The Great Ebook Swindle of 2012

librarianship, ramblings

Back in February, I wrote a post detailing my take on the initial stages of the Penguin Hates Libraries issue. To sum up, I proposed that Penguin doesn’t hate libraries, but, rather, hates Amazon. Libraries were simply caught in the crossfire.

Since then, news has spread that Penguin (and friends) is being sued by the Department of Justice for general assholery. So, where does that leave us?

Let me say this: I think the major publishing houses need to fall. This unethical, collaborative effort to raise ebook prices is an unmistakably douchey move.  But I can’t help but wonder if it’s necessary at this point in time. Since Amazon’s rise in popularity, we’ve seen both major bookstore chains and indie outfits collapse. It makes sense that publishers want to stop this evil machine before it drives a bulldozer through their market share as well.

This collusion, though, throws a stick in the spokes of free market. Rather than trying to compete with Amazon on its terms, the big publishers have worked together to keep Amazon from offering low prices on ebooks. In reality, Amazon would have the consumer pay a pretty reasonable amount for ebooks, much less than they’re currently forced to charge. In that view, this DOJ lawsuit makes sense: these companies are punishing Amazon, but consumers are the ones who pay the price. But this lawsuit is going to primarily benefit Amazon.

What is the ebook market going to look like when Amazon sets the standards? Are the major publishers going to go under? Are we going to see fair ebook pricing? Or are we merely going to lose competition in this market? Have we been so thoroughly fucked that there is no recovery to be had?

I want Apple to fail. I want Penguin to fail. I want Simon and Schuster to fail.I want Macmillan to fail. Why? Because they don’t care about the people buying their products. They don’t care about free market. They don’t play by the rules. They are jacking up the prices of an ultra low-cost product in order to protect the price point of their other products, most notably print titles (which are hideously overpriced as well).

But if this price fixing is brought to an end, who will stand up to Amazon? Who will be left? What we’ll likely see is drastic cuts in price that Amazon will be able to afford, but other retailers will not. Book stores, for example, earn a 30% cut of sales. But they, even the ones that do sell ebooks, rely primarily on local sales. Amazon is able to turn a profit because they have the ability to sell to virtually anyone on the planet. They can sell an ebook for a buck, take in $0.30  per sale, and make a goddamned killing. Your local book shop, though, if forced to sell that same ebook at that price, could move 5,000 copies and not be able to keep the lights on.

In the end, it seems like we’re cutting a deal with the devil to spite… some other devil. If this goes through, we’re quite possibly going to see a reduction in the manufacture of print materials and a virtual elimination of book stores (as if that wasn’t the case already). I see that as a bad thing, but perhaps that’s just me being nostalgic. Maybe this is just how the market needs to evolve. I’m not sure. I’m just some dumbass librarian.

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3 thoughts on “The Great Ebook Swindle of 2012

  1. Great post, but never underestimate the online community. Every day new indie online distributors are coming on board and offering to help the indie community out. As for prices, well, I have 11 ebooks on Amazon, and it’s rough. Time will tell, but I happen to believe this whole ebook situation/technology is in its infancy. Cheers!

    –Damien

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Damien. Indie is where it’s at. I didn’t mention anything like that in the post, as the focus in the news is on this six-pronged Axis of Evil. But you’re totally right.

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