Publishing Drama Queens

DramaI’ve reached the end of my rope here.

In case you’ve somehow missed it, there is a labyrinthine mess about ebook pricing going on involving publishers, Amazon, and Apple.

First of all, rest assured that I’m not going to weigh in with a long-winded diatribe on the subject because (a) that’s not my style and (b) I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Let me also make clear that I’m not – nor do I pretend to be – a publishing insider.  I am a consumer.  And, as a consumer, I want to know that a book I want to buy is available at the place I choose to buy it at a fair price.

Not asking a lot, is it?

Well, apparently the pinheads in charge don’t see it that way.  In yet another episode of dick-waving – much like the dick-waving that took place when Macmillan pulled all ebooks from Amazon a month or so ago – publishers have withdrawn many ebooks from Amazon and other  retailers.

Including a book that I pre-ordered for Kindle:  Changeless by Gail Carriger.

And that royally hacks me off.

What kind of business practice is it to pull items off your virtual shelves on what seems to be a whim?

It’s unprofessional.  It’s chaotic.  And it tells me that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

Here’s what I understand about the core issue. To date ebooks have been sold under a classic retail model in which publishers sell to retailers who then sell to readers at a price set by the retailer. In the agency model, publishers set the price and retailers make a commission. Amazon is engaged in forging agreements with various publishers — some are still holdouts and I don’t know why the hell that’s happening.  The bottom line for readers is that higher prices than we’ve seen in the past will probably be the result.

But I think the undeniable truth is that publishers don’t have a clue how to deal directly with consumers because they basically never have.  And, let’s face it, they are not off to a good start.

I make my living in the advertising business and I once worked on an account of a large bank that was aggressively building and opening new branches.  Despite the fact that it takes a year or so to build a bank, every single time a new branch was ready to open – every single freakin’ time – the bank was surprised.  Oh!  How did that happen?  My goodness!  We must have a rush campaign prepared overnight at great inconvenience to the poor advertising agency drones!

Much like that perpetually surprised bank, how publishers could be so unprepared to deal with ebook pricing that they are scrambling to find a solution is beyond me.  Seriously beyond me.  Especially since the scrambling is totally visible to ebook early adopters who are already involved and dedicated readers and…well, your freakin’ best customers. And you never, ever show your dirty underwear to your customers.

Here’s my bottom line:  I’m willing to pay a fair price for an ebook.  Just make up your minds already what that’s going to be.

And one last thought:  Can we just stop already with the childish shelf-pulling tantrums?  Publishing is a business and, gee, can’t we just get on with it acting like it?

Thank you.

- Sandy AAR

87 thoughts on “Publishing Drama Queens

  1. carrie,

    I get muddled, too. The biggest reason I got a Kindle in the first place was due to frustration with local bookstores — Borders (the biggest offender) and B & N primarily. Late shelving, snotty remarks, just general lack of respect for me as a romance reader. I wanted to be FREE of it.

    As for the independent bookstores in my area, there are some very well known ones and they don’t stock romance — don’t even stock it at all.

    I wouldn’t want to own a bookstore right now, but bookstores have not treated me well as a customer for years now so it’s kind of hard for me to get worked up over their troubles. THEY lost me as a customer — I never planned on walking away.

    My sister said to me the other day: Amazon will take care of their Kindle people. And I seriously think they will. Amazon is one of those companies that I believe understand that they operate on repeat business which comes from happy customers. As the old marketing adage goes, your best customer is the one you already have.

    It’s just good business. Happy customers come back.

  2. Linda, I admire your resolve, but my flesh is too weak to cut myself off from books I want to read. Sigh.

    Honeywell, I like the tagging idea — and also the tags in the article linked to by LoveRomance.

  3. I am BEYOND frustrated that I can’t buy the books I was planning too. I have an eReader on my smartphone and was purchasing at Fictionwise.com. Imagine my dismay when almost ALL the authors who are on my auto-buy list are no longer being supplied by FW. I can’t believe that in this soft economy, I am willing to shell out hard-earned money for books only to find out that they are not available in the format I need. It’s just very poor PR on the part of the publishing industry.

