back to article Sci-fi and fantasy authors wade into Amazon spat

The writers' group Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America has cut links to Amazon after the retailer removed, and then reinstated, titles from Macmillan publishing. The spat is all about ebook pricing - Amazon claims that $9.99 is all punters will pay for the ethereal presence of an electronic book, but Macmillan reckons …

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FAIL

creed

creeed is the only name of the game... grossly overprice books, laced with DRM now with more OVERPRICE(TM) then ever before.

ebooks cut the manufacturing price of books to zero and yet publisher want to steal money from consumer instead of making a honest buck.

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WTF?

I think you are lost

This is not 'Have Your Say'.

Or did you just use the twat-o-tron?

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Anonymous Coward

creed?

Amazon should really be non-denominational!

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Silver badge
Headmaster

Do you mean greed?

Because I hardly think that the name of the publishing game is "any system, doctrine, or formula of religious belief, as of a denomination." (dictionary.com)

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Troll

They've got one thing over you though...

At least they can write.

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Bronze badge
FAIL

Recoup investment?

Lets see now, paperback recoups this investment and that includes the cost of the paper, the ink, the binding and the shipping to the bookshop.

I call Bullshit.

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Ditto

'I call Bullshit.'

I agree Ian - Another industry trying to hold onto an outdated business model. End of.

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"recoup"

"Lets see now, paperback recoups this investment and that includes the cost of the paper, the ink, the binding and the shipping to the bookshop"

Thats about 40p of the cost....

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Unhappy

Ack

A new RIAA

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Headmaster

Music, fils and now book publishers just don't get it!!!

They just don't understand that I, as a consumer, flatly refuse to pay more for something that I can do less with !!!

I don't care one way or the other that they claim it costs the same, or even more. I don't care.

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Exactly why I don't have an ebook reader.

I'd love to be able to replace my heaving bookcase with an ebook reader -- but there's not way I'm paying $15 per book especially to buy things I already have in Paperback or Hardback.

Once the publishers stop acting like the fools in the RIAA I'll start taking ebooks seriously.

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Flame

You missed a few things

Resell... Give to a friend to read... Bring as a reference to show someone...

With e-BS I cannot do that and until it is fixed - no thanks. I will _CONTINUE_ to buy the dead paper variety despite this meaning that I have to lug 5kg+ of paper on every holiday.

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If they want piracy...

If these muppets want to encourage piracy they are going the right way about it.

Setting the price too high and keeping it there will have one major effect.

They should take a leaf from OReilly. Their ebooks as iPhone apps are 3 quid each and I have bought LOADS of them.

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FAIL

Madness

These people are mad - the record industry decimated itself with lack of content, high pricing and DRM from the beginning - a state it looks like they will never fully recover from. Let me make this very simple for any publishers reading - you can already pirate books, have been for years and will be always able to - now work with that situation.

Compared to mp3s, ebooks are even worse to sell as they really don't provide much benefit to the consumer (outside of technical books).

This is a time of early adopters when the price should be low enough to make ebook readers attractive and move people away from print media (with the printing costs) to electronic distribution (with no costs). Once people are hooked they can bump the prices up every year slightly above the rate of inflation - and voilà expensive ebooks which people are used to buying.

Why is this so difficult for these idiot publishers to understand!

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Anonymous Coward

Are the publishers and authors mad?

Spend $15 dollars on an e-book ? I can can tell you who won't be blinking first and that's me. There is no way I'm spending $15 on an e-book. Get real!

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Anonymous Coward

I wouldn't spend $1 on an e-book

I'd buy a real book though - one that I can give away to charity shops after I've read it and that can't be deleted on the whim of the people who sold it to me.

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Unhappy

A tad unfair, there

"Macmillan reckons they'll stump up $15 for the latest title and refused to sell its books for less"

That's not really a fair description of Macmillan's position - they want to charge _up_to_ $15 for ebooks, but also as little as $5. Amazon wouldn't let them have the flexibility all publishers (and other suppliers) have always had: to set the price for their own product. Amazon freely admit that they sell ebooks at a loss to drive sales of the Kindle - at the moment. But how long would that last once they had control of the ebook market, over both publishers and consumers?

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Anonymous Coward

But...

Retailers currently can and do set prices that books are sold for - this is really no different.

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price fix

"Amazon wouldn't let them have the flexibility all publishers (and other suppliers) have always had: to set the price for their own product."

