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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  1. Mectron
    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.

    1. Marky W
      WTF?

      I think you are lost

      This is not 'Have Your Say'.

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

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      creed?

      Amazon should really be non-denominational!

    3. Steven Knox 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)

    4. Old Marcus
      Troll

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

      At least they can write.

  2. Ian Stephenson Silver 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.

    1. Alpha Tony

      Ditto

      'I call Bullshit.'

      I agree Ian - Another industry trying to hold onto an outdated business model.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

      1. Paul 4

        "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....

  3. Richard 120
    Unhappy

    Ack

    A new RIAA

  4. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  5. Cameron Colley

    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.

  6. fortyrunner

    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.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    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!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

    2. Frozen Ghost
      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!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  8. John 73
    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?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But...

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

    2. Tom 35 Silver badge

      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".

      1. John 73

        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.

  9. Haydies
    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.

  10. Captain Save-a-ho
    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.

  11. Arthur the cat Silver badge
    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.

  12. TheOpsMgr
    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>

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

      1. Ian 70
        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.

    2. Dahak
      Thumb Down

      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.

  13. DragonLord
    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

  14. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  15. Justin S.
    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.

  16. Mursu
    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.

    1. Andrew Halliwell

      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.

  17. Mark Eaton-Park

    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.

    1. Justin S.

      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.

  18. Vaidotas Zemlys
    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.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  20. Rob 30
    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.

  21. Edwin

    $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...

  22. blackworx
    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?

  23. Charlie Stross
    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.

    1. lpopman
      Coat

      titular morrisism

      "Quick, Peter! Get him back!"

      "Peter, you've lost the news!"

  24. Neur0mancer
    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.

  25. Gerard Krupa
    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.

  26. Timjl

    I like

    books.

  27. janimal

    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!

    1. oddie

      me

      too :)

  28. Stevie 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.

  29. Mark Fenton

    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

  30. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  31. jofallon

    ebooks at vaious price levels

    Amazon charges 9.99 for new hardcovers so they can sell Kindles. I'm not clear why authors need to subsidize that though. After first release ebook prices usually drop to 6.39 when the paperback version is out. Why not variable pricing? You don't want to pay 14.99, wait for the price to come down.

  32. Ryan 7

    Online distribution costs are not Zero, people!

    • Server costs

    • Initial sale and/or lease

    • Bandwidth

    • Energy

    • Cooling

    • Personnel

    • Server Admins

    • Website coders

    • Technical support

    • Customer service

    • Security (i.e. "Lets not get hacked and then sued for punting pr0n")

    • Payment processors

    • Lawyers to write the EULAs

    • DRM licensing fees (even though we wish they didn't...)

    I've probably missed some/loads, but as you can see, the cost of publishing an eBook is not zero!

    1. Ian Stephenson Silver badge
      Coffee/keyboard

      Trim the fat

      Get shot of the last two items for a start.

      Lawyers gone,. DRM gone.

      Theres a large chunk costs gone.

      Tech support and customer service?

      Get the job right in the first place and these costs should be minimal.

    2. bygjohn

      But manufacturing costs are zero

      All of that stuff is carried by the retailer when selling downloaded media (it's the same for music and films), so the publisher just needs to recoup the origination costs instead of all the manufacturing and distribution costs they have with a physical product. So really all the publisher does with an e-book is:

      * Commissioning and advance payment (where applicable)

      * Editing

      * Proofreading

      * Artwork (not really necessary for the e-version, though)

      * Saving in ePub or PDF format (wow, that must be hard...)

      There are no printing or distribution costs at all (barring emailing the finished files to the retailer), so all they need to do is recoup the above costs, most of which at the moment are still being covered by the print versions anyway. So a sensible price for an e-book should be significantly less than the paperback, say 50%.

      1. James Livingston

        Trust neither

        > Commission/advance, Editing, Proof-reading and art

        Those make up a sizable chunk of the costs of a paper book. From what I 've read on various author's comments, it's around 60-75% for most books (excluding the insanely popular ones on one end, and specialty stuff on the other).

