Amazon and Macmillan go to war: readers and writers are the civilian casualties

When I woke this morning at 5AM UK time, I discovered an in-box full of emails from people asking if I knew what was going on with Amazon. My books -- and all books from Macmillan and its many divisions, including Tor, my publisher -- had disappeared from the Amazon webstore in both physical and electronic editions.

The New York Times quotes an industry insider as saying that Amazon pulled these books in retaliation for a demand from Macmillan to raise the price of Kindle books from $10 to $15. Presumably, Amazon perceives the $10 price-tag as a way of encouraging people to buy its Kindle platform, which itself is a kind of roach-motel for books: the license terms and DRM on the books in the Kindle store prohibit you from reading your Kindle books on competing devices. So books check in, but they don't check out.

(I believe that Amazon's terms, patents and trade-secrets also prohibit its rivals from making software that converts or renders Kindle books for that purpose. I have asked Amazon whether this was true on more than ten occasions over the past several years, in my capacity as a writer, publisher, and columnist for the Guardian and Publishers Weekly, but they refuse to answer.)

If the NYT's report is true, then this is a case of two corporate giants illustrating neatly exactly why market concentration is bad for the arts:

* If true, Macmillan demanding a $15 pricetag for its ebooks is just plain farcical. Although there are sunk costs in book production, including the considerable cost of talented editors, copy-editors, typesetters, PR people, marketers, and designers, the incremental cost of selling an ebook is zero. And audiences have noticed this. $15 is comparable to the discounted price for a new hardcover in a chain bookstore, and it costs more than zero to sell that book. Demanding parity pricing suggests that paper, logistics, warehousing, printing, returns and inventory control cost nothing. This is untrue on its face, and readers are aware of this fact.

Update: not to say that all ebooks should cost the same. But they should be cheaper than print editions.

* If true, Amazon draping itself in the consumer-rights flag in demanding a fair price is even more farcical. Though Amazon's physical-goods sales business is the best in the world when it comes to giving buyers a fair shake, this is materially untrue when it comes to electronic book sales, a sector that it dominates. As mentioned above, Amazon's DRM and license terms on its Kindle (as well as on its Audible audiobooks division, which controls the major share of the world's audiobook sales) are markedly unfair to readers. Amazon's ebooks are locked (by contract and by DRM) to the Kindle (this is even true of the "DRM-free" Kindle books, which still have license terms that prohibit moving the books). This is not due to rightsholder-demands, either: as I discovered when I approached Amazon about selling my books without DRM and without a bad license agreement for Kindle and Audible, they will not allow copyright owners to modify their terms, nor to include text in the body of the work releasing readers from those terms.

Concentration in media is nothing new -- as far back as the eighties, activists have been sounding the alarm about mergers and acquisitions in publishing and bookselling (and, of course, in film we have the antitrust decisions of the 1940s). In the eighties, we worried that mergers would create corporate giants that would dictate unfair terms in distribution, sales, contracts with writers, pricing, and so on.

But today, we have a deeper worry. For no matter that a giant distributor or a massively agglomerated publisher could distort the market to the detriment of readers and writers -- we could bounce back, through competition and new technology and innovative marketing and sales (and we did, by and large).

But today, we have a much more permanent, and graver risk: contracts and DRM have the power to lock readers and writers into legally unbreakable shackles. There's no such thing as a proprietary book. There's no such thing as a license agreement necessary to read a book. Books are governed by a social contract that is older than publishing, older even than printing. The recent innovation of copyright in books recognizes the ancient compact between readers and writers, and protects your rights to own your books, to loan them, to give them away, to resell them, to read them in any nation, in any circumstance. A publisher or bookseller can't force you to buy Ikea sofas to sit upon while you read your books.

But Amazon can force you to buy Kindles (and Amazon-approved devices) to read your Kindle books on and listen to your Audible audiobooks on.


And if one of the five titans that control almost all of publishing gets into a scrap with one of the four or five titans that control almost all ebook publishing, or the one company that rules the audiobook market, the collateral damage is that you will have to choose to eschew a gigantic slice of all the literature ever made in order to hang on to your library, or abandon your library in order to get access to that publisher's work. Or fill your shoulderbag with a half-dozen tablets and readers, one for each permutation of which corporate elephant is trying to crush another.

There's an easy fix for this. Amazon (and its competitors) could allow copyright owners to choose whether they want DRM-by-contract on their books. In a world where readers are allowed to take their books to the platform that offers them the best terms, everybody wins: Macmillan can license to a competitor of Amazon's at a higher price and pull their books from Amazon, and if readers boycott those ebooks, Macmillan will see the light and come down in price -- all without either party having to dictate terms to the other. In a world where there is a competitive market for books and reading devices, Amazon can draw readers who start off as Apple iPad customers into the Kindle store, without having to convince them to switch devices or abandon their collections.

If Macmillan wants to flex its muscle on an issue of substance and moment, an issue that will make it the hero of readers and writers and booksellers everywhere, it can demand that Amazon, Apple, B&N, and all the other ebook readers allow for interoperability and remove contracts that undo centuries' worth of book-ownership norms.

And if Amazon wants to throw its toys out of the pram over a consumer rights issue, let it announce that it will offer a fair deal for any book that publishers and writers will allow a fair deal -- no DRM, no abusive EULA, just "This book is governed by 17USC, the United States Copyright Law. Do not violate that law." Let Amazon label the books that are a bad deal for readers with warnings: "At the publisher's request, this book is licensed under terms that prohibit reading it on other devices, selling it used, or giving it to your children." And let them put a gleaming seal of approval on the books that offer fair terms and a fair shake.

And trust readers to make up their minds.

(Thanks to Jim and everyone who suggested the NYT story)

Update: Amazon "capitulates."


  1. As I was just explaining over at Making Light, while a fixed $10 price point would undoubtedly be good for Amazon’s ebook business, it would take a shark-sized bite out of the market for hot new bestsellers, which is trade book publishing’s single most profitable area.

    That revenue source is what keeps a lot of publishing companies afloat. It provides the liquidity that enables them to buy and publish smaller and less commercially secure titles: odd books, books by unknown writers, books with limited but enthusiastic audiences, et cetera.

    My honest estimate is that the result would be fewer and less diverse titles overall, published less well than they are now.

    What’s the point of having the option of a higher price point? IMO, it means you can charge more for hot new bestsellers, and pick up some of that bestseller revenue. Afterward, you can lower the price again.

    Macmillan hasn’t said it wants to make $15 the price of all its ebooks, or that all ebooks should be $15. What they’ve said is that Amazon shouldn’t have the final call on what publishers charge for their books.

    And one more point: Does anyone recall that Amazon has done this before? They pulled every POD title because they wanted POD publishers to print their books exclusively via Amazon’s CreateSpace. This isn’t a case of “If they do it once, they can do it again.” They have done it before, and it’s clear that they have no hesitation about doing it again.

    1. I’m 100% with Teresa on this. And frankly, Amazon in total control of anything, from pricing to content, is a scary thought. -Lucienne Diver

      1. Hey, Lucienne!

        It’s the same thing they did to Hachette, and to the POD publishers, back in 2008. They’ve got some feral execs in their organization.

    2. Teresa, what your comment says to me is this: publishers didn’t see e-book market rising, didn’t have a plan to handle the market shift, and have decided that charging more for e-books so they don’t cut into paper sales is a smart business move. I don’t see it. I know that paper distribution has gone into the pits and bookstores are struggling, but a publisher setting the price for a distributor is not the answer. Adjusting the P&L sheets to figure in the changing reality, paying attention to how the market is changing, adjusting one’s own business model to handle the changes (i.e. smaller print runs, innovative marketing, etc.) is the smart business way to handle this issue. Amazon has been retailing e-books long enough to know the right price point for its product. Perhaps it should share some of that knowledge with publishers, so that they can reconfigure (although, really, isn’t it clear from the sales?).

  2. Not that you’d forget or ignore it, Cory, but there is always the third grey-market option of fan-translation.

    As a fan of golden-age science fiction short stories and Canadian television and movies, I believe in fan culture.

    Opt-out is the only ‘cultural protection’ available — abandoned properties would be inaccessible otherwise, and those determined to protect their IP rights may do so with minimal effort.