    And with all due respect to the smaller bookstores, eReaders are the way of the future. Most of my entertainment comes from the internet; I download movies from Netflix and Blockbuster. I download my music from Napster. While I sympathize with their plight, I don’t feel I should suffer because of them.

  4. at another booksite:

    Rich Adin at Teleread suggests that avid readers who prefer digital may not warm to the Agency pricing model and that by doing so, publishers may find themselves in a much weaker bargaining position with Amazon and other retailers should publishers decided to backtrack.

    Publishers are largely relying on two things with the Agency model. First, they want to slow down the growth of ebook adoption while at the same time increasing the entry price for books for those entering the ebook market. BISG says the digital market grows by about a third every six months. Publishers see this as an opportunity to create a higher price point on a digital product.

    What puzzles me is that publishers are now absorbing the digital book revenue loss under the Agency model rather than the retailer. If the publishers are dependent on the hits to make their books look black rather than red, I don’t really understand the strategy unless they believe that they will be able to drive all the disenchanted ebookers back to paper books.

    http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2010/04/05/monday-midday-links-nytimes-ethicist-oks-illegal-downloading-of-books-in-certain-circumstances/

  5. I guess the major publishers simply don’t see the consumer as their de facto customer here? They are selling books to retailers who then sell them to us. The price wars (or negotiations?) are wars between the publishers and the retailers, and it seems like this ipad deal (the agency model) has given them (the 5 publishers) an opportunity to go for a bigger profit – what company wouldn’t?

    In the old model the big retailers (like amazon) who were able to sell books at a loss (well below what they’d owe to the publisher) could give large discounts which in turn dropped the “percieved price” of the books for the customer while the “percieved price” for the publisher stayed the same. Hopefully this new model would force the publishers to see for themselves that the consumers simply won’t pay much more for ebooks than print books? But maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part and the influx of new ebook readers by the ipad growd will end up rising the prices permanently. (Can you tell I’m not a fan of Apple right now? ;))

    Several books I had planned to read during my easter holidays were suddenly not awailable in eformat. Pissed me off and really made me mad at all the parties. I pretty much agree with the blog post: this should not be happenig like this.

  6. Well, I found a site that said best free e-book downloads. . I posted it here but I don’t see it. . I guess some of the sites were pirating sites. Tried one, couldn’t figure it out. . and canceled my membership. . Not sure if it was legit or not, but it seems strange that an a site doing something illegal has a customer service department????.

    For the most part I just don’t trust sites. . and still want to get my books from Amazon. But like many people, I going to cut back on books, and use the library more. .

  7. Leigh, I sent you an email. I deleted your post because when I entered the name of a romance author on the first site listed the links that popped up were to pirate sites.

  8. As I understand it, no publisher has pulled their own books off Amazon. Just the opposite: removing the buy button for some publishers’ ebooks has been Amazon’s decision, as part of their bargaining strategy- just like when they removed the buy buttons for Macmillan titles a month or two ago.

    I have a lot more sympathy for the publishers than most of the commenters & blogs I’ve read. The $9.99 base price for all ebooks that Amazon was charging was unsustainable, and it really was driving down the price of print books as well. (Of course ebooks of mass markets weren’t $9.99, but it’s ebook vs hardcover sales that are the real issue for publishers, not ebooks vs mass market sales. Though of course for us romance readers, the mass markets/ebooks are what we care about!) Remember back in December when a bunch of new hardcover bestsellers, including Stephen King’s Under the Dome and Sarah Palin’s book, were being sold for $9.99 at Walmart.com, Target.com, etc., to match the Amazon ebook price? In the case of Stephen King, that was like 70% off retail. No independent bookstore could possibly match that – even a large chain like B&N can’t sustain that kind of a loss. (So what? Personally, I want a little “biodiversity” in our book world – I don’t want Amazon, B&N, and Walmart to be the only places that drive what’s published.)

