Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Paranoia isn't Pretty

So, today, I had once again planned to post this cheery little piece I've been working on all about puppies (actual as well as fictional) and some of the odd twists of fate that so often leave me wondering whether I might not be inhabiting one of my own novels after all. It's a nice post—I even include excerpts—but for now, you'll just have to take my word on that. Because, instead, today I'm going to talk about something a little more topical: the recent Amazon-v-MacMillan dust-up.

For those of you who aren't familiar with what's been happening, here's the flash-card version. As I understand it, MacMillan wanted to set their own (higher) prices for the ebooks they sell through Amazon's Kindle store. Amazon balked at first, going so far as to remove the BUY buttons from all MacMillan books—print and digital alike. People complained. Amazon capitulated. End of story...or was it?

You see, this is the kind of issue that makes me really glad I don't suffer from high blood pressure 'cause otherwise, we'd be talking stroke-city. I see it as a lose-lose proposition all the way around and, unfortunately, like so many issues involving publishing today, the biggest losers of all, the people who inevitably end up on the bottom of the heap, seem to be the authors.

Does that sound a little too self-absorbed? A little paranoid? A tad too hyperbolic? Well, I guess I'll just have to live with that. Because the sad truth is, who in this mess is going to look out for authors' self interests—other than the authors themselves?

The big publishers like MacMillan, who recently cut their authors' royalties for ebooks ( according to this article: here), aren't going to do it. Amazon, who takes a whopping 65% of the sales price (according to figures provided by one of my publishers) surely isn't. And, sadly, it appears that even a lot of consumers who are justifiably angry about higher prices, are looking to take their anger out guessed it, the authors as well. If you doubt me, take a look at some of the comments connected to any of these articles:

For the benefit of those of you who don't care to wade through all the diatribes, let me sum up: The comments include suggestions that people stop buying books altogether, or stop buying ebooks, or stop buying new books. More creative approaches were also mentioned. Things like pirating ebooks—'cause that'll teach the "greedy bastards" a thing or two. Or looking up all the MacMillan books listed on Amazon and giving each one a one star rating. Wow. I'm suddenly starting to understand why JD Salinger became a recluse. I want to lock myself up and stop talking to people too.

Especially coming hot on the heels of articles like this Confessions of a Book Pirate and this The Push Towards Paperless. A Conspiracy? I think, perhaps, I might be excused for at least a little of my paranoia, don't you?

To be honest, I don't really care if MacMillan prices itself right out of the ebook market. I wish all of the (as I so fondly refer to them) dino-pubs would quickly follow suit. I feel like they all woke up one day—after years of denying that ebooks even counted as “real” books—and suddenly felt threatened by the increased popularity of the format. Or maybe they didn't feel threatened, maybe they just felt left out.

However it happened, having belatedly decided to get into the game, it appears they're  now trying to re-write the rules. Maybe they're trying to reconstruct the digital marketplace and turn it into something more like what they're used to. Maybe they're trying to kill it off altogether. I don't really know.

I personally don't think they have a prayer of succeeding with the latter, at least not in the long term (and for more of my opinion on the paper vs digital debate you can read a little rant I posted on the subject just last week HERE). And, frankly, I'm really hoping they fail at the former.

Why would I be rooting for publishers to fail? Because I think the epublishing industry had found a model that works for it. I think we were all getting along just fine until the dino-pubs showed up at the watering hole and started mucking around. I really can't see how $15. ebooks are in anyone's best interest. Prices like that encourage pirates ands discourage sales—all across the board. They make readers hostile...and, trust me, the last thing we paranoiacs need is any more hostility.


Meg Benjamin said...

Amen, sister! I've read comments by authors like Stephen King, who complained bitterly that publishers were having to "subsidize" ebooks by lower prices, with gritted teeth. Yeah, if you routinely sell a lot of $25 hardbacks, like King, the cut from an ebook must seem puny. But for the rest of us, both readers and writers, keeping ebook prices low makes a lot of sense.

Kelly Jamieson said...

Thanks for this PG. It's a really complicated issue and you're right, the ones who lose are the authors - authors whose books don't get bought because there is no buy button, or it's priced too high, or because it can be stolen somewhere else.