The Amazon Reign
[I wrote this Monday and sat on it. Since then every news peddler on Earth has beaten the bejesus out of me on it but so what? Here it is, updated.]
I’ve got a couple of horses in this race, considering I work at Bloomington’s last independent bookseller, the Book Corner, and I’m a book author. When it comes to buying a book on Amazon or copping it at our humble establishment, you know which way I’ll nudge you.
Mind you, I’m not four-square against things like online retail or e-books. I buy eyeglass frames, shoes, undies, and — yes — books via my MacBook. In fact, I’ve even published an e-book. I don’t make a big deal about it, though, because it wasn’t very good. Nevertheless, I’ll e-publish again.
But Amazon? Bah.
The world’s largest online retailer — on which everything up to but excluding the air that you breathe (and don’t hold your breath that that won’t change soon) is for sale — is waging a very public, very bloody war with one of the world’s largest book publishing outfits, the Paris-based Hachette. The two gargantuan companies are battling over who gets to set the price for the books you want to buy through Amazon.
Meanwhile, all but a precious few authors continue to count their pennies and eat at least one meal of ramen noodles a week.
A Typical Author’s Midnight Snack
The book racket operates thusly: Let’s say the the Godly Press is putting out the latest bestseller, My White Heaven, the story of some bratty kid who claims he died and went to heaven while in surgery, survived the ordeal, told his preacher dad about it, and now the old man is making the rounds telling us Obamacare is a fascist plot and sodomy is being taught in our public schools. Godly Press sets the price for the book at, say, $16.95. The book is then offered through a national distributor like Ingram which offers little guys like the Book Corner a 40 percent discount. So, we pay $10.17 for each copy of the book.
We, then, can charge you the full suggested retail price for the book and make a tidy $6.78 for every copy sold. Or we can offer it at a retail discount, say 1o percent, meaning you can buy the book from us for $15.26. We used to offer nice little discounts like that at the Book Corner but then the attractive and charming staff threatened owner, Margaret, with bodily harm if she didn’t bump our yearly wages up over the six-figure mark. Now the Book Corner has discontinued its discounts and we booksellers dine on filet mignon and caviar nightly.
BTW: big retailers like Barnes & Noble and national grocery chains get much, much, much sweeter deals from Ingram and the publishers themselves, ergo their ability to offer 25 percent discounts and more on big bestsellers.
Anyway, the publisher sets the price but allows the retailer to charge whatever she or he wishes.
Oh, and another thing: the less distributors and publishers charge for wholesale product, the more the vast majority of authors suffer in terms of royalties. A penny may be an insult, but a half cent is an atrocity.
And that’s how things used to work in the e-retail racket. Hachette and other publishing houses would set prices for e-books and then Amazon would discount that figure as it saw fit. Only Amazon claimed it couldn’t bear to live anymore if forced to sell books at such low prices.
So now Amazon wants to be able to set prices even higher than the publisher’s suggested figure, ergo making the online retailer tons more dough while still snowing the consumer with 25 percent discounts. Amazon is so dead set on this course that it’s shunting Hachette’s books aside because the publishing house refuses to play along. In fact, Amazon has even gone so far as to advise customers to go somewhere else to buy Hachette books.
That’s serious, babies.
Amazon’s Proposed Corporate Campus Biosphere In Seattle
Acc’d’g to the Guardian US, millionaire Hachette authors like Stephen Colbert and James Patterson are screaming to high heaven at Amazon to be reasonable. Of course, the more Amazon charges for books, the more Colbert and Patterson make. Those guys are going to sell no matter what their books cost. If Amazon gets its way, though, lesser-known scribes will suffer even more than they do already because — let’s face it — who’s going to pay $18 for an e-book by Michael G. Glab?
Hell, I doubt anyone in my own family would pay that much for a book written by me. I would’t pay that much for a book written by me!
Anyway, the other day the LA Times ran a nice rundown of who’s who and what’s what in this pissing match. And the Guardian continues its coverage of the contretemps with the news that the two august firms are now badmouthing each other publicly.
When all is said and done, even after Amazon nukes all of Paris in order to destroy the rump state that is home to Hachette, 99 percent of the authors you know and love will be collecting their coins in a jar against the inevitability of one of those income-less months. So I don’t give a damn who wins.
If you do, and want Amazon to triumph, here’s a change.org petition entitled Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages.
Run Him Out Of Town
Speaking of dough, if you want to kick in to the Mike Cagle kitty, he’s got a gofundme site up now. One of B-town’s most pop. bachelors, Cagle has given the raspberry to his former employer, Cook Medical, and will be setting off for the the Portland’s Lewis & Clark College to study law.
He’s hoping you’ll find it in your heart to pitch in so he can afford to move his yacht, his matching Bentleys, and his solid gold bathroom fixtures to Oregon where he’ll live the life of a poverty-stricken student for a few years.
I figger, Why not? The dude wants to practice do-goody-good law and, heaven knows, we need more shingles like that around these parts. Plus, contributors will get a piece of Cagle art for their largesse. C. has been a crackerjack cartoonist for lo these many years although he expects to lay the pen and the brush down while he hits the books.