    As old markets die, they cannibalise each other in increasingly bloodthirsty ways, until one emerges triumphant, only to be eroded into irrelevancy by their real usurpers. In this case, the internet.


  3. So stop buying books via Amazon, and only buy them in hardcopy from a local bookseller.
    There, that was easy, wasn’t it?

    1. So the moral of the story is whenever we have problems with a new technology, give up and go back to the old one?

      “Can’t win, don’t try. Got it.”

      1. No, the moral is that if someone else is causing you a problem, you cut them out of whatever it was you were trying to do.

        Although considering that most of the copyright and DRM complaints around here involve some form of the phrase, “But with a hardcopy book you can..”, it seems the obvious solution is to just go back to using the hardcopy books exclusively.

        1. Hardcopy is not the only answer – I suggest to find and support an ebook seller you do like. I buy my ebooks from Fictionwise – the “social” DRM on their ereader format is not intrusive, and they can’t revoke my copy in the future.

  4. now imagine a world where Apple opens up an iBook store where authors can hire their own editor and then self publish their works… getting 70% of the proceeds.

    Personally I don’t think I’ll be buying too many shares in publishing companies. Their business models are about to undergo such a drastic change there probably won’t be many of them left.

  5. But Amazon can force you to buy Kindles (and Amazon-approved devices) to read your Kindle books on and listen to your Audible audiobooks on.


    Yes, Amazon can force you to read the Kindle-only books on a Kindle. That’s kind of what “Kindle-only” means. But at no point can Amazon force you to buy a book from them. Electronic or otherwise.

    Macintosh or Linux software doesn’t work on Windows. Does that mean that Apple is forcing you to buy applications from their stores? No, it doesn’t. It means that if you make a particular choice, you have lock-in — but you’re still not being forced to do anything.

    (That said, that is a big issue with ebooks: at this point, people don’t seem too keen on the idea that once they’ve bought a Kindle book, that’s the only way they can read that book. Since Amazon has made this clear, obviously a bunch of people don’t care enough to not buy. I don’t have any market data indicating that people aren’t buying Kindles for that reason, but I am pretty sure Amazon does. Apple too, I bet. And Macmillan.)

    (Also all that said, I completely agree with the title you chose for this. Although I’ve used other, NSFW words to describe it. And I think I shall buy some more books from tomorrow.)

    1. “Yes, Amazon can force you to read the Kindle-only books on a Kindle. That’s kind of what “Kindle-only” means. But at no point can Amazon force you to buy a book from them. Electronic or otherwise.

      Macintosh or Linux software doesn’t work on Windows. Does that mean that Apple is forcing you to buy applications from their stores? No, it doesn’t. It means that if you make a particular choice, you have lock-in — but you’re still not being forced to do anything.”

      if that is so why microsoft got bashed for bundling IE and WMP with windows? you could always buy a mac or install another browser yet they got fined all the same.

      Nobody pysically forces you to buy anything but it does not mean that companies have or should get carte blanche to dictate whatever terms they want.

  6. I know it is too droll, but isnt a kindle the kind of thing you start a fire with, and we all know what burns great: BOOKS!

  7. I always end up feeling like I need to count my feathers after doing business at Amazon. This is yet another reason why.

  8. For Amazon customers who wish to complain about this behavior, I suggest using the “Contact Us”/e-mail method from this page:

    I sent the following message:

    I am writing to complain about the recent de-listing of Macmillan publications (see I have been a faithful customer of Amazon since 1997; I have spent thousands of dollars on books, music, and other items purchased through the site. I have done so, and I have recommended Amazon to my friends and family, not just because Amazon provides good products and good customer service but because I believe in Amazon as a company. The latest moves by Amazon to use its book inventory as a competitive negotiation tool show me that Amazon cares more about its corporate strategy than it does about its customers.

    Given that there are so many other places on the web for me to spend my money I have to wonder now whether Amazon is the best place for me to buy things from in the future. If this is the way that Amazon treats its customers and its mission then I will be forced to take my business elsewhere.

    Thank you for your time.

  9. When they released Kindle for the PC, their DRM went out the window. I know you can take a screenshot of the app showing a page, so I assume you can feed it clicks and capture the entire book. From there, either keep the thing as images, or OCR it and you are good to go.

  10. Maybe I drank too much tonight, and I’m missing something here…

    …but I thought the demand by Macmillan was because Apple wants to charge $14.99 a book on the iBook Store and they’ve put pressure on the publishers who want in on the iPad launch to make Amazon sell them at the same price.

    Otherwise, for people who just want eBooks, why bother with an iPad if: a) the device costs about twice as much and b) the books on the Kindle are cheaper?

    Seems to make sense to me. Maybe I did have too much to drink.

    1. I doubt very much that the $14.99 price point is Apple’s idea: if they run the iBook store the same way they run iTunes and the AppStore, they won’t be looking to make a profit on book sales. Their strategy is to break even on media (or even just give the stuff away) in order to help sell hardware at a profit. Any price point above $0.00 will be the publishers trying to make money, I’d be pretty sure.

  11. We can’t buy books from MacMillan anyway, so this is highly entertaining, from that point of view.

  12. Teresa I’ve updated the post for clarity. I’m not saying all ebooks should cost the same,but charging the same price as print only makes sense if ink,paper, shipping and return s are free.

    1. The fact that so often the price of a ‘rented’ digital e-book is the exact same as (or even higher than) a dead-tree book is the single biggest reason that I’ve yet to buy the digital version of a digital book.

      I mean, I’m supplying the friggin’ printing press and the paper! And I know for a fact that the text has to already be in digital form – it’s not photostatted from the author’s handwritten notes. Cripes!

      (Look, I know that O’Reilly offers good-value on their books. I just haven’t had the need for one of their fine offereings, lately.)

  13. i think i’ll just continue to avoid businesses who make questionable decisions, and wander over to my local public library for FREE* audiobooks, ebooks, print material, movies, music and more.

    *paid for through taxes n_n

    p.s. fire starter = kindling (not kindle)

    1. yes, libraries are totally badass. librarians are badass. i love infoshops and DIY community libraries especially. and lots of used book stores throw away really good books. climb on in that dumpster!

  14. Doesn’t Amazon actually have market data that indicates people don’t really want to spend more than $9.99 for an ebook? There are plenty of kindle offerings that are more expensive than that $9.99 rate, especially new releases, but I’m way less inclined to actually purchase them.

    (And your ad hominem “roach motel” comment, though clever as always Cory, doesn’t give your argument any additional credibility.)

  15. I love my Amazon Kindle.
    I love purchasing books on it via whispernet.
    I love getting home, plugging in my kindle, changing the file extensions on those books, and running them through a python script known as MobiDeDRM.
    I love purchasing books in MOBI format from other companies that put DRM on their books.
    I love running those through my lovely python scripts, then reading them on my Kindle as well.

    When this fails, I LOVE going to a bookstore, purchasing a real copy of the book, then going online and downloading an electronic copy of the same book from a torrent site. I’ve fulfilled my moral obligation.

    I’ve not given away a single copy of a single book I’ve purchased, nor have I put them on any kind of file sharing site, but I don’t have a single file, audio, video. or document, on any device I own that is DRM protected.

    You can only push people so far before they draw their own lines. When you outlaw something that shouldn’t be outlawed, you turn honest men into outlaws. When you treat your customers like criminals, not giving them the benefit of the doubt, they will become criminals to regain the freedom and dignity you’ve attempted to take from them.

  16. Jim and I are longtime Amazon customers. Despite being fans, we’ve always thought the Kindle was poorly conceived and executed so we haven’t bought one. Jim wrote to Amazon last night to protest their treatment of Macmillan. If enough Amazon customers wrote to protest, it might help.

    I would like an eBook solution. The Kindle isn’t it. The new Apple tablet looks promising, though it is too soon to tell.

  17. One thing that I have not heard mentioned is pushing out more copies at $10. For example, even though The Windup Girl doesn’t get me going when I read the description, I have heard so many good things about it that for $10 it would be on my Kindle. At just over $20 to get a dead tree version to my doorstep, I’ll wait for a Kindle version or paperback.

