This was originally going to be a post about properly planting Chekhov guns in stories, but there are two big developments today in the battles between Amazon, Apple, the publishers, and the DOJ, both of which deserve attention of anyone who cares about the future of ebook and regular book pricing, with the potential of both affecting the future of author compensation.
First, from The Bookseller, Two US publishers turn backs on Amazon.com. Don’t let the headline underplay this, this isn’t another dispute between Amazon and a smaller group like IPG, this is at least two of the Big Six fighting back, though specifically which two is not yet known.
At least two of the big six publishers in the US are refusing to renew contracts with Amazon.com, with the giant internet retailer said to be downplaying the promotion of their titles as a result of the dispute.
The news was first reported by Salon reporter Alexander Zaitchik, who noted in a longer piece on Amazon, that “for the first time, the ‘Big Six’ publishers—HarperCollins, Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Macmillan—have refused to sign Amazon’s latest annual contract”. Overnight PaidContent reported that “people familiar with the situation” confirmed to its reporter that at least two of these big-six houses have refused to sign new annual contracts, but it could not confirm whether the remaining four had taken a similar stance.
Interesting to see they’re not completely yanking the titles like they did with IPG, but then I always suspected they went after IPG because Amazon felt they were a weaker target, someone that would just roll over, and someone whose business they could afford to lose. Can’t yank two of the Big Six, that’s a significant portion of the market, and that’s going to hurt Amazon far more than it would likely hurt the publisher.
Second, from the Washington Post, among others, Justice Dept. sues Apple, publishers over e-book prices. This is what we’ve been expecting for a few weeks now, ever since the threats came down. This follows close on the heels of HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette settling with the government.
The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday it was suing Apple and five major publishers, alleging they colluded to keep the price of e-books artificially high.
“As a result of this alleged conspiracy, we believe that consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said. “We allege that executives at the highest levels of these companies–concerned that e-book sellers had reduced prices–worked together to eliminate competition.”
The suit was filed against Apple as well as HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group, and MacMillan.
I’ve made my side in this fight known. I side with the publishers, which means I side with Apple, largely because I stand by a standardization of prices across digital formats. I’m not going to say that the Agency Model is the end all and be all, but as I say in that post:
If I comparison shop between Barnes, Amazon, and my local independent book seller, I may get three different prices for a book. I can pick the cheapest one, and I can read it without any worries. However with three major formats for eBooks, comparison shopping is limited by my ability to then read the book I picked up. Finding a book cheaper through the Nook store isn’t going to do me a damned bit of good when I have a Kindle. So if one company, say Amazon, consistently undercuts the other two, it’s going to push people exclusively to the Kindle. One company can control the market by being the most able to sustain a loss.
The DOJ isn’t intentionally acting to help Amazon create a monopoly, but stand by my concerns that that will be the outcome.