    I do agree that all the changes, and the high-profile bickering, has been damaging to readers’ perceptions of all the parties involved. But it’s a lot less black & white than what’s presented here, and Amazon is anything but an innocent player in this.

  9. The publishers wouldn’t be feeling the backlash they are right now except for two things -

    The first being that they have raised the prices in many cases to an unreasonable level. It’s one thing to raise the price of an ebook that’s currently in hardcover by a few bucks but when you have ebooks selling for the same and often more than their paperback editions, of course customers are going to get angry about it. Especially when the issue has been forced so that they can’t shop around for a better deal. Some of the pricing examples I’ve seen are outrageous, do some looking around online at examples given and you’ll see what people are complaining about. Look at my own example of a book I purchased for $5.49 from B&N in Feb, now costs $9.99 in ebook form and it’s available for less as a paperback. What the heck?

    The second reason is that the publishers hopped into bed with Apple and their agreement that no other retailer can sell an ebook for less than what they offer in their ibookstore. Is this the kind of ‘biodiversity’ that you’re looking for?

    I’m curious, would you also support this ‘agency model’ if it included paper editions as well? What if publishers decide that no discounts may be offered anywhere on any paper or hardcover book no matter where you purchase it?

    • In response to Linda in SW VA:

      You bring up really good points, and I agree with you in some respects.

      To your first point, I agree that the publishers have made some huge missteps as well. I think it’s ridiculous that some ebooks cost more than the print edition right now. While I don’t think it makes sense to charge 10 bucks for the ebook of a $25 print book, I also think it makes NO sense to charge $10 for a $7 mass market.

      Secondly, I wouldn’t say that I necessarily support the agency model over the retail model. I’m just not totally against it, and I’m not angered by it. Yes, I think the agency model is problematic because it removes all price flexibility on the part of the ebookstore.

      However, as I mentioned in my first post, there are two things that I see as problematic in the marketplace: one is price erosion, and the other is the concentration of power in the hands of huge retailers, to the exclusion of independents. Yes, there’s a trade-off with the agency model, but it does allow a way to address those issues, while the regular retail model failed to offer a solution.

      Finally, no, I would not support the agency model if it applied to print books as well.

      My main argument was that there were problems with the old pricing model, and that Amazon made the decision to remove ebooks from their store, not publishers. I think the publishers have made some mistakes, but I also think Amazon has been throwing its weight around, and been the source of some of the things that have angered readers – like removing ebooks from their site.

      • Jen: In response to Linda in SW VA: You bring up really good points, and I agree with you in some respects. To your first point, I agree that the publishers have made some huge missteps as well. I think it’s ridiculous that some ebooks cost more than the print edition right now. While I don’t think it makes sense to charge 10 bucks for the ebook of a $25 print book, I also think it makes NO sense to charge $10 for a $7 mass market. Secondly, I wouldn’t say that I necessarily support the agency model over the retail model. I’m just not totally against it, and I’m not angered by it. Yes, I think the agency model is problematic because it removes all price flexibility on the part of the ebookstore. However, as I mentioned in my first post, there are two things that I see as problematic in the marketplace: one is price erosion, and the other is the concentration of power in the hands of huge retailers, to the exclusion of independents. Yes, there’s a trade-off with the agency model, but it does allow a way to address those issues, while the regular retail model failed to offer a solution. Finally, no, I would not support the agency model if it applied to print books as well. My main argument was that there were problems with the old pricing model, and that Amazon made the decision to remove ebooks from their store, not publishers. I think the publishers have made some mistakes, but I also think Amazon has been throwing its weight around, and been the source of some of the things that have angered readers – like removing ebooks from their site.

        Jen, I think you’re still thinking of what happened with Amazon and MacMillan. You do know that ebooks disappeared for sale at many ebook sites other than Amazon when this Agency Model went into effect? Fictionwise, Kobo, just to name a couple, there are more. Some now are just getting those books back for sale (at higher prices of course) and others are still waiting. Amazon can only sell previously published books by Penguin/Ace right now because they haven’t come to an agreement yet. So while you can by the rest of the Sookie books for example, you still can’t pre-order Dead in the Family or any other book that comes out April 1st or later, until that agreement is reached. I hope Amazon is fighting as hard as they can against this agency model pricing with them but I don’t hold out hopes they’ll win any more than they did with MacMillan.

