Saturday, January 30, 2010

Who's In the Dog House? Amazon vs. Macmillan

I try to keep you all aware of things on my journey to publication as I experience them myself (or shortly after). This morning my husband checked the news online and said, "Amazon's pulled all the Macmillan books. You can't pre-order 13 to Life there any more."

I was stunned. After most of a day spent following and investigating, I'm still stunned.

Before I go further, I need to remind you all that I am a Macmillan author. And although my debut novel (the first in my debut series) comes out in June, it was (until yesterday) available for pre-order from Knowing this, you may take my words with a grain of salt, but I truly hope you heed them.

First, some facts about Macmillan. They are one of less than ten major--MAJOR--NYC traditional book publishers. Many companies or imprints come beneath their company umbrella (this is true of the other NYC publishing giants, too). Macmillan includes Tor and St. Martin's Press (among others).

So, this morning the New York Times posted this.

And there's this about readers & writers being the casualties of this war.

Then there's the LA Times article.

Here's Macmillan's side.

I will sum up:

1.) Macmillan (and other big boys) have tried talking to Amazon about changing the price of ebooks (particularly when first released) to more appropriately reflect the cost of producing an ebook (even if you have a doc for the book's print file). Employees are involved and (oddly enough) employees do need to get paid for their effort.
2.) Macmillan (and others) decided that Apple (who made public its book store concept earlier this week) is offering a good venue for ebooks.
3.) Macmillan is being punished by Amazon in such a way that no Macmillan books (not ebooks OR print--hmm) are currently for sale at (they're listed because they have ISBNs, but you can't do anything other than peek at them--or "sign up to be notified when it becomes available"--BWA-HA-HA mailing list gold! ;-).
4.) This means pre-orders are no longer being accepted at Amazon for 13 to Life which means that pre-orders that are collected elsewhere will never go toward a sales rank on Amazon (even if/when this dispute's settled) which (in the past, at least) used to mean something. To me, as of yesterday when they stopped taking pre-orders, a sales rank on Amazon means nothing. Because the numbers are now skewed.

So. How do I feel? Disappointed.

But not at Macmillan. They are one of a number of publishers doing the same (or tremendously similar) things. It's sort of like Amazon's forcing their providers/manufacturers (remember, Amazon's a distributor) to play Russian Roulette to see who is eliminated (or made an example of) first. Unfortunately Amazon doesn't realize they keep pointing the gun at themselves, too.

And--just to say my bit on the "price gouging" some folks are suggesting Macmillan and publishing houses like them are trying to do through "raising" ebook prices...

Firstly, remember the prices will reflect a range of ebook prices (from $15-$6) related to the traditionally published book's price, release and re-release.

Secondly, you have freedom of choice as a buyer. If you don't like the price of something, you don't have to buy it, right? And if enough people don't buy it at the price a supplier wants, what happens? Yes, I know. It's Economics 101. Supply and demand. What the market will bear. You exercise your opinion--your vote--with your money.

Right now I hope lots of readers are exercising their power by buying Macmillan books at other fabulous online retailers. If you click my book cover in the margin you'll see a bunch of links for 13 to Life pre-orders.

I even need to add three more I found today because I finally felt the need to search. Thank you, Amazon. You're broadening people's horizons. :-)



Dani. said...

Good thing I pre-ordered my copy from Borders:)

This whole thing is a mess! I do think that $15 is a bit pricey for e-book, but I think that basicly Amazon is being a big BULLY, and it saddens me that innocent authors like yourself have been brought into this.

Anonymous said...

I am very, very disappointed in Amazon. I was a highly ranked reviewer and customer there for some time, but I started buying more books elsewhere. I'm tired of their focus on the stupid Kindle. I am a devoted reader of print books and hate ebooks. I will never buy your stupid Kindle Amazon, and now you are making the printed books I want to buy less available to me. No thanks, I'll just be buying from the local B&N and Borders, and for online orders B& and Book Depository. No loss to me.

(Posted as ANON cause Googled Login hates me but this is rebecca from

Rebecca Herman said...

oh now it lets me login. figures. above comment belongs to me.

alybee said...

