I was going to write about this, but really there’s nothing I can add to Mike Cane’s thoughts. Yeah, the 8.99 paperback is the refutation of all the “but we can’t sell for that price.” Beyond which, ebooks aren’t shipped (or for that matter printed), so they’re cheaper, and for most of the large companies, ebooks are DRMed and one-copy-only, so you end up buying them for everyone in the family — thereby paying 4x what you’d otherwise have paid. (Okay, I only do that for Terry Pratchett and F. Paul Wilson, but…) So the disconnect in David Carr’s “reasoning” is stunning.
I know I’ve said this before, but I just wish people would THINK.

Mike Cane’s xBlog

It comes from the New York Times today — Book Publishing’s Real Nemesis — and is manufactured by David Carr, who has a shocking ignorance of eBook history, recent history, and is plainly biased towards the status quo.

The Justice Department finally took aim at the monopolistic monolith that threatened to dominate the book industry. So imagine the shock when the bullet aimed at threats to competition went whizzing by Amazon — which not long ago had a 90 percent stranglehold on e-books — and instead, struck five of the six biggest publishers and Apple, a minor player in the realm of books.

That’s the modern equivalent of taking on Standard Oil but breaking up Ed’s Gas ’N’ Groceries on Route 19 instead.

What the hell is this guy talking about?

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25 thoughts on “

      1. Yes, they do; it’s the MO of every fascist autocracy ever. “One more thing: Don’t think anymore — *I* do the thinking around here.” [Sark, _TRON_]

  1. Hi, Sarah. I agree with almost everything you said about that article, except for your very last phrase; “…but I just wish people would THINK.” Sadly, people only rarely ‘Think’. Often it is because the knowledge stemming from thinking things through would run counter to their own best interests, in that the facts would contradict the assumptions on which their lives and fortunes rest. Thinking all too often results in uncomfortable realizations; people tend to avoid things like that.

  2. Consider the source. The New York Times is where the woman worked who “didn’t know anyone who voted for Richard Nixon.” Similarly, I’m confident the writer living on Mahogany Island and working in midtown doesn’t know anybody not in the thrall of the big six.

    1. In fairness to Pauline Kael (who, I believe, worked at The New Yorker) that is an often out of context quote; she wasn’t expressing wonderment at Nixon’s victory, she was puzzled that anybody would seek her opinion on that victory.

      That said … the article defenestrated is an example of why the NY Times (which I’ve been reading, to my dismay, for 30-some years) is the worst major newspaper in the US and regularly leaves its readers LESS knowledgeable than they were before reading the Times.

      “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you do know that just ain’t so.”

  3. minor point, with Amazon you can have multiple kindles signed up with one account, and a book purchased on that account is available to all the kindles on that account. I don’t know if B&N has anything similar.

    1. kinda. The publisher has to give permission for “sharing” between “household members,” or allowing it to have it on multiple devices. For a while I had to kindles, and in fact I couldn’t have most of the books in both. We’ve found it easier for books we ALL want to just buy multiple copies. We might not want them at the same time, but it’s a pain to call from another city and go “Hon, if you’re not reading Lords and Ladies RIGHT NOW can you put it in archive so I can get it?” Also for some of them it’s one device at a time, and one purchaser only. It varies.

      1. Which only once again illustrates that there are a few reasonable publishers and heaps of …others. 😉

      2. I’m not talking about any process where the book can only be on one kindle at a time.

        I’m talking about having one account, and registering multiple kindles to that account (I believe the limit is 5 physical kindles, which does not count kindle software installs)

        When you do this, you can have the same book on all devices, no coordination needed. You can optionally enable syncing of where you are in the book so that you can start reading on one device, pick up another device and continue reading from where you left off. If different people have the different devices, you probably don’t want to sync the reading positions 🙂

        If you have the multiple kindles on one account, I don’t understand how you can purchase a book more than once, Amaxon will tell you you have already purchased it and you just download it from your archived books.

  4. That’s what I like about the Nook. ALL of our Nooks in the house are registered to the same account. So if I, my wife, or either of my daughters buy a book or app. . .we ALL have it. . .