    Also, a book like Under the Dome…who wants to pay more for and then lug around that small grove of dead trees? Even the paperback is going to be unwieldy. I was very on the fence about that book, and without a copy that was both cheap and digital, I would not own that book.

  18. I ‘value’ an e-book as less then a hard copy ‘real’ book. So I will not pay the same or similar to a ‘real’ book. $15 to buy a book that I have to read on X device that virtually cost nothing to produce (the electronic version in any case not the whole publishing process), I jsut won’t pay. Although I use free e-books (from publishers special and author giveaways – whether online reading or through a download) to then buy a ‘real’ copy of the book. I feel that e-books as a whole are not my cup of tea… my one portable device large enough to read books on (PSP) will not do so. I feel that I shouldn’t have to carry another device jsut to read a book which I can carry anyway…
    Just my 2 cents worth!

  19. This is yet another why I’m quite happy to be a long-time customer of Powell’s ( I’ve found that they respect books and value them as a critical component of our culture — yes, they’re trying to make a living too, but I get the strong sense that they’re in it for the love of words as much as anything. (And a check I just ran indicates that Cory Doctorow’s books are in stock, in both new and used form.) What Powell’s does NOT have is Amazon’s history of spamming. To some folks, that’s ancient history, but it’s not to me: I’ve found that it’s an excellent indicator of how a company is likely to behave.

    This does mean that I pay a higher price some of the time for some items, but I’m happy to do so: the superb service I’ve received, including many useful recommendations for books that might have escaped my notice, is worth it. So my suggestion to those unhappy about this bonehead move by Amazon is to vote with your wallet, and take your business elsewhere, whether following my recommendation here or patronizing your local bookstore.

    1. Wow. Powell’s looks like a great place.

      Also, there was a comment near the top about how if a major publisher were to go under, we’d see fewer and less diverse works.

      I don’t think that’s the case. With eBooks, an author can cut out all the middle men. With Print On Demand, they can cut out quite a few.

      One might argue that the publishers act as quality control. They act as content control and throw advertising dollars at what they think will sell.

      Readers can act as quality control. In my experience, social bibliophiles talk about their favorite books and authors all the time.

      In a world where the people who enjoy reading decide what the best-sellers are instead of the publishers, it’s likely nobody on this site would recognize the name Stephanie Meyer and, in my opinion, that would be a better world.

  20. When my new JetBook died, I succumbed to the dark side… and got a Kindle. Which broke after 3 hours and was replaced, but that’s beside the point.

    Deciding to go into eBooks meant deciding what to do with my real books. After looking at the digital prices, I was shocked – the digital version was often double of what the paperback cost, which I already owned, thank you very much.

    Until you give me some reason why a digital copy is the same price (or more) as a paper version, and who exactly gets those extra monies… I will remain a good friend of IRC.

  21. The idea of “local bookstores” as an alternative to on-line bookstores is ridiculous. I’m old enough to remember the pre-Internet days of getting an obscure book by having a bookstore order a book. The process generally took weeks or even months. There’s nothing to mourn there. That being said, there are alternatives to Amazon both for physical and e-books.

    As for Kindle’s DRM, I’ll believe that there is a feasible alternative when there is a general source of current ebooks that *doesn’t* have DRM. Yes, there’s Cory’s books, which are moderately entertaining (but I’ve read them all), Project Gutenberg (if you are into “classics”, which I sometimes am but don’t read regularly), and a few (largely poorly written, in my opinion, though one’s mileage might vary, depending on how much one likes genre fiction) DRM-free SF books available from Baen.

    But the sort of books *I* want to read (generally nonfiction and literary fiction) are DRMed in all ebook formats (Microsoft Reader, Adobe Reader, Sony Reader, Palm Reader, and Kindle) that are sold currently. I’m not interested in arguments that say “DRM is pointless” or “DRM is evil” unless there is a company that actually sells ebooks that I want without DRM. And yes, I *do* want ebooks for a variety of reasons.

  22. And the ebook issues are why I own neither a Kindle, a Nook or a Sony yet. I want one tablet (maybe Apple Tablet 2.0, since 1.0 appears to fail that need) that allows all formats to be read + email, web, video, magazines, etc.

    Also, I’ve been boycotting Amazon for nearly a decade now; their politics in the US are pretty disgusting so I prefer to spend money at B&N, Powells, or local bookstores.

  23. I used to work for a publisher, and though the industry is far from perfect Amazon’s abuses of its position are far worse. They’ve threatened this before to many publishers who refused to offer a larger wholesale discount, using their market position to demand terms verging on the unrealistic. Why has the cover price of books climbed so much? Because Amazon demand a 50% discount (as opposed to the more usual 20-30%) because without them you won’t sell any books. To try and get some money back (which publishers do use to reinvest in other books – remember for every bestseller that makes a publisher a reasonable amount of money there’s probably 20-30 books that lose money or barely break even on production costs) publishers put up the cover price to try and compensate.

  24. I think e-book pricing is a difficult thing. But as many others have commented on Twitter I find it strange that someone is willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a device but at the same time want their books for as little as possible.

    What’s going on now seems like a money issue. As far as I know Amazon takes 65% of an e-book’s retail price, leaving 35% for the author and publisher. And I think what’s going on is that publishers want 35% of $15. That would make $5.25.

    So the easy solution to this problem would then be to dispense with percentages. The publisher gets $5.25 for each e-book sold by Amazon. If Amazon then wants to sell those books for $6 to get people to buy the Kindle, then that’s their business.

    Implementing this solution will give the publisher and author the money they want, and Amazon can give people cheap books for their Kindle if that’s what they want.

    I’d be really interested to see what price Amazon would set for e-books if a flat rate to publishers were implemented.

    1. What’s going on now seems like a money issue. As far as I know Amazon takes 65% of an e-book’s retail price, leaving 35% for the author and publisher. And I think what’s going on is that publishers want 35% of $15. That would make $5.25.
      You’re mostly there. Compare that to a $15 sale on the iBooks store. With Apple pushing 70% of the sale to publishers instead of 35%, their income from Apple’s store is double that of Amazon’s. Amazon knows this, and recently changed their terms to include an upped percentage to 70% (same as the Apple’s). The real problem is the other terms.

      Retail price points specified by the publisher must be the same or lower than all other avenues that the work is sold – including physical books in any market. That means the publisher cannot sell the ebook for $10, and have a fire sale on physical copies of a book that’s falling flat on its face to dump them from inventory.
      Retail prices must be between $2.99 and $9.99 for all ebooks. This is effectively trying to set price limits on the entire market before Apple comes along and allows the publishers to charge whatever they want and remove the distributor-controlled pricing in the current market.

  25. DRM isn’t mandatory on the Kindle store. Amazon just recently changed their terms precisely on this point. It’s now up to the publisher.

  26. “nor to include text in the body of the work releasing readers from those terms..”

    Heh. I’D Encode that helpful e-release, Cory, obscure data ensconced inside, not discovered entirely till Amazon interprets legal statement, capitulates, or removes you.


  27. Cory, No need to buy your book anyway since I can get it for free and then read it on my kindle. I am not sure if that helps you or your publisher but free is a good deal for me.

  28. Ok, well the claim that you can’t read Kindle books on any other device is patently false. There is an iPhone app (and thus also iPad) app for reading Kindle books on that device. While yes, technically you can’t read it on other dedicated e-readers, the blanket claim that your books are forever lost in the abyss of your Kindle is just misinformation and is not useful to the debate.

  29. Any idea yet if the situation will be any better on the iPad?
    I know they said they will use the ePub format, so I’m hoping there will be a chance for independents to publish through the iBooks Store without a big publishing house behind them.
    *BUT* Apple will presumably wrap iBooks in their DRM, they will still have many more restrictions than a physical book, etc. It’s not just books. Digital media generally is eroding the established rights we used to have.

  30. Cory,

    I thought I would share my experience trying to convert Little Brother to a kindle book. I had never read a book of yours before, but downloaded Little Brother from your site, and using the handy-dandy e-mail to Kindle feature, I sent it to myself, and waited, breathlessly.