Grr...just typed up my whole comment and lost it. Can't even manage to recreate was long. Let's just say I have mixed feelings about all of this. MacMillan wanting $15 for an e-book is too much. And Amazon needs to stop the "I'm taking my ball and going home" routine.

Rebecca Herman said...

Was Macmillan actually saying $15 for all ebooks or allow pricing up to $15? $15 ebook for a book you can buy in PB for $6 seems high, but not so high when you are talking about a HC with a $25 list price that will be discounted for around $15-20 in stores. I do think maintaining the print book market *is* important for everyone, for schools, libraries, readers, the preservation of books into the future, etc.

Rebecca Herman said...

Never mind I found the answer. They want to set prices between $5.99 and $14.99, with prices in the higher end of that range ($12.99-$14.99) reserved for e-book versions of newly released hardcovers.

Sorry but I think that sounds perfectly fair. The hardcover will go for anywhere between $15-$25. You are paying less because it didn't have to be printed, but you still have to pay for the author's fees, the editing, the publicity, the shipment of ARCs, etc etc all involved in producing the book. Just because there weren't printing costs involved doesn't mean it was free to produce that book.

Shannon Delany said...

Thanks, Dani, glad you're getting your copy through Borders. I agree--it is a big mess and although $15 sounds pricey for an ebook (compared to the prices of many ebooks, especially from mainly ebook publishers--which opens a whole other can of worms, too), Macmillan is suggesting a range up to $15.

It sounds like they want to have ebooks out the same day as hardcover (which freaks me out considering online piracy) and set at the same price (which really means readers are making a platform choice, not one based simply on the economics of buying). Then, when the book is released in paperback it appears the ebook price will reflect that and go as low as $5.99.

And believe me, we authors appreciate readers support in all this. When you're writing a book and signing a contract *this* is something you simply don't expect to need to think about.

Hi Rebecca, sorry Blogspot was fighting you--I had to wrestle with it to get it to take my post. I also prefer traditional books to ebooks (but it's because I'm very into all the aspects of the physical book) and we've hesitated getting any ebook reader because they're such new technology and we want one that's universal. I think ebooks are a very viable future for books and it frustrates me that Amazon's argument is about ebook pricing but they stop ALL Macmillan titles from being purchased. We're fortunate to have a very friendly Borders Express locally and two B&Ns not far away. We also have an absolutely adorable independent bookstore in town, so I still have options, too.

Who would've thought would encourage more business for brick-and-mortar stores? ;-)

Sorry Blogspot ate your original comment, Aly--I would have been very interested in reading it. I'm not really upset with the ebook prices because of the range they'll be in. If they'd all been set at simply $15 and always $15 I'd be twitching.

Since 13 TO LIFE will be released as a trade paperback initially, it's ebook price shouldn't be higher than the $9.99 cover price. The price Amazon wanted. Ironic, huh? See, Amazon, we coulda been friends!

Hi again, Rebecca! :-) I'm totally with you. The price range is a fair reflection of the time and effort spent by *many* people putting very different book platforms together. I try hard to keep in mind how many, many people leave their fingerprint on my book in the process of its creation (and have blogged here several times about the team I feel I have). I haven't even mentioned the additional efforts that go into transitioning a traditional book's file into a professional ebook. Those people have to be paid, too. *shrug*

I think making the ebook pricing scalable and directly related to the traditional printed book's cost is a good way of gauging the market and projecting potential buying trends (something Macmillan's pretty good at). It truly makes book-buying a choice of platform and should be able to help forecast when the scale could tip toward more ebook sales than traditional book sales--and publishers with so much on the line need to have numbers like that to project with.

Thank you all so much for coming by and sharing your opinions on this matter--that means a huge amount to me. *hugs*

Jennifer L Hart said...

Amazon's reaction, to me at least seems very, um kneejerkish? (Pun intended.) If the issue is with the ebook prices, why pull hard copies, too? All they are doing is shooting themselves in the foot.

