Thursday, June 13, 2013

E-BOOK PRICING: THE SOUND AND THE FURY? OR MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING?


It’s been three months since my last posting, and lately I’ve been going nuts reading about the governments prosecution—or is it persecution—of publishers and a distributor of e-books, and felt impelled to get some things off my chest, clarify my mind, and rid myself of this fruitless and confusing issue.

The longer the government’s lawsuit against Apple and the five of the Big Six corporate publishers (who, through their various imprints account for 85% of book sales) continues, the more absurd it becomes. “Collusion,” the U.S. attorneys say. “We must protect the public from those conspiring to control prices of e-books.”

To my mind, I would say that “Authors need more protection than the public.” In the end, any book is an author’s creation and the writer deserves the fairest shake they can get. No two books are alike, all are individual creations, and the idea that e-book prices would uniformly rise if “Apple and the publishing conglomerates got their way” is hard to accept.

I don’t know how the Big Six divvy up e-book sales, but I know what we do: treating electronic sales the same way we do all subright sales and dividing the income on a 50:50 basis. I also believe that publishers have the right to set a price on the e-books they publish—just as they have a right to set prices on books they publish. If Apple allows the publisher to set their own prices, that’s a good thing. If wholesalers wish to give greater discounts, that’s up to them. But if Apple only takes 30% of the e-book selling price—then a $10 sale nets the publisher $7, and the author—with our system—earns $3.50 per sale. On the other hand, if Amazon takes 50%, and overrules the publisher’s asking price by deciding to sell the same book for $8, the publisher nets $4 and the author $2.00. Big difference, wouldn’t you say?


The very idea that the public needs protection in these instances seems even more absurd, for a book is not a necessity like food or fuel or electricity. Books and e-books are, in the end, entertainment: entertainment the public can purchase or take from any public library at no cost whatsoever. Would the government go after movie theater chains—like the United Artist Theaters who set ever higher prices for watching their films? They shouldn’t. But if we start with books, who knows what other forms of entertainment might come next.

Frankly, we adore Kindle sales, though Amazon often lowers prices to less than what we request. But they pay on time (unlike many bookstores and wholesalers) and account for over 80% of our e-book sales. If anything, it would benefit authors if publishers could list what return they would like on a price they set for any individual book. Amazon would have a choice of lowering their discount or not, in order to compete with Apple or others, though right now there is no competition, with Kindle sales blowing away all competitors.

To me, this lawsuit is an glaring example of government excess, providing big headlines concerning “Conspiracy” and “Protecting the Public,” while wasting taxpayer’s money and going after the wrong people, for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Faulkner have said it best: It’s “Much Ado about Nothing” and “The Sound and the Fury”— quite dramatic but empty of substance other than brandishing prosecutors reputations and defense lawyers incomes.

Let me know your thoughts about these issues. And I’d welcome learning about how electronic rights are divided by the Conglomerates.

And do check out the latest newsletter on The Permanent Press website (www.thepermanentpress.com)

Marty

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for clarifying this issue, Marty. I'd been trying to figure out which side to root for in this action against Apple. At last I've got good information that was conveyed intelligently, succinctly, and with panache.

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  2. I second Ivan's comment! I too had been wondering about this.

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