    A few seconds later, I got a message:

    The following attachment(s), sent at 07:08 AM on Fri, May 23, 2008 could not be converted and delivered to your Amazon Kindle account:
    * Little_Brother.txt

    Well. That was weird. I downloaded another format. HTML didn’t work. DOC didn’t work. RTF didn’t work. I had no idea what was going on, and was getting increasingly frustrated.

    Finally, I opened up the same old DOC file that didn’t work, and deleted this text from the beginning:



    This book is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license. That means:

    You are free:

    * to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work

    * to Remix — to adapt the work

    Under the following conditions:

    * Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

    * Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

    * Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

    * For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. The best way to do this is with a link

    * Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get my permission

    More info here:

    See the end of this file for the complete legalese.


    And voila! Suddenly, by magic, the Kindle could convert it.

    I recognize that deleting the CC notice at the beginning technically meant that my actions were in violation of your copyright, and I apologize. This was back in early 2008 and so I do not know if this is still the case (my Kindle was stolen recently, and I can no longer check).

    But yeah, I find this… odd.

    1. Pick up a program called Calibre. You can convert that file to .mobi format and read it on the Kindle.

      Or, you could pick up the free MobiCreator software package and create a .mobi file. That works equally well on the Kindle.

      As far as DRM goes, most retailers (including Barnes & Noble) apply DRM. Having the portable EPUB format does not make your file more portable if DRM is in the picture.

      I have six books published at Amazon (and a wide range of other places). I can choose DRM or no DRM. I’m choosing no DRM. B&N didn’t give me that choice.

      My understanding was that it was the Publishers and not Amazon who were driving the DRM issue. I know that when Amazon first entered the e-book business, they sold .mobi format books with no DRM. (For what it’s worth, Kindle for PC uses .prc format. .prc is mobi format)

      Amazon’s royalties for books in the $2.99 to $9.99 range go up to 70% of list price starting in June. Amazon can choose to discount those books or even give them away free but the royalty remains the same.

  31. I was going to suggest an electronic version of a lending library; however what’s to stop a library from lending out an infinite number of electronic copies of something? That would effectively limit the income of content creators to the number of copies that could be sold to lending institutions, and might not be enough to support the creators and their families.

  32. As far as I’m concerned, Amazon is totally in their rights to stop selling e-books when a demand like that is made by a publisher.

    However, it should only apply to… well… what the dispute is actually over. I can’t even remotely discern the logic of no longer selling the printed copies, unless the dispute also involved the pricing of dead-tree editions (which, in this case, it didn’t at all), other than sheer vengeance.

    1. Think about it for a moment Codeman. Amazon is in a position to actually damage the sales of McMillan to get what they want and to force McMillan to drop this request.

      This sort of strong-arm technique is often used in business. The fact of the matter is, if you are going to make broad demands you need to be able to back them up or face the possibility of needing to back down.

      This fight is going to cost both companies money, the question is will Amazon lose more people to places like than McMillan will lose in sales. It certainly is a gamble.

      I’m reminded of when Gen Con canceled all Chaosium game events (even those run by independent third parties) because Chaosium owed them money. In the end, an agreement was reached, but it damaged both companies in the eyes of many. McMillan demanding an arbitrary price hike doesn’t help them in my eyes and, for me, this doesn’t change my opinion of Amazon. Your mileage may vary.

  33. The question remains–did Amazon pull the books at the request of MacMillian or did they pull them on their own? It is not clear if MacMillian said, “Sell them at 15 or we want to be pulled” or if Amazon said, “We will sell at prices we decide up or we will pull.”

    I’ve seen a few Amazon employees blogging that say they do not know what is going on.

    No official word on who made the request to pull the books.

  34. I have a deep love of paper books. I love libraries, bookstores and especially dusty old used bookstores. There’s something wonderful about the smell of books and finding a book I’ve been looking for for a long time… or one that I didn’t know existed. My love of books came to me from my uncle Chuck loaning me stacks of science fiction and fantasy books he had recently read. I returned the favor as well.

    As a geek, I find eBooks to be fun and convenient, but I worry about the future of physical books. Yes, I use the Kindle app on my iPod, but the idea of not being able to share books is horrible. I buy more from Fictionwise, mainly because I have a longer history with them since I’ve read eBooks on the Palm platform for a decade. But when I get things in either place, I am VERY aware of the limitations of eBooks, especially DRMed ones, and buy mostly science fiction short story magazines, since I rarely re-read those.

    Worth noting… Amazon really lost my business when I heard they’d actually sucked copies of books off of Kindle devices remotely at a publisher’s request. They may have had good reasons for doing so, but the fact that they CAN means they could do it again… are already purchased Macmillan books being pulled off of Kindles? Could they be if this slap fight gets worse? I’m sorry, but when I go to a bookstore and buy a paper book, no one can take it back from me later.

    I hope there’s a future for eBooks to act more like real books. Until then, they’re an untrusted novelty that I know I may be buying for single-use… which puts the price point under a magnifying glass for me. I don’t want to have to rebuy the same book over and over, and I don’t want to lose my back library because I change eBook reader technology.


  35. Cory,

    I’m an avid reader of yours both here and in print and I find it highly unusual that I disagree with you but one thing you said in this post bothers me. You assert that ebooks should be cheaper than print editions because:

    “Although there are sunk costs in book production, including the considerable cost of talented editors, copy-editors, typesetters, PR people, marketers, and designers, the incremental cost of selling an ebook is zero.”

    The price of the book you ask the market to pay should have nothing to do with the cost of getting it to market. Of course, if you offer it at price lower than your own cost, it would be a stupid business to be in, but once you’ve recouped your cost, every principle of marketing says you should extract as much price as the market will bear based on the value the customer perceives.

    Now for me, I perceive the value of an ebook to be less than that of a physical book because of the whole “buy it” versus “license it” discussion which you’ve documented repeatedly on this site. To me, I perceive less value in an ebook that is locked to the Kindle than I do in a hardcopy that I can read and then pass along or sell back to a used book store. Now if the licensing issues were removed, I would tend to support ebook prices that were equivalent to print copies, but until then, I agree with your assertion, but not your reasoning as to why.

  36. Thanks for bringing this up. I remember similar problems with the Palm EReader at one time.

    Amazon is of course going to blame BoingBoing, but I expect that there are going to be larger and larger numbers of people who won’t accept the Kindle because of the DRM.

  37. “this is a case of two corporate giants illustrating neatly exactly why market concentration is bad for the arts”

    “Bad for the arts,” hell… Bad for everybody.

    Is there an example where market concentration is good for anyone other than the corporate giants?

  38. “The price of the book you ask the market to pay should have nothing to do with the cost of getting it to market. ”

    Obviously, this is a perfect monopoly market.


  39. “The idea of ‘local bookstores’ as an alternative to on-line bookstores is ridiculous.”

    As a badass librarian, I want to point out that anybody can choose to buy their books from a local independent even if they don’t have a local independent. Not only the mighty and badass Powell’s, but great niche stores like Uncle Hugo’s in Minneapolis will take orders online or over the phone or by pigeon-post for all I know. Many of them list their goods at aggregators like Abebooks so you have the long-tail badassedness of Amazon and still support local and indie. Sadly, Amazon bought Abebooks because of it’s tremendous badassedness, just as Google is on a constant badass hunt, but it’s still an online platform that you can use to shop indie and local from a distance. Or you can use Indiebound, though it’s not quite as aggregatious:

    1. In regard to using Abebooks as an alternative: What possible benefit is there to me to order from “an independent bookstore” through Abebooks? I mean, I can vaguely understand loyalty to the independent bookstore down the block, although I largely remember them as run by surly people who felt that they were doing *me* a huge favor by ordering the book I wanted, rather than me doing a favor for *them*. But what possible reason would I have to go out of my way to support an independent bookstore in another place? Particularly when it is no where near as smooth an operation as using Amazon or Barnes & Noble — I once used Abebooks to get some East German books from German used bookstores, and some of them came, and others didn’t,

  40. I buy a lot of books. I buy a lot of e-books to read on my Kindle (from a variety of stores – contrary to popular FUD you can read any currently commercially available e-book on a Kindle).

    The Amazon/Macmillan war doesn’t affect me in the slightest, because I’d already made a decision to stop buying Macmillan’s e-books. Not over their price point, but over their quality. If I want uncorrected OCR output of a book that’s missing any graphics and maps in the paper edition, I’ll download a home-brew scanned copy of the book for free, I won’t buy it for $10, much less $15.