        If you’re truly concerned about any one company throwing it’s weight around and becoming too powerful, how do you feel about this agreement made with Apple? That no other retailer can sell ebooks at a lower price than them? Isn’t Apple powerful enough already, do we have to protect them from competition in the ebook market so they can sell more ipads?

        If the concern is price erosion and how this effects independent booksellers, the same argument could be made for B&N discounting bestselling hardcovers by 40%, Walmart selling paperbacks for $5.79, Costco’s hardcovers at 50% off or more. All of these make it tough for an independent retailers to compete but it is what it is.

        The publishers are building a lot of resentment in the ebook community right now and that’s a shame because we are some of their best customers.

        Linda

  10. What makes me mad about this whole fiasco is two-fold: the first is that Fictionwise (where I buy my ebooks from) didn’t even bother to notify its customers that the books were no longer available for purchase. I only found out when I got a coupon from them and went to my wishlist to make a purchase. Only to find out the majority of my wishlist was GONE!!!

    The second item I get mad about is about illegal downloads. After reading an article from Gena Showalter’s blog by a fellow author (can’t remember name) about the wide availablity of torrents, which I understand are non-copyrighted versions of books. I Googled torrents and was shocked at how many are available. Why are THEY not being targeted and shut down? Yes, I know there are a ton of them. But the music industry was successful in their efforts. If the publishers are so concerned about profit, I imagine much of their profit is being swept away by illegal downloads. And I imagine the digital copies of the books are being offered by someone connected to the publishing companies. Monitor your own people to make sure nothing illegal is going on instead of taking away my books , which I am paying for.

  11. Has anyone written/emailed these publishers in protest and if so, what exactly have you written? I am slowly contacting these five publishers and giving them my two cents. Basically, that I am a loyal ebook customer, I don’t appreciate my ebooks not being available for purchase, and I will NOT go back to buying hardback copies since ebooks are not available. So bottom line, they lose money from me. I’ve found with businesses, the money part is what grabs their attention.

  12. Kay, so far I have written Random House and Penguin. I wrote Random House after purchasing several ebooks of theirs at B&N and thanked them for not taking part in the ‘agency model’ pricing. I have to wonder how long they can hold out, since their books cannot be sold in the Apple ibookstore, they may feel the pressure of lost sales depending on how successful it is.

    I then went over to Amazon and purchased several older Penguin titles there because the price has not gone up there yet. They are still in negotiation with Amazon so I purchased them and then wrote them and told them that I did so because their prices were still below that of a print book, but if and when that changes I will no longer be purchasing them.

    Something to note, this may effect the prices of print books down the line. Due to the ‘agency model’ which states that a retailer cannot discount ebooks, customers are finding that the hardcover is actually cheaper than the ebook in many cases, since the retailers are still allowed to discount hardcovers. After some complaining about this customers have seen the prices for the hardcovers go UP to compensate for this discrepancy.

  13. My greatest fear is that this ‘agency model’ pricing is going to go beyond e-books into the retail market for books. It would not suprise me that in the next few weeks we hear that the major publishers have struck a deal with Wal-Mart (note I am attacking them per-say but they usally have the deepest discounts on books so that why the publishers would have to base this deal on gain their support or it will mean very little, that nobody can sell a book cheaper than Wal-Mart for any reason including the use of coupons or gift certificates to discount a book that was under the ‘agency mode’ of pricing. I fear that this will happen because publishers are loosing money so they are trying to find any extra way to squeaze the customer. I just have started to enjoy e-books. I got an I-pod touch for Christmas and I love it because I did not have the money for an e-reader and I like to be able to do more than just download books. So instead of having take down a list of books that I might want to purchase with me when I go to the book store, and thats if I do not forget it at home, and see what I can get off of it all I do now is download it and read it and it was slightly cheaper than paperbacks and i bought more than I would have if I had to buy them at the bookstore because of the slightly cheaper prices and no sales-tax. So I fear that e-books are only the begining of this era of higher prices.

