Saturday, January 30, 2010

Macmillan loses (R for Language)

I'm feeling too jaded to watch my mouth, so don't read this if you're easily offended.

Here's my pro forma comment on the latest Amazon crapola: Amazon has won already. (If you don't care deeply about the minutiae of the publishing industry, don't bother to click on the link. In a nutshell: two corporations are seeing whose worldview is better. That is, they're seeing who can piss higher up the wall.)

Amazon owns the ebook world. You can talk all you like about DRM-free this and Stanza that and ePub other thing, you can ooh and aah over the iPad, but the only number you really need to understand is this: two million Kindles. And remember that on Christmas Day, Amazon sold more ebooks than print books.

For Amazon, Macmillan-based business probably represents a fraction of one percent of their revenues (yep, I'm pulling that figure out of my arse but I bet I'm not an order of magnitude wrong) whereas, for Macmillan, Amazon-based business is probably a significant chunk (ditto).

Do I dislike what Amazon is doing? Yes. Bullying is ugly. Do I think what Macmillan is doing is stupid? Oh, yes. Much of the industry is probably on their side (sort of), but the customers are not. Customers don't care about fiddly industry details; they care about getting the book they want when they want it and for a price they like. (How much business did Amazon lose, long-term, over their confuse-queerlit-with-porn carelessness? Not much. And that was a much clearer issue for customers.) So the customers will be on Amazon's side. Ergo, Macmillan loses.

I feel deeply for any author who has a book releasing this week from a Macmillan imprint. Writers, as usual, are acceptable (to the warring parties) collateral damage. The thing is, if writers get hurt then so--eventually--does the reader.

These corporations have a fucked up notion of business.

Update: NYT reports Amazon has blinked. I'm deeply suspicious. (I think it's posturing for customers. Also, the Macmillan books aren't back up for sale yet--though, eh, that could be a database-refresh issue.) Anyway, here's Richard Curtis talking about what happens if dynamic pricing of ebooks does take hold: writers get a bigger percentage. Wouldn't that be lovely? (But, again: deeply suspicious. Higher prices = fewer books sold, so a bigger percentage might not work to our advantage.)

Anyway, Monday will be an interesting day in publishers' offices...

Update 2/7/09: think Amazon is the winner, too. Plus Munsey's Technosnarl explains that, eh, direct-from-publisher books are a drop in Amazon's book revenue bucket. (Which of course is a drop in their media bucket, which in turn is a drop in its overall bucket.)

Amazon has negotiated something with Macmillan--not sure what, but obviously something to Amazon's advantage--and Macmillan print titles are back on sale. Ebooks...well, I'm getting mixed messages on that.

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