I’ve owned a Sony e-reader for about four years, which probably makes it an antique, given the advancements of the Kindle, Nook and i-Pad. It was purchased as part of a domestic peace accord, the terms of which were that I could buy and read as many books as I wanted to as long as they didn’t take up any more space on shelves, end tables, kitchen counters, mantles or nightstands. This has worked out well, and both parties to the agreement have enjoyed some harmony, at least with regard to my book collection.
Recently, the Justice Department and 15 of the States, joined in a suit against Apple, Inc. and some of the major book publishers, claiming that they had colluded in raising prices of e-books and eliminating any competition. The rise in prices, according to the suit, has cost buyers about $100 million in the past couple of years. There’s been a lot of finger pointing from the Attorneys General and among Amazon, the book publishers and Apple, particularly at Steve Jobs. Blaming the Apple founder is probably safe, because, well, he isn’t around anymore.
A few of the publishing houses have already settled while some are not going down without a fight. It probably isn’t going to mean much to the consumer who actually got bilked out of $2 to $5 per book. It rarely ends up in our pockets, with those legal fees and all. The plan is to slap some folks on the wrist and tell them to play nicely in the future or else. I’d like to know what it’s really going to mean for those of us who buy the e-books.
Most of us who use e-readers have already noticed that the prices have gone steadily up, something I didn’t understand – well, I understand the need for increased profit – but I couldn’t quite grasp why something you could download had to that expensive to begin with. I guess this is where I have to wave my white flag and claim that I am at a complete loss as to how this whole e-reader versus hard copy of a book thing works.
I looked on Amazon’s site to see how they were pricing “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, which I though was fairly representative in terms of a well-known novel and what it should cost. The Kindle price and the paperback price are just about the same, with the Kindle version coming in at $9.99. Now, from where I’m sitting, that makes no sense. I know, first of all, that my e-reader doesn’t allow me to share my book once I’ve read it. That means that my friends have to go out and buy their own copy – in whatever form. There’s an increase in sales, and profit, already.
I’m also working under the notion that it has to be cheaper for the publishers to put that book on the internet than to produce and deliver a paper version. We’re saving trees and gasoline and all sorts of overhead like warehouses and stuff, but I’m still paying the same price as I would if I were to buy it from the supermarket’s book aisle. I’m throwing my hands up and letting one, or all of you, explain this to me. I think I’m an informed consumer. I like 10 for $10 days at Kroeger’s and I download e-coupons. I’m happy when I order 3 gallons of fly spray for the horses and get the 4th one free. This e-book thing, however, is far beyond my expertise. I’m sure that there’s some business model or plan that makes more sense to someone with more experience and knowledge than I possess. So, I’m not lifting a finger here. I’m not researching it, and I’m going to sit back and wait for someone else to explain to me why the damn things cost so much.
I’m going to go read a book now.
Dear Housewife of Aiken,
When I worked for Sony Intl, I was able to purchase the first Beta Machine. It was superior in every way to the VCR which eventually won market share and caused the Beta to become defunct. So I can relate.
Eventually, I worker for a world famous author as a private secretary so became familiar with book publishing. Later, I married a book writer so had an even more personal stake at understanding the book market. Finally, I raised a daughter who went to work in two of the biggest publishing houses for a few years. This decade.
And she quit. The world of publishing has been collapsing from within due to the market strength of sellers like Amazon and due to a second fact that people are reading significantly fewer books. Because of that, small bookstores folded and the big chains have also suffered.
My daughter who planned a career in editing books got out. People had been laid off, her job description shifted from looking for good books being mentored by her bosses, became secretary to 3 female bosses all stressed to the max. When my daughter left, she had made many connections, friendships, colleagues in that business. Knowing what the odds were of a young girl out of college getting a first novel published, she went ahead and wrote one.
4 years of rejection and she got a publisher. Now her book is for sale. Amazon will not negotiate with the Publishing Houses re: pricing. Only world famous writers who sell 500,000 copies every year can negotiate with Amazon. This is a fact, but it is also not spoken of by those authors, their agents or their publishing houses.