    Not *all* Macmillan books are this bad, but enough are to not make it worth the risk when it’s time to get the CC out and click ‘buy’.

  41. I could be wrong but I think this may be a good thing.

    I don’t know the details behind the scrap, but it seems coincidental that it happened right after Apple got into the book business with their tablet. This might be a publisher saying “Amazon’s not the only game in town now, they better listen to us or we’ll take our books to Mr Jobs!”

    If that’s the case, publishers putting pressure on Amazon/ B&N / Apple margins (in this case they are pushing price, but that’ll turn to a margin play) could be a good thing for consumers. At the same time, the publishers will inevitably realize that by pulling out, they are cutting off their nose to spite their face. They’ll have to compete for sales with other books, and prices will eventually fall. And over time, people will wake up to the DRM issue (#1 reason I haven’t bought a Kindle) and start to demand – as they did with music – that it be removed.

    Its unfortunate that this kind of market thrash gets customers (and authors!) caught underfoot, but in the long run, it’s this type of competition that is needed to squeeze out the best value for people.

  42. A bit of a meta-comment:

    One of the foundations to free-market thinking is that competition is good, and according to free-market thought, the introduction of the iPad would drive prices down, if anything. Not drive them up.

    Without going into if free-market thinking is good or bad (a controversial subject), I think it’s pretty uncontroversial to point this situation out as strong evidence that proprietary technology and DRM are not consonant with free markets. I think you have to choose one or the other.

  43. Cory,

    I am not sure I completely agree with your assertion that “Update: not to say that all ebooks should cost the same. But they should be cheaper than print editions.”

    E-books are clearly cheaper to “manufacture and distribute” than print editions, so those material costs are less, it is true. But one might argue that the ability to have a book in an e-book format has some value as well. After all, as an e-book, I can carry many more books than if I had to lug the real book around. That convenience has a value that might lead the market to value the e-book disproportionately to its cost of production.

    I don’t have an e-book reader and don’t have a dog in this fight (not yet anyway), but just want to point out that “price” doesn’t always relate to manufacturing/distributing costs.



  44. It isn’t just the cost of printing, shipping, etc. that goes away with ebooks. It’s the cost of the bookstore too. Rent or mortgage, property taxes, utilities, profit for the owner, not to mention salaries of the staff. Traditionally these added up to about half the cost of a book, less at discounters. Do the publishers imagine they can just pocket these savings for themselves?

    1. “Do the publishers imagine they can just pocket these savings for themselves?”

      Of course they do. Most companies have ZERO interest in passing savings along to the consumer. Look at all the companies who moved their “Headquarters” to overseas PO Boxes to avoid paying the taxes that they pass on to the consumer in their pricing.

      Not one that I’ve heard of dropped their prices as a result of this action. Indeed, the reasoning for these moves was to increase profitability for the shareholders.

  45. Cory @17:

    Teresa I’ve updated the post for clarity. I’m not saying all ebooks should cost the same,but charging the same price as print only makes sense if ink,paper, shipping and return s are free.

    I gather that you and Patrick have thrashed this out in correspondence, so I’ll leave it be.

  46. please explain why I want to read a book on a device that can drop and break instead of a nice paper bound one that I can stuff in my back pocket, take to the beach, read without worrying about recharging, and then sell or trade at a bookstore when I’m done for another one.

  47. Hola Cory!

    The sad thing is that in this dust up, Amazon and MacMillan are just encouraging piracy.

    Piracy is the ultimate “nuclear option” for consumers when it comes to copyright. The consumers who previously were willing to play ball and pay for content will eventually get fed up and leave the game, taking the ball with them. Make no mistake about it– the modern reality is that technology has given the ball to the consumer.

    Granted, even in the fairest of circumstances Piracy will exist in the fringes, because people love getting something for nothing. However, many people do choose to play ball. What stops them form piracy are (1) the penalties for breaking the law, and (2) the sense of “fairness” they feel, apart from legal constraints, that artists should be compensated for their work.

    As for point #1, consumers realize that for every Jamie Thomas-Rassert there are a million people who get away with it. As a pure numbers game, the chances of getting massively busted are similar to winning the lottery. Simple research and smart downloading can improve your odds even further. Let’s face it, piracy is simple and easy to do.

    The only thing, IMHO, which keeps people honest on copyright is the “fairness” issue. In any situation where Big Content is abusing copyright, adding DRM, putting out an inferior product (compared to the version on a certain Swedish site), or making consumers access generally difficult, they can only go so far before consumers no longer feel the need to bow to “fairness”.

    This is what happened with the RIAA. Their ham-handed efforts to sue fans turned record execs into bogeymen and consumers no longer felt the need to play ball. As of now, book publishers are liked by the consumers and this plays into their favor. They need to tread carefully or they will lose that.

  48. “But they should be cheaper than print editions.”

    Some books are far more useful as ebooks than as print books. _Programming Ruby_ from Pragmatic is my favorite example of this. It’s got lots of great ebook value-adds — tons of internal linking in the text, a huge index that’s also fully linked, and a high-resolution table of contents. There’s also the inherent searchability of ebooks to fall back on, if the term I need to look up wasn’t indexed. And it’s a DRM-free PDF, so I can have a copy at work, a copy at home, a copy on the laptop, a copy on my phone…

    I’m just lucky that Pragmatic sells the ebook for 1/2 the price of their less-useful print book. The ebook is a better buy even at double the price of the print book.


  49. So the comments started getting TLDR, but I would NEVER pay $15 for a digital copy of a book. PHYSICAL copies don’t cost that much unless you get it in hard cover, and uploading the digital copy is virtually ZERO COST to sites like Amazon.

  50. Yay, yet one more article in the “hey, the new thing is different from the old thing” genre.

    You can’t breed cars the way you could horses! Heavens to betsy.

    No worries, gramps — good old-fashioned books will stick around for as long as you need them.

  51. “If true, Macmillan demanding a $15 pricetag for its ebooks is just plain farcical.”

    Really? Are people choosing to buy ebooks because they are cheaper? Are they not better products in other ways? How about portability, search-ability, that they can be computer-read audibly… Not sure why we are comfortable making bold claims about how great ebooks are and then suggesting they should be cheaper than inferior paper books. Anyone think that stuff is priced based on a markup on their costs? They’re priced on the value people see in them and are willing to pay.

    I would pay more for an audiobook on audible than a paper book because it’s way easier to read on my bike and while I’m jogging. I know it doesn’t cost them anything for the next guy to download.

    The best reason your ebook should be priced less than a paper book is only that competitors can make ebooks cheap and therefore make your price uncompetitive. But it’s the competition and customer demand that should set the price not what it cost to make. I say go ahead and jack the price and watch what us customers do.

  52. I’d like to know, of all the people who complain about Kindle’s DRM and the fact that you can’t read Kindle books on other platforms… how many of them have iPods and buy all their music off iTunes?

  53. Ah Amazon. Does anyone remember their lawsuit against a bookstore with the same name, because it was a feminist bookstore and Jeff & Co. hated the possible lesbian association? Though golly gee, they’ll take lesbian money, happily enough.

    How about their sponsorship of hate-monger “Dr.” Laura? Hmmm. Despite their official policy to not support hate speech. Wrote a bunch of letter to them on that one. Got the biggest pile of runaround bullshit replies. That was about a decade ago? I’ve bought about four books from them since then. I buy secondhand when I can, Alibris and the like. In a pinch, I’ll order from Barnes & Noble. But those Amazon corporate people are assholes of the first order.

    And yes, I agree with the poster who suggested DON’T LINK TO THEIR SITE.

    On the subject of secondhand book stores, I just heard that the roof of Bookmans Flagstaff collapsed under five feet of snow! Sad, sad, sad. That’s a great store.

  54. @40: #Readingcomprehensionfail. I wrote “But Amazon can force you to buy Kindles (and Amazon-approved devices) to read your Kindle books on and listen to your Audible audiobooks on”

    See that subordinate clause inside the parens there?

    Apparently not.

