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[publishing] Amazon’s Kindle readers, and the capitulation letter

In case you’re wondering, I won’t be restoring my Amazon links, or reopening my cancelled Amazon account. The underlying issue of Amazon abusing their market power by pulling the print titles to score points in an ebook pricing dispute is unresolved, and probably unresolvable. I simply don’t see any reason to support a business that makes decisions with such schoolyard petulance.

I don’t yet have an informed opinion on Amazon’s dispute with Macmillan. For obvious economic reasons (they publish me) I have a lot of latent and active loyalty to Macmillan. On the other hand, until Friday night, I had a lot of active brand loyalty to Amazon, a retailer with which I’ve spent many, many thousands of dollars over the years. But as to the underlying ebook pricing question, whether Macmillan’s proposed ‘agency’ model is a good idea, how Amazon should be pricing or not — I have opinions on those elements, but I don’t understand them well enough to take an position.

So, as I’ve said repeatedly, my issue isn’t with ebooks, or Kindle, or even the core of the Amazon-Macmillan dispute. It’s with Amazon’s tactical decision to pull the Macmillan print titles along with the Macmillan Kindle titles. That is corporate bullying pure and simple, and it harmed a lot of people who had nothing to do with the core dispute. It’s like me beating up your kid brother because you owe me money, except the Macmillan print authors and their fans are the kid brothers in this deal.

It’s been very interesting reading the Kindle forum on this topic. As I predicted [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ], to many loyal Kindle readers, the authors concerned about the suspension of print sales look greedy and short-sighted. The amount of anti-author sentiment on the board is saddening, and perhaps frightening, given that people talking there are readers. Even the anti-publisher sentiment is a bit saddening, though more understandable, I suppose. But where do these angry readers think books come from?

I’ve spent a lot more time and energy this weekend than I should hanging in on the Amazon Kindle discussion board, trying to respond even-handedly to comments addressed to me, regardless of their tone. (Some were quite abusive to me.) As I said over there this morning:

Believe me, it isn’t a lot of fun for me to hang in here discussing this with you guys when I’m getting named called, yelled at, told I’m an idiot, and deliberately misinterpreted over and over again, but I’m making the effort because I care a great deal what the Kindle audience thinks. I fought like hell in my last contract round to get my books ON to Kindle because I believe in ebooks so strongly. And if you’d actually read any of my statements here or on my blog, you’d know I’ve not said one word against ebooks or their readers. My complaint is with the way Amazon handled print books in this matter, not with the Amazon-Macmillan ebook pricing dispute, over which I still haven’t developed an informed opinion because it is so fricking complicated.

I realize that arguing on the Internet is like pissing on a forest fire, but I really do passionately care about what readers think. Any author who doesn’t is a fool.

But the truly amazing thing to me is the Amazon response itself, which I’m going to reproduce below with commentary. It’s a jolly piece of self-serving tripe that seriously misrepresents both the issue at hand and Amazon’s response to the issue, while being very well crafted at riling up the Kindle loyalists against the evil, monopolistic publishers.

Dear Customers:

[Amazon isn’t actually talking to their customers, given that this letter was buried on the Kindle discussion boards, and presented to a very Amazon friendly audience that is passionate about ebook pricing, especially the $9.99 movement people. So even the greeting is misleading. It certainly doesn’t address authors or anyone concerned with the larger business issues either.]

Macmillan, one of the “big six” publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

[Ok, you’re a retailer, so one of your suppliers is changing their terms. This isn’t exactly a betrayal of free market capitalism, guys. It might even be that little thing we like to call “innovation.” You know, like that company in Seattle that invented the Kindle.]

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles.

[Yes, we know that. Notice no comment on why print titles should be included in this cessation of sale. Print doesn’t even come through the same distribution channel, or on the same contract terms, so this was truly pointless.]

We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate…

[Well, that’s calling a spade a spade. I wonder if Amazon’s corporate PR department saw this letter. Not to mention the shareholder relations people.]

…and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles,

[This is so laughable that even a high school economics student could take it down between the rolling giggles. As Lee Goldberg said, it’s like complaining that Nabisco has a monopoly on Oreos. Or, wait, I know! Like complaining that Amazon has a monopoly on the Kindle! Nah, couldn’t be. This phrase is the one that really makes me wonder if Amazon’s PR was anywhere near this letter. Or their Legal department. Or their executive team. Or, really, anyone over the age of 12.]

and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book.

[Strangely enough, Macmillan’s own statement in the matter claims that ebook prices will drop overall with this proposal. I can’t tell you if that’s true or not, but Amazon conveniently mentions the high end price point without referencing the rolling nature of the price drops as proposed by Macmillan. Or the $5.99 price point proposed as the low end. Omitting some of the facts is always a better way to make yourself out as the victim, so go Amazon!]

We don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan.

[Translation: We’re down on our knees praying this doesn’t happen.]

And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.

[Right. Because the independent press hasn’t been active in ebooks up until now, and it never occurred to self-published authors to jump into ebooks until Macmillan’s bullying woke them up to the market opportunity. Or something. Wait, does this statement by Amazon actually mean anything at all?]

Kindle is a business for Amazon,

[Yep. And books are a business for Macmillan. Amazing how that works.]

…and it is also a mission.

[Excellent for you guys. Explain to me again how your Kindle mission means you should pull my print books from sale? Still wondering about that one.]

We never expected it to be easy!

[It sure isn’t easy when you make it harder on yourself, embarrass your company, piss off the authors whose books you sell and the readers who buy them, and generally behave like schoolyard bullies. So way to go Amazon, fulfilling that “not easy” mission statement.]

Thank you for being a customer.

[Not any more, not me.]

Um, yeah. I’ll be curious to see if the grown-ups at Amazon comment today.

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