Has Amazon Moved Your Buy Button?

You may have read about the standoff between Amazon.com and the Macmillan publishing company. Macmillan had objected to Amazon’s pricing, particularly its loss-leader $9.99 e-book price for new books. In turn, Amazon.com temporarily halted the sale of all Macmillan books. This meant Amazon customers could only buy such books from third-party vendors; the regular Amazon “buy” button had been moved.

A few days later, Amazon began to sell Macmillan’s books again. But the Authors Guild wants to protect its members against such future actions. Here is the notice the Guild recently distributed; it plainly views Amazon as something less than a trusted partner:

The Authors Guild is pleased to announce the launch of WhoMovedMyBuyButton.com, which is now live in fully-functional beta form. Who Moved My Buy Button? allows authors to keep track of whether Amazon has removed the “buy buttons” from any of their books.

Simply register the ISBNs of any books you’d like monitored, and our web tool will check daily to make sure your buy buttons are safe and sound. If there’s a problem, we’ll e-mail you an alert.

Although we’ve launched WhoMovedMyBuyButton.com in response to Amazon’s wholesale removal of buy buttons from Macmillan titles, we believe Amazon should be monitored for years to come. Amazon’s developed quite a fondness for employing this draconian tactic (there’s a chronology at the website); it’s only grown bolder with its growing market clout.

Vigilance is called for: sounding off is our best collective defense. Register your ISBNs today — it’s free and open to all authors, Guild members and not. (Though we’d prefer you join.)


Matt B.

This new website comes to you from the authors of the hit book "Who Moved My Cheese?"

Mike

It boggles the mind that $10 is too low a price for something that has a marginal cost of production/distribution of effectively zero.

David G.

Mike is right. Particularly when for many of these books, the difference between the paper price and the kindle price is just a dollar or two. Publishers are betting we'll pay the extra margin for convenience. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. My bet is that we'll see a gradual return to a sub $10 price within two years.

Trekkie

I'd be shocked if prices don't return to $10. Many people have a tough time digesting the idea that they're buying something and not getting a physical object in return - something to put on their shelf. For $9.99 it seems like a one-digit figure (in dollars) and cheap enough to justify it; once it hits $15 I would say to myself "forget it" and either not buy it or shell out more for the print version.

Long live Amazon.

Joe

Book publishers have a problem that the music people didn't have. Their primary customers are not a bunch of teenagers spending their parents money with no idea or understanding about how the CD's or mp3's are produced or distributed.

Readers are well.....more widely read, and are very aware that readers are being asked to pay more for something (an e-book) that is less flexible (what if Glen Beck asked to see you e-book?) and costs way less to distribute.

The marketplace will fix this. We'll see how tough book publishers make it on themselves.

Diana

Mike, much of the cost of book production is fixed. Yes, the marginal cost of an extra copy is zero, but authors, editors, copyeditors, marketers, illustrators, etc. still need to be paid.

Michael from comment #1

Was the button moved, or removed?

Also, what does the guild think it's going to do if the button is removed again? Hack into the website and put it back?

Akshay Anand

Wasn't there an report in the last week that the iTunes model of DRM-free publisher set prices of music downloads had led to a decline in the number of tracks sold at a higher price? One would hope that book publishers take a long, hard look at that report!

Mike

Diana, maintaining abnormally high prices on something with no marginal cost is detrimental to profits. One only needs to look at the Steam video game distribution system to see the evidence; when prices are low, sales go through the roof.

Additionally, that prices for a hard copy are so close to the pricing for the e-books shows that your claims are invalid; I'm strongly doubtful that Barnes & Noble (for example) is only making a buck off each book sold in their stores, they'd be out of business in no time. E-book prices can be less than the wholesale cost of a hard copy and the publisher will still make as much money on the sale.

Quill

Diana,

While publishers still need to pay copy editors, marketers and the like, they don't need to pay for paper, glue, warehouses or shipments of a physical product.

At the same time, ebook buyers give up the ability to share that ebook, resell it, and are committed to spending money to replace their reader should they ever forget it in a taxi or drop it in the tub. Instead of losing one novel, you've lost access to all your ebooks.

rojo

It's interesting and fun to watch a bully be bullied. No one has talked about Macmillan and how they use their monopoly in the educational publishing space. Macmillan has used their dominance to gouge students as much as possible. Textbook prices have increased at twice the rate of inflation over the past two decades. The average cost of books and supplies for a full-time in-state freshman at a four-year public college is $898, or roughly one-fourth of tuition and fees.

