Amazon, Macmillan Fight Over Ebook Prices; After Amazon Removes Macmillan Titles, It Caves To Higher Prices

from the too-bad dept

On Friday, there was a sudden realization that Amazon had removed books published by publishing giant Macmillan, apparently over a dispute concerning ebook pricing. Of course, Amazon wasn’t just removing Macmillan ebooks, but the physical books as well. After a bit of back and forth over the weekend, Amazon caved in and accepted the way Macmillan wants to price books, which means that Macmillan sets the retail price, and Amazon gets a cut. Previously, Amazon had paid a wholesale price and then got to set the retail prices itself.

I had been under the impression that when manufacturers tell retailers what the end user price is, it’s a form of price fixing, but apparently not…

Of course, what may seem odd about this is that it appears Macmillan will make less per ebook under this model. That’s because with its old wholesale pricing, Amazon was actually losing money on every ebook sold. As the NY Times notes:

In the model that Amazon prefers, publishers typically collect $12.50 to $17.50 for new e-books. Under the new agency model, publishers will typically make $9 to $10.50 on new digital editions.

So why are publishers specifically trying to limit their own profits from ebooks? Because they’re afraid of ebooks cannibalizing hardcover book sales, which is why they’re also looking to delay ebook releases. In fact, in this case, Amazon was given the choice of either increasing the retail price for consumers on Macmillan ebooks, or getting them many months later. All in all, this looks like publishers hurting themselves, yet again, by going against what consumers want in a misguided effort to preserve the way things used to be. Yet, in an age when users are punishing authors and publishers who don’t treat them right, this could backfire in a big way.

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Companies: amazon, macmillan

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Comments on “Amazon, Macmillan Fight Over Ebook Prices; After Amazon Removes Macmillan Titles, It Caves To Higher Prices”

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The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

I had been under the impression that when manufacturers tell retailers what the end user price is, it’s a form of price fixing,

No, price fixing is when manufactures or retailers get together and agree to a price for all similar goods, and agree not to compete on them.

Book publishers each produce unique products, so there is no real price fixing possible, only a contractual agreement for what is an acceptable retail price for the product between the distributor and the retailer.

If Amazon and Walmart got together to set a retail price for a specific book, that would be price fixing.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

i think the Point was that the comment he was responding to is just as silly.

not only that, whether TAM was right in the first place or not, the comment in question Didn’t actually change the validity of his.

If a fool says something wise, it does not make the statement less wise, nor necessarily make the fool less foolish. (though it’s a good start on the second part 😀 )

Forget Much? says:

Re: Re:

“Book publishers each produce unique products, so there is no real price fixing possible”

Interesting … I remember some time ago where the plastic disc people were convicted of something … what was it again? – Oh yeah, price fixing. And guess what – each one of them produces a unique product! Imagine that.

mjb5406 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually, a company forcing a reseller to sell a product at a particular price was outlawed years ago… for example, back in the 70’s and earlier, manufacturers of some stereo equipment, like Marantz and Pioneer, required its resellers to only sell at a price THEY set, arguing that the practice leveled the playing field between smaller shops and larger chains (at the time, chains like Playback and Pacific Stereo). I don’t know the timeline, but that practice was eventually outlawed. I think, though, there is more to this than a vendor simply dictating price… if nothing else, it smacks of collusion between Macmillan and Apple, where Apple accepted Macmillan’s terms and then turned around and said “but we need help stopping other ebook vendors from charging less than we do”. THAT would be construed as price fixing, because of collusion between Macmillan and Apple.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Book publishers each produce unique products, so there is no real price fixing possible, only a contractual agreement for what is an acceptable retail price for the product between the distributor and the retailer.”

In the UK the right of publishers to do this was conferred by the Net book Agreement.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_Book_Agreement

Whatever you call it’s now illegal in the UK.
(Quote from the wikipedia page linked above)

“In March 1997 the Restrictive Practices Court ruled that the Net Book Agreement was against the public interest. It was therefore ruled illegal.”

Griff (profile) says:

Just like hardbacks / Paperbacks ?

