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Amazon: malignant monopoly, or just plain evil?

(I've written before on this blog, notably in 2012, about how to understand Amazon's business strategy. Consider this an update.)

Last week, Amazon.com began removing the pre-order links from titles by the publishing group Hachette. This is a cruel and unpleasant action, from an author's point of view; if you're a new author with a title about to come out, it utterly fucks your first-week sales and probably dooms your career from the outset. And if you're someone like me, with a title about to come out, it frustrates and irritates your readers and also damages your sales profile and screws your print run (because if Amazon don't order your books in advance in dead-tree form they don't get printed, and if they aren't printed and in the warehouse they can't be sold elsewhere). Make no mistake: Hachette may be hurting, the the people who take the brunt of this strategy are the authors.

(Disclaimer: I am published by Orbit, a Hachette imprint, in the UK. Amazon is not currently removing the pre-order option from titles sold through amazon.co.uk. My Orbit books in the UK are published by Ace, part of Penguin group, in the USA. And I've got another series published (on both sides of the pond) by Tor. However, Amazon have played this nasty trick on Tor, Ace, and Hachette at different times: I've been caught up in it more than twice, and if they extend this strategy to amazon.co.uk again, my UK readers are going to be unable to buy "The Rhesus Chart" from Amazon.)

Forbes mostly calls it right, at least at the corporate level, and until the end of this paragraph, where their 'free-market' knee-jerk kicks in and they bottle it:

What we're really seeing is a battle between the people who make the product and the people who distribute it as to who should be getting the economic surplus that the consumer is willing to hand over. Like all such fights it's both brutal and petty. Amazon is apparently delaying shipment of Hachette produced books, insisting that some upcoming ones won't be available and so on. Hachette is complaining very loudly about what Amazon is doing, entirely naturally. The bigger question is what should we do, if anything, about it? To which the answer is almost certainly let them fight it out and see who wins.
Planet earth calling: Hachette is the publishing arm of a gigantic multinational group, Lagardère, which boasts an annual turnover of €7.37Bn. However, as Lagardère's components include a hefty chunk of EADS (part-owners of Airbus) plus TV channels, duty-free shops, newsagents, sports clubs, and magazine publishing it shouldn't be much of a surprise to discover that Hachette turned over €2.1Bn in 2012. That same year, Amazon's sales topped $61Bn (or around €45-50Bn).

So, point one is that this is not a battle of equals: it's a big-ish corporation being picked on by a Goliath more than ten times its size, in an attempt to extort better terms.

But it's not that simple, either.

Forbes seem to think that Hachette is a producer and Amazon is a distributor. This isn't quite true. I am a producer. From my perspective, Hachette is a value-added wholesale distributor: they supply editorial, production, packaging, marketing, accounting, and sales services and pay me a percentage of the revenue. (I could do this myself, and self-publish, but I don't want to be a publisher, I want to be a writer: we have this thing called "the division of labour", and it suits me quite well to out-source that side of the job to specialists at Hachette, or Penguin, or Macmillan.) Amazon is not a value-added wholesale distributor: it is a retail distributor. They have a publishing subsidiary and allow me—if I want to self-publish—to use them as a sales channel, and will even pay quite well if I accept extremely onerous terms. But they don't do much else for me and in particular if I were to self-publish through Amazon I would be vulnerable to exactly the same pressure that Hachette is currently on the receiving end of, but with less recourse.

Amazon's strategy (as I noted in 2012) is to squat on the distribution channel, artificially subsidize the price of ebooks ("dumping" or predatory pricing) to get consumers hooked, rely on DRM on the walled garden of the Kindle store to lock consumers onto their platform, and then to use their monopsony buying power to grab the publishers' share of the profits. If you're a consumer, in the short term this is good news: it means you get cheap books. But if you're a reader, you probably like to read new books. By driving down the unit revenue, Amazon makes it really hard for publishers—who are a proxy for authors—to turn a profit. Eventually they go out of business, leaving just Amazon as a monopoly distribution channel retailing the output of an atomized cloud of highly vulnerable self-employed piece-workers like myself. At which point the screws can be tightened indefinitely. And after a while, there will be no more Charlie Stross novels because I will be unable to earn a living and will have to go find a paying job.