I am all for reducing the cost of textbooks...until I get around to publishing one.

Good times...

BSK

Most books cost well more than $9.99. It is not unreasonable for an e-book to cost more than that as well. While people point to their limited flexibility, they fail to realize some of the benefits: durability (an e-book essentially will last forever), portability (you can carry a whole library in your pocket), and special features (search features, highlighting, etc.).

In the end, there are pros and cons to both the e-book and a hard copy, with the price being one of those. An e-book is cheaper than a hard-copy and people are complaining because they think it should be cheaper? Tiny violins...

Kate

@12 - Durability? Talk to me again in 100 years when all those Kindle books you spent money on are still accessible to your grandkids. I promise you that barring someone purposefully throwing them away, most of the physical books I've bought will still be floating around. (Maybe not the picture books, but a kid would be just as tough on a Kindle.)

Amazon is not in the right here, but neither is Macmillan. What I want to see is a model whereby if I purchase the physical book, for an additional $2 or $3 I get a digital copy as well. Unlike with music, where it's easy to make a digital copy on my own, it's quite difficult to scan in an entire book -- so I'm willing to pay a little more. But certainly not $10 for -just- an e-copy I can't trade and which I have no guarantees will still be available to me after the next iteration of technology comes along.

KarenS

Kate, I agree--I'd love to have a ebook reader because books are currently overrunning my house (and I don't have the heart to throw away, give away, or sell them). I just can't stomach paying more than $4-6 for a title.

This situation is a little more complicated than it seems, however. Read more about it here:
http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2010/01/31/is-macmillans-retail-price-maintenance-move-legal/

BSK

Kate-

Then don't buy it. You act as if you are being required to buy it. If you don't think an e-book is worth it... DON'T BUY IT! How hard is that to understand?

Also, how many books on your shelf right now are 100 years old? Hell, how many are even 50 or 20 or 10 years old? Note, I did not say that a Kindle will last, but digital media is essentially timeless, given it is properly stored and you maintain accessibility, both of which are generally in control of the user.

Serafina

Publishers don't even bother to put the same level of proofreading into their digital editions and they want to charge consumers even higher fees for them? Lots of luck.

I read between 50 and 100 books a year. I like the convenience of the Kindle and the way it allows me not to waste resources. But the publishers' position here--we will set the price and booksellers and other retailers are not allowed to discount our books--seems contemptible to me.

Robert

"Most books cost well more than $9.99. It is not unreasonable for an e-book to cost more than that as well. " --BSK

This is completely false. The vast majority of books are less than $9.99, provided you're willing to wait a couple of months until they come out in paperback. The real question is why "they" (Macmillan in this case) are balking at Amazon selling e-books for $2-3 more than the physical paperback copies.

The analog to CDs-vs-iTunes (et. al.) is perfect: the physical good must necessarily cost more than the digital good to produce and distribute. Why are those cost savings being passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices?

BSK

Who cares what they cost to make? Do diamonds cost thousands of dollars to mine? Does a Louis Vutton bag cost 100x as much to make as a Gap bag? The idea that price is solely determined by cost is simply false.

I generally fall on the side of consumers when it comes to areas like this. But people are acting as if they are entitled to cheap e-books? Please. Again, if you think e-books are too expensive, don't buy them. That, and only that, is what will cause them to drop in price.

And Robert, you are dead wrong about the price of books. Most best-sellers and new books cost considerably more than $10 in hard-cover and, if they are popular (which most e-book titles are as of right now), they take months or years to come out on paperback.

If e-books should be cheaper, than why not BMWs and designer suits? MacMillan wants to protect their hard-copy book business by making hard-copies and digital-copies competitively priced. Do you really think that the publishers should have no say in what the costs of their products are?

Read more...

Will S

It will be interesting to see if the new iPad will affect Amazon's pricing when it comes to all books in general, not just Macmillan novels. You would think that more competition would lower the pricing of these books but that may not be the case.

Mike

BSK, your examples of diamonds and designer bags are invalid; those items are expensive due to scarcity (though it is an artificial one in the case of gemstones) rather than production costs.

And please stop saying "if you don't like it, then don't buy it!" The people saying "they're too expensive and I'm not buying them because of that" are already doing so, even without your brilliant insight.