Suppliers should not have the right to set retail prices (it's illegal in most places) they should only have control over the wholesale price. And like a paper book, once they sell it to Amazon (don't give me that licence crap) they should have no say over who buys it.

And Amazon (or Walmart etc.) should not be able to dictate the wholesale price, or stuff like "you can't sell to anyone else for less".

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Free market anyone?

What Amazon want to do isn't set prices, though - it's to dominate the market by artificially low prices. Is there anyone crying out for "fixed price" real books? Why should the ebook market be different?

What Amazon were trying to do, if you read the trade coverage, was to usurp the positions of publisher, wholesaler and retailer, and thereby to grab all the profit for themselves. Yes, they even wanted publishers to sign contracts that made Amazon a publisher themselves, with the right to create new editions etc. of the product! No wonder the trade rebelled.

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WTF?

I'll stick to papper

Ebooks are a total rip off. They cost next to nothing to make. It doesn't sound to hard to me to do a save as from word, or what ever they use.

For me, I love real books, especially Sci/fi but I think $15 is a bit much for a file. To be honest I can't see why I would pay more the £5, even then I think its a bit steap.

I can't see why for instance if I buy a hard back book they don't give away the ebook with it. I would then buy an ebook reader because I have ebooks, but I still have the real book as well which look a lot better on my book case.

The way they are priced now, you get more for your money out of papper books, and more importantly you don't have to spend a considerable amount of money on an ebook reader.

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FAIL

Oh yeah?

"Ebooks are a total rip off. They cost next to nothing to make. "

Written one recently, have you? Do you think the words just appear on the page for free?

Even fiction books can take a year or more of writing and research; non-fiction often much more. Is the author supposed to do that for nothing just because you have a quaint notion that people should only pay for physical objects?

Ebooks cost next to nothing to duplicate (which is why book piracy has soared since publishers went electronic in-house) but that probably only accounts for 50p or so of the cover price for paperbacks, maybe a quid of a hardback's.

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Unhappy

Finally

A resoned response.

The whole argument is also about Amazon want to be "publishers" on the kindle. which means of course they get a nice big cut of the profits and hand 30% back to the real publishers which is hardly going to cover the cost of editing, advances and type setting.

If Amazon want to be publishers they should do it all not just the bit they know makes them money and throw thier toys out of the pram if they do.

I do own an eBook. Titles purchased? 0. I'm still making my way through Project Guttenburg. But I would happily pay around $15 for a book if it's somethign I really want to read. Once it's dropped to paper back and a coresponding drop in price I would look to buying other authours. This is exactly the type of pricing MacMillan is talking about doing which Amazon was denying them.

If you want to point fingers and shout RIAA look no futher than the mighty Amazon. Sign up with them and to get the best deals you give them publishing rights and if you do sell your ebook elsewhere you are not allowed to sell it any cheaper than them.

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FAIL

Conspiracy? You betcha!

I'm disgusted too with the lack of backbone from Amazon, letting the tail wag the dog, but I don't think we can call the "recouperation" line any sort of bullshit as of yet. Notice the words:

"Macmillan reckons...that it needs to charge that much to recoup its investment."

If you substitute "profit" for "investment", this whole thing makes bloody perfect sense, since EVERYONE knows that Macmillen and other publishers are in this to make money and not be charitable. There's still costs to pay the author for the work itself. More costs for editors and other people to work on the content, formating, page layout, etc.

But are there any distribution costs involved? Not in these deals (although, perhaps the Amazon deal includes some guarantee of money to secure distribution of the books...it still can't be near what they pay for printing, etc).

OK, I take it back. It's bullshit.

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FAIL

What a lot of jerking knees

To all those going "I won't pay $15 for an e-book", take a look at Charlie Stross' blog where he's waxing vexed about Amazon and talks about this. $15 would be a typical price on the first day. Just as physical books come out in expensive hardback first, then cheaper paperbacks, so the e-book's price would drop over time. Those who must have the book on day one pay for it, just like they do with hardbacks. Those who wait, pay less later. No different from the real world unless you're a deluded freetard.

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Nice idea pity it hasn't worked

"Just as physical books come out in expensive hardback first, then cheaper paperbacks, so the e-book's price would drop over time."

Unfortunately Macmillian has form on not doing this [Kushiel's Avatar for example is still a base price of $21, seven years after release despite the mass market paperback being available at $8] leaving the paperback cheaper than the ebook. [Even if you realise full value from Fictionwises micropayment scheme :) ]

When the Ebook should be at least $1.5-$2 cheaper than the paperback at retail just accounting for printing costs. Costs to publisher are multiplied by 3.33 to get their effect on retail price since the price to distributors is 30% or recommended retail.

Hardbacks have added quality and durability to help justify their price increment over paperbacks, which e-books don't.

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FAIL

that's assuming you can even find/buy the book you want...

... because you probably (1) can't, because they don't seem to be able to "save as PDF" or ePub something that surely already exists electronically and (2) the restrictions on publishing mean that "sorry that book in unavailable to customers not in the US" etc.

Lost track of the number of times I have found an eBook I want, at a price much less that $15, but then YOU WON'T LET ME BUY IT YOU F*CKING IDIOTS!

And they wonder why piracy is so rampant... <sob>

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Stop

2 sides to every coin

I've heard that the other side of this coin is that Mcmillian wanted to be able to change the prices based on popularity from £15.99 down to £5.99 for less popular/older books

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Anonymous Coward

Doesn't change anything...

...because even £5.99 is twice what I'd ever agree to pay for an ebook...

I remember when it was a known fact that VHS movies couldn't POSSIBLY be made for less than £70 a knock - that all changed because it HAD to change if they wanted the market.

Ebooks may have a future at £2 or £3 each tops - enough to ensure mass impulse sales along with our groceries or while we're surfing. With readers that will take any format at a price people don't have to think twice about - at a price where people won't hesitate to have more than one around the house. As in many retail fields, turnover will ensure the profits.

Until then, paper books are in no danger whatever.

In fact - in deference to those sci-fi authors (who so rarely get REAL future developments right) I wouldn't be surprised if in 20 years we're all laughing at the notion that the choice between a paper book and an ebook was the only choice we used to have.

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Anonymous Coward

how about...

Publisher operates a scheme whereby:

- punter signs up & receives unique id (card / webby / whatever ) plus any goodies publisher wants to throw in;

- punter buys new hard back book & gets ebook version free (using id);

- punter buys new paperback book & gets ebook version at, say, half price (using id);

- punter buys ebook (at lower price) & gets either nowt or a discount voucher off either hard or paperback format of same book.

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FAIL

Terrible, terrible reporting, and Macmillan books still not available

As of the time of this comment, Macmillan book are still not, in fact, available *from* Amazon. Some are available *through* Amazon, via the third-parties who sell through or affiliate with Amazon, but Amazon itself is still not selling the books directly. This means most titles are still unavailable and very little of the proceeds from those books will be paid to the authors, most of whom have royalty payment contracts which only count sales of new books.

Also, the Reg article failed to note that while the spat is over the price of E-BOOKS, Amazon pulled both the electronic *and* paper books, the pricing for which is not in dispute. This seems to me to be a disproportionate response. It would be rather like a chain of grocery stores pulling every Nabisco product from their shelves just because they didn't like the proposed price of Nabisco's new Jalapeno Cheddar Crackers.

For those of you who are siding with Amazon on this, please consider: despite what Amazon says about them looking out for the consumer, they are doing nothing of the sort. Amazon is looking out for Amazon. They don't want anything to (potentially) derail their attempt to entrench themselves and their Kindle reader as the "leader" in electronic books, which they (Amazon) have argued would be negatively impacted by higher e-book prices. Remember, this is only about *e-book* prices.

Yes, Macmillan's desire to raise e-book prices could be seen as detrimental to the well being of its authors. Yes, Macmillan's refusal to back down can be seen as the same. But it was *not* Macmillan who pulled Macmillan's titles from Amazon. Amazon did that itself, and did it for more than the disputed works. If Macmillan had done it, there would be a valid argument of villainy against Macmillan, but so far this is all Amazon.

As for Macmillan's desire for higher prices being a direct harm to its authors, that's between Macmillan and its authors, not between Amazon and Macmillan; even if Amazon were genuinely concerned for the authors' well being, they're strictly a third-party to that and shouldn't be involved.

Finally, even if Amazon were genuinely concerned for their *customers'* well being and are fighting on their behalf to keep prices low for them (they're not, but saying it for the sake of argument), then folks need to remember two things: 1) something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it, and if the price it too high then they won't; and 2) the books and prices in dispute are mostly fiction-- sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, etc-- which are entertainment, and that's an optional purchase. If a person just can't help themselves from paying $15 for a book, even though they think it's too high, then that's a whole different problem and no amount of effort on Amazon's part would help them.