It is pretty standard for hardback edition to come out first.
This forces people to choose between a price (maybe even a format) to suit them, and the desire to have it now.

Though it can be pretty annoying to be forced to buy an overpriced, oversized hardback just to get it when you want it, it’s how the industry has worked for a long time and anyone is free to choose not to buy it.
About the only time when this would be seriously worrying is if the book was named on the national school curriculum and the publisher delayed the paperback until after term start.

If eBooks are cheaper than paper then I’d expect publishers to do exactly the same (ie launch them later). And it’s a business decision. They may actually be wrong (overall sales may suffer) but they’re free to do it.
If eBooks cost the same, then I’d be more surprised.

There’s no difference between believing paperbacks will cannibalise hardbacks, and believing eBooks will cannibalise paper (and DVD’s will cannibalise theatres, DVD rentals will cannibalise DVD sales etc).

The one small flaw in it all is that you are deliberately and explicitly choosing not to give customers what they want in an attempt to extract more money. In any other industry, someone might break ranks and just serve the customer. But if I am publishing a new book by author xx, there is noone else competing with me to publish that actual book.

You could argue that if book xxx is only in hardback then I’ll buy book yyy to read on the plane instead because that IS in paperback form.

But if their business model is stupid, that’s their funeral. It’s the author I feel sorry for.
But they (publishers) should be competing against each other to win the author, surely.

What would bother me is if the publisher told one outlet (Amazon) what to charge and not every other outlet.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Just like hardbacks / Paperbacks ?

The one small flaw in it all is that you are deliberately and explicitly choosing not to give customers what they want in an attempt to extract more money.

Actually, the one small flaw is assuming the customer is always right, because they are not.

What makes me laugh out of all of this is that what the book sellers are doing is exactly the “artificial scarcity” system that Mike pushes so much. Hardcover books are the equal of the “pre-release box set” or the “autographed hoodie” or what have you, something that is rare by it’s nature. If you want to be first to read a new book, you buy the hardcover. If you are just like the masses, you wait and buy the paperback or the digital version.

It really is the same thing, just framed slightly differently. The artificial scarcity is what justifies the price, no different from paying $50 for a hoodie.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Just like hardbacks / Paperbacks ?

in a way, you are absolutely correct. the hardcover is the ‘pre-release’ and because of that i have no problem with the tiered release or pricing.

but goods should be worth what they are, not in relation to others. an ebook should be $3-$7, not $15 just because the hardback is $30

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Just like hardbacks / Paperbacks ?

I would hope that the prices for books on the market would start to decline as do the prices for the book on paper. Early high prices that decline to the remaindered price, the paperback price and the used book shop price.

Macmillian could continue to see profits on books that have gone out of print.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Just like hardbacks / Paperbacks ?

I am not dense. Most of his “actual” scarcity is artificial in nature, limits set by someone selecting to stop producing something, rather than any true scarcity.

There is no shortage of cotton, no shortage of t-shirt plants, and no shortage of printers to make them (cheap too!). The only scarcity is when a human decides to order 50 of something instead of 1000.

Hardcover books are the same sort of thing, the choice is made not to offer a paperback or digital version right away, and the hardcover books are often in limited supply (first printing, second printing, etc… more artificial scarcity). It isn’t any different, there is no shortage of paper or printing presses, just a human choice to limit production (artificially creating scarcity).

There are few true actual scarcities, time being one of the very few.

techflaws.org (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Just like hardbacks / Paperbacks ?

I knew you wouldn’t get it. Thanks for proving my point.

Besides, ALL I got was what I posted 4 posts up which of course you chose to ignore, like you always do when you’re running out of comebacks.

Gosh, if you’re really the best chill the industry can come up with they will be gone sooner than even I thought. Good riddance.

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Just like hardbacks / Paperbacks ?

Then you completely misunderstand the definition of scarcity as defined by pretty much the entire field of economics. Scarcity does not mean there is a “local” limit to the amount of something available to suppliers and consumers. It does mean that there is a “practical” limit to the amount that can be created, distributed, etc. that affects the MARGINAL COST. The reason a human decides to only order 50 is because there are limits to the amount they can cost effectively acquire and limits to the amount they can cost effectively sell.