I know Janet Evanovich is a McMillian author too and her Stephanie Plum books are the # 1 best sellers on Amazon for about a month every summer.

I did preorder 13 to Life with Amazon and I'm letting it stand for now, because let's hope this b;lows over soon enouth.

Jeeze first a scuffle with Wal-Mart and now McMillian. They gonna take on Oprah next ;-)?

Leah said...

To me, the e-book pricing issue (which is very complicated, and to which I still don't know the right answer) is separate from this latest bullying tactic by Amazon. It's Amazon's way of saying to publishers, We own you. And the people it hurts most are readers and authors. Amazon may have a legal right to do it, but as a reader and author, I have a legal right to take my business elsewhere.

The second my web tech can get to it, all the links on my site are being switched away from amazon. Why should I link to them when someday they may get into a snit at HarperCollins and remove my book from their listing too?

Indigo said...

I have another friend who is an author at St. Martins and was disheartened to hear this news. He was steadfast in his recommendation of using Amazon. I wrote him an email yesterday to see if he had the inside scoop as to what this means. He hasn't responded yet.

I honestly believe a publisher should be able to freely recite what price they want for their books. Amazon didn't have to like the price and could have just left it up for the majority of its customers to decide if they thought it was worth it. By their actions they're saying your opinion doesn't matter. This is a slap to all constituents altogether - the author, the customer and the publisher. I'm hoping this somehow still bodes well with you dear friend. (Hugs)Indigo

Casse AKA Catholic Kittie said...

I for one pre-ordered all my books, from amazon, over christmas because I had the prime which has free 2 day shipping. Which bums me that most my SMP pre-orders were pointless. But I also know I will never in life pay over 7 for a book that is not a physical book especially from amazon that only offers the kindle format and with kindle you aren't buying the book its more like a rental that they can take from your library at will. But it is up to buyers to determine what we are willing to pay and pubs to decide what they are selling for.

Shannon Delany said...

Hey Jennifer! Yeah, it seems Amazon's getting pushy (and sneaky) with a bunch of things recently. I've noticed lots of complaints against them (as a result of looking into this) that occurred prior to this blow-out with Macmillan. I'd leave your Macmillan pre-orders stand at this point because I hope an agreement is reached soon. But at least you have plenty of options.

Leah, I agree that this is a complex issue (economics and proper pricing of merchandise often is--especially when we deal with things like writing which is valued so subjectively). If I was you, I'd keep my links to Amazon up and hope this blows over. I appreciate your willingness to voice your opinion and vote your conscience as both a reader and author but I want all authors to make as many sales as they can. Let's see how this whole thing goes. *hugs*

Yes, Leah and Indigo, the message Amazon is sending seems clear: We're a distributor and therefore should set a manufacturer's prices. Hmm. I look at it this way--let Macmillan set its prices however it wants. If sales on ebooks tank because of the new model, they'll be adjusted. But a distributor cannot possibly have all the information a manufacturer has about its products and profit zones. Does Macmillan tell Amazon what prize to set for shipping? I doubt it.

Indigo, let your author friend know I'm crossing my fingers for all of us. *hugs* I figure I'll know more from SMP midweek (tomorrow and Tuesday will probably be a jumble of meetings, phonecalls and emails for editors). (I'm sending mine chocolate and good thoughts. ;-)

I'll worry about getting the scoop after some of the crush of authors and agents relents. I mean, honestly, how does this impact me at *this* moment? I've done what I can do by discussing it here and updating links to companies that are currently collecting pre-orders for my debut.

Casse, I totally understand. Although I'd never say never about what I might be willing to pay for something (because I doubt the ebooks of today will look the same in another five years) I totally understand the spirit of your statement. And I agree, hon, prices need to be set by manufacturers and then regulated by a purchasing population. Supply, demand, competition and what the market will bear, right?

Ladies, again I must thank you for sharing your input and insight with me. I'm trying to keep all this in the frame of mind that right now I'm watching publishing history being made (from the inside). I was educated as a history teacher. This, to me, no matter how messy, is fascinating. Take care, everyone!