The rest, like my daughtet, get a little help from the publicity dept of her House, but nothing as would have happened say, 20 years ago. It is not because of the Kindle. It is because the price per hardcover paid by Amazon, where people get cheaper copies of books, does not allow the complex Publishing Houses to turn much of a profit. There is no real collusion. It all started with people reading fewet books, so publishers became very cautious about publishing unknown writers. Then they are having to cut costs massively, which means the people who read and supporrt new manuscripts are not staffed in big numbers.
The biggest answer I hope will help you understand that you nor any other buyer of books is being ripped off, is that Publishing requires high staffing ratios. It’s people who read, edit, negotiate contracts, people who design book covers and print layouts, people who plan marketing campaigns, and a large sales force inhouse who has to be told why this book is good and how to market it, and finally that sales force goes to the now Big 4 bookstores and tries to interest them in the newly bought, edited, contracted, bound books!! Like many big businesses, Publishing is costly because you cannot get rid of people and replace them with machines (except typesetters).
My daughtet’s house hardly did anything to market her thriller. So with her daddy’s help (who is also in the book world), she printed and mailed cold copies of her bound galleys to 20 famous thriller writers. She needed their blurbs to get the attention of the in-house sales force. After that, which used to be done by Publishers, she went to Conventions, wrote blogs, twitter, asked advice of older, successful writers, and did what they told her to do.
This is what it took to get her book a few sales, and to gain the recognition from within the writing community that her is that rare young writer who has talent and will not give up. Even if her book doesn’t sell the 10k copies that guarantees a 2nd book contract or the 100 5-star reviews on Amazon…her writing mentors and her wonderful agent have suggested that she go back and write again. Do publicity, once a day after writing. And hopefully she will get a 2nd contract.
This is the Brave New World of publishing. Market forces themselves have caused book sales to lesson..online sales grew via Amazon and others, and the Publishing Houses are frantic to figure out how to stay afloat without the profits that enabled them to take a chance on books that may never sell well…but deserve to be published…for our culture to remain diverse.
I don’t think you are paying too much for your Sony or E-book. Not at all. Remember, the people who work to bring the book to market all must be paid from the few dollars/book. And then give a percentage to benefits, upgrading facilities to meet regulatory laws, taxes in NYC, NY State, the IRS, not to mention foreign rights and fighting rampant copyright violations that are also decreasing real sales for Publishing houses.
Phew! I’m not even a book writer, but I know more of the ins and outs of book publishing than most non-book people. Again, you have been given a beautiful price of $10 for hours of private pleasure and rejuvenation of the soul. Aristotle said about the purpose of art that it gives man a moments reflection about life such that if done well, refuels the weary soul to go out and live another meaningdul day. Of course, the Ancient Greeks extolled beauty, heros, tackled the difficult philosophical themes and psychological dramas in deeply moving ways. I still am refueled when I read Lysistrata or see Greek statues, or study the growth of philosophy.
i buy things that refuel me for an hour that cost $4. One great book can change your life and refuel you for a lifetime.
I cannot argue the machinations of the government’s involvement in book commerce. I’m a true laissez-faire Capitalist, unrepentent! I can hardly listen to or read the political discourse of today. If I got involved in a debate I’d lose my temper and make enemies….of people who are good people like the readers here who I don’t agree with all the time.
I hope you forgive the length. You deserve a good answer because you ask a good question and seem quite willing to listen to an answer from someone who’s adult life has been all about the book publishing world.
With warmest wishes,
I apologize, it was Betamax vcr machine, the first vcr on the market, which I got at an employee discount of $500 in @1980.
Hi Icie – I think you’ve made the case succinctly. I can only add in the agenting facet, in terms of getting published (although I don’t know where that comes in re: %’s of profit, I expect it comes from the author?) Besides which, I think “agenting” is a really awkward, ugly word. Hmph. It’s impossible to have your MS read w/o some fanastic background, education, or publishing record. Almost impossible. Then there’s the whole ‘agents promoting themselves with twitter accounts and twittering people they’ve never met to “talk” about a book contract.’ Ew.