        For anyone who suggests that authors could do it themselves and go straight to Amazon, go read comments by professional writers. For the most part they don't want to do it themselves and want someone (whether you call them a publisher or not) to do that.

        > most of which at the moment are still being covered by the print versions anyway

        Why does everyone (on various sites) keep saying that? I don't think that pricing eBooks on the basis that they make up a negligable amount of sales is a great plan, if they're hoping to increase the amount of eBook sales.

        Also, I would assume that some portion of the eBook sales is cannabalising the paper sales - I wouldn't buy both the eBook and paper version. eBooks should share their part of the production costs.

    3. alun phillips

      costs

      A nice way to reduce costs,

      Lawyers to right the EULA - use the CCNA licence, it's free!, (works for Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow)

      DRM - licensing fee's, DRM doesn't work so why penalise the legal buyers at no cost to the pirates just do away with the DRM, (it hasn't done O'Reilly any harm).

      and many of the rest are incurred anyway if you have a website, sure the costs ain't zero but they are considerably lower than they are for paper books.

      Viva Feedbooks

    4. Volker Hett

      The savings versus books are enormous.

      Have you ever seen one of the warehouses where thousands of books you might order for next day delivery are stored?

      Server costs to store a couple gigabytes are close to nothing compared to maintaining a warehouse full of books.

    5. DryBones
      Pint

      Er...

      Hmm, let's see, if I'm Amazon or Baen, or some of the others that already have all the infrastructure for this sort of thing that came along with the website and... you know, being businesses, what does it take? Oh yeah. Another hard drive, or allocation of space on an existing multi-terabyte array. How much do e-books take up these days, 10 megs? There, sorted.

      In other news, I am quite happy to see after a little check, that book prices for Kindle do indeed ease back to paperback levels. I could have worn that at one time I was seeing the eBook version of a book I own in paperback for $12, more than 4 years after I'd bought said paperback! Now if only I could send my paperbacks to Amazon and they'd exchange them for eBook versions. This need to rebuy is my barrier to embracing the movement to digital.

    6. Shakje
      FAIL

      Bearing in mind that it's AMAZON who want to sell them cheaper...

      Let's just quickly go through that list:

      Services paid for by Amazon:

      • Server costs

      • Initial sale and/or lease

      • Bandwidth

      • Energy

      • Cooling

      • Personnel

      • Server Admins

      • Website coders

      • Technical support

      • Customer service

      • Security (i.e. "Lets not get hacked and then sued for punting pr0n")

      • Payment processors

      Services paid for by publishers:

      Lawyers to write the EULAs

      • DRM licensing fees (even though we wish they didn't...)

      As you can see, the cost of publishing an e-book is not zero, but those costs are quite easily swallowed up by normal retail sales. Charging that much for an e-book is what is causing people to not bother going anywhere near them, which is why those costs HAVE to be covered by normal retail.

    7. oddie
      Thumb Up

      true

      it's probably more like 5pence/8cents.

      1. Cortland Richmond
        Gates Horns

        Readers of the lost work

        What is causing THIS person not to go near e-books is e-book readers. They're not a substitute for books, and some brands want me to buy my own books twice just to see them on a screen. I spend considerably more than $9.99 for new hardcovers, of course, but that is made up for by spending a LOT less on used books. And who is selling $1US used books for e-readers? No one unsued!

        1. Gulfie
          Thumb Up

          I'm with you on that

          eBooks are convenient but I won't go anywhere near them until I get a free 'e' copy with my paper copy.

          First, I like reading a physical book. In technical books I'll actually write on the pages as well. Second, I like to be able to swap books with friends. Try doing that with an eReader. Third I like to recoup a small amount of my original investment by taking a bag of books to the local second hand bookshop every now and again.

          Granted you might be able to make notes on a reader but with an eReader you're only buying the right to read, not the ownership of the file. I suspect at least half the reason for eBooks is that publishers hope to sell more in the long term because you're not able to lend or sell on.

          Just like the music business though they insist on keeping prices (relatively speaking) sky high despite the savings in physical inventory. The only reason they're in a better place than the record companies is it is so much harder to digitise a book than a CD...

