a brief note on the Amazon thing

Short form, for those who haven’t heard: Macmillan (publishing conglomerate that includes, among other companies, Tor) allegedly told Amazon (you know who they are, I imagine) that they wanted to price their ebooks at $15, and Amazon, in refusing to cooperate, has stopped selling Macmillan’s books. Not their ebooks; all of their books. As in, right now you can buy the Wheel of Time used from third-party sellers, but not from Amazon.

Oh, and undoubtedly this has to to with the iPad thing — Macmillan is one of the corporations that struck a deal with Apple for the iBookstore.

Cory Doctorow has a good analysis of what that means, and I think it’s a good analysis even if you’re not usually on board with his copyright agenda (as I’m aware many people aren’t). Shorter Cory: Macmillan’s $15 thing is dumb, but what Amazon did is a hell of a lot dumber, and either way it’s like two bull elephants going tusk-to-tusk while the rest of us, the writers and readers, get trampled underfoot. This is the consequence of the conglomeration of publishing, and it really isn’t a good thing.

Lots of other people have commented. John Scalzi here and here, Jay Lake here and here; also Jim Hines, Cat Valente, Janni Lee Simner, others I’ll undoubtedly see when I open up my Google Reader, and more besides.

At the moment? I’m waiting for more information. Nothing’s certain at the moment, not even that the pulling of the books was done by Amazon rather than Macmillan (though it seems very likely). Lots of authors have pulled the Amazon links from their sites. I haven’t done that yet, mostly because a) there are a lot of them to pull and b) we don’t have the full story yet; I’d be pissed if I went to all that work only to learn something that paints Amazon in a better light. I’m not real optimistic about that, mind you, but I figure it doesn’t hurt to wait another day or two. Once I know for sure what’s up with this, then I’ll make my decision.

But I gotta tell you, Amazon’s done some kind of craptastic things in the past, and adding this one to the list does more than put a bad taste in my mouth. As Jay says, what they appear to have done isn’t precisely wrong — they’re within their rights to decide which products to stock — but the implications of it are deeply troubling. Amazon isn’t just a retailer; they dominate the audiobook market, and have been trying to lock down the ebook market, in ways that aren’t good for any of us. They’ve tried before to use that weight to strongarm publishers into doing things their way (insert industry neepery here, of a lower-profile sort), and if they succeed, we’re all going to lose.

0 Responses to “a brief note on the Amazon thing”

  1. bellakara

    To me, what they’ve done is morally wrong, because they could not possibly have failed to realise the impact it would have on MacMillan sales and writers. The publisher is well within its rights to set prices, though some e-books are a bit overpriced and something is going to have to be done about that. Amazon is far too powerful, and so for that matter are the big publishing houses. I was going to blog on this, but had already planned to blog on a 17th century Dutch woman painter, and didn’t see why she should get bumped just because of those toe-rags.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’m not sure Amazon has a moral obligation to help keep Macmillan or its writers in business — except insofar as the publishing industry is precariously enough balanced that knocking out one of its pillars destabilizes the whole, which could backfire on Amazon in the long run.

      What is morally wrong, in my opinion, is the way in which Amazon has chosen to try and protect its market share by locking things down to the Kindle. It’s a perverted extension of copyright — which was never meant to control the consumption of a text. But that’s a fuzzy issue, as moral ones tend to be, and I don’t expect it to hold much weight regardless.

      Be that as it may, I wholeheartedly support your decision to blog about Dutch women painters instead of Amazon’s latest idiocy. 🙂

  2. jimhines

    “But I gotta tell you, Amazon’s done some kind of craptastic things in the past, and adding this one to the list does more than put a bad taste in my mouth.”

    Agreed. I’m still biting my tongue and waiting for more info, but it would take a lot to paint Amazon in that better light for me. Not saying it won’t happen, but….

    • Marie Brennan

      I just want to resist the Internet-facilitated tendency to make a drastic response within the first thirty seconds. It’s the weekend; yeah, it would be better for all parties involved to get official statements on the record sooner rather than later, but I want to at least give them one business day before I start judging their actions for real.

      • jimhines

        Yep. I get this in the day job sometimes. We’re not perfect, and it does take us time to figure out what went wrong, fix it, and put together a public response. Waiting until Monday seems perfectly reasonable to me.

  3. charlesatan

    Here’s an update: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/lunch/free/

    Apparently, Amazon (and not Pan Macmillan) DID pull out the books.

  4. cloudshaper2k

    Seems to be confirmation from several sources that Amazon is behind the delisting of Macmillan. Maybe I’ve been doing too much research into Standard Oil over the last month or so, but this kind of move strikes me as the same kind of anti-competitive practice Rockefeller used to gain control over the refineries.

  5. pentane

    tends to be a little off in the tinfoil hat range, but his comments are pro-amazon.

    If his theory that Macmillen is trying to tell Amazon how much they should make per book and is doing so to not cannibalize their hardcover sales, I’m with him. They deserve to go down.

    • pentane

      This seems to be in line with that. Macmillen is trying to tell Amazon how much to make per sale and how it will be better for them and Amazon is having no part of it.

      • Marie Brennan

        Look for a post later today, once I’ve had time to collate the stuff I’ve been reading over the weekend. Amazon’s been trying to talk like they’re the good guy in this fight, but they’ve done a piss-poor job of it, and there’s a strong body of evidence to show that what they’re really doing is trying to achieve both a monopoly (to readers) and a monopsony (to publishers), with detrimental consequences to everybody but themselves.

        • pentane

          Given that I’m not a writer and hate Apple with the burning heat of a thousand suns, I’m going to have a different point of view, but I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

          • Marie Brennan

            Apple is irrelevant to what I have to say, and Amazon’s tactics would likely be bad in the long run not just for writers and publishers, but also readers.

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