TL:DR; Amazon's strategy against Hachette is that of a bullying combine the size of WalMart leaning on a much smaller supplier. And the smaller supplier in turn relies on really small suppliers like me. It's anti-author, and in the long term it will deprive you of the books you want to read.

Final note: some time in the 1980s the US Department of Justice's anti-trust lawyers changed their focus from preventing monopolies from forming to preventing companies from colluding to preserve their margins ("price fixing cartels"). As a result, Amazon very nearly gained a monopoly of ebook sales; they're still around the 85-90% mark in the UK, and peaked at over 80% in the USA. (The irony of the DoJ-Apple iBook store settlement is that the DoJ went after the market incomer with the higher prices and 10% market share, rather than the near-monopolist who was using predatory pricing to drive their competition out of business.) It's hard to argue against low prices, but consider this: texts are a cultural medium, and the production of new texts is not something amenable to automation or mass production. I can't go out and hire twenty people off the street and install them in a cubicle farm extruding Charlie Stross branded fiction product. (I can't even hire twenty SF novelists and train them to do that. Our product is bespoke and highly idiosyncratic.) It used to be the case that cultural activities like writing fiction benefited from some barriers against marketization, but a corollary of the global free trade regime we live in these days is that no field is exempt. The net book agreement was declared illegal decades ago: my product has to compete for your attention and money in the same market as the X Men movie franchise and Assassin's Creed games. Neither of which have a near-monopoly incumbent like Amazon squatting between them and their customer base, trying relentlessly to depress prices and force them out of business.

268 Comments

1:

It was pointed out to me that Amazon's own efforts at being a publisher (with things like 47North) make this case even more complicated. I could wish for the DOJ to take that into account in looking at that, since it does look even more unkosher than it already does.

2:

In short, authors are getting fucked by the same forces that are screwing the 99%. It's Alvin's Future Shock popping up in new clothes. The UKIP vote is but the first of the attempts to hit back, albeit (IMHO) with an expectation of very limited success.

3:

Two of my frustrations back when I used to teach Media Economics (in a Media rather than an Economics department) were the difficulty of getting students to appreciate the long term negative consequences of a monopsony and self defeating consequences for the customer of always seeking short term cost savings.

I do remember that there was a positive correlation between students who were majoring or minoring in Economics and a casual attitude both towards monosponies and a near mindless dedication to short term cost savings.

4:

The UKIP vote is mostly Turkeys voting for Christmas; UKIP's policy platform on employee rights and industrial relations is utterly deplorable.

5:

The UKIP vote had almost nothing to do with their policies. The mass media could have had pictures of Farage dressed in a Nazi uniform torturing kittens and it would have made little difference.

6:

As someone with a background in antitrust law I have to disagree with part of your argument here. Amazon is doing something that's potentially illegal, but it isn't predatory pricing. It's tying--using its market power in one area--physical books--to benefit another area of its business. There are no hard and fast rules about when this OK but it can have real negative effects on competition by raising the barriers to entry because it means that in order to compete with the tier you have to enter all of the business that are tied together instead of just one.

As far as ebook prices go, predatory pricing is simply not a plausible explanation for what Amazon is doing because in order for it to work as an economic strategy you have to be able to exclude others from the market once you have your desired market share. This only works in industries where there are significant barriers to entry, but its hard to imagine a market where the barriers to entry are lower than ebooks. All you need to sell ebooks is a website and an app since more people have tablets than ereaders. And ereaders are becoming so trivially cheap that by the time Amazon could implement its supposed dastardly plan to jack up prices the prevalence of kindles won't make much difference. If Amazon ebooks were systematically more expensive than, say, kobo ebooks why would anyone buy them from Amazon? You might say its because people already have a lot of Kindle ebooks and switching is hard, but in a world where most people have tablets its not hard to keep your kindle books there in case you want to go back to them and buy your new books on some device tied into a cheaper ebook store. Oh and Amazon will happily sell me a drm-free ebook, though I haven't seen data on how many of the books it sells are actually drm-free, but its hard to square that willingness with predatory pricing.

I don't disagree that this is a bad move on Amazon's part (though likely to backfire, just like Amazon's attempt to set a maximum price for ebooks failed), but predatory pricing is not the reason Amazon's actions are deplorable.

7:

"I can't go out and hire twenty people off the street and install them in a cubicle farm extruding Charlie Stross branded fiction product." Yes you can; whether or not this is desirable, it's completely possible. Viz. Tom Clancy, James Patterson, and the Stratemyer Syndicate.

