For those of you who aren't following this, here's the quick and dirty version. (Not actually all that dirty, sorry.) Along with a number of other houses, Macmillan (whose imprints include Straus & Giroux, Tor, and my publisher, St. Martin's Press) has been pushing for Amazon to change their pricing structure for electronic books from a flat charge of $9.99 (an artificial price point, I believe, intended to drive sales of its electronic reader, the Kindle) to one set by the publishers themselves, giving them the option of charging up to $15. Amazon's response has been along the lines of "Or what? You're going to take your business to some other gigantic, popular company and THEIR ebook reader? Let us know how that works out for you."
This week, you might have heard that Apple released the awkwardly-named but undeniably snazzy iPad, and along with it announced their new iBooks store. In doing so, they signed agreements with a number of the biggest publishing houses, including Macmillan. Those agreements apparently grant these publishers more pricing flexibility. The New York Times picks it up from there:
Macmillan offered Amazon the opportunity to buy Kindle editions on the same “agency” model as it will sell e-books to Apple for the iPad. Under this model, the publisher sets the consumer book price and takes 70 percent of each sale, leaving 30 percent to the retailer. Macmillan said Amazon could continue to buy e-books under its current wholesale model, paying the publisher 50 percent of the hardcover list price while pricing the e-book at any level Amazon chooses, but that Macmillan would delay those e-book editions by seven months after hardcover release. Amazon’s removal of Macmillan titles on Friday appears to be a direct reaction to that.
That's right. On Friday, Amazon pulled every single title published by Macmillan, including mine, from its site. The titles are still listed, but there's no way to buy them except via third party vendors. (This only applies to Amazon's US site, and also doesn't appear to include overstock sales like the one I mentioned the other day.)
As to why Amazon is doing this, especially given the fact that the removal doesn't just affect Kindle editions but all print properties as well, I can only assume that the company is operating under a business model best encapsulated as "No, fuck YOU."
I'm not going to pretend that all has been smooth sailing between St. Martin's Press and myself where ebooks are concerned. A number of you have written to me asking why Schuyler's Monster was only available for the Kindle for a brief time before being removed. Apparently the original scan from the company was fuzzy and it was pulled for quality control. But despite my repeated titty-baby whining, St. Martin's has been slow to replace that scan, and at this time, Schuyler's Monster is unavailable as an electronic book in any format. I've been extremely frustrated by this over the past several months, and so I'm not exactly filled with unconditional love for SMP's digital division at the moment. That's just my anecdotal experience, but it's the only one I have to go on.
But in this clash of the Big Companies, only one of them is intentionally and cynically screwing with the livelihood of authors. Only Amazon has shown such callous disregard for the writers who make their whole industry possible. I've twice visited the offices of St. Martin's Press, and it's not some fancy shining hub of cold, calculated commerce. Up on the top floors of the Flatiron Building in New York, you'll find offices full of manuscripts piled on every available flat surface, and you'll also find creative people (mostly young) who run around frantically, making books happen. And even in the face of the scary-boo economic factors crippling the industry, these folks are giddy about their work. They're book nerds, operating on a very thin margin, and every author I've ever talked to who has been published by them has expressed the same thing, and it's the same thing I've felt as well. Macmillan takes care of its people.
This whole situation just stinks, and I have no idea how long it'll last. Not long, I suspect, hopefully just a few days just to see if Macmillan blinks. I hope they don't. And I hope they're not the only publisher to demand a little free market behavior from Amazon, either. Amazon is a great company and God knows a huge number of the trees I've killed have gone through their warehouses on the way to readers like you. (Eh, trees. Fuck 'em.) But I believe Amazon is acting like a petulant bully in this instance, and the people who are being hurt most directly are consumers and authors. Being both, I don't like it, not one bit.
This would be a much worse situation for me personally if my book had only recently been released, and I recognize that. But still, I can tell you what it feels like, being the author of one of the books that just lost one of its largest outlets for sales, all because two big companies are squabbling over money and the future of the ebook trade.
I feel like a citizen of Tokyo, watching Godzilla and some other monster fighting it out in the streets of my city.
Even if my monster wins, my house still gets squashed.
Even if my monster wins, my house still gets squashed.
UPDATE: Blink! My favorite part is this seriously weird quote from Amazon:
"We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books."
Um, I believe the word you're looking for is "copyright".
UPDATE REDUX: John Scalzi sums it all up nicely.
UPDATE CUBED: I'm linking to Scalzi a lot these days; he's been particularly on-target with this issue lately. Today, he looks out for the citizens of my metaphorical Tokyo. Thank you, John. Your fellow authors appreciate it.
UPDATE FINALE: After exactly one week, Amazon has gotten around to restoring the links to Macmillan titles, including Schuyler's Monster. I'm guessing it'll be at least that long before I return the favor. I'll put it on my To Do list. No, really.