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Stop

Not to mention the drm

Printed books have the great value of not containing drm. And if amazon would like to do an orwell on my bookshelf, the repo man would have to negotiate with a baseballbat firewall. Not to mention that printing books means less forests here in finland and elsewhere and increases global warming! Yay! But yeah, as long as ebooks have proprietary drm they are worthless. All that needs to happen is that your service provider bankcrupts and your library is locked forever (that is unless you remove the drm by some illegal way that can send you to prison.) Can't lock my library... me and my wooden baseball bat guarantee it. Grrr.

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Re: Not to mention the drm

Errrr...

I think you mean printed books are BETTER for the environment.

Think of it, each tree chopped down is space for another tree to grow. And rather than allowing the tree to rot releasing greenhouse gasses, it is instead converted into a permanent carbon sink in the form of lots of books.

The forests continue to grow, taking up more CO2... Once a tree is mature it's no longer a carbon sink, so chopping them down is GOOD.

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Why aren't the authors going direct

The publisher was traditionally paid for their investment in the printing costs, without printing costs why not go direct to amazon if you are a big selling ebook author.

This is the same argument as musicians publishing MP3 off their websites, it would be easy enough to watermark the MP3 with a pointer to purchase details and then they would know who not to sell to in the future.

Unfortunately creative people are blocked from selling their own wares in most fields but the internet is slowly making it easier to avoid paying a pimp.

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Re: Why aren't the authors going direct

Some authors are, but it's a tough business to break into, so (successful) direct publishing is mostly for established authors with an established fan-base. Most book deals with publishers give exclusive publishing rights for books to the publishing house, precluding authors from republishing their works online.

Also keep in mind that writing a book is, generally, a very, very time consuming process. Few authors manage more than two or three books in a year-- and many only manage one book every year or two. The advanced payment from publishers to authors for their books helps finance authors to write more, rather than try to maintain a 'day job' to keep the bills paid. Self-publishing would conceivably bring more income to the author, but at the expense of that up-front payment.

I would also point out that it is not uncommon for an author's up-front payment to exceed the profits for a particular book, especially in the near-term; the publisher might turn a profit years down the road, but at least the author received a "good" sum of money up front. This last shouldn't be turned into a 'well crap books/authors should only get what their books are worth / shouldn't be subsidized by the successful books/authors' statement. While I agree with the sentiment, the fact is not all books (or movies [Soylent Green] or television shows [Firefly]) that do poorly at release remain poor earners; it sometimes takes time for society to warm up to them.

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WTF?

If you think about price it means that you do not want it

I happily spend whatever amount for a new Pratchett hardcover. I do not remember the price exactly, something around twenty pounds, and since I am from Estearn Europe (Lithuania to be precise) the relative price is really high. But I do not care, since I adore Pratchett. And I am not the only one, there are a lot of people who will pay good money to get their favorite author as soon as the new title is released. And please stop blathering about low manufacturing costs. Ink and paper is max 10 percent of the book costs. The design, the editing, proofreading drives the price.

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FAIL

Rational...?

Since when has the trade in IP (or bollocks, as it's more commonly known) been rational? For once I'm with Amazon. If Macmillan wants to play by the old rules, let them do so to the hilt. Brick-and-mortar ain't the force it used to be.

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Pint

The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

i think they should combine them, i love my books, but it would be nice to have them in digital form as well, so why not just bundle them by including a tiny bit of storage in each physical book, you could slip one of those tiny little micro sd cards in the cover or something.

you'd only need a tiny one, and they presumably allready have the text in digital form so could just dump it on the chip at minimal cost, an ebook cant take up that many meg can it?

you could still buy online direct to an ebook reader, the difference there would be that you'd get the physical book in the post later on.

i suppose some people might not want the physical book though, but consider it would be a back up of sorts if your reader breaks, you loose your account details or whatever.. just a thought.

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$15

Hmmm... That's a lot of cash, particularly since part of the appeal of stumping up for a new book is the nice hard cover and expensive paper.

Now, if the publishers were to give me a hardback for the bookcase PLUS an ebook license, I'd be interested.

As an aside: I'd love to get rid of the 15 boxes of books in storage if the publishers will give me ebooks...

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Dead Vulture

Channelling Peter O'Hanrahanrahan Much?

General implication of this article, without even a link for balance, is that Macmillan tried to hold poor little Amazon to ransom. Seems more likely that Macmillan were trying to stop Amazon from stealing even more of their margin.

