By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
From September 13, 2012
Part of my series of columns on publishing, appearing at the invitation of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
Handmade Memories: Poems & Essays, 1997–2011
by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez
Features selected work from 1998 National Poetry Slam Champion (Nuyorican Poets Café) Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, co-author of Burning Down the House (Soft Skull, 2000) and founder of a little bit louder (aka louderARTS).
“This is a beautiful and intimate collection of poems and essays. My favorites were Sunday Mornings in the Kitchen with Gan’ganny, Behind the Music, and the incredibly powerful (and written for his wife) Daughter of the Revolution. The poems have such power and rhythm that I could hear them being read out loud … If you’re looking for something new and fresh, here it is.” —Kalen Landow [read the full review]
Find out more at loudpoet.com.
It’s War: Post-DoJ Maneuvers / Bosman, Owen, Jones, Shatzkin, Weinman,
- Get your helmet on, watch for low-flying prices.
- Look out for Big Sixers racing past you down the slippery discount slope.
- And take it from the ranking general here at Ether HQ: You’re going to want Campari in that little BEA souvenir canteen.
Not for nothing had they all been saying this could mean war.
Julie Bosman of the Times arrayed her lead in full battle terms for her write, Judge Approves E-Book Pricing Settlement Between Government and Publishers:
In a decision that could start an e-book price war in the publishing industry, a federal judge on Thursday approved a settlement between the Justice Department and three major publishers in a civil antitrust case that accused the companies of collusion in the pricing of digital books.
You remember the hundreds of letters during the comment period, right? — the ones that said to Judge Denise Cote, “Don’t you dare approve this settlement?” Well, of course you do.
And here’s the Bosmanian dispatch from the front again:
The long-expected approval soundly rejected criticisms of the deal that had accumulated throughout the summer from hundreds of parties, including Barnes & Noble, the Authors Guild and the American Booksellers Association.
And among the first into the flak jackets: Laura Hazard Owen (hey, her middle name is…) of paidContent, who noticed That was fast: Amazon is already discounting HarperCollins ebooks.
Just four days after a federal judge approved the Department of Justice’s settlement with HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster for allegedly colluding with Apple to fix ebook prices, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google and other ebook retailers have already begun discounting HarperCollins ebooks.
“Fast” because many of us had interpreted the settlement’s provision of a 30-day period for renegotiated contracts to frame a month as a likelier wait before we’d see new algorithmic deployments.
But, no. And before you start chanting the clarion call of the industry! the industry! — “Amazon did it!” — note that Owen has confirmed it isn’t only Seattle doing the discounting:
Discounted prices on HarperCollins titles are now appearing at other retailers, like Barnes & Noble and Kobo, as well.
In fact, Owen reports — in Apple is already fighting Amazon in the ebook price wars — she has tracked instances in which Apple takes the lead, undercutting Amazon — and Amazon’s mighty computers, of course, then drop their prices to match Apple.
For instance, James Rollin’s Bloodlines and J.A. Jance’s Judgment Call were each $10.94 in the Kindle Store…and $9.99 in iTunes. Just a few hours later, both books are down to $9.99 at Amazon as well.
As the Ether rolls out, the other two settling publisher-defendants’ titles aren’t yet in pricing play, but HarperCollins‘ titles certainly are.
And among the first to notice a rise in HarperCollins’ own ebook prices is Philip Jones of TheBookseller and TheFutureBook in London.
Jones’ handy newsletter fell into everybody’s inbox, clattering with The lowdown on price:
One perhaps unintended consequence of the judge’s ruling is that e-book list prices have risen, so as to allow individual retailers to discount and deliver to the consumer e-books at the prices they were paying before the agency agreements were lifted.
Mike Shatzkin has predicted, in an extensive and widely commended analytical essay, Hats Off to Amazon, that the settlement’s agreements were, in fact:
Actually designed to unleash broad and deep discounting in the ebook marketplace and I think we’ll see evidence very soon that it will succeed in that objective beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. (I have repeatedly expressed my concerns about what I think are inevitable consequences of that achievement.)
If anything, Shatzkin’s write opens with a D-Day tone familiar to viewers of the History Channel:
When the story of how Amazon came to dominate the consumer book business is written ten years from now, there will need to be a chapter entitled “September 6, 2012″.
Don’t let the drone of planes overhead throw you, though. Shatzkin’s write is one of the most meticulous you’ll find in describing Amazonian dominance, and well worth a read. In it, he looks at such factors as these — and I’m abbreviating his discussion of them to a list here:
1. Leveraging their ownership of Audible, the dominant player in downloadable audiobooks, Amazon has introduced a Whispersync feature that enables seamless switching between reading an ebook and listening to the audiobook version.
1A. In addition to the use of Whispersync to allow seamless toggling between reading and listening, Kindle introduced a feature called “Immersion Reading” that allows you to read and listen at the same time.
2. Leveraging their ownership of IMDb (the movie and TV database), Amazon is enhancing the experience of watching video by making information about the film and its personnel available at a click.