  55. Cory @OP: Amazon’s ebooks are locked (by contract and by DRM) to the Kindle (this is even true of the “DRM-free” Kindle books, which still have license terms that prohibit moving the books). This is not due to rightsholder-demands, either: as I discovered when I approached Amazon about selling my books without DRM and without a bad license agreement for Kindle and Audible, they will not allow copyright owners to modify their terms, nor to include text in the body of the work releasing readers from those terms.

    Cory, are you sure it’s Amazon that wants DRM? I could see Amazon not having the infrastructure built to accommodate removing DRM from an individual book, and not wanting to build that infrastructure unless it was clear they weren’t wasting their money to do so. It certainly seems like, if a publisher wants DRM removed from all their books, Amazon is willing to do so (modulo the restrictive license terms you mention above).

    1. Kevin, as I say, in the very same section that you quote, Amazon insists on DRM (and/or DRM-by-contract) even when major publishers with NYT bestselling books asks to have no-DRM. I speak from personal experience. I don’t know how much clearer this can be.

      The “infrastructure” necessary to allow me to include this statement in an audiobook is nil: “Cory Doctorow and Random House Inc, as copyright owners of this audiobook hereby affirm that the only restrictions on your use of it are those contained in the US Copyright Act, 17USC.” Yet Amazon refused.

      Likewise, the infrastructure necessary to include this same text in Kindle books is precisely nil.

      1. Kevin, as I say, in the very same section that you quote, Amazon insists on DRM (and/or DRM-by-contract) even when major publishers with NYT bestselling books asks to have no-DRM.

        And that publisher was asking Amazon to remove DRM from all of the e-books said publisher was making available on Amazon, and Amazon said no? Bugger. That’s very disappointing. I expect better from Amazon. (The publisher should be commended — it’s about damn time somebody in the content industry wised up, and it’s a shame it’s now the technology companies standing in their way.)

        The “infrastructure” necessary to allow me to include this statement in an audiobook is nil: “Cory Doctorow and Random House Inc, as copyright owners of this audiobook hereby affirm that the only restrictions on your use of it are those contained in the US Copyright Act, 17USC.” Yet Amazon refused.

        Likewise, the infrastructure necessary to include this same text in Kindle books is precisely nil.

        Point. It’s not entirely surprising, given how Audible has failed to drop DRM since it was purchased by Amazon, that Amazon would be stupid about this, but it’s still disappointing.

        How does Amazon justify selling DRM-free music and DRM-shackled ebooks at the same time? It would be seriously ironic if competition from Apple was the destabilizing force that dragged Amazon’s e-books out of the DRM ghetto.

  56. Gawdz,

    They are both bitching over a “Price Fixing” scam….

    $10 or $15? But no dead trees? No workers at the bookstore? No latte service?

    Uh, try $5 for a new novel or book. And, how about selling lots of the “Paperback Glut”, all those cool paperbacks from the 70s/80s for $1 each with half the profits going to original authors…? Vitrual product, if the publishers are worried about copying, just lower the price and no one will think it’s worth copying or sharing. $20 ish $10 ish… Sure they’ll scan and post ’em online. $1-5ish, dood, just pay the publisher his 75%, the online store its 20% and the author his 5%…

    If you remove the bookstores, where does the money go? The author? I think not. The guy that did the e-commerce site? I think not. The “Publishing Baron”, I think so.

    I’m simply not going to buy one of these e-readers. No way am I paying the price of a laptop for a lobotomized piece of junk that has trouble even running the DRM software before it can get to loading the book.

  57. From what I understand working for a small book publisher, a physical book costs about $2 to physically produce (in printing costs), so eBooks should be about $2 cheaper by this logic. But then you can’t resell eBooks, and you can resell physical books, albeit usually for only a dollar or two (and much more often for trade credits at a used bookstore). So perhaps eBooks should be 3-4 dollars cheaper than regular books if the publisher passes on the savings to the consumer.

    Another complication is that Amazon takes an approximately 15% higher cut on Kindle books than physical books (at least for our small publishing house), which is perhaps why Macmillan wants a higher price. Perhaps Amazon has extra costs involved in running the Kindle network in terms of programming and other technology, but then again there are fewer costs in terms of storage and inventory of physical books so perhaps it’s actually cheaper and they are engaged in monopoly price-gouging.

    I’m not an “information wants to be free” kinda guy necessarily–I think it’s ok to charge $10 for an eBook, $15 even. (But not $47 or $97 as some “information marketers” are want to do.) As others have mentioned, some eBooks have certain advantages over physical books, like hyperlinked indexes and other eBook-only resources. This is unlikely the case with most mass-market novels and popular non-fiction however.

  58. @74: thanks. Cory retweeted @paolobacigalupi on that, I saw it and discovered a great place to buy ebooks… and now have ‘Windup Girl’ in my Library, as LRF and HTML for backup.

    @72 > @40 I caught that one too… Cory was saying that the hundreds or thousands of bucks you have in your Kindle library is gone, ‘poof’ unless you keep buying Kindles as the old ones die. If Acme comes out with a better reader, you’re still stuck with whatever Amazon wants you to use.

    Yes, there’s the Kindle app on the iPhone, and (maybe) the iPad, but are you sure it will be there tomorrow?

  59. BTW… regarding Macmillon’s open letter/paid ad at

    “This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on through third parties.”

    Anybody know what the heck “extensive and deep windowing of titles” means?

    I can’t find any references to it with the Goog.

  60. It means that if Amazon wants to continue with the old terms they won’t be able to sell ebooks of Macmillan titles until several months after the hardback release.

    And Apple will thumb its nose at Amazon because it can.

  61. “Update: not to say that all ebooks should cost the same. But they should be cheaper than print editions.”

    Since when is paying a premium for convenience (in this case instant gratification) unusual? It’s not.

    – You pay more if you want something quick, not less (like this).

    – You often pay more if you want a “greener” option (like this).

    – You pay more when you want something new, regardless of format (like this).

    – You pay more when a product comes from a trusted source (I’d say, like this).

    Premium pricing is a marketing strategy, and it’s not one Amazon should have any right to make on behalf of publishers and authors. Attempting to exert that level of undue control is monopolistic at best.

    1. @Anon #82

      Yes. All of those reasons are precisely why it costs more to buy musix from iTunes, Amazon, or any online store than it does to buy the CD irl.

      Oh wait, shit; buying it online is cheaper, even though it’s faster, greener, and more convenient.

      When you buy a CD, you pay a premium to get a physical copy of that music, and because that music is a higher quality than it would be if you downloaded it. (Until Amazon starts distributing musix in FLAC, that is.) The download costs less because you get neither of these things, and it may be crippled by DRM (depending on where you dl from). That cost difference is as it should be.

      Likewise, an eBook, (if you are buying the eBook) should cost less than the actual book because you do not get a physical copy. If you are buying a /license/ for the eBook, it should cost less because there are limitations being imposed on your using said eBook.

      Also, I find that having a physical copy of something that I can read anywhere and share with anyone to be much more convenient than being able to quickly access something which I am bound to lose due to DRM.

  62. I don’t like ebooks at all, and I will never buy an ebook or ereader. I am not pleased that Amazon is making less print books available to me as a result of this stupid ebook disagreement, so I’ll be taking my business elsewhere.

  63. “I was going to suggest an electronic version of a lending library; however what’s to stop a library from lending out an infinite number of electronic copies of something? That would effectively limit the income of content creators to the number of copies that could be sold to lending institutions, and might not be enough to support the creators and their families.”

    This already exists — — many public and school libraries use it (and yes, they’re limited in the number of digital copies they can lend at a time).

  64. “If you remove the bookstores, where does the money go? The author? I think not. The guy that did the e-commerce site? I think not. The “Publishing Baron”, I think so.”

    There seem to be an awful lot of opinionated comments against the publisher from people who have no idea how publishing works. This comment is an example.

    What you completely neglect is the fact that authors are privy to what they’re books sell for, how many are sold, how many are returned by sellers, etc. They’re not ignorant about how much the publisher is making. And if the publisher is making more, it positions authors to demand higher advances and better royalties (and from someone who’s worked with authors and has quite a few friends who are authors I can tell you many get royally screwed as things are). So no, more money wouldn’t only benefit the publishers. It would benefit the artists and subject matter experts who create the books that people really want to read.