More on topic – regarding costs at publishing houses. I know everyone’s expense accounts are down. I don’t know who is getting what bonus, or the cost of publishing in China vs. the U.S. Given these unkown factors – pure supposition on my part – I can’t help but liken it to music publishing, where the whole industry was bloated but the profit was still *there* – although hidden. $17.99 for a CD? Really? That was cheaper to produce and ship and market online than vinyl? What I mean to say is, we don’t *really* know about profit; we only know that the profit is so waaaaay down that it’s taken out on support staff.
That’s NOT to say the argument isn’t valid! – it definitely is. I just don’t know to what degree. 😦 Everyone tightens their belt when profit is down; but it’s usually the people at the bottom (even in a private home – ‘we lost in the stock market so i’m sorry, we’re reducing your salary’) who suffer the consequences. Just a thought.
I think the class action has to do with them fixing prices and jacking the price to 14.99; I think the argument is that everyone is kinda happy to pay 10.00 for an e-book, but they’re pissed about the 14 or 15.99. There’s even the library conundrum – where an e-book can only be borrowed six times before the library has to buy another copy. At 10.00 – maybe that’s reasonable. But at 14 or 15.99? For a public library? Do they pay less than you or me? I don’t know. But I know our book orderer is always on Amazon.
I am not a laissez-faire capitalist – everyone knows that about me around here. Heh. But (beware – hypocritical statement following) as Amazon now starting their own e-book and paper publishing, and biting the hand they’ve already squeezed, well… we’ll see where that leads in terms of cost/profit for Amazon. If they can do it for less, w/ all the necessary support staff, then we can question the validity of the publishing industries’ current claims.
Not a happy thought, I know. And yes, the whole bookstore thing is pretty upsetting. We’re losing a charming little store in our hometown. After that, there’s one bookstore left. BUT… what has the cigar/magazine store down the street from the little bookstore began selling this season? Hardback books. And the owner of the cigar/magazine store is filthy, filthy rich w/ inherited money. He works hard – but does he really need to put in that much profit per square foot and hurt the bookstore six doors down? I guess he does…
Congrats to your daughter!
Your answer explains why I can’t convince you. Though you say my very long post is succinct, you continue with a discussion that amounts to socialist class warfare: the lower classes can never know how much they are getting taken advantage of by the upper classes. But without facts or hard numbers, you are sure it is true. Thus you entirely disagree with my explanation of how market forces combined with decades of government regulation and taxation of every business has raised costs to producers and lowered their profits as well. Readership numbers are a secondary market force caused not by class warfare.
By the way, unknown authors’ manuscripts are read and considered everyday. So it is not impossible to get published. As I said, the number of editorial assistants is decreasing due to lowered profits, which also lowers the number of unknown writers who the Houses can take a risk of publishing. The government’s sudden interest in publishing is in principle caused by the socialist or fascistic ideas that drive American politics. I say, “keep your hands off my business, out of my pockets and leave an honest hardworking citizen alone!!!
Thus, you will say but the poorer need protection from the rich. Well, maybe you need protection from rich peopke, while I and my private business need protection from those who have the power to tax, regulate and send bureaucrats to oversee everything from the way I file a claim to tne toilets I install. Wht? Why V5 must I be protected from the rich? All that is happening is we are all becoming equally poor, those who don’t make the rules, unlike those in the incrowd of government and their crony phony Capitalist businessmen.
Hope you realize, if you take offense, that from my point of view, my freedom is being diminished exponentially faster than in my previous 5 decades of life, by the idea that the government can make rules, backed by threat of going to prison, without reference to the very limited power originally stated by our governing contract, the Constitution. And though we are a Republic, we are now closer to tne dangerous pure democracy tha put Socrates to death. A very old woman who escaped British Guyana when the Socialists took over told me what happened. She and most black natives were very poor. One day, the Obamas of Guyana shouted to tne crowd, ” If you vote for us, you will all have bighouses like those rich people over there!” Tne old lady was no one’s fool. She knew you can’t get something for nothing. And so she escaped when the Socialists took over, with nothing but her 6 children and husband. Thus the reason our country and it’s experiment in Freedom,, government by consent of the governed and Laissez-Faire has been tne refuge for people since its inception. I feel sad as I see my fellow Americans clamor for more government help. This was exactly the opposite of what my daddy raised me to do.