  14. One thing I find curious is that the authors I am fans of on FaceBook have not mentioned the mess that ebooks are in. I find it hard to believe that they are not aware of it. I wonder if they feel like they are caught between a rock and a hard place. I assume an author has very little input into the publication of said book other than the actual writing of it. But I’m still surprised that it hasn’t been mentioned, either on FB or on their websites. Ms. Laura Kinsale was the first author I’ve come across who has actually adressed the issue.

  15. There are a couple of other factors. Amazon is not immune to muscling publishers and authors, even the smallest and sometimes especially the smallest. After Amazon bought god-awful BookSurge and tried to whip authors into using it, Amazon started disallowing LightingSource and others exposure on their site. The message to authors was: Use BookSurge/CreateSpace or forget selling your book here.

    On the other side of the coin, publishers (and authors) seem vastly ignorant of basic economics, which Apple understands. The concept is that the lower the price, the more song and books you will sell and make more money in the long run. That’s why Apple has stood firm against publishers who bitch about 99¢ songs, knowing both will make more money in the long run by keeping prices low.

    • Thalia Leigh: There are a couple of other factors. Amazon is not immune to muscling publishers and authors, even the smallest and sometimes especially the smallest. After Amazon bought god-awful BookSurge and tried to whip authors into using it, Amazon started disallowing LightingSource and others exposure on their site. The message to authors was: Use BookSurge/CreateSpace or forget selling your book here.On the other side of the coin, publishers (and authors) seem vastly ignorant of basic economics, which Apple understands. The concept is that the lower the price, the more song and books you will sell and make more money in the long run. That’s why Apple has stood firm against publishers who bitch about 99¢ songs, knowing both will make more money in the long run by keeping prices low.

      Except, Apple is not the one that’s setting the prices, it’s the publishers. Considering the deal Apple made where no other retailer may sell an ebook for less than in their ibookstore, I would think it would be a conflict of interest if they were involved in setting the prices. They already have a guarantee that a customer can’t shop elsewhere for a better price if they don’t like their pricing. Amazon tried to stand firm against publishers that disliked their low pricing on ebooks but they lost.

      On a side note, I was in the process of picking up all JE’s old Loveswepts in ebook form when this new ‘agency model’ pricing went into effect but see now that the rest of them are actually cheaper in paperback since B&N isn’t allowed to give me my 10% member discount on ebooks. Now that I realize I’m being penalized in price for purchasing in ebook form since the discount is not allowed, I can’t’ bring myself to pay extra for them and I’m not going to reward the publisher by purchasing the print copy.

  16. I must first say that I have been seriously considering the purchase of an ebook reader, once I could
    decide on which one would suit me best. After reading of this conflict and its ramifications, I am now
    suspending my search. The ebook reader would have been great for me as I will soon be on a fixed
    income due to my husband’s upcoming retirement. Purchasing the ebooks would have been kinder to
    my pocketbook. This conflict is unkind to me as a reader and to the authors who are affected. Thanks
    for allowing me to state my concerns!

    Pat Cochran

  17. Well, I see that Barnes and Noble is now offering their eReader (which I suspect is the original Fictionwise eReader software) for a free download to your iPhone/iPad/Blackberry/PC/Mac. So I guess that FictionWise.com (which B&N bought about a year ago) will now only be offering eBooks from the smaller publishers. While B&N will have eBooks of the big five publishers However they are selling eBooks for $1.00 less than paperback OR the same price as paperbacks. I’m not sure what will happen to eReader.com which was a subsidary ( I guess that’s the best description) of FW, selling only books in the eReader format while FW sold those and multi-format ones. It’s kinda obsolete now.

    I’m glad that I can get my eBooks from B&N, though the prices are a little hard to swallow, considering how accustomed I’d become to the 20 or 30% off I’d get at Fictionwise and eReader.com I’m trying to look on the bright side-at least I don’t have to shell out $$$$ for the B&N Nook.

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