Things that are for all intents and purposes infinite (digital copies), have an extremely low (if not zero) marginal cost. Companies often try to artificially set prices that defy the pressure created by that low marginal cost. Thus the problem.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Just like hardbacks / Paperbacks ?

“There are few true actual scarcities, time being one of the very few.”

In particular the time of an author. So if he/she takes the time to sign a copy of a book that is a real scarcity not an artificial one.

Copyright in contrast is an artificial scarcity because it is created by the laws of man rather than the laws of nature.

Mike is saying that what you need to do is to find real scarcities (usually based on someone’s time which is one of the few – as you admit) rather than artificial ones.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Just like hardbacks / Paperbacks ?

“I am not dense. Most of his “actual” scarcity is artificial in nature, limits set by someone selecting to stop producing something, rather than any true scarcity.

There is no shortage of cotton, no shortage of t-shirt plants, and no shortage of printers to make them (cheap too!). The only scarcity is when a human decides to order 50 of something instead of 1000.”

No but the thing that makes the T shirt scarce (and everything else you mentioned) is it’s provenance. There are many early 19th century chairs around – they sell for a few tens of pounds each – however the one that Napoleon sat on whilst planning the campaign at Waterloo….

Mischa Becker says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Just like hardbacks / Paperbacks ?

You seem to be deliberately missunderstanding. To take your analogy to the extreme, if there is a shortage of cotton, it isn’t actual scarcity it’s artificial because the farmer choose to only plant 100 acres cotton instead of 1000.

All physical goods are scarce because if you give one away you don’t have it anymore and makeing another one requires time (and effort and materials).

The only thing scarce about a digital good is its initial creation because it takes someones time. Once it exists you can give away millions of copies without loosing yours.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Just like hardbacks / Paperbacks ?

“QWhat makes me laugh out of all of this is that what the book sellers are doing is exactly the “artificial scarcity” system that Mike pushes so much. Hardcover books are the equal of the “pre-release box set” or the “autographed hoodie” or what have you, something that is rare by it’s nature. If you want to be first to read a new book, you buy the hardcover. If you are just like the masses, you wait and buy the paperback or the digital version.”

and what makes me laugh is that is a complete misunderstanding of what Mike has been saying. It’s SO wrong I can’t een work out how to start putting it right.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Just like hardbacks / Paperbacks ?

Not a bad analogy, but the big problem is that generally the “pre-release box set” isn’t 6-9 months before the rest of the album. Most ‘artificial scarcity’ elements operate at the same general time as the normal access. What seems to drive the piracy more is the highly artificial window of release – the same as in the movie industry with DVD releases. So, if publishers released this just a week or two early – or as a ‘special’ item at the same time (the same as many other products have, such as 1-disc and 2-disc DVD editions) then they will still likely have sales with less direct incentive for people to pirate.

Also, the other problem with TAM’s analogy is that he is comparing the hoodie-vs-music against hardback-vs-softback/ebook. The hoodie ISN’T the music, it’s a totally different product. The Hardback IS the product, and a lot of people feel unable or unwilling to cough up that amount, yet have to wait several MONTHS for the main product. Imagine if the Blu-Ray was released 6 months before the DVD – a lot of people would be justifiably miffed, to put it mildly.

Fungo Knubb (profile) says:

RE: Just like hardbacks / Paperbacks ?

Griff is pretty much right on. What it does is delay and/or short change the author of any royalties they might receive from the sale of the e-book version. Maybe the author should find another publisher.

Because of their pricing policies, I will not now, or ever purchase any book (hard cover, soft cover, e-book, etc.) published by Macmillan.