  33. MichaelBirks
    Happy

    eBooks done more or less right?

    Baen Webscriptions and CD Libraries.

  34. Moonwolf
    FAIL

    Ummm

    The initial article kind of missed a few important points. Must have been a deadline to meet for a space-filler I guess?

    Amazon's objection wasn't entirely about the ideas of eBook pricing themselves, it was objecting to the agency model Macmillan was trying to put in place that recognizes the "new" technology. Macmillan was trying *to* adapt to new technology - but it would have meant *Amazon* didn't make as much money per copy sold.

    Read Charles Stross' analysis of the whole situation for a better idea of what happened - http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/01/amazon-macmillan-an-outsiders.html

    Even better, try the letter Macmillan sent out to agents and authors, there's a copy at http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=282306625809 - note that the agency model was proposing *dynamic* pricing, no different than current markdowns of physical books over time.

    As a side note, Amazon didn't pull the same stunt with Hachette - http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6717788.html?desc=topstory

    Bill Ray should have done some actual research for the article a little more - I've seen more balanced party political broadcasts.

    Amazon is trying to be to publishing what Apple is to people deciding what to run on their i*'s. I don't know about you, but I've got about as much interest in *Amazon* deciding what I get for my books as anyone else does in Apple deciding what you can run on your iPhone or iPod.

    As for why SFWA got involved - It's doing what it's supposed to do, and stand up for its members.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    What's the operating temp of a kindle CPU

    Fahrenheit 451 ?

  36. packrat

    on topic

    it WOULD help if more than one line was on the headline... this is shoddy reporting, B.

    e-books? lovely thought, stupid exe.

    I buy dvd's at used prices instead of going to movies.

    e books will wait till the deadwood has died off.. by refusing to change, as usual

    evolution IS conservative, etc.

    packrat

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shirley?

    Amazon have the right to charge what they want for anything they sell? And MacMillan have the right to charge Amazon whatever they want for anything they sell to Amazon? Now if Amazon want to make a loss on something then that's up to them. They have no right to tell MacMillan what to charge them, any more than the customer has a right to tell Amazon what to charge them. OTOH if Amazon think that they as a customer of MacMillan can dictate the price then surely they would agree that it's OK for Amazon customers to tell Amazon what to charge?

    Amazon are acting like twats, but then so are MacMillan.

    Retaillers can't dictate to it's suppliers the wholesale price, but then neither can the suppliers dictate to retaillers what they should stock. It's entirely up to Amazon whether they choose to sell a particular publisher's books.

    Both sides should pull their necks in and get round the table and talk like adults.

    FWIW I think it's ridiculous that MacMillan expect me to pay more for a data file than I would normally pay for hard copy. It's about time customers explained to MacMillan that they are charging too much for their ebooks. So that would be customers and Amazon vs. MacMillan then.

    Why is that publishers are so keen on ebooks anyway? Simply because publishers have never liked the idea of selling used books, nor do they like ideas like book sharing or passing on previously enjoyed books. They hope that ebooks and DRM will put a stop to this uncapitalist behaviour and increase their profits. If they want to try that, good luck to them, but when they try to make even more profit by increasing prices they can whistle for it.

    Does the author get any more from these overpriced ebooks than they would from a paperback? Doubt it. Does the retailler make any more profit? Probably not. So who is it that's trousering the extra wedge? MacMillan of course. Fuck em.

    1. Mayhem

      Re: Shirley?

      "Why is that publishers are so keen on ebooks anyway? Simply because publishers have never liked the idea of selling used books, nor do they like ideas like book sharing or passing on previously enjoyed books. They hope that ebooks and DRM will put a stop to this uncapitalist behaviour and increase their profits."

      Actually this is exactly wrong. Unlike the music industry, almost every publishing house is well aware that the vast majority of fiction titles are promoted via word of mouth of readers

      There is an extraordinary range of titles released each month, and only a fraction will ever get shelf space in a bookstore. The biggest challenge a publisher has is getting a book even noticed. Unlike music, you can't just blanket the airwaves, or put it in as background on TV.

