Today, FAIR (a media-watch organization established in 1986) comments on the New Yorker article by Ken Auletta titled "Publish or Perish: Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and Save the book business?"
That title will give a clue to the focus of the New Yorker Magazine's article (or maybe The New Yorker itself, which is sharing the financial plight of other publishing organizations).
"Can they... CAN they? "topple the Kindle" (Keep Hope Alive?) followed by, can they also "save" the book business - the two thoughts in tandem there. But the idea of toppling another type of device came before the idea of saving the industry (or in connection with it).
Already, many columnists have pointed out that the iPad and Kindle are two different animals -- one is a dedicated e-reader and the other has a multiple focus with an altogether different technology, dazzling for multimedia, but with an e-book reading display that many feel can fatigue the eyes in the long-form, serial reading area (from direct light to the eyes, not from refresh-rates), not to even mention the variance in Size and Cost.
But these are factors raised by other authors when writing about the possibility of "toppling" another, altogether different device.
Note also that it's not even "Will they" (a fair question) but "Can they" as if that were a hoped for result.
Even if the headline was done without thought, word-choices are often good indicators of underlying thoughts.
The New Yorker's Conclusions
I'll get on to fair.org's, as usual, informative and to-the-point commentary in a minute, but The New Yorker, as FAIR points out, gives a detailed history of the e-book pricing battles and then goes on to paint the publishers and Apple's Steve Jobs (even pulling in the cancer card of all things -- and as a survivor myself I think that was cheap) as rather saintly in their hopes to save publishing from Bezos.
Apparently, from Auletta's telling, their main focus is to help authors, which is why they are pricing e-books 30-50% higher. Well, there does have to be a way to try to justify the much higher pricing, which is causing e-book audiences to write in several device forums that they are not interested, thanks.
The closing few paragraphs in the article actually quote mainly "Apple insiders" and they're quoted for the ending conclusions.
As detailed by others and in my own (b)logged history of events ((1) Hardball and (2) Steve Jobs role), this is a rather rich, purple battle between 'ruthless' protagonists on all sides.
They all want what's best for them (if it also benefits the consumer, that's appreciated by consumers). That's what's missing from this article.
But the story uses hearsay (
WILL the Agency plan "save" publishing" ?
Let's ignore that raising prices that much in THIS economy will help no one survive.
The key is 'selling' a book at all, and the current prices that the publishers and Steve Jobs have decided on will not be helpful.
Pricing Difference Example
One example of what is going on here (and this is a repeat of the actual $-situation with regard to money going to publishers from which they are then able to pay authors -- although authors have had to take a percentage cut recently from some publishers):
' On a $26 publisher-set-list price book on a book that's currently a NY Times bestseller, the traditional wholesaler arrangement would have meant about $13 (approximately 50%) going to the publisher EVEN when the bookstore/retailer charges only $10 for the book as Amazon did, which treated bestsellers on the NYTimes list as loss-leaders.
As Steve Jobs inserted into his Agency agreements with the Big5 later, he later wanted, after all that, the ability to sell the 'hottest' books (apparently the first 10 of the NYT bestsellers) for only $10 and did get that. In other words, he did want to 'devalue' those (in the publishers' eyes, $10 was a devaluing) and got it.
All bookstores would want guarantees from the publishers that if they went with Apple's agency plan (70% of bookstore selling price to publishers) other stores would not get the ability to sell lower.
So, now the Big5 publishers, on the $10 e-books, receive $7 with the Agency plan instead of the $13 that Amazon did pay them under the wholesaler arrangement, meaning there was MORE money for the authors from the older non-agency arrangement as they affected the most popular books.
Control is the issue, of course, and the publishers hope Apple will always give them this, despite remembering history. The latter needed to get a foothold in the e-books area and this way they did. Who benefits or loses from this? Probably consumers and authors.
Yet the publishers carry on about wanting the authors to get more.
FAIR's headline is (deservedly so) even more scathing than my words.
"Unlike Amazon, Publishers Understand Authors--and How to Rip Them Off"
Jim Naureckas recently analyzed the New York Times article about a "threatening" Amazon in his piece NYT Exposes Amazon's Fiendish Plot to Sell Books for Less Money.
In the current article, Fair.org's Naurecka writes:
' Amazon is depicted as controlling and mercenary... [with examples]However, Auletta's piece is, as I said, a nicely-detailed one, but the closing paragraphs, practically written by "Apple insiders," paints Bezos as wanting to destroy publishing altogether and take it all over by himself and Steve Jobs is just wanting a 'win-win' situation, because now he is aware mainly of his 'legacy' and his 'vision.' However, as magazine negotiation reports have mentioned, publishers are trying to get Jobs to 'win' less now that they're talking details.
Publishers, on the other hand, are remarkably altruistic: "Publishers' real concern is that the low price of digital books will destroy [brick and morter] bookstores, which are their primary customers," Auletta writes. But they're equally concerned about the well-being of authors '
Auletta does end, after all that publisher/Jobs image polishing, with the words from a "skeptical literary agent"
' Asked about publishers’ efforts to raise prices, a skeptical literary agent said, “You can try to put on wings and defy gravity, but eventually you will be pulled down.” 'Nicely put, just as long as those are not painted as angel wings.
1. See later follow-up article on Auletta's Live Chat about his New Yorker article.
2. A discussion of the New Yorker Article and the pricing wars, on Stacey Cochran's Book Chatter,
with Fair.Org's Jim Naureckas and Kindle author Bufo Calvin.
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