One other thought …. Where do I go to get a pirated copy of the e-book that Amazon took down?

haiku says:

Methinks these are simply the opening shots in the war …

Expect the publishers to join the RIAA in demanding that if you don’t pay full hard-cover price for three e-books you should be cut off from all reading matter … 8)

The publisher’s attitude is, of course, driving people to piracy. The Kindle price for technical books (selling in the $40+ price bracket) is on average about $2 cheaper than the hard-cover version, with the result that many are available for download as free PDFs

Anonymous Coward says:

amazon got a lot of flack for this on some of the other tech sites. things like “overstepping” and “monopoly” were thrown around. but i don’t think that is fair.

while i doubt either amazon or macmills cares about me specifically, amazon is thinking of me more than macmills is. amazon wants me to buy stuff. lots of stuff and all from amazon. therefor they do everything in their power to make this easy and afforable.

the thing is this, hardcovers could be $50 and i’d still feel ripped off by a $15 ebook. they could be $100 and i’d still not buy a $15 ebook.

with a hardcover i am getting something. i have a book that is well bound, durable, and usually printed nicely.

for the ebook, i am getting a text file. a text file that is only mildly altered from the text file that was already created to make the printed book. it may not even come with a picture of the cover.

i’d rather they delay the ebook and sell it at a reasonable price. the tiered system is flawed, yes, but at least we are used to it. i can wait for a book. macmills is banking on me still being able to afford it. and at $12-$15 an ebook, the answer is no.

(but there is the real danger, no? if i wait for the book, i may not actually buy it. ever.)

i have a nook. so far everything i have read on it has been in the public domain. here is where ebook readers are going to shine. if you have an ebook reader you don’t have to pay for public domain books ever again.

but when i start buying books (because i will) i will be very cautious about what I get. amazon had it right. if the ebook is a few cents cheeper than the paperback, why buy it?

especially when i can find a free jules verne book to read.

macmills thinks that it isn’t competing with anyone since it alone puts out macmills books. but as much as i love auther X, if his stuff is too expensive, i’ll read author Y. or play video games.

this is starting to ramble, but the point is this: amazon was not the bad guy in this. sure it flexed its muscles. it had too. and it a way they did it for us. they lose if we don’t buy this stuff.

and macmills doesn’t care about us. or the authors.

Yeebok (profile) says:

Sadly

I think Griff has it right, and haiku has the end result. The companies can put any sort of value on it that they like. Individuals will be forced to pay .. or forced to wait and pay .. or not read it, or feel forced to copy it.
I think it will become a lot like music, with 2 opposing factions and all the rest of it, and sadly the content creators are the ones who’ll lose out.
I think authors may need to find a way to CwF+RtB.
Disclaimer : Blog comments are 95%+ of my interwebs posting total. Definitely no book deals.

Yeebok (profile) says:

More..

is exactly the “artificial scarcity” system that Mike pushes so much. Hardcover books are the equal of the “pre-release box set” or the “autographed hoodie” or what have you, something that is rare by it’s nature. If you want to be first to read a new book, you buy the hardcover.
Nice way to defeat your own logic in the middle sentence by adding the last one. Hardcovers are simply the company’s way of providing an earlier version of a product at a higher price. There’s no reason the first release method can’t be paperback – or digital.

Imagine : The first eBook sold in serial form over a year by subscription then sold as e/iBook, then physical copies. I’d pay to be part of that .. but meh.

Haywood (profile) says:

One of these days.....

Some popular Author could at the end of his or her contract decide not to renew with the publisher. They could then self publish in E-book and / or audio book only.
The overall profits would be less, but with fewer hands in the pie, the authors share should be greater.
If someone decides to run with this, & do the Audio books please hire one of the great female voices out there, I’ve seldom heard a great male narrator. The absolute best is; one of each (Male and Female) in which case it becomes more like a radio play.

Alfie (user link) says:

Not quite

Yes, under Amazon’s terms Macmillan might make more money on paper, but the contract needed to work in that agreement requires Macmillan to essentially cede the legal role of ‘publisher’ to Amazon. Which is what Amazon’s after here, becoming not only the consumer retailer and the distributor, they want to be the *publisher* to boot, completely disrupting the publishing business over time, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but Amazon having all these roles is a really Really Bad Thing.

