EBooks are becoming more popular, and as they do they’re coming up against many of the same issues regarding electronic pricing and distribution that the music and movie industries have faced in the recent past.
Recently, Macmillian and Amazon had a very public pissing match over eBook pricing. Macmillian wanted the right to set prices for their books, while Amazon wanted the right to set prices so they could use books as loss leaders to build market share for their online store and for their proprietary Kindle device.
This has helped bring out a big difference between the fight to modernize book publishing and the struggle with music and movies. Amazon decided to de-list Macmillian titles to try to force them to give in. But book sales support authors, so when Amazon stopped their customers from buying Macmillian books, they pissed off a lot of people capable of crafting entertaining and articulate arguments against Amazon’s actions.
Sure there are some good songs and even a movie or two about artists being screwed by The Man. But making those take time and a three minute pop song just can’t go into the detail necessary to sway people. On the other hand, Amazon was forced to cave within days.
On first glance, Amazon appears to be on the side of the consumer, since they want to be able to sell eBooks to you for less than they pay the publisher. Cheaper books – yay! But it’s not that simple.
Publishers want the right to set prices so they can make more off initial sales, then drop the price later to bring in more buyers. Think about hardcovers and paperbacks. Hardcovers come out first and cost more. That higher price helps recoup the costs of publishing a well-crafted book (self-published books are wonderful, but sometimes sloppily edited and packaged). Sure, publishers make money, sometimes a lot. Do you want to kill the industry to punish them?
Cut-rate pricing by powerful retailers (Best Buy, Wal-mart, Amazon,…), NOT “piracy”, is what drove many small record stores out of business and made it much harder for new and mid-level acts to sell their music. When Brittany Spears is all that’s left, no wonder music sales are down. Hopefully we can avoid this as book publishing goes digital.