3. Leveraging their publishing capabilities and their role as the only retailer with an audience large enough to deliver a critical mass of readers all by itself, they are introducing serialization by subscription with Kindle Serials.
4. Amazon is subsidizing all their devices with ads served as screen savers…Although the initial reaction to this apparently forced a change, and they’re now offering the Kindle Fire without ads for $15 more, this still opens up a series of other thoughts and questions.
5. Amazon’s X-Ray feature, which basically collects core metadata (characters, scenes) from books and movies, is a building block to ultimately deliver summaries and outlines that could be an exciting additional unique capability of the platform.
6. Amazon has built a parental control capability into their Kindle ecosystem called FreeTime so that kids can use the device and even obtain content but only in approved ways.
Meanwhile, it’s Sarah Weinman at Publishers Lunch who has taken the trouble to register the fact that Judge Cote didn’t simply bear-swipe all objection to the settlement off the table.
Weinman writes, in Judge Cote Approves eBook Settlement, Deems Case “Straightforward Price Fixing”:
The judge took respectful note of the many objections filed during the comment period. “Clearly, this is no ordinary Tunney Act proceeding…. Given the sheer volume of comments opposing entry of the proposed Final Judgment and the significant harm that these comments fear may result, hesitation is clearly appropriate in this case.”
And here, Weinman gives us a bit more insight into the thinking of Judge Cote — who in 1991 became the first woman Chief of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office (Southern District of New York).
You see Cote here, in Weinman’s write, demonstrating that she did indeed get the message from the many who didn’t want to see this settlement approved:
Among those comments, she (Judge Cote) concluded that “perhaps the most forceful species of criticism leveled at the decree is that it will have manifestly anticompetitive effects. The comments make a variety of arguments along these lines; the gist of their critique, however, is that Amazon was a monopolist engaged in predatory pricing and other anticompetitive practices, defendants’ use of the agency model reduced Amazon’s market share and capacity to engage in these practices, and the consent decree will encourage a return to the anticompetitive status quo.”
Weinman captures one of the most salient takes on the judge’s opinion:
She (Judge Cote) rejects these arguments for a variety of reasons, including the reasoning that “even if Amazon was engaged in predatory pricing, this is no excuse for unlawful price-fixing.”
Here, should you like to read it, is Judge Cote’s opinion.
And the rattling sabre of the price wars then passes to Weinman’s colleague at Publishers Lunch, Michael Cader. He writes here in Annals of Agency Lite:
While people wait for the next shoe (or two), here are some additional observations on nouveau Agency.
In the phrases “agency lite” and “new agency,” Cader is referring to the developing state of ebook pricing. Settling publisher by settling publisher, those shoes are to fall, and those contracts with retailers are being rewritten to no longer require the retailers’ adherence to the prices publishers set for ebooks.
You’re familiar, no doubt, with that notation frequently seen on Kindle pages, This price was set by the publisher. If not, have a look at the page for The End of Men by Hanna Rosin. This is a book we’re talking about later in the Ether. And it’s published by Penguin. You can see that notation from Amazon on its Kindle page. That’s Amazon telling its customer that agency pricing is in place on this book — Penguin has chosen to fight the Department of Justice’s anti-trust lawsuit and is not one of the three publishers covered in the new settlement.
And as some have noted, that message about a price being set by the publisher is disappearing from listings for HarperCollins books.
More on the marriage of convenience -Waterstones CEO: Amazon partnership great, except for the “bear traps” http://t.co/RUQGRSUu
— Jonny Geller (@JonnyGeller) September 13, 2012
Cader takes on a series of questions about the changing terrain, including What About Authors’ Income? He answers, emphasis mine:
If the Harper-style Agency Lite model prevails, authors can expect to earn more from their ebook sales. If publisher prices go up, and retailer commission rates stay at the same percentage, the publisher’s “net” goes up and so does the author’s share of net–regardless of the retailers’ selling price. Check your publisher’s site to see what your ebook is listed for; don’t worry what retailers are selling it for.
If your ebooks are discounted, it could drive extra volume, too–but if your ebooks aren’t discounted and the price is higher, it’s possible your sales volume would decline. (You also have to factor whether a discounted frontlist ebook is going to further cannibalize any hardcover sales, which still yield bigger credits to the author.)
One final thought for the moment from Cader’s write — on that $9.99 price. Here’s a realistic little look over the edge into the ravine.
Consumer media is making a big deal out of the handful of frontlist ebooks that are now discounted to $9.99. But the publishing landscape has changed a lot in 3 years. If $9.99 is as low as frontlist discounting goes, you’re going to find a lot of relief inside publishing houses. (It could be a lot worse–up to, and including, free.)
Watch your step, soldier.
Click here to continue reading. And join us Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com for Writing on the Ether.
@laurahazardowen @jane_l “Price set by the publisher” was arguably Amazon's most brilliant and underrated response to agency. Branding!
— Guy L. Gonzalez (@glecharles) September 10, 2012