"I could do this myself, and self-publish, but I don't want to be a publisher, I want to be a writer." By that decision you abandon your ability to evade the warfare between giant transnational corporations. The skills of self-publishing are becoming, or will soon become, as essential to the writer as the ability to type. "I don't want to learn to type; I like to handwrite." Yeah, well, good luck.

8:

You're missing the synergistic effects of the DRM on the Kindle platform. If you're a customer and you've bought a bunch of Kindle ebooks, you can't (unless you know one end of a python script from another) easily move your books to another reader/platform. So once you've bought a bunch, you're effectively locked into their walled garden.

Once you're locked in Amazon couldn't care less about you buying ebooks without DRM; what they care about is that, for you, the most convenient way to get new books is to go through their store.

Remember, most members of the public have no freaking idea what a file is, or how to download something. Most members of the public never installed an application in their lives until the iPhone app store made it easier than falling off a log, and even then many people never do that stuff.

A lot of the predatory pricing behaviour is stuff that has already happened -- it's in the past, it's how they got to 80% market share. The publishers lost the battle by 2008-09, before most of them even knew it was happening.

9:

@Sam: the barrier to entry for ebooks sales is low, but Amazon has a huge advantage nonetheless because their database of credit cards is not easily reproducible. Anyone can sell ebooks, but recreating the ease of the Amazon purchasing experience is really hard.

10:

The UKIP vote is but the first of the attempts to hit back

At least someone's still got a sense of humour on a depressing day.

It's only "the first" if you choose to ignore history (the trade union movement over the last 150 years? Occupy?). As an attempt to hit back at the 1%, voting for a former commodities trader is laughable.

Sorry for continuing the derail!

11:

And so the end point is... what?

12:

In "Amazon v Hachette: Don't Believe the Spin," David Gaughran writes: "I’m always skeptical when a story with precious few facts is reported in an uncritical and uniform way. It’s almost like it’s the result of a very smart PR campaign. It’s almost like Hachette is part of a giant mass-media conglomeration with billions of dollars of revenue and hundreds of outlets in which to push its message. It’s almost like Hachette is part of an international publishers’ association which has explicitly stated it will be flooding the media this year with stories intended to advance its interests." ( http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/amazon-v-hachette-dont-believe-the-spin/ )

13:

By "first" I mean the first in decades - not the past 150 years. Certainly the first within 30 years. Of course, there have been lots of tiny insurrections, but nothing on this scale.

14:

I'm reminded again of our good friend Bruce Sterling's comments about musicians.

"Whatever happens to musicians will eventually happen to everybody."

http://www.well.com/conf/inkwell.vue/topics/459/State-of-the-World-2013-Bruce-St-page02.html#post38

15:

The Rhesus Chart eBook preorder is £7.99 for Amazon Kindle and £6.99 for Apple iBooks today. So I can avoid Amazon and save a pound :-)

16:

Yeah, I for one this Sunday finally made the change to B&N; I cancelled all my (around 10) stand-by orders for books to be published and started buying e-books for the Nook (since I use the phone apps, not the actual gadget, that won't be so inconvenient). B&N is clearly behind Amazon.com in almost every regard, starting with customer experience, but never mind. I'm still using Amazon.com, mainly to manage my wish list (one day, I will move on, just not right now), but will only buy from then from now on only if there's no alternative. No turning back. Unfortunately, I'll be only a drop in an ocean. Anyway, should have done this a long time ago...

17:

Gosh, it's almost as if the guy you're quoting isn't the author of a self-published how-to-self-publish-for-$$$ guidebook. (Hint: there's a whole self-pubber subculture out there who are fanatically dedicated to the proposition that the traditional publishing industry is either doooooooooomed (like unto the dinosaurs) or a toxic, abusive cartel who refuse to sleep with them buy their books but want to take on authors and pimp them out like cheap streetwalkers exploit them -- the doublethink is as spectacular as anything you see from the MRA loons, and about as closely connected to reality.)

Verdict: TL:DR.

18:

This only works in industries where there are significant barriers to entry, but its hard to imagine a market where the barriers to entry are lower than ebooks.

The barriers for ebooks are enormous.

