So this weekend, two huge businesses in the publishing world launched the first offensive in the war that's been simmering over e-book rights, pricing and other e-issues ever since big publishers realized there might be something to this e-book thing. The combatants? Macmillan, one of the Big 6 in New York, and retail giant Amazon, unarguably the largest online bookseller. The issue? Pricing.
One major concern publishers have latched onto regarding e-books is the belief that a low price point will devalue hardcovers, and by extension, their authors' work. Amazon, being a retailer permitted to set their own prices, has consistently refused to set e-book prices higher than $9.99.
On Thursday, the Macmillan president met with Amazon executives to discuss their new policy, effective in March, concurrent with the deal they've already signed with Apple for their new iPad device. Macmillan proposed to set e-book prices for new releases at $12.99 to $14.99, with the caveat that they'll lower the prices over time, and have e-books available at mass market paperback prices when the MMP versions are released. Amazon disagreed.
On Friday, Amazon removed the Buy buttons from all Macmillan titles on their site - including hardcover and paperback versions. There are reports that Amazon also deleted sales information and sample chapters of all Macmillan titles that were downloaded by customers onto Kindle devices.
What does this mean for the future of e-rights? The only thing that's clear at this point: no one really knows.
Here's agent Nathan Bransford's take on the issue.
Pro e-book author J. A. Konrath weighs in here.
And from a reader's perspective: Jane at Dear Author.
My take? I'm confused. Mightily. There's no question that things are going to change, but at this point there are too many possibilities to call the direction. Will the iPad, a device that has most tech-savvy e-book consumers feeling "underwhelmed" (as Sarah at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books spells out here), prove to be true competition for the Kindle? Will the rest of the Big 6 publishers follow Macmillan's lead, and either force Amazon to raise prices or pull their titles from the world's biggest online bookseller?
The only opinion I've truly formed so far is this: I don't believe a lower price point for e-books is going to destroy hardcover sales. I have several reasons for believing this. One: A good portion of hardcover sales are to libraries - and libraries are not going to replace hardcovers with e-versions. Two: Readers who make hardcover purchases do so because they like hardcovers. They want the durability, and even the prestige, of owning a "better" version of a book by their favorite authors.
And three: Those who read a lot of e-books, or almost exclusively e-books, do not buy and have rarely bought hardcovers in the past, and will not start purchasing hardcovers if e-book versions are not available. If you own an e-reader, chances are good that you read a LOT of books. That means you don't habitually spend $15 to $25 per title. Before e-books, you purchased mass market paperbacks. You were never part of the hardcover equation.
So, listen here, New York publishing and Amazon: STOP PANICKING. There's enough ice cream - er, slices of the e-book pie - for everyone here. It's time to embrace the future. Can't we all just get along?