Over the weekend the Evil Corporate Entities Amazon and Macmillan had a slapfight over pricing on eBooks. Basically Macmillan said "hey, we're gonna charge, like, actual book prices for eBooks, even though they're electronic." And Amazon said "Waaa! I'm taking my toys and going home." (thereby removing Macmillan product from the site.) Price points are a contentious issue of late, amid the general Freak Out over eBooks making publishing industry obsolete and being as people still think Electronic=Free.
People need to catch a clue.
So do the publishers and Amazon.
-Readers could give a crap which publisher puts out a book. Hell, I'm a writer and I don't even buy according to publisher (though, I'm getting to the point where it occurs to me mid-story which publisher put it out and I tend to be right. But it's my job to know, right?)
-Readers care about what they read (the reason hardly any self-published stuff goes viral).
-Readers are not as discerning about quality as writers or publishing folk. Irritating as all hell, yes, but mostly true. Hence not associating publishers as a brand.
-Readers care about price point, to a point. I don't know that I agree folks are all, "We're gonna make up that $400 bucks we spent on the Kindle cuz eBooks are so freakin' cheap!" Someone who has 400 bux to burn on a Kindle probably has a decent budget for books, too.
-And cuz it's so essential to our discussion, many readers still think Electronic=Free.
-Free means writers don't get paid.
I admit my STRONG bias toward the last statement being the most important of the lot. I like to get paid more than a pittance. I do believe readers think of writers as well-paid (hahahahahaha, okay, back to it here now that we've all had a good laugh). They think we're all King or Patterson. Seriously. I've had this conversation at parties. Some people actually think I pay my mortgage with my writing.
(OMG, I'm cracking myself up and I'm gonna pee! Okay, okay, sigh...) They obviously haven't hung around the bar at writers' conferences and noticed all the frayed cuffs.
Amazon was/is very, very wrong in their handling of this situation. #amazonhissy should lead to #amazontimeout. But they're not the only ones who need to sit in the corner and think about what they've done. Being an ePublisher as I am (lo these four years, which feels only like about ten years, and I mean that in the nicest way), I know electronic versions cut costs considerably when compared to print. With a little help from our friends, we run Electric Spec on a minimal budget: $140 per issue. 100% goes to contributors.
That said, I'm also published electronically. My editors and I did the same work on QUENCHER that I would have done on a paper book. Yup. Deadlines, galleys, work on the cover, eratta list, clean up, editing, rereading, etc. With all that, I'm making a decent cut on my book - better than many writers on paperbacks.
What's missing from both these situations besides paying our authors a shameful pittance, for which we are profoundly sorry but unable to change at this time? Expensive distribution. Websites aren't free, but they're a hell of a lot cheaper to maintain as a distribution channel than print, which means mills and printing and binding and trucks and boxes and airplanes and bricks and HVAC systems and people to move all the stuff from printer to box to truck to bookstore.
So I'm a bit torn. While Amazon clearly #failed (again), Macmillan did just cut rates to writers on eBooks. I realize it's their job as an ECE to pocket the spare change, but the notion that an eBook, which obviously lacks expensive distribution, would cost the same as a hardback is ludicrous. (I also happen to disagree that eBooks will cut into hardback sales if they're released at the same time, given the opportunity for margins of electronic over print.)
This, however, is not what Macmillan is proposing. They have an interesting goal, which is to lead the industry in enhanced ebooks, which cost more money, kinda like Director's Cut DVDs. (I admit skepticism on the value of that.) They're also trying to set some pricing standards so we don't all take a bath in shit creek on our books, and with that I heartily agree. As prices drop, everyone gets shat upon, most of all writers (without whom, Gentle Reader, there would be no Kindle or Amazon or books or joy in the world at all). I pray to all the Archangels and Saints and Lord in Heaven that this temper tantrum is mostly about proposing a professional price for a professionally written product that was vetted by, you got it, professionals. To date, I believe that, despite their ECE status.
I have to give props to Macmillan for taking a stand, and I'm sure Bezos will suffer a well-deserved week-long headache. As my title indicates, I'm currently sitting on Macmillan's side. But I'd sure like to see what the rest of the Big Six have to say. Hellooooooo? Awful echoey out there.