You have some ostensible standards, but they are not documented as used by any of the distributors nor do any of the distributors provide meaningful error messages. (All the distributors use different I-hope-but-lets-be-realistic-proper subsets of the EPUB 2.1 and EPUB 3.0 standards. The especially lovely EPUB 3.0 docs associated with the standard become misleading.)

So I can (have!) take the nice online EPUB validator, discover that, yup, this is a completely valid EPUB 3.0 document, in agreement with my local instance of the validator all the distributors say to use, and have the distributor reject it with no meaningful error message. I'm professionally an XML specialist; the EPUB is getting generated from a UTF-8 text file using XSLT and I actually understand the haze of namespaces involved in the guts of an EPUB file. It still took weeks of trial and error to get something that would load on Google or Kobo and I still don't know for sure what the problem was in either case.

If you pull published ebooks and examine them with the same validators, you find out that they don't pass; the rules for small self-publishers and large publishing firms are clearly different. Presumably someone at the large publishing firm gets access to the real validator. (Note that there's an entire business around writing software that will ebook your scrivener or word file; people pay for this, despite it being technically equivalent to "save as HTML", because it's actually quite hard to do and they're authors, not a specialized flavour of file format conversion coders.)

All the major ebook distributors are in the United States. That means if you're not an AMCIT you have to file IRS paperwork to explain you're not an AMCIT and here's the tax treaty your country of citizenship has and pleased don't un-retrievably withhold 30%. (Also, you have to comprehend the IRS' paperwork. Which is in its own special dialect of English; I'm a native English speaker and it's tough. Non-native speakers are probably doomed to needing to hire assistance. And which has potentially un-nerving requirements involving telling the United States Government where you live and that it can have all your tax records.)

When Charlie calls Amazon's terms "extremely onerous" this is understatement; if you read them carefully, you discover that at no point does Amazon actually commit to pay you anything, ever. And they do make it very clear they can and will give your work away if they want.

Plus, people get loyal to their specific device and won't read anything that isn't trivially available for that device. None of the devices are standards-compliant for HTML, never mind EPUB. (U+2060 WORD JOINER, the correct code-point to use for a zero-width non-breaking space (so you can go regular-space-U+2060-U+2014(an em-dash)-regular-space-U+2060 so your em-dashes don't weld the words together for line wrapping purposes) doesn't work reliably, for example). So starting a new distributor is expensive and difficult and very long term.

Charlie is quite right to not want to mess with that; whatever it is, it's not writing.

19:

I'll wait until its in the local bookshop

20:

Amazon's Kindle platform is a huge barrier to entry. Someone who has spent money on a Kindle gadget, and has a fair number of ebooks for it, is naturally reluctant to adopt a new e-reader and have books in a different format. Amazon has also done a great job of making the Kindle experience vey easy to learn and use. They've got the resources to put a lot of developers to work. If you want to check books out from a library in the States, you'll most likely find the library using OverDrive. It gives you the options of a Kindle format book, or Adobe e-books. I'm sure most people opt for Kindle -- I do, to read on my iPad -- so they're learning the Kindle platform.

I recently moved from a city full of independent bookstores to one with very few. I've noticed something here that I hadn't before* -- people using the word "Kindle" as the generic term for "e-book reader", like you'd say Bandaid or Kleenex to mean the type of product and not just that brand. I sing the praises of my Kobo e-reader at every opportunity, but I can't claim that it's a superior experience to the Kindle, just that it doesn't support a burgeoning monopoly.

*It might not be different here; maybe I just didn't notice it before.

21:

Probable actual end-point?

Appropriate end-point?

Appropriate end-point involves dissolving Amazon into diverse components, strong regulation so the order fulfilment mechanism can't be used as an engine of control, and Bezos being reduced to one-pair-of-pants level poverty. (Jail time isn't frightening. No money is. Time to try no money as a sentence of court.)

The probable actual end-point, given Amazon's investors, obvious support in the Permanent Government, and current conduct, is that they're going to successfully subjugate the media conglomerates. Traditional book publishing, in the sense of the value-added wholesale distributor, ceases. (One might note that there's already a "we don't bother with copy-edits, waste of money" thing going on.) Being a full-time author becomes statistically impossible. (There may be a small number of best-sellers, but becoming one is equivalent to winning a lottery and impossible to base career plans upon.)