Michael (profile) says:

Resale Value

One more thing on top of all of this that physical books have an increased value based on their resale value. Hardcover books, though more expensive, are worth more in a resale market and soft cover books.

In the case of a kindle, an e-book has zero resale value because you are unable to sell the e-book after you are done reading it. This can have a huge impact on the value of a good.

I’m not sure if there is a (legal) resale market for non-drm’d e-books yet, but this would certainly increase their value.

Josh Berry says:

Didn't work for music.

I find it alarming that so many people are defending the publishers on this one. It reminds me of when music publishers were trying to raise the cost of mp3s to 1.50. Had they gotten someone as hard hitting as Amazon on board with that, we would have slaughtered Amazon versus Apple in that debate. However, it seems the trend is reversed, and nobody wants to bad mouth Apple.

This saddens me.

RD says:

TAM the amazing TAMHOLE

“What makes me laugh out of all of this is that what the book sellers are doing is exactly the “artificial scarcity” system that Mike pushes so much. Hardcover books are the equal of the “pre-release box set” or the “autographed hoodie” or what have you, something that is rare by it’s nature. If you want to be first to read a new book, you buy the hardcover. If you are just like the masses, you wait and buy the paperback or the digital version.

It really is the same thing, just framed slightly differently. The artificial scarcity is what justifies the price, no different from paying $50 for a hoodie.”

Wow….just…wow. You have now officially gone off the plot. Your lies and misrepresentation of things is so far beyond what everyone else’s is, that you have now completely and utterly undermined your credibility to an absolute. You stand revealed for the paid shill you are.

You SHOULD know by now that Mike does NOT advocate either “give everything away free” or “artificial scarcity” through things like windowed releases. It has now become abundantly clear that you will stoop to any level to try to twist the themes of this site and these viewpoints to try to discredit them, even if it means complete misrepresentation and outright fabrication.

Pre-release/windowed forcing of scarcity IS NOT what Mike advocates here. His entire econ 101 here is: USE FREE to help ALSO SELL scarcities. You, of course, only hear one of 2 things: “FREE”, as in, give EVERYTHING AWAY, and “Scarcities” which you interpret as selling t-shirts. Mike has been a strong opponent AGAINST this EXACT scenario: forcing people to buy the more expensive item by WITHHOLDING any other, especially a free or low cost option. You, on the other hand, swing in like a retarded CEO and go “See! see! Mike is the same!” as if you’ve just “gotten” him in some kind of moral inconsistency, when in reality, you lie and misrepresent, build a straw man, then go “gotcha!!”

You now, officially, have nothing to add to any of these conversations except bile, invective, lies, strawmen, and corporate stoogery.

Mike, is there any way to filter out comments by a particular poster, so they never show on my screen when I view them?

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re: TAM the amazing TAMHOLE

I’m not sure he’s doing it out of vindictiveness, although there is a certain bitterness behind his comments. But I can’t say that the rest of us have been on our best behavior either.

However, as my second post above demonstrates, I honestly think that part of the problem is a very odd view of economics on his (or her) part. I finally understand one of the major area of disagreements between TAM and the rest–I believe he completely misunderstands the economic concept of scarcity and its contribution to marginal cost.

That’s a pretty fundamental concept and until our understandings converge, there will never be much common ground.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: TAM the amazing TAMHOLE

-I believe he completely misunderstands the economic concept of scarcity and its contribution to marginal cost.

Actually, scarcity has absolutely nothing to do with marginal cost (the cost to create one more unit), but rather it has to do with supply and demand. Scarcity is what limits supply, and the price is created as a result of the demand, particularly when demand is in excess of supply.

Artificial scarcity is to specifically limit supply where no real supply limit exists. “limited edition” anything where the limit is created only by choice means that supply is constrained only by choice, not by any true shortage.

A music business example would be putting a major “stadium” act on a small night club tour. Those tickets are exceedingly scarce compared to demand, but that scarcity is artificial, because the band could just as easily play a larger room. The true scarcity is their time, not the number of seats. The seat scarcity would be artificially created.

