Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Yorker piece on altruistic publishers and devil Bezos

This is an update to the earlier Amazon plays hardball to keep lower pricing option which gives a lot of details with sourcing of statements.

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 (no one named source) to paint only one of the three as "ruthless" while the others are just hoping to help authors and to 'survive.' They are of course victims doing their best.

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.Org's Commentary
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]

  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 '
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.

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.

Reminder: the ongoing Guide to finding Free or Low-Cost Kindle books and Sources
  Check often: Latest free non-classics, shortcut http://bit.ly/latestfreenonclassics .) Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
-- The Send to Kindle button works well only on Firefox currently.

Send to Kindle

(Older posts have older Kindle model info. For latest models, see CURRENT KINDLES page. )
If interested, you can also follow my add'l blog-related news at Facebook and Twitter
Questions & feedback are welcome in the Comment areas (tho' spam is deleted). Thanks!


  1. Excellent blog post, Andrys. Would love to break this down on this week's Book Chatter. It's remarkable to me that the New Yorker piece does not mention (not one single time) the fact that Kindle allows authors and publishers to upload their books themselves, and that half of the books on Kindle are self-published. Nor that the royalty rate to authors and small press publishers will move to 70% in June. To me, these are the two most important points in this entire discussion because of their implication to the larger cultural values regarding what people want to read. More than anything, the article makes me seriously concerned for the New Yorkers' future.... which was totally not intended by its author.

  2. Don't forget those of us who can't do the handy-dandy web-browsing with our Kindles!

    In Canada we only have Wikipedia access.

  3. Anonymous,
    I think you meant to post this under the e-reader-web-browsing entry? Or, maybe blogger.com has a glitch!

    I didn't forget you folks. I mentioned several times that those not in the 4 areas could get only Wikipedia.

    HOWEVER, you could not get Wikipedia on cellular wireless at all OR at no added cost on cellular wireless when you do have it, on ANY of the other e-readers. It's that unusual.



NOTE: TO AVOID SPAM being posted instantly, this blog uses the blogger.com "DELAY" feature.

Am often away much of the day, and postings won't show up right away. Posts done to use referrer-links may never show up.

Usually, am online enough to release comments within a day though, so the hard-to-read match-text tests for commenting won't be needed this way.

Feedback and questions are welcome. Thanks for participating.

Technical Problems?
If you're having problems leaving a Comment, Google's blogger-help asks that you clear the 'blogger.com' cookies on your browser's Tools or Options menu bar and that will fix the Comment-box problems (until they have a permanent fix).

IF that doesn't work either, then UNcheck the "keep me signed in" box -- Google-help says that should allow your comment to post (it's a workaround to a current bug).
Apologies for the problems.

TIP: There's a size limit. If longer than 3500 characters or so, in a text editor, make two posts out of it.

[Valid RSS]