22:

The difficulty with Amazon is that they are so damn convenient for just about everything, their prices are good, and they are involved in so many different industries. Plus they used their first mover advantage very well -- for books and ebooks they dominate, much like Apple was able to do with music and apps.

Prices of devices keep dropping though, so they can't bank on locking people in to their ecosystem.

If they do things like this too often, then they risk losing customers because then they are no longer the most convenient place to shop. Go on too often and find out you can't preorder, and you'll stop going to Amazon first.

23:

I suspect Neuromancer (and Marx) got it right. In corporation world everything heads towards monopoly.

24:

If Apple and the publishers had just colluded to fix the wholesale price rather than the retail price, and established the principle that all distributors, no matter how large they were, paid the same wholesale price but could charge whatever they wanted as the retail price, then we wouldn't be here now. Apple and Amazon could be happily driving each others' margins down.

26:

I'd love to be able to buy the english versions of your eBooks without DRM in Germany, but I can't (it's either Kindle or Adobe). Since I have a Kindle Amazon's shop is very convenient. And the DRM can be removed with Calibre and Alf.

27:

On the bright side, the stock market is finally starting to put real pressure on Amazon to show some real profits. For years, this company has been able to ignore ordinary metrics for valuation of companies and focus exclusively on growth, allowing it to drive prices to the ground. The company shows either no or minimal profit and has a sky high P/E ratio.

But Wall Street isn't buying this growth model anymore and Amazon is off about 25% this year.

That said, so far Bezos doesn't seem inclined to raise book prices. He has jacked up Prime membership costs. The markets aren't impressed by this.

So it's a bit of a race. Can Amazon hold off the Wall Street barbarians long enough to consolidate its grip on publishers?

DOJ antitrust policy alas only cares about the immediate effects on the consumer which are in pure dollar terms positive. I think they were right to move against Apple as they did, but at the same time waiting until everything is crushed underneath the Amazon juggernaut is hardly ideal. This isn't an either or thing: they ought to prevent both collusive behavior and good old fashioned trust building.

28:

There's a relatively geek-free (although technically illegal) way to break DRM and put content onto any eReader you have. Download Calibre, download and install the Apprentice Alf plugin, then click and go.

However, this makes for more steps than a lot of people are willing to do. And if you've got a large library to transfer, the first step is a bit of a cow. I had to transfer 50 books recently and it wasn't the most fun half an hour of my life. And I know what I'm doing.

TOR Books are now all DRM free of course, which is nice. Although if you buy on Amazon for Kindle you still can't read in most other eReaders because it's distributed in a nasty proprietary format. If you buy from the Apple store, more things can read ePubs. (I don't know about Nooks and the like, sorry.)

29:

You forget another party racing with Amazon: States who want taxes. Currently Amazon sells it's ebooks in Europe from Luxemburg which makes for a very low VAT. Amazon most likely could not compete with local book stores if it would pay the same tax rates as the local stores.

30:

Nigh-all the ebook devices can take clean EPUB files, even if that's not the native format for the distributor.

The problem is getting the clean EPUB file; Google will let you download the file if the author/publisher selected no DRM, but as far as I know, nobody else will; Kobo used to but not for an ebook that costs money lately.

31:

I read books that go through the traditional author-publisher process and the self-publishing route. I also read a fair amount of fanfic.

Fanfic doesn't claim to be up to professional standards and rarely is - which is OK. Although there are authors who cut their teeth there, most famously E. L. James of course. But you can find good quality stuff out there, and at least it's all free.

Whilst there is stuff that's gone through the traditional author-publisher route which still needs a good kicking into shape, that's relatively rare. Editors and the like have a skill-set which is different to authors and they by and large apply it, apply it well and, when you look at stuff which is self-published, improve the content. There is very, very little self-published material I've come across which is, IMO, worth what I've paid for it. The lack of an editor to tighten it up really does show.

Charlie can almost certainly learn the skills of an editor, publicist, cover-artist and the like. He may or may not be good at them - I'd suggest it's unlikely he'll be good at them all because they're rather different. SO, ok, he hires someone to do them part time. That person then looks for other clients and so on.

Publishing houses might die and be replaced by something like a co-op, but I doubt self-publishing is honestly the way for us, the consumer to get quality content.

32:

An excellent point about taxes.

Amazon already lost the fight in the USA over collecting state taxes, btw.

