Amazonfail, Redux

The short version: this past Friday night, after everyone who could respond had gone home for the weekend, Amazon.com pulled the buy button from all Macmillan titles on their site.  This includes Kindle editions and print editions.  You can still purchase them from third-party resellers, but not directly from Amazon.  If you are a customer and had any of their books on your Amazon wishlist, guess what, those are gone, too.

There’s not much I can say about this that hasn’t been said in better and smarter ways by people more directly affected by this than I am, so I’m going to keep this short and send you off to see what the professionals are saying about it.

As James D. MacDonald said in his comment on the Making Light thread:

To my way of thinking, that makes three times Amazon has pulled this kind of crap.

First, they decided to delist any POD publisher that didn’t print their physical books at CreateSpace. Then they made all gay books vanish from searches. Now this.

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”

Other commenters pointed out that if you add in their yanking of 1984 from the Kindles of those who’d purchased the book and a similar incident to the Macmillan situation at Amazon UK (this time against Hachette UK), we’re up to five rounds of shenanigans.

Now, does Amazon have to sell Macmillan’s books?  No.  Nor, by the way, does Macmillan have to sell their books to Amazon to redistribute.  But the ones who lose in either scenario are the readers and, especially, the authors.  Could Amazon have perhaps pulled just the Kindle editions instead of all print ones as well?  Certainly.  Still not a great solution, but at least one that makes the point without kicking the authors in the teeth quite so hard.

And hey, if 50% of all their books sold are Kindle editions, as Bezos likes to claim — without providing any evidence to back it up, mind you — then wouldn’t removing the eBook editions still make Macmillan take notice?

That said, I think yanking all editions — print, Kindle, or crayon-on-wall — is a shitty solution no matter what way you look at it.  You’re a bookseller.  Your job is to provide books to readers. I can’t help but feel it’s unprofessional to drag your readers into your dispute with the publisher.  Which is probably also part of what Amazon’s doing, by the by:  telling their customers that Macmillan’s the bad guy here, because they want to charge more money for eBooks, so it’s the publisher’s fault.

But if you look at what Macmillan actually wants to do, which is start eBooks off at a higher price when they’re first released, but eventually lower the price, similar to the way prices go down as print books go from hardcover to trade paperback to mass market editions, that’s hardly a bad thing.  The people who want to read something on release will pay the higher cost.  Others will wait until it goes down a few dollars.  Others will just borrow it from their local library in its physical form.  The same way we do with dead tree books.  The same way we do with just about any product, really, be it clothing or gadgets or movies.

I’m guessing Amazon’ll be putting Macmillan’s buy buttons back tomorrow or early this week, having “shown them” what going against Amazon’s wishes can do to them.  I’m hoping that Macmillan will stick to their guns on eBooks, and that other publishers will back them up.  (Hint:   I’m looking at you, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Random House and HarperCollins.)

Before I let you go, might I recommend you show some support for the Macmillan authors and for your indie bookstores?  Click on over to IndieBound and treat yourself to a book!

Right, so.  Linky time.  Go refill your coffee and get clicking.

Let’s start off with a primary source.  Amazon’s not commenting, but Tor.com has A Message from Macmillan CEO John Sargeant that was sent to the publisher’s authors, illustrators, and the literary agents that work with them.

SFWA is hosting Tobias Buckell’s post about “Why My Books Are No Longer Available on Amazon.com” if you read no other articles about this situation, read Buckell’s. He makes his point in a clear, calm way.  He also explains why producing an eBook isn’t all that much more expensive than producing its print equivalent.  I’ve said it here before: the price of printing and binding a book is between $1 and $3.  Everything else goes to what Buckell lists: editing, copyediting, design, marketing.  He mentions that the publishers’ offices are part of that cost, but I’d add a little more to it: the paychecks of the customer service department, the finance department, the IT group.  All those departments that every company anywhere has exist at a publisher, and their operation comes out of whatever’s left after you subtract the bookseller discount from a book’s cover price.

Another excellent post is over at Charlie Stross’ blog: “Amazon, Macmillan: an outsider’s guide to the fight.” It takes a good look at Amazon in regards to the supply chain for books.

John Scalzi has two articles over at the Whatever: “A Quick Note on eBook Pricing and Amazon Hijinx” and “It’s All About Timing.” The second article takes a look at why Amazon would pull their stunt on a Friday evening as opposed to a Tuesday morning.

Making Light, home of Tor editors Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, has a short post, “Amazon and Macmillan,” but that’s because the commenters are brilliant people, and the discussion is one to follow.

Jay Lake’s title says it all: “Bug off, Bezos.  And take your damned bookstore with you.”

Jackie Kessler has a great analysis of the situation at “Amazon vs. Macmillan, part 2.”

More quick links:

Laptop Magazine: “Amazon, Macmillan, and the eBook Price War”

Laura Anne Gilman, “AmazonFail, part 2?”

I’ll update as more comes up.  I’m equally anticipating and dreading Amazon’s official comment, when it comes.

Update 1: Amazon’s finally responded, and, as predicted, they’re trying to make Macmillan into the villains here. I’m frothing too hard at the mouth to even really respond to it right now, except to say that while they “don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan,” I hope they do.

Update 2: Laura Anne Gilman does a line-by-line of Amazon’s response better than I ever could.  “Holy shit. Amazon, seriously? Sulky 5-year-old much?”  ahahahaha

And Tobias Buckell has a brilliant idea: “Together, Let’s Break the Amazon Monopoly on Kindles.”

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