      Every single author who has been around a while welcomes used books as a marketing tool - it doesn't matter much if their title is being passed around so long as *someone* reads it, likes it, and will sooner or later buy more by that author. Compared with the challenge of actually getting a book into someones hands .. the marketing potential is fantastic.

      Also the primary driver for DRM on ebooks is in fact coming from Amazon itself, every title it sells is DRM locked to the Kindle, coincidentally a device it sells.

      All the other publisher backed e-tailers are selling a range of locked and unlocked titles. Webscriptions and Fictionwise are mostly without any kind of DRM at all.

  38. Volker Hett

    eBooks are not for me!

    I can lend real books to friends, sell them, put them on a shelf nearly indefinitely and read them again in 20 years.

    While eBooks are tightly coupled to certain readers and can be removed from that reader by whoever sold me the reader, can't be lend and can't be sold.

    I think I might buy eBooks in adition to real ones if the price for this limited "ownership" is much much lower then $15.

    1. Ian 70

      If you are affriad of the ebook maker screwing you over

      simply don't by the Kindle or Sony.

      Have a look at the BeBook. It supports almost any format you care to think of (though of course not Amazons own) and will manage DRM on epub and mobi should for some reason buy from somewhere that does.

      Alternatives do exsist.

  39. Craig (well, I was until The Reg changed it to Craig 16)

    Authors

    The typical fiction book writer gets about 25p-45p per book sold. There is no money in book writing for all bar the biggest names, certainly not enough to make it a career. A lot of books are being sold but publishers, wholesalers and retailers are all pushing to get more cut with the authors being squeezed every time.

  40. Alpha Tony
    FAIL

    @Ryan7

    No Ryan, not zero... But an absolute fraction of what they would be for hard copy.

    Server costs, bandwidth, energy costs etc are very minimal. You can lease your own completey dedicated managed servers for literally tens of dollars a month.

    So you would need a halfway decent developer to set things up for you and a couple of phone droids to manage customer services. Oh and a one time fee to a lawyer to check your EULA is watertight.

    Payment processing costs cents when you get up to proper volumes (and only tens of cents before that).

    All that is irrelevant though - Amazon is already providing everything you describe for the 'publishers' - The point is that all the original publishers are doing for their money is providing a one off copy of the text to Amazon, who deal with everything else, but they want to still charge exactly the same as for a product they have to physically publish and ship to a retailer. They have obviously been reading the RIAA 'big book of fail'.... Shame they didnt realise it was a comedy of errors.

  41. Dan White
    FAIL

    Re: Online distribution costs are not Zero

    Given that most of the costs you're listing are applicable to print versions, and the publishers already have a web presence, the *actual* cost of selling an ebook is still in the order of pence per copy. Subtract the cost of printing and distribution and an ebook version should be free when you purchase a paper version.

  42. ratfox Silver badge
    Stop

    Price difference between e-books and real books

    Newflash: Books also cost next to nothing to produce. Most of the price pays for the edition job, paying an artist for the cover, typesetting, etc. A $20 book costs 50 cents to print. Even with transportation costs, you barely get $2 of price for the physical object; the rest is for content.

    And as Ryan said, e-books are not "free" to distribute either...

  43. SynnerCal
    Thumb Up

    Nice one Amazon

    As the title says, I'm with Amazon on this - the publishers are just taking the urine when it comes to eBooks at the moment. Plus isn't $15 pretty near the price for the hardbook edition of most books? In which case, surely pricing the eBook at (or better still slightly less) than the price of the paperback seems more equitable to me.

    But then again, I'm not exactly a good person to talk to about eBooks - I used to buy a lot of them from the eReader.com site. Then B&N took it over and suddenly you had to be a US resident to get pretty much all of the techno thrillers that I was interested in. Needless to say, I'm not US-based, so effectively the amount of content I could get went to near-zero. And no, I'm not interested in the latest teen-based movie tie-up or the latest scribbling from Dan Brown. And they wonder why I suddenly stopped buying 'product'!

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