Tax avoidance schemes are out of control everywhere, not just Amazon. Charlie's supposed white knight Apple is about the worst abuser of this as a matter of fact. (Tim Cooke even had to testify before Congress over this matter. And was basically applauded for his business smarts, which boggles me, more or less inviting everybody else to act just the same.)

33:

Charlie can almost certainly learn the skills of an editor, publicist, cover-artist and the like. He may or may not be good at them - I'd suggest it's unlikely he'll be good at them all because they're rather different. SO, ok, he hires someone to do them part time. That person then looks for other clients and so on.

Many years ago when I worked in the TechPubs division of a software multinational, my manager (an editor) tried to turn me into/deploy me as a copy-editor and proofreader.

I turn out to be absolutely terrible at the job of spotting typos or inconsistencies in my own work. I fix anything I recognize as a typo while I'm writing; if I don't recognize it because it's an actual mis-spelling that I've memorized as correct, how can I possibly spot it and fix it in copy? Also, I've got the memory of a mayfly, I'm easily distracted, and I'm not terribly consistent. Also, I'm even worse at checking page proofs and spotting bloopers. So much worse, in fact, that for stuff that matters my optimal strategy is to (a) skim it (in case of stand-out glaring errors that crept in during the copy-edit stage), then (b) pay a professional proofreader to give me a backstop check. Luckily my publishers usually take care of (b), but in the pared-back world of self-pub that's yet another production cost to factor in ...

(Rough yardstick: a professional proofreader can accurately check maybe 50 pages per day -- think in terms of 8-10 minutes to carefully scan a page which you might read in 1-1.5 minutes -- and charges on the order of £15/hour. So 4-6 days work for a novel, £500-700.)

34:

What makes you think I think Apple are a "white knight"?

The only "white knight" aspect of their behaviour was that they brought enough muscle to bear on Amazon's near-monopoly of ebooks to convert a monopoly into an oligopoly, by grabbing 10-20% market share from the biggest incumbent.

This, incidentally, demonstrates the size of the barrier to entry that exists in the ebook world; if you want to take on Amazon you need to be somewhere between B&N (failed) or Microsoft (failed) and Apple (just barely succeeded) in size.

35:

Antitrust doctrine isn't easy. In fact, it's needlessly difficult in practice; but even at the theoreticaly level, it's not easy. For example, the problem of failing to pay the economic rent associated with expression and culture has come up before, because that "rent" always makes one's return on equity look worse to the mindless drones of the investment community... and that's what usually drives "cost-cutting" memes these days, whether the investment community in question is the equities market, venture/vulture capitalists, traditional banking, or whatever.

That said, in this instance I'm afraid that Our Gracious Host has, in his post 8 above, actually made "Sam"'s point. The "synergistic effects of the DRM on the Kindle platform" are a classic type of tying that is probably — but not certainly — unlawful under US antitrust law (and a close call under European and UK antitrust law). The best-litigated example is the 1960s-70s Xerox demand that one must use only Xerox-branded-and-supplied paper, toner, parts, repair people, etc. in Xerox-branded xerography machines, which was eventually shot down. Xerox's "solution" was to stop selling photocopiers: Instead, one was required to lease them, and the terms of the lease constituted a contractual agreement that (for a few years, anyway) took the system beyond the tentative limits of antitrust law. But Xerox's economic/monopoly rent was too high, inviting in the Japanese... meaning that by the mid-1980s, the photocopier one was using at the office was more likely to be a Minolta (or rebranded Minolta) than a Xerox.

In this instance, Amazon is acting very much like Xerox c. 1973: Its "lease terms" (if one actually reads the bloody TOS for the Kindle) restrict use of non-Amazon materials on the Kindle, although practically it's trivially easy to do so. Indeed, those "lease terms" give Amazon the right to pull material off one's Kindle with no notice; although this right has thus far been limited to removing copyright-infringing editions (as bad as that was, given that it meant the readers had paid for nothing), the specter of removing the 9th Edition of the Newspeak Dictionary in favor of the new 11th Edition should be enough to give one pause. We'll leave aside for the moment that Amazon has convinced an awful lot of idiots that its value-diminishing DRM is value-enhancing... just like certain aspects of xerography-machine paper handling in the machines of the late 1960s.