  65. “Although there are sunk costs in book production, including the considerable cost of talented editors, copy-editors, typesetters, PR people, marketers, and designers, the incremental cost of selling an ebook is zero”

    I must have missed something, because as far as I know, this is not the case. Sure, you’re not printing or shipping the book, but all of the costs remain the same. E-books from the major publishers are created from the same files that the physical books are printed from. They aren’t MS Word docs–someone edited and flowed the text. It was styled by a professional designer.

    And how is the book promoted? Do you think that you can put a book out there without promoting it through publicity, marketing, and advertising and actually have people find it, let alone buy it? ALL of that cost money–and time. It hasn’t yet been automated. Real humans are writing the press release and sending them out, creating and designing ad campaigns and paying for display space.

    You do a huge disservice to the people who market and promote your books when you imply that selling an e-book is free. It takes the same effort, and yes, money, to sell an e-book. Your publisher is paying someone to get your book out to media, reviewers, bloggers and finally to consumers. And guess what? Most of the media, reviewers and bloggers aren’t taking electronic files yet. They are still getting printed press kits and advance readers editions that are MAILED to them. None of which is FREE.

    Do you think that the e-books get out to the online stores via the e-book fairy? No. Your publisher has an account rep selling your books to a buyer–regardless of format. Then they pay the account to display your book in a prominent location on the page so people can find it and buy. I promise you that amazon isn’t promoting books out of the kindness of their hearts or great passion for reading.

    And of course there is that online listing, also created by a person who is paid to enter in the isbn and copy to help sell the book. Someone wrote the description and loaded the jacket and posted the quotes from your reviews–that you got because someone sent an ARC to a reviewer.

    And that doesn’t even consider the cost of converting the files and developing the programing to feed the information (that your publisher created to earn back the advance they paid you) out to all of the online resellers.

    Publishers are out to make money too, but they also have a huge stake in the success of the book. Each book on their list is a gamble and they invest in the author and the people working on your book and try to make a profit. Amazon doesn’t have the same burden. They invested in the Kindle and are pricing e-books to recoup their investment in that.

    1. #Readingcomprehensionfail

      Go look up the definition of “incremental cost,” and re-read the original post.

  66. I knew Cory would have something to say. I wish I had read it before writing my blog. I am really torn on this whole issue. I hope to be a writer but I am already a consumer. They need to fix this and fast. My thoughts on my blog (Amazon Slap Down

  67. @86 – I don’t know what part of Jarret’s post you missed… even the part you quoted.

    “Although there are sunk costs in book production, including the considerable cost of talented editors, copy-editors, typesetters, PR people, marketers, and designers, the incremental cost of selling an ebook is zero”

    All that Jarret was saying is that the cost of selling an INDIVIDUAL book is zero. There is no store, no clerk ringing up the purchase, no little paper bag. I don’t think the overhead cost in providing an individual download could be easily calculated.
    (PLEASE note I said ‘overhead cost’. I’m NOT talking about giving away anything.)

    I don’t know how he could have more clearly put it: “the considerable cost of talented editors, copy-editors, typesetters, PR people, marketers, and designers”

    What part of that are you responding to?
    I’m not being sarcastic here, I really don’t know.

  68. I think the truth is obvious:

    A decade from now, we’ll all carry tablets, which may run any of 3 or 4 operating systems. Customers will simply buy their books direct from the publisher, and they’ll use one of a couple of different readers to display it.

    After all, publishing an e-book is pretty darned effortless today. (Writing it is the hard part), and there will no doubt be dozens of turnkey e-publishing sites, just like there are currently any number of e-commerce sites and engines for selling physical goods.

    So, in the end, this bickering about rights and prices and DRM is just about short-term profits and attempts to control what is really uncontrollable. As long as we have the Internet and computers, there will always be another choice.

  69. #4: So stop buying books via Amazon, and only buy them in hardcopy from a local bookseller.

    Um, what local bookseller? They’ve all closed down because they can’t compete with Amazon. I can make the trek into London and go to Foyles or Dillons but there’s no bookseller within 10 miles and the nearest has a pretty small range.

    ps. I still really miss Compendium in Camden but that’s been gone a while now.

    1. there’s no bookseller within 10 miles and the nearest has a pretty small range.

      When Borders, which is 15 miles away, closes, I probably won’t have a functional bookstore closer than 45 miles away via the freeway. The only other bookstore for this area of a quarter million people is a place that’s open a couple of days per week and sells old paperbacks that appear to have passed through the belly of a goat. And charges 70% of cover price (cash only, no large bills) for the bezoars.

      The library is only a block away. Unfortunately the collection is so bad that I usually end up buying from Amazon and donating after I’ve read it.

  70. This news makes me so glad that I am self-published and don’t rely on large book publishers for income. ~Allen Harkleroad

  71. market concentration is bad for the arts

    If the powers that be gave a damn, a solution would be simple: Make it forbidden and legally impossible for a corporation to own another corporation. Period. Done. Problem solved.

  72. Somebody remind me what’s the difference between a “price” and a “price point.” Besides making marketing people feel more technical and professionalizated.

  73. The above article is mixing two separate issues. McMillan books being pulled has nothing to do with DRM; it’s all about price. The DRM situation is not ideal, but siding with McMillan on this will do nothing to change it.

    This current situation is about Amazon, Apple and the publishers. All three here are trying to make more money (obviously). Amazon needs to have low prices so people will buy their Kindle, and thereby purchase their books through Amazon. Apple wants Amazon to lose the pricing edge so that all their i-whatever customers buy from the i-Bookstore instead of Amazon. The publishers just want more money. In my opinion, Apple and the publishers are trying to manipulate the market by fixing prices. The problem I have with this is that publisher’s have a sort of monopoly on the book market. If you want to read a book from a particular author, you don’t have a choice of which publisher to buy that book from, but you do have a choice on which distributor to purchase from. So I really balk at the publisher dictating prices to the distributors. It’s not going to be very beneficial to my wallet. I’m also very doubtful that it will be beneficial to authors. Does anyone really believe that the author’s revenues will increase if ebook prices increase?

    Another game the publishers have started playing with us consumers is delaying the release of ebooks to 3 months after the release of hardcovers. What irks me is the brazen attempt to coerce me to pay more by buying a hardcover. I can see charging more for new ebook releases (which Amazon typically does – note that their $9.99 model is really only guaranteed for NYT bestsellers).

    Another point I’ve seen mentioned is Amazon’s introduction of DTP – digital text platform, which allows authors to self-publish. I’ve seen it suggested that this is also making publishers nervous. I don’t know too much about DTP, but it certainly makes sense that this might unnerve publishers.

    Finally, I’d like to point out that this outcome will affect all ebook readers, not just Kindle owners. If Amazon has no control over prices, neither will any of the other ebook stores. So yeah, I find myself supporting Amazon in this. I don’t want the publishers to go broke, but asking for $15 for a new ebook is ridiculous.

    As I mentioned before, the DRM issue is important, but it is something that Amazon can and no doubt eventually will change. Good consumers should do their homework and know what they are getting into when they purchase a product. The ebook reader market is quite competitive with numerous options available to customers. Let’s keep the ebook market competitive as well.

  74. A little bit of context about why this is happening:

    From the Wall Street Journal (1/26)—
    Apple is asking publishers to set two e-book price points for hardcover best sellers: $12.99 and $14.99, with fewer titles offered at $9.99. In setting their own e-book prices, publishers would avoid the threat of heavy discounting. Apple would take a 30% cut of the book price, with publishers receiving the remaining 70%…Amazon typically pays publishers about half of the cover price of a new hardcover book for e-book bestsellers. For example, Andre Agassi’s recent memoir, “Open,” has a hardcover price of $28.95, which means the publisher likely received about $14.50 for the e-book edition. Since Amazon today sells that e-book for $9.99, the bookseller is losing about $4.50 on each sale—a hit Amazon has been willing to take to build a dominant market share in e-books and power sales of its Kindle reading device.

  75. I think that what we are seeing here are the opening shots in a ‘war’ similar to that currently being fought by the recording industry, i.e. the existing ‘old’ business model vs. the new business model, the latter mandated by digital publishing and [to quote from the article] the fact that ‘the incremental cost of selling an ebook is zero’.

