Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Words for sale -- at inflated prices

As I've made quite clear on previous posts, I pretty much have no respect or liking for traditional publishers.  And by traditional I mean those outfits -- corporate or otherwise -- who contract with an author to take her story from its manuscript condition and make it available to the reading public.  This includes the small-time digital publishers going back to Hard Shell Word Factory and New Concepts and up to Samhain and Ellora's Cave and Carina and so on.  As for the even more traditional paper-and-ink publishers, I have pretty much nothing but absolute and deep contempt for them.

When I came back to the writing business a little over a year ago, one of the big issues in the digital publishing world was the recently implemented "Agency" model for pricing digital books published by the major print publishers.  Very very briefly, this amounted to the publishers, who saw their cash cow of hardcover books going the way of the Aurochs, colluding (allegedly) with Apple to inflate the price of digital books and (allegedly) squeeze out Amazon.  A few people thought this was pure and simple price fixing, restraint of trade, and other things nefarious and illegal, but all done under the guise of preventing an Amazon monopoly.  So good (allegedly) intentions but bad (allegedly) tactics.  The Department of Justice brought suit, and things started to happen.  Jane Litte at gives a great overview of the latest development (as of 16 May 2012) in the Department of Justice's lawsuit, with a link back to her earlier explanation of the basics behind it.

If you are a non-writing reader, this alleged conspiracy has harmed you, in the form of taking more of your money for books than the publishers or Apple could justify.  And only their collusion to control the market -- in other words, to eliminate competition and eliminate anything resembling a "free" market even though they claimed they were doing all this to protect a free market and foster competition -- allowed them to do it.

If you are a writer trying to be published, this alleged conspiracy has harmed you, not only in the same way it has harmed the non-writing reader, but by forcing readers to pay more for the books they want to read and leaving them less money to try "new to me" authors and books.

If you are a writer who has been published by one of the Agency 5 (or sometimes 6) publishers, this alleged conspiracy has harmed you by raising the price of your print books AND your digital books in a way that discourages buying, and even though you may say your net royalty per copy sold go up, if the number of copies sold drops below a break even point, you're the loser.  Because the agreement was designed to limit digital sales and protect paper sales, it encourages the purchase of tradeable and/or resalable copies that can limit your sales as well.

If you are a writer who has digitally self-published, this restraint of trade may actually have helped you because it allowed you to sell your books at a much lower, i.e. more competitive, price than the best-selling books.

The only people this alleged conspiracy has benefited are Apple (who pays as little taxes as possible while maximizing profits), Steve Jobs' heirs (who pay no tax on their windfall inheritance), and the Big Six publishers (many of whom are not based in the U.S. where the bulk of their sales come from).  This has not been about helping readers or writers, and they're the ones it should be all about.

My contempt for publishers increased.

No comments:

Post a Comment