The above is an explanation. It is not an excuse: At a fundamental, theoretical level, I think antitrust law should prohibit both the development of monopoly power in distribution chains and its exercise. At best, however, the law actually only forbids certain varieties of exercise of monopoly power and maybe whispers "don't be mean when you're getting big, unless it's a merger and then we'll pay attention" under most circumstances. The irony that all of this relates to a government-granted monopoly called "copyright" is too much before more caffeine, though.

36:

Being a full-time author becomes statistically impossible. (There may be a small number of best-sellers, but becoming one is equivalent to winning a lottery and impossible to base career plans upon.)

Does anyone have statistics on how many Big 5 mid-list authors are making a full-time living at it now? My anecdotal impression just from hanging out at cons and the like is that at least in the US, it's common for them to either have day jobs, or the support of a working spouse, or both.

(Granted, some of this has to do with what it takes to keep access to health insurance in the US, and to that extent, it may be changing a bit -- I understand the phenomenally prolific Seanan McGuire was recently able to give up her day job in part because she was finally able to get insurance at affordable rates through Obamacare. But even past that, one mid-list book advance a year, or even two, really isn't a lot to live on in much of the country...)

37:

I understand this is a rant about amazon, but you got a few points about hachette and lagardere wrong.

First lagardere is not involved in EADS anymore since april 2013 and the "hefty chunk" was a mere 7.5%.

Lagardere is long known arms dealer, thus buying Hachette in 1984 was part of Lagardere effort to own and control mass media for their own agenda.

Then Hachette is no David, they are the 6th world biggest edition conglomerate and they've been caught conspiring with apple to fix prices of ebooks inflating them a few dollars and delaying them so they would sell more hardbacks.

Amazon is certainly no saint but there is no way I'll be sorry for Hachette or Lagardere in any way.

38:

Does anyone have statistics on how many Big 5 mid-list authors are making a full-time living at it now?

I don't know about Trad published authors, but check out the latest Author Earnings Report that Hugh Howey is putting out to give you an idea of the market.

http://authorearnings.com/

39:

I think both you & Charlie are wrong on this one ....
And what's more the "MSM" have still got it wrong.
Of course some UKIP policies are bad, but they at least realise that something is fundamentally broken regarding both Westminster & Brussel politics, especially the latter, with its unbelievably corrupt lobbying etc.
Quote from I've forgotten who: "If the EU was a business, HMRC would have closed it down years ago, & the directors would be in jail"
Then there's the European Arrest Warrant & then ... I think I'll stop, now?

40:

Note that the position of midlist authors in the US is skewed by the healthcare situation -- authors usually being in their 30s or older, either with children or with pre-existing medical conditions. Obamacare is slowly changing this -- I know one front-list author who finally ditched the day job to go full-time in February when Obamacare came through in her state -- but for now many American authors either rely on insurance through their spouse, or have to hold down a day job with insurance.

I live in Scotland. I've got pre-existing health conditions (metabolic syndrome with pretty much all the trimmings: look it up, it's not nice). I've also got the Scottish NHS, and a smug. And if you've ever wondered why despite being self-employed I'm happy to vote for left wing parties who promise to raise taxes on people like me to cover social services, there's your answer in a nutshell (the tax rises in question are almost certainly a far lighter burden on me than obtaining healthcare in a privatized market system would be).

41:

There IS another method for dealing with people like Bezos.
The Soviets used to call it: "15 grams"
Illegal, though & possibly immoral.

42:

Illegal and definitely immoral. (My take on Bezos is more along the lines of, "if only his power could be used for good" ...)

43:

ANOTHER reason for voting UKIP!
Cough, snort.

I note that Dirk has mentioned Resale Price Maintenance - not the first time I've heard a call for its re-introduction (in some fileds) recently - an interesting idea.

44:

Charlie, going back to your original screed (!)
What happened in the previous bouts of fucking big river trying to squeeze other publishers - you said Tor & Ace IIRC?

Also, A-zon have an appalling record as an employer, so that anyone slaving in their warehouses deserves all the sympathy & money they can get. I'm suprised this hasn't popped up again in this discussion, actually.

As for your ans=42 [ Co-incidence? ] I doubt very much if Bezons' power could be used for "good" because he seems that sort of explotative shit to start with - see employee conditions, above & round we go again.