  5. Wasn’t Carr the guy that did that obit with the line ‘and most would say for ill’ that was mentioned last week sometime? Later, IIRC, he apparently said something on twitter or something wishing he had thought things over better.

    Regarding Carr, from what I have to judge his work by, I think I’ve seen a better grade of analytical writing today on throwaway comments on a fanfic forum. But maybe I’m being too harsh.

    I’ve heard that the background of many journalists is such that education based ignorance, rather than stupidity, is the cause of much of their blatant idiocy and worthlessness when it comes to things like thermodynamics. Perhaps whatever background Carr has is even weaker than I would have thought.

  6. It is about time. While Amazon was quite likely under pricing that really has to be argued on a case by case basis since we don’t have a scale by which to judge a minimum price. However if you can say that they were then you can definitely say the big 6 are over pricing a great many if not most. I ran into several books that were 20 year old best sellers that they were trying to sell at $20 to $50 dollars.

    1) Not a hard back.
    2) 20 years old!!!
    3) Bite me.

    Rather than find a happy medium apple gave them cart blanche because they had no reason to care about the outcome either way as long as they could sell to their customers. And it also made for more friendly considerations. That little Apple back stab to readers allowed them to force price fixing(often over the actual cost of the last printed copy). On top of the fact of contracts being just vague enough to apply to the new medium often preventing an author from self-publishing a re-release or contracting to have it done.

    I just hope something GOOD comes out of this because there are a lot of ways things could become much worse.

    1. Any time an ebook is more expensive than the deadtree version (or even the same price) it is overpriced. Ebooks are WAY cheaper to produce, that’s the bottom line. Price should be based on a fairly simple equation; Production cost + X% profit=price.
      Yes Amazon can afford to sell for less profit per item than some of their competition, one because they have lower overhead, and two because they sell in high volume. Their competition needs to either lower their overhead, or bite the bullet and lower their prices while doing an advertising push, so they can sell in higher volume; not try and force everyone to sell at the same exorbitant prices they do. Should we fix Cosco’s prices because they they sell stuff cheaper than Safeway?

      1. Production cost + X% profit=price

        Ummmm … no. Price is set at that amount which maximizes profit and is (particularly for e-books) irrelevant of production cost. Only AFTER determining Total Receipts = (Price X Volumes Sold) should a producer compare that result to production costs to ensure that Total Receipts > Production Cost … although an intelligent producer will include as a cost of production the opportunity costs of alternative investments in products. That is a top level explanation and doubtless already exceeds the level of interest of any participant in this discussion and thus no nuances need be entertained.

        1. And once again we see why Marxism is so insidiously attractive. Somehow there just has to be a mechanism for calculating Price that can be employed by the Wise and Good to make it Fair for everybody. All we have to do is put the Wise and Good In Charge… Hey, I’m Wise and Good. Put me In Charge, and I’ll fix it for you.

          Rubbish. Price is calculated by the Pinafore method: “Whatever the traffic will bear” — that is, shove it out into traffic and see whether or not it survives. The net effect of enforced planning, whether collusion among Greedy Capitalists or calculation by the Wise and Good, is to suppress the traffic itself and make it hard for anybody to get anywhere.

          Once upon a time that was called “the market”. Societal changes that mean few people have ever bargained for their breakfast, combined with a century and a half of Leftist agitation, have made “market” a dirty word. Nowadays it’s called “crowdsourcing”, which is the same thing.

          It is relatively easy to figure out what the price “ought” to be, using any of the plethora of methods available — all of which will give different answers. When you’re using that as a method of forecasting what’s going to happen, it can be useful. If they’re charging too much, their traffic will die off and they won’t make enough money to continue; there are various ways of working out whether that’s likely to happen. If you’re using such a calculation to enforce “fair pricing”, you might as well say the Hell with it and use the Labor Theory of Value. The difference is nil, and it’s easier to calculate than most of the alternatives.

