LO8DP2FkQ%3d

http://www.kobobooks.com/

They advertise that you can have them "on your smart phone, eReader, or computer - NO EXTRA DEVICE NEEDED!"

Might be enough to make me buy a smart phone...

#284 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 07:04 PM:

Lee @282, no, as opposed to DRM-less files in an open format I can keep on my computer and back up. Baen sells ebooks this way through their "Webscription" service. Amazon will sell me MP3 files unencumbered by DRM; why can't they sell me ebooks that way?

(OK, MP3 isn't really open. But it's well-documented, and the patents are set to expire within a decade, and the popularity of the format makes it unlikely to be orphaned.)

Those are the two important parts for me: I want software, not hardware, and I want to be confident that I'll still be able to read the files in twenty years.

#285 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2010, 07:39 PM:

Kevin Riggle, #261, our library finds it cheaper to buy multiple MMPBs than a hardcopy or two.

#286 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2010, 06:31 AM:

TNH way back up @23: FYI, your (and Patrick's) old wishlist items are still up, with nice 'n shiny Add to cart buttons beside them.

#287 ::: joann still sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2010, 11:07 AM:

Just bumping it to the attention of somebody with keys to the electronic eraser.

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