    This topic (i.e. old vs. new) forms one of the major discussions at

  76. I’ve just been reading the tale of Mazeppa, from a little book, easily pocketed. No DRM. It was my father’s, he was given it by his grandfather. (Tobias Smollett’s translation of Voltaire’s History of Charles the Twelfth of Sweden).
    This book was printed and bound in about 1824, in London.
    How well will your Kindles work in 200 years?
    Will your ebook be readable by any device?

    Mine will still be readable, if future generations look after it… i.e.put it somewhere dry and not in direct sunlight, like a… bookshelf.

  77. This is all about WHO sets the price customers pay; Amazon or publisher. MacMillan has told Amazon that they need to stop being a merchant* and start being a service provider because that’s the ONLY way they can tell Amazon what to sell ebooks for. If Amazon doesn’t switch to being a service provider telling them what price to charge is illegal.

    I for one wouldn’t want someone coming into more store and telling me I can’t sell a product, but I can be a service provider to “deliver” the product I’ve been selling for years.

    The publisher always has control over what they sell TO amazon for, and hence what authors get paid; what they have not had control over is what Amazon sells the book for. This is a power play on publishers behalf to take control of what customers pay for ebooks, if they get Amazon to do this then they can make a book $19.99 on Amazon and $9.99 on Apple and they can make or break ereaders and ebook vendors.

    *look we all know fuctionally ebooks are merchandise, even Amazon slips and says it

  78. There are a few related things that bug me related to things you can’t just buy like a book.

    Books, CDs, DVDs (region code aside) can be bought anyplace. I have bought from,,, in the past.

    But I can’t buy an MP3 or eBook from, only from (zero MP3s). I can only use so I may want to buy something but it’s not available at too bad.

    When you talk to the content providers or the sellers they point to the “license agreement” and say they can’t do anything as if the license was handed down by God. They wrote the stupid thing, and it’s that way because they like it like that.

    They don’t want people to download their stuff for “free”? The first step is to let them buy it!

    And just like you don’t want to have to buy more then one eBook reader, you don’t want to have multiple TV providers. I think lots of sports fans have run into this, one satellite provider has exclusive rights for Football, and the other Baseball. They say they are competing but really they are trying to squeeze out competition. If one gets enough exclusives the others are toast, and even if they are split between two or more companies a new company will have a hard time getting into the same market.

    I think if you are going to sell something, then you should have to sell it to anyone willing to pay the asking price. I should be able to go to iTunes Japan and buy a track for 100 yen or what ever they charge if I want to, just like I can (and have) go to and buy a CD.

    I think it will just get worse since the wet dream of the media companies seems to be pay-per-play.

  79. The books are still available on Amazon – such as books by Tor. Why would you say “[…] deletion of an appreciable fraction of all of English literature from its store”?

    What books are no longer visible on their site?

    Are you saying that if a manufacturer (publisher) raises their wholesale costs, retailers are obligated to continue selling?


    – If I can give the book away to my friends if I choose

    – Move it to another device if I choose

    – Loan it to friends if I choose

    – On-sell it if I choose

    If I can’t do the above then the e-book has to be priced somewhere around $AU2 because they are otherwise providing me with something that is less than what I can otherwise buy and which restricts me in what I would otherwise likely do.

    E-books have to give you something you don’t otherwise have for them to become more popular and more widely purchased for people like me to buy them.

    Many may not agree and there are likely many who will buy the current reader and current e-books. I suspect that shortly afterwards, just like those whom I have warned against buying iTunes songs…later on they will come to complain that there are very ordinary things they can’t legally do and ask for help in getting around their agreement with their Apple/Amazon overseer.

  81. Publishers need to focus on selling MORE copies of books rather than trying to charge more for each copy. I buy many less books at $30 than I did when they were $10 (and I can’t imagine ever paying more than $5 for an electronic copy–and nothing for one with DRM). Do I read less now? No, I just make up the difference at the library (but I’d rather buy them).

  82. Gadget weenies – naifs!

    Especially interesting in the screenshot of the Amazon page for Eye of the World…the used dead-tree version of the book starts at 40c.

    Don’t be a dope, just buy the frigging book. When you are done with the book, hide it somewhere good…so when Amazon kicks down your door to call that title back, they wont be able to find it.

  83. Wygit @80:

    Anybody know what the heck “extensive and deep windowing of titles” means?

    I think he means the ebook version won’t offered for some time after the hardcover goes on sale. For most books, that’s the most profitable portion of their life cycle. Book publishing has perennially narrow profit margins, so giving up that revenue would be a major piece of bloodletting.

    Anonymous @109:

    BTW, you are so blatantly obviously for Macmillan.

    So am I. I like to think it’s because Macmillan is bleeping well in the right on this one.

    BTW, do you really expect authors to politely cheer for a major distributor that suddenly refuses to sell their books for reasons that have nothing to do with them? You can’t be acquainted with any of them, if you think that’s going to happen.

    Anonymous @111:

    Publishers need to focus on selling MORE copies of books rather than trying to charge more for each copy.

    I gather you’re not aware that that’s been the thrust of the trade publishing industry for at least the last century?

  84. Calm down everyone. The market is in transition (what isn’t?) and the big guys are duking it out. Sit back and enjoy the show.
    What’s missing from this argument is a discussion of what it’s worth to you to read a particular book, any book, at any price. There are some authors I’ll pay $24.95 to read because I like what they write and I want it on my shelf. (I have both print and ebook versions of my favorites.) Other authors I borrow from the library because I’m not that much of a fan.
    When push comes to shove, $2 or $5 more or less to read a book isn’t going to influence my decision to buy a book in any format. It’s the writing that matters. The rest is mostly details.

  85. So Amazon wants exclusive control over e-books. Just like any of my publishers have exclusive control over the books I sell to them and write for them. IE, for those of you recovering from a hard weekend, obviously I cannot write a book for DAW then turn around an license the rights to publish it ALSO to Tor.

    OK. That makes them a publisher. In fact, in one of their rebuttals, they CALLED themselves a publisher.

    Except they are NOT a publisher. And they told me, and my agent, as much.

    How do I know?

    Not that long ago I made a proposal for a project of Kindle-exclusive content. I wanted the same terms I would have gotten from one of my other publishers; advance against royalties, half on signing, half on publication.

    I was told in these exact words, “Amazon is not a publisher, we can’t offer advances” although I was told I would be “welcome” to SELF publish the stuff on the Kindle platform (wow, kiss of death!).

    So from my perspective, it looks like Amazon considers itself to NOT be a publisher when it comes to forking over cash in advance, but suddenly IS a publisher when it comes to e-book issuance and price-pointing.


  86. All of these kind-of things worry me, but I’d rather competitors war-it-out than sell out, as has been happening all too much recently. Might have to suffer in the short term, but over the long term a fight will be good for the whole industry. Now, if Macmillan and Amazon were to merge, that might be great for the writers, but us poor readers would suffer.

    It seems that no matter what happens, it’s the purchasers who end up screwed. I’d love to see what would happen if consumers actually exercised their power and stopped buying things when they’re fed up on a large scale. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’ll ever happen.

  87. Amazon is selling a stolen version of our book in kindle format. Despite several notifications to their copyright department over the past month proving to them that we never gave permission to anyone and the we hold exclusive copyright to this material they have never responded. They continue to happily profit from the sale of our STOLEN book. Amazon are just as bad as these thieves and have no interest in protecting authors and their copyright. I will never buy another product from them after this.

  88. I purchased a Kindle because it is, in my opinion, the best eReader out there that doesn’t have the price tag of an iLiad.

    I do not, however, purchase any books from them. They got my money for the device, and for MahJong, but they’ll not be getting a penny for eBooks until they drop the DRM.

    At the moment my money is going solely to Baen’s webscription site, and hopefully the others wake up and make some sensible decisions before I run out of things to read there.

    It’s not like all that bother helps either, any publisher or retailer with two brain cells to rub together could google any of their titles and find them all cracked and ready to be downloaded for free at any of countless places about the web.

    After all, DRM has never deterred a pirate, it only inconveniences and annoys legitimate customers.

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