Anyway, what the publishers have done for a long time is create an artificial shortage of books. Essentially, they could very easily print new books are lower priced paperbacks right away, and satisfy the market demand in that manner. However, they manage supply, first putting the book out as a higher price (and quality) hardcover book, and then releasing it over time as a lower cost paperback.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: TAM the amazing TAMHOLE

Actually, scarcity has absolutely nothing to do with marginal cost (the cost to create one more unit), but rather it has to do with supply and demand.

Heh. The above statement is basically “Hi, I’m The Anti-Mike and I don’t understand economics *at all* and I am now going to show off how willfully ignorant I am.”

I have suggested in the past that a refresher course on basic economics might be in order for you. That you have chosen to continually misstate the most basic economic concepts is amusing in that it shows that you are not here to engage in any sort of informed debate.

jhn says:

Um. Macmillan is a little nuts, trying to engage in resale price maintenance. Sure.

But, Amazon are totally the bad guys here. They are trying to lock down control of a new market, and are not afraid to leverage their position with physical books to do it.

Worst of all is their attempt to get “most favored nation” provisions in their contracts, where publishers cannot allow any of Amazon’s competitors to underprice them.

Who is really going against the customer here: the company that is seeking to lock down its control over content it merely resells, or the publishers, who want the flexibility to deal with multiple resellers on different terms? I’ll take a competitive market any day, over an Amazon bottleneck.

The “agency” model that Macmillan wants is stupid, as it prevents the resellers from differentiating themselves. But it’s not as though Amazon is some hero company here. They’re the ones that are the threat to the viability of ebooks.

Eric says:

Things not spelled out?

I’m trying to come to grasp w/ the argument between everyone and TAM. What TAM says makes sense to me. The publishers are creating a artificial scarcity in books w/ the hard back books. First edition books usually sell more than other editions do.

But I think where the turn of the brain takes place is now in the digital realm? am I correct? Because the publishers can create their scarcity by just publishing 100 books the first time, but one person can buy that book and digitize it and turn it into a infinite good?

Meaning before the digital age this was a possible type of raping the customer, but now the shoes on the other foot because we can make the scarce good infinite now?

Am I getting the gist of the argument here? And I would never pay more than $2-$3 for something I can’t resell, that isn’t a piece of art, and that I can’t lend out to friends. I’d like to know these people who need to take a whole library w/ them on vacation. Where are they going for so long and how much time do they have to read?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Things not spelled out?

I’m trying to come to grasp w/ the argument between everyone and TAM. What TAM says makes sense to me. The publishers are creating a artificial scarcity in books w/ the hard back books. First edition books usually sell more than other editions do.

That’s not an artificial scarcity, but a real scarcity. The determination of whether or not something is scarce or not has to do with the marginal cost to produce another one. If it’s zero, the good is not scarce. If it’s above zero, it’s a scarce product. So the book publishers are creating real, not artificial scarcity. TAM’s discussion is trying to redefine well accepted terms in economics because he never wants to be proven wrong.

Meaning before the digital age this was a possible type of raping the customer, but now the shoes on the other foot because we can make the scarce good infinite now?

More or less. Once a scarce good has become infinite, then the supply shoots up, and thus price in a competitive market gets pushed way way down.

Danny (profile) says:

Contribution margin question

Without knowing the cost structure for the different formats (hard cover, soft cover, e-books), I can’t evaluate what the logical pricing model should be.

But it seems to me that once variable costs are figured in, the publisher should know what the contribution margin is for any given book in every possible format. And–this is the key point–shouldn’t the publisher be indifferent to format if it is receiving the same contribution margin?

For some reason publishers don’t seem to be–and I can’t figure out why.

Fentex says:

Price fixing?

I wonder if this is the idea of everytihng being licensed coming back to bite Amazon.

If Amazon is a retailer who buys wholesale then the wholesaler has no authority to tell them what to do with/how to sale their property (in NZ, where I live, that’s an illegal attempt to restrict competition).

But if you’ve convinced everyone that what you’re doing is moving licenses about then Amazon becomes an agent for other peoples licenses and starts getting a cut of the deal rather than an owner of the property at any time.

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