Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Salon: A fight where we're the ones who lose

MacMillan Publishing and Amazon are in a bitch fight.

As far as I understand it, MacMillan wants Amazon to raise the kindle book price from $10 to $15 and Amazon doesn't want to. As the debate has heated up, Amazon has now pulled ALL of Macmillan's books from the site, so you can now only get them from 3rd party seller (or anyone who isn't Amazon.)

I think publishers should be able to set a base price and sellers either mark it up or discount it to make their money. I know this has changed with digital media. I'm sure record companies want to sell single tracks for more or less than $.99. So, I see MacMillan's point, but I don't think ebooks should get much more expensive. Ebooks should be cheaper than print books. I know that part of a book's price covers the paper, the ink, the printing process, the shipping and distribution to stores etc. There's a reason a hardcover is more expensive than a paperback, why a beautifully bound version with full color illustrations is more expensive than a basic edition. Ebooks don't have those associated costs. Sure, ebooks should still cost something. Authors and editors deserve to get paid for the work they did. But, they should be cheaper than regular books.

I don't have all the answers. I'm sure I don't understand all the facets of the debate and if I knew how to fix it, well, I'm sure I'd have a different job than I currently do.

But, I'm with MacMillan on this one. While I think their position is wrong, Amazon's being a brat and MacMillan is allowed to price their books how they want. But, of course, Cory Doctrow says it much better than me. Being Cory Doctrow, he also ventures into the issues surrounding ebooks and digital rights management (DRM). DRM is one of the main reasons I don't own an ereader. Yes, digital music comes with DRM, but I can still burn a mix CD and give it to my friend or burn off an album to listen to in my car. Also, it's pretty easy to burn a CD and rerip it and strip most of the DRM that way. We haven't found a way around that yet with ebooks. Once I buy an ebook, I can't lend it to a friend, I can't resell it if I want to get rid of it, I can't donate it to a school or library or hospital or anything. If I were going to buy an ereader today, it would be a Sony, because the Sony platform is compatible with Overdrive, which is the company my (and 9,000 other) libraries use to lend ebooks. I read 269 books last year. I spend a lot of money on books, but I can't afford to spend over $2000 a year on them. Librarians don't make *that* much money. I use my library. Until we come up with a way to lend ebooks and share them and make them available cross-platform, I'm staying out of the market.

The music business has finally started to figure this out. On iTunes, for an extra $.30, you can buy your tracks DRM free. I'd pay more for DRM-free ebooks I could lend to my friends or donate or resell. Or, if you're not going to let me fully own the book, charge me a lot less as the rental fee it essentially is. But, here's where the huge irony of the situation comes in-- the reason I started buying all of my digital music on Amazon? Because they lowered the price when buying a full album and even better, insisted that the record companies allowed them to sell all of it DRM free.

Meanwhile, here are just a few of the children's and teen books you can't get on Amazon right now:

The Adoration of Jenna Fox
American Born Chinese
Annie on my Mind
Bad Kitty
A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts
The Black Cauldron (and the rest of the Prydain Chronicles)
Briar Rose
The Cat Royal Adventures
Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith
Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice
The Cricket in Times Square
Diamond Willow
Doing It
Emil and Karl
Ender's Game
In the Name of God
Isabelle's Boyfriend
Junebug Series
Kampung Boy
King George What Was His Problem?
Leaving Glorytown
Letters from Rifka
Little Brother
The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs
Make Lemonade
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac
The Mozart Season
Pay the Piper
The Poison Apples
The Possibilities of Sainthood
The President's Daughter
Reality Leak
Robot Dreams
Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You
Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium
The Swan Maiden
Tasting the Sky
Time's Memory
Tuck Everlasting
A Wrinkle in Time (and almost every other Madeline L'Engle book)


GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

I really don't think the price of ebooks should rise. You're right in that they are not the print format, once I'm done with it I can't share it or sell it-so I don't want to pay as much as a book for an ebook.

That being said, I think Amazon is being a big baby and it's unfair to all the authors whose books are unavailable right now.

Unknown said...

I don't own a kindle or any such device at this point and I've doubts that I will for a very long time. That said, I don't see much of a reason for publishers to exist at all anymore. I think that the day will soon come when readers buy the latest ebook directly from the author's website. Suppose the author gets 2.00 dollars from each sale of a trade paperback. (I've no idea what they actually get.) I think most readers would be happy to pay 3.50 for the latest book by their favorite author. An ebook is just a very long email as far as production costs go. I'm sure authors could do much better avoiding a publisher altogether.

Lots of people are essentially already doing this with greeting cards via and with music via sites like CDBaby.

If I were MacMillan, I'd be very worried.

Katie said...

One of the main reasons I bought an ereader was to cut down on costs of books. But I would still gladly pay $15.99 for a new release as opposed to the $24.99 they would charge me for the hardcover.

And if MacMillan wants to set their price one way, it's their problem if their ebooks don't sell as well.

Amazon's whole point in this is trying to corner the market with the Kindle.

It was a shame that they choose to take down MacMillan books in response. So glad that most of them are back available.

(And on a more positive note, you reminded me to check out "Claudette Colvin" from the library!)