45:

I didn't mean just SF authors. (A marginal fringe genre in sales terms.) I meant authors of all sorts and descriptions, book producers considered widely.

46:

What happened previously varied, depending on the incident. AMZN leaned on Hachette in 2008 or 09 (I forget which), and stopped buying books from them. According to one insider report I heard over a pint of beer (and may therefore have misremembered in some aspects), what killed the AMZN campaign that time was Sookie Stackhouse; Charlaine Harris's vampire series had a TV show running and went top-5 bestseller, and to maintain the boycott without pissing off their customers Amazon was sourcing paper copies of the latest book from another retail chain and dumping them below cost, effectively paying retail and charging 30% below retail to preserve the illusion. That really wasn't a viable business strategy, so AMZN caved after a while.

In general, though, nobody -- not Amazon and not the major publishers -- want to admit to this shit in public, much less confess to being on the losing side of bully-boy tactics (either to dishing it out and failing, or to bending over and taking it). We only really hear about this kind of dispute when it hits so many authors that they start yelling about it in public.

47:

I don't think Bezos is a Load-Bearing Boss (see tvtropes for details).

48:

Yes, it's telling, I think, that only a company with Apple's money and power could even attempt to break Amazon's dominant position, and they could do it only by violating U.S. antitrust law. It was a bit like setting the fox to guard the chickens from the wolf.

Amazon is becoming a serious problem, and I fear at this point the only solution is antitrust regulation. Whether they've actually violated U.S. or EU law, I'm not qualified to say.

49:

I've had two friends who have had business dealings with Bezos, both of which were leading experts in their fields, and based on how they were treated a better take would be "God, what a dick." Anything further would be just me bitching, but I couldn't let this one sit: sorry.

50:

Problem with Bezos, near as I can tell and very unusually for a businessman at his level is: he cares more about power than money. He is competitive to the point of sociopathy.

If only he were more greedy, it wouldn't be as bad. But he wants to take over the world or something. Profits are for schmucks. It's a case of delayed gratification gone very badly awry.

51:

David Byrne: “Do you really think people are going to keep putting time and effort into this, if no one is making any money?”

Which about sums it up. If writing becomes a folk art, with writers funded only by patronage and good wishes from their fans, good work will become rarer, and great work scarce as hen's teeth.

Damn.

Meantime, for paper books in the USA, I recommend powells.com, which is highly unionized.

Charlie, of the big ebook distributors, which one offers writers the best deal? Are there any good deals?

52:

I turn out to be absolutely terrible at the job of spotting typos or inconsistencies in my own work.

Charlie,

A simple trick to use. At work, when we had to check text, we would have one person read the text out loud while another person read the page. The act of hearing the text read while reading it made errors stand out.

You can do the same thing by going page by page, having the computer read the text out loud while you read along and mark up.

You will actually catch most of the errors. No prose is perfect, and must have the occasional error to prove it is not machine generated. HA!

53:

It's a shame that Hachette is one of the few remaining publishers to insist on DRM. I purchase ebooks[1] almost exclusively (the exception being when Subterranean Press is doing something that I'm interested in), and part of the calculation for "which book of many interesting ones am I going to buy" is, "am I going to have to jump through the hoops to strip DRM from it so that I can read it the way I want?" Admittedly, those hoops aren't very difficult at the moment, so it's a smaller part of the calculation. However, with the recently announced forced "upgrades" to the Adobe DRM that ebook sellers like B&N use, that may change.

I'm always happy to see your work published via Tor or one of the other non-DRM publishing houses, Charlie. So, though I think Amazon should get the Ma Bell treatment (without the re-monopolization that's happened over the last couple of decades), I would love to see you ditch Hachette.

[1] Mostly through Barnes & Noble, as I use a Nook eInk device when I travel.

54:

Charlie, I understand why you don't want to self-publish and even if you did you'd still need most of those services that your publisher is providing you with right now. However if publishers lose this battle you'll end up to settle on some compromise. Either sign a deal with Amazon or buy those services from some other company (not all those editors etc will be hired by Amazon). There are plenty of digital bookstores on the web and there will be more. I bet there will be (there are?) 100% digital publishers that will take your books and submit them to all those stores. I think you're famous enough to be able to do well without Hackette or Amazon. Most important, you're a great writer. No worries.

55:

With Barnes & Noble, the process is: purchase it, use the B&N app on your tablet