And what exactly is the Sci-Fi authors' input? Precious little according to this article, making it look to me more like their "wading in" was simply an excuse for an article that seems pretty short on any *actual* news.

I'd expect this kind of add-nothing dross from boingboing, not the Reg.

And I really can't understand people saying ooh eBooks cost next to nothing to reproduce I'm not paying that much. What proportion of the cost of publishing a book do you think printing and distribution takes up? Do they think books just magically appear at the printing press ready to print?

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Coat

titular morrisism

"Quick, Peter! Get him back!"

"Peter, you've lost the news!"

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Stop

A week late and a dollar short

Really, I'd expect better coverage from El Reg. This has been all over the web since last Friday, and making shockwaves throughout the publishing industry since Monday. Latest news as of today is that Hachette and HarperCollins (aka NewsCorp) are joining in.

The proximate blame for the bean-fest can be laid at Steve Jobs' door -- for lo, it is the retail model for the iPad that is at the core: the publishers like it, Amazon hates it because it strips them of leverage.

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Pirate

Oh dear

Toys thrown out of the pram by hulking 20th century businesses with equally elderly business practices?

Ludicrous pricing for books is going to kill this industry even before it starts. I am afraid that only our eye patched and be-parroted friends will win this one.

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Black Helicopters

Borders

During the close of Borders a number of publishers took out injunctions agains the shop preventing them from selling off their stock cheap. I thought we'd seen the end of this kind of racketeering but it seems unfair practices and retail price blackmail are alive and well in the publishing industry.

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I like

books.

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me

too :)

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I must be a luddite

Actually despite the inconvenience of packing all those boxes full of very heavy paper everytime we move, I can't ever see myself giving up the practical nature of paperback.

I like to read in the bath, the worst that can happen with a paperback is it ends up all wrinkly after a couple of hours on the radiator. I doubt I can say the same for a kindle, iPad or x2 iTablet. I never need battery charge to read a paperback.

My paperback dropping to the floor from the bed at 2am when I have fallen asleep while reading won't break or scratch the screen. I can buy them for a quid or two from the book exchange or 'borrow' them from friends.

When my book case gets too full we dump a bunch in the charity shops or 'lend' them to friends or exchange a couple at the book exchange.

eBook?? No thanks, not ever!

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Silver badge

Bah! E-Books, Schmee Books!

The Kindle (apt name - should be burned) costs about the same as 19 paperbacks last time I checked. call it most people's yearly book budget. That's before you buy an e-book with no pictures or colours or artwork or anything but really ugly text.

Books don't require a battery unless you want to read them in the dark, at which point the trusty mini-mag lite works like a charm and can also be used to find the way out of whatever is preventing you using mains-powered lighting. Try that with a Kindle backlight.

A paperback can be damaged if it is bent across the spine, for example, if your briefcase is run over by a taxicab or immersed in floodwaters. A kindle can also be damaged this way. The difference is that the book is usually still readable afterwards (even after a jolly good soak if the paper doesn't have china clay in it), and catastrophically breaking one book doesn't stand a chance of deep sixing your entire library.

Not only that, Someone at Amazon is much less likely to break into your house while you are sleeping and take back a book they sold you. Not so with Kindle e-books, the gift that keeps on disappearing whenever Amazon says it should.

The SFWA should also consider what an author is going to sign at a convention if e-books become the major market for fiction - the Kindle reader? That should up its value and be a treasured memory for years to come. "Yes, granddaughter, I got Larry Niven's autograph on my e-copy of Ringworld. Of course, Amazon had some sort of spat with the publisher over licensing thirty years ago and the book is long gone, and the reader itself is obsolete and therefore no longer works. But I got the author's name on a square of dead electronics, something completely unrelated to his work, and that's worth something."

What a dimwit idea.

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Also...Amazon wanted a monopoly on eBooks...

...they wanted to have a contract such that MacMillan couldn't charge less (through any other distributor) than whatever Amazon wanted to charge - and MacMillan would have no say over what Amazon charged - so they could effectively give the books away

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Anonymous Coward

Deliberate sabotage

Is it any wonder that publishers want to price ebooks so high? As soon as ebooks become the norm, there's going to be very little point in authors using their services any more. It will become just as easy for authors to upload their own ebooks to amazon and other online retailers and keep all the profit for themselves (the main barriers to self-publishing today are printing costs and getting shelf-space in bookshops). Todays publishers are just trying to delay the inevitable, by discouraging a speedy take-up of ebooks.

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