WARNING: RANT FOLLOWS. Proceed at your own risk.
I awakened this morning to the roar of cannons, as amazon.com fired a direct broadside at the MacMillan publishing ship. For those out of earshot of the battle, it seems that MacMillan has had the temerity to object to the lowballing of ebook prices. And amazon, one would guess, took exception not only to a producer attempting to have some say in the pricing of its product but also to that producer signing on for that higher pricing with amazon's ebook device competition, the Apple iPad (with bookstore to come). As punishment, amazon has removed the buy buttons from all of MacMillan's offerings. In short, amazon had an e-tantrum.
What does that mean to a reader/buyer? Books by Donna Andrews, Linda Barnes, Joe Barone, SJ Bolton, certain titles by Ken Bruen, Chelsea Cain, James Doss, Alan Glynn, Chris Grabenstein, John Hart, Steven Hockensmith, JA Jance, four titles by Michael Koryta, Roger Smith, Craig McDonald, and hundreds of other authors ARE NOT AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE AT AMAZON. Well, that's not strictly true. You can buy used copies of those books, in which neither MacMillan nor the authors will make any money on that sale. Just amazon and the used-book dealer Amazon is hoping you won't notice and that MacMillan will shut up, just to get their books selling on amazon again. Shades of Wal-Mart! Same strategy, same tactics. (And do you see where the walmartization of America has got us? Ahem. But that's a different rant.)
What does it mean to the authors? It means that the very people who write the books from which amazon makes a lot of money (considerably more than most authors will ever make), those are the people who will most feel the sting from this venomous act of corporate bullying. And don't you believe for a minute that amazon has the interests of the consumer at heart. Oh, no. This is all about market domination. As in cornering the market. As in monopoly.
Maybe it sounds strange to you that a consumer would support higher pricing at any time. But in this case, those lowlow prices help only the consumer. Try to see beyond what's in your pocket right this second. If the publishing industry is to survive, pricing has to be a win all around, from authors to consumers and all points in between. I want a low price, sure, but a fair price. But still, that's not the main reason I'm supporting "Big Mac" in this war. I'm not a fan of what the big publishers have done to their own industry. Not at all. They've helped make this mess, and done it willfully, just as amazon is doing.
No, I oppose amazon in this war because (full disclosure) I LOATHE amazon. My initial experiences with them were great, but repeated exposure has cured me forever. Hallelujah, brothers and sisters! I have been redeemed!
I have not forgotten amazon's prior bad acts, the repeated displays of a staggering lack of ethics and integrity:
- That their Kindle is a proprietary device designed to further CEO Jeff Bezos' megalomaniac dream of a complete monopoly on ebooks (and from there to a lock on books, period).
- That amazon has the power and the will to remove books, whenever it pleases and for whatever reason or none, from a consumer's Kindle. You won't be told in advance either.
- The "glitch" that resulted in the removal of over 57,000 titles from both sales rankings and search offerings which just happened to include a large number of gay and lesbian themed titles.
- That amazon once pulled all POD titles in an attempt to force POD publishers to exclusively use amazon's CreateSpace tool for printing.
- That Amazon's customer service would be a joke except there's nothing funny about the way they treat their customers. Google "I hate amazon" or "amazon sucks," sit back and enjoy the reading. If they sent your book via US mail and you never got it? Tough, they still expect you to pay for it. If you placed an order for books "in stock" four weeks earlier and the status of that order has been "in shipping" for three of those weeks? Tough, you can't cancel the order and buy elsewhere. If you want to talk to a customer service rep, you'll actually get the chance to talk to several, none of whom talk to each other. So they wear you down with making you explain your problem over and over, until you just give up and go away.
- Their hidden hooks and misleads. Beware of promotions that say your savings won't show up at check out. If you're an amazon customer and haven't been stung by these yet, your turn will come. Be patient, they have a lot of
suckerscustomers to process. And think how much fun you'll have working with their customer service afterward.
- Did you miss amazon's attempt at charm last November, when they flew a dozen top literary agents out to Seattle in an attempt to persuade the agents that amazon "is not trying to destroy publishing as we know it." Now why do you suppose they would want to persuade agents that is their mission, rather than persuading, say, the publishing CEOs? Are you thinking Amazon wants to turn the agents into fifth-columnists?
The publishing industry is currently writhing with its business model, trying to find a way to move forward in this age of technology, while amazon is doing its damnedest to become the industry, from publishing to retail. No kidding. David Young, CEO of the Hatchette publishing group, told NPR that the future of the $9.99 prices from amazon and the big box stores means ruin for the industry. Guess who would step in to "save" all those authors if that happens? I hope Young backs up his words by making the same demands of amazon that MacMillan has. I hope all the big publishers will stand together on this. It's kind of like what old Ben Franklin said about hanging together. If they don't, rest assured that the publishers will be hung (out to dry) separately.
For those authors who have supported the Kindle ebook phenom and made money via the same, enjoy. It feels good to actually sell your product and get royalties, doesn't it? But don't get accustomed to it, because based on amazon's culture and previous actions, once (if) the monopoly becomes a reality, you authors will also have to start playing by amazon's rules. I bet they have some already written, just for the big day. Just for you.
As for me, I went out to a local store today and bought a copy of Brad Parks' Faces of the Gone and Rosemary Harris's Pushing Up Daisies. I have to stock up against the day when the only books available will be by Dan Brown, James Patterson, John Grisham, and a few others. And the only places to buy them will be at amazon, Wal-Mart, and Target. Probably won't even be books as I know them, just bits and bytes. For an extra $1.00, each book will come with a special digitized graphic, like the ISBN, as the equivalent of an author's signature. For another $5.00, the graphic can be customized using the name on your credit card. .
"If it were necessary to give the briefest possible definition of imperialism, we should have to say that imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism." - Vladimir Lenin
End of rant. For a better-balanced (read: sane) and well-reasoned perspective, please read Cory Doctorow's post on the subject. We will now resume our regular programming.