Wednesday, April 11, 2012


This probably would affect me more if I were buying ebooks, not scrounging the interwebs for free ones or having free ones delivered to my Kindle Fire on a regular basis.

But as an author who is planning to publish his own ebook this summer, perhaps I should be worried: Free ebooks are nice, but they don’t pay for the mustard and ketchup.

“This,” of course, is the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Apple and publishers McMillan and Penguin, alleging the companies colluded to fix the price on ebooks so the companies could get more money at the expense of the book-buying public. Three other publishers (Hachette, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins) settled with the DOJ out of court.
No word yet on what the full legal defense from Apple et al will be, but I’m sure it’ll be interesting, with a swirl of accusations against Amazon for flooding the market with cheap ebooks in order to sell items like, ahem, the Kindle Fire, and plenty of stories of doom and gloom and more doom from publishers and authors and their children being tossed out in the snow with their frostbitten teddy bears because nobody (including me) is willing to pay premium prices for books, print or e, any more due to the changing times.

Bloomberg gets a peek at their strategery:

Apple and Macmillan, which have refused to engage in settlement talks with the Justice Department, deny they colluded to raise prices for digital books, according to people familiar with the matter. They will argue that pricing agreements between Apple and publishers enhanced competition in the e-book industry, which was dominated by Inc.
Philip Elmer-DeWitt, writing at Fortune, has this to say on the situation:

According to the Journal, the government has argued that the waiting period would allow publishers and booksellers to resume a one-to-one relationship, "free of the taint of collusion."

The length of that cooling-off period is reported to be one of the sticking points for Apple, and it's easy to see why.

An extended cooling-off period -- in which Amazon goes back to selling bestselling e-books for $9.99 and Apple is still adding its 30% surcharge to the publishers' prices -- could seriously damage Apple's e-book business.

Worse still, it could keep the books off the iBookstore altogether.

Apple's lawyers seem to think they can make a case that going to the agency model actually increased competition, allowing e-book rivals to take back some of the 90% market share Amazon had amassed.

Moreover the company -- unlike most book publishers -- has pockets deep enough to do legal battle with the U.S. government for as long as it takes to get a settlement more to its liking.
More of his article here.

Matthew Yglesias, writing at, takes up a contrary position, saying that the DOJ's involvement isn't nexessary:
What makes a major publishing house a major publishing house is its expertise in the manufacture and distribution of books. As an ancillary element of the business, publishers are also good at recruiting authors, editing prose, and publicizing new works. But firms with expertise in writing, editing, and publishing text are a dime a dozen. Slate has that know-how, as does every newspaper and magazine in the country and a huge quantity of independent and university presses. Even more troubling for traditional publishers, famous authors now have unprecedented ability to simply bypass the entire publishing system. If Suzanne Collins wants to sell a Hunger Games prequel directly to her readers, does anyone doubt she’d sell vast quantities? Celebrities could even potentially become their own publishing brands, using their fame to substitute for a traditional market apparatus. Oprah Winfrey has a proven ability to drive book sales. Why not launch an Oprah Press?

But the only way for these firms to stay viable is to publish books people like and to sell them at a price readers want to pay. Whether they merge, collude, or simply find a convenient confluence of interests around Apple’s efforts to compete with Amazon, there’s no real threat to competition here. Literary culture, for better or for worse, is dealing with a radically transformed business landscape. The Justice Department is, at best, irrelevant to this process.

As a soon-to-be-self-published author, there is concern here on both sides of the fence. While writing a book is in of itself a satisfying endeavor, it would be nice to think that somewhere along the way I could get a little money for all that work. The agency model under question by the DOJ does just that – it makes sure adequate gobs of money are changing hands so that the author – presumably – gets some of it too. I could say that as a self-published noob, that does not apply since I have no chance in hell of getting paid to publish anyway. That’s probably an accurate assessment. But a little part of me screams “I ought to make some kind of money along the way.” Even though that first ebook is going to be given away for free so’n I can build meself an audience.

No comments: