Amazon Continues Blocking Hachette Over Ebook Pricing

The dispute between Amazon and Hachette is in its third month with no signs of resolution, although as it drags on, more statements are being made and news articles written with dire statements of how horrible this all is.

Amazon logo

The latest actual news is that Amazon put up a website called Readers United that currently contains only an open letter making it clear that this is all about making ebooks cheaper. Amazon wants to sell more Kindles, while publishers want to avoid driving customers away from print. There’s a whole lot tied up in this debate, from nostalgic appeals to the way things used to be done to avoidance of change to fear that cost-cutting will make a wide range of books even harder to produce to arguments over who’s going to control book culture to debate over what a fair percentage is for authors to receive.

Many authors have lined up behind the publisher, perhaps because that’s what they’re comfortable with. Any position that tries to argue with a huge company on the basis of “loyalty”, though, is doomed to fail — talk money, that’s the only language they understand. And that’s why Amazon has become so successful. People like buying conveniently for less. Trying to change that behavior on the basis of high-minded ideals is a sisyphean uphill struggle. Many agree with Amazon that ebooks should be much cheaper than print, and under $10 is a good price point.

Since those writing these articles also tend to be authors, or sympathetic to them, we hear a lot about Amazon’s business pressures and struggles, much less about how much of a huge international conglomerate Hachette is part of. They’re doing fine recently, compensating for any potential negative earning effect from Amazon by “the integration of Hyperion, and the takeover of Disney’s distribution activity”, leading to an overall rise in revenue.

I tend to take a Darwinian approach: bookstores (with their carefully curated selection and service) are going out of business because many people value other choices (price and a wider selection) more. Once they disappear, and people get tired of not having the help to find good new reads, then they, or something like them, will reappear, perhaps for a new audience. Look at what happened to vinyl records, now with increasing sales as hipsters rediscover the virtue of warm sound.

It is interesting to see what figures Amazon released as part of this slanted open letter, and what they mean. Andrew Wheeler has a great post on what Amazon might be omitting and why, as well as noting some contract nastiness.

By the way, Amazon briefly used similar tactics for Warner video products. Their new target? Disney. Muppets Most Wanted comes out on DVD on Tuesday, but Amazon hasn’t taken preorders for it for weeks, which eliminates information on audience interest that the studio might find helpful. From the NY Times article:

Preorders are a way for an entertainment company to gauge demand. Consumers have increasingly been trained to want something the moment it becomes available, so if they do not have the ability to order ahead, the companies worry, the customer will not buy a product when it hits the market.

It’s true in my case, particularly since I didn’t enjoy the movie as much as I hoped I would. Making it harder for me to get means it’s easier for me to skip it, or wait for an eventual sale.


2 Responses to “Amazon Continues Blocking Hachette Over Ebook Pricing”

  1. Thad Says:

    If the resurgence of vinyl is the best example of what we can hope for in the future of bookstores, then I think we’re in big trouble.

    If we’re to stick with the darwinian metaphor, Amazon’s well on its way to becoming a monoculture. That’s not a good thing. We can only count on low prices as long as there’s competition keeping them down.

  2. Johanna Says:

    True — DVD fans have seen that happen with the departure of Circuit City and Best Buy mostly giving up on the market.

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