I have no power to stop it because the majority will now rule…and like the poor Guyanans we will all suffer together as America becomes a new country.
Ice – I’ve enjoyed your posts through the months so much that it would take a LOT more than that for me to take offense. However… I really was just wondering in “thought” – honestly, in relation to the music industry conundrum in the 90’s, m’kay? Are we good?
As long as we are honest and say what we believe without sinking to verbal fights, we will always be good. And live to sleuth another day when bad people like Taylor Armstrong try to put one over on us and “get something for nothing”.
Your post is well stated. I applaud your bravery and knowledge.
Hey V5! How is your goldfish? Golf is on TV today!
The goldfish committed suicide, so I’m trying to contact all its friends from the petshop.
Black humor, my love. Black humor.
(((Fishy + V5)))
I could have spent hours, no, probably days, trying to find an answer to my question and still wouldn’t have found anything that would have satisfied me in the way that your response did. You went above and beyond the call of duty by allowing me, and I’m sure a lot of people, to see things from a more knowledgeable perspective.
I tend to follow a more neo-classical capitalist model – i.e., Milton Friedman mixed in with a bit of Adam Smith – but I am a capitalist, no doubt. Writers, publishers, editors and the folks behind the scenes all deserve to make a profit.
I know that my own world would be much narrower without books and their authors. I’m more than ready and willing to plunk down my $9.99 thanks to your reply. I don’t mind spending the money, I just (always) need to know that I am, in fact, spending it well and wisely – a little peace of mind as a consumer.
Congratulations to your daughter. She’s been through a marathon and deserves the applause for making it to the finish line. 🙂
Thank you for letting me be heard and for your gratitude.
Me, too. I love philosophy because it takes the whole world and puts it in proper perspective. Aristotle believed that by man’s nature, what he termed the “rational animal”, he requires more than just food and shelter to survive. He needs inspiration which feels like joy to be alive, and the main source of inspiration is not the Gods on Olympus but in the re-creation of life via deep, meaningful beautiful art.
I think the thing that personally affects me most in today’s world of art, is that there isn’t the love of beauty. One reason I watched the RH shows is that the production values were beautiful, and the original settings were, too. It was supposed to be about people who live beautifully. But rather than showing us people who have heroic qualities, they mixed us up with ugly behavior.
Oh well. I like Criminal Minds not for the depravity, but that the producer created a show about serious, intelligent men using reason to battle evil. And win. Winning against evil is very soul satisfying. Just wish they weren’t so ‘modern’ in needing to show visually the depravity. Hitchcock didn’t need to show it, but was even more successful with horrifying us!
Regardless of who to blame for killing the printed book industry, the whole thing is just sad. Browsing is one of the finest pleasures in life. Now, I can’t spend hours browsing for music or books and then dashing home to spend quality time with my new purchase.
OTOH, there is the blindingly immediate gratification of Kindle downloads. I have over 1,000 books, but there are many more I would like to read but not buy in print. Click, click, read. I would estimate that I download 4-5 books per week, and only with great restraint do I manage to keep it to that number. No gas, no parking, no wondering if I will find the book on the shelf. No waiting for Amazon to deliver. I still enjoy browsing in used bookshops and we have about a dozen really good used bookshops here.
Good point BTDT. If I had to go buy another book I’d miss so many wonderful tomes. By being able to click & download into the iPad I’ve been able to enjoy books I wouldn’t otherwise. No clutter. It’s great. Printed books have their place but are becoming a
thing of the past & while I love history, I’m not nostalgic for “the good ol’ days”.
The idea (for me) is to keep going forward.
Things cost whatever the market will bear.
(By the way, laissez-faire comes with the proviso: “let the buyer beware”. Most of us have seen the results of unregulated commerce & industries “policing themselves”. When it suits us, we’re happy to have big government intervene.)
My solution – public library. We live in a tiny town with a “town hall” library that is incredible. They will order things folks suggest/request and download onto a myriad of devices. I hope the day doesn’t come that someone thinks the public library is “Socialist.”
I live across the street from a library and make good use of it. What a lovely experience.
It as though the NYT is following this blog:
Thanks for the LOL – those bastards! 🙂