          1. Let me state that I most definitly was NOT saying that the government should be deciding what the prices were. I was intending for the producer to decide what the price was. And yes I agree the price should be what the market will bear, but in a large market usually you will make the largest overall profit, by small markups. That’s another way the freemarket works, if my and your production costs are the same, and I mark my item up 10% and you mark yours up 15%, all else being equal. If we are sitting side by side in the marketplace, I’ll sell so many more I will make much more money than you. But if I’m in a back alley somewhere, and your by the front gate where everybody walks past you as they come in, you’ll sell a lot more, UNLESS I have a reputation for selling cheaper than you. That’s where the advertising comes in, because right now Amazon has their marketing booth set up right beside the gate, and have a reputation for selling stuff cheaper than everybody else.

            1. Okay, here I have to interject that Publishers have their heads up their nethers. One of the best editors I know (not my current one, though) told me in a mailing list ten years ago that books sold worse if you priced them lower. This is insane. Now, I grant you, make a book 2.50 PAPER and I might wonder why. BUT when paperbacks got to $8 I stopped buying five a week. For me that was more than the traffic could bear. While they were around $5 — a couple of coffees out I could sell the idea to myself, but $8?? And then to claim you can’t survive without the $30 per book hardcovers bring? Fiddlesticks. I think they’re far and above over what the market bears.

              1. Viewed in the (extremely) narrow confines of a single title the publisher may be correct (although I doubt it.) When the price of PBBs rises sufficiently to cause avid readers to reduce their purchases it is the marginal titles (such as from mid-list authors) that will fall by the wayside … a fall which the publisher will almost certainly NOT ascribe to their overall pricing model; it will be the author’s fault (for publishers it is ALWAYS the author’s fault.)

                The concept of introductory pricing — a new author or series being offered at a low price to encourage sampling — seems rare in the book world, although I have seen a few instances (when the TV series Bones came out the first book in Kathy Reichs’ series that was the basis for the series had a special print run with a $2.99 – IIRC – cover price.) Some smart person probably ought do (has done?) a study of book purchasers to determine what motivates purchases. I suspect some of the findings might appall serious (I do not mean serious = literary; for this purpose serious = heavy) readers.

        1. Yes, the free market is controlled by the consumer (that’s simplified but generally true) The equation above is what I use when selling stuff to determine price. X is adjustable to what the market will bear. If the market won’t bear X being a positive number, then either you have to figure out how to adjust production costs downward, or sell at a loss. As a general rule, I figure if I can’t make 10% profit it isn’t worth my time, obviously there will be exceptions to this, just as I have sold things for over 1000% profit. But generally somewhere between 10% and 100% will be where the greatest overall profit for the merchant is. Overall profit=profit per item x #items sold.

          Nowhere should any of this be controlled by the government.

    2. Well, around the time that Apple was doing its deals with the publishers, Amazon raised its 35% royalties to 70%. (For books in a certain price range, in certain countries, anyway.) Coincidentally, 70% is what Apple was giving their iOS developers…

      I call that a Good Thing, personally! Means I can price my stuff down below $6, and still make a few bucks off each sale.

  7. While we’re on the subject of the DOJ suit, Tor just announced they’re abandoning DRM by the end of Q2 2012. Think this could possibly be connected to the DOJ suit (which Macmillan/Holtzbrinck, which owns the Tor imprint, is still fighting)? Naaaaaah, it’s obviously just a coincidence… 🙂

  8. I love books, physical books, the kind that need the sacrifice of a tree and numerous stages of manufacture to get into my hands. Now this does not mean I will pay any price to buy any thing in this format. I decide what it is worth to me, and if I cannot obtain the book for a price I am willing to pay I don’t buy it. And the book seller, the publisher, the printer, the paper maker and everyone else involved in the process goes without my dime(s).

    If I read e-books I would have a price in mind that I was willing to pay and, similarly, go from there.

    I cannot force people to sell me books for prices I want. (Nor should I have this power.) I can only choose whether to buy them. At least for the moment, no one can force me to buy books I don’t want, even if that is what is largely on the shelves at stores (virtual and otherwise).

    I cannot help thinking that if we allow the ‘Best and the Brightest’, independent of market forces, to ‘fix’ things to be ‘fair’, it would be anything but for anyone involved.

    And regarding thinking: like any skill, some may be born with greater talents, but it still requires training and exercising to be done well. People find wishful thinking easier.

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