More Amazon/Macmillan feud fallout, conversations, and conspiracy theories
February 3, 2010 | 10:46 pm
TechCrunch’s M.G. Siegler reports that another “winner” in the Amazon vs. Macmillan feud is Barnes & Noble, who is getting a lot of new purchase traffic for books Amazon is currently unwilling to carry.
I would add, from the time I have spent reading various discussion forums about it, that a good many of the people who comment in discussion threads at Scalzi’s Whatever, Charlie Stross’s blog, and Making Light have said they are shifting all their purchases over to Barnes & Noble—and some have said they are going ahead and buying Nooks, too.
Furthermore, the SFWA today announced it is removing all links to Amazon.com from its website. If Amazon keeps this up much longer, it is going to exhaust much of the goodwill that authors and publishers have previously had toward it—and after some of the other disputes publishers and author-advocacy groups have had with Amazon already (the pricing issue, the Kindle text-to-speech issue, the listing-used-books-with-new issue) there may not have been much of that left to begin with.
Different Sites, Different Discussions
I find it interesting how different the conversations are at the blogs I mention above from discussion here and on MobileRead. At the aforementioned blogs, more people by far are taking Macmillan’s side and feel Amazon acted reprehensibly, while here and at MobileRead (as well as Kindle users’ communities, I understand, though I have not been reading them) it is largely the other way around.
(By the way, I would like to call out Tor.com for sticky-posting Sargent’s open letter at the top of the blog, but disabling reader comments on it. Very classy, guys. I know you’re part of Tor, which is part of Macmillan, but still, this one-way barrage of corporate-speak seems quite at odds with the notion of community you’ve worked so hard to build up. Someone get them a copy of The Cluetrain Manifesto.)
I suppose it is that Whatever, Stross, and Making Light serve communities made up of Macmillan writers, editors, and their friends, while more readers and small-press folks hang out here and on MobileRead. And needless to say, none of these discussions may represent the opinions of the great silent majority of readers who have not bothered to take part in any of them.
E-books’ “Grassy Knoll”?
This is not exactly a new idea, of course—it has had ten or fifteen years of publisher mismanagement of e-books to take root. Still, with Macmillan’s actions in attempting to raise e-book prices, it is finding newly receptive audiences.
I’m still looking for someone to write a guest column from an opposing viewpoint; LiveJournal user “barbarienne” has posted a (slightly blue) screed against this “conspiracy paranoia”, but it is not something I could reprint on the front page.
On a related note, writer Sean P. Fodera has made an LJ post concerning the “misconception” that e-books should cost significantly less than printed books—and unlike many others, he actually had a fairly reasonable response when I brought up the counter-example of Baen.
John Siracusa: “People don’t get e-books”
And from the point of view that it might be better not to ascribe malice to something that can be more readily explained by incompetence, this Ars Technica editorial by John Siracusa that I covered here a year ago suggests that most people, including publishers, have simply never “gotten” e-books.
If you’ve forgotten about or not read it, it is worth going through again—it’s still as true now as it was then (and interesting as well for the way it essentially predicts the iPad a year ahead of schedule).
Siracusa suggests that the industry’s “sabotage” of e-books could be laid at the feet not of some overarching plan, but the exact opposite—general cluelessness about e-books and the market in general, born of fear of what happened to the music industry with Napster and, yes, fear of e-books cutting into their hardcover margins.
Though even so, Siracusa does note:
All of this is to say that the publishers effectively sabotaged the e-book market from day one. The DRM, the pricing, the general treatment as second-class citizens, it all added up to an insurmountable drag on a budding industry. Without some minimum level of buy-in from content owners, there was simply no way to break through to the mainstream, no way to ever sell enough copies of those popular novels to recoup a large up-front fee, and no way to persuade content owners to allow the most desirable best-sellers to be sold in e-book form.
So whether there was or is any sort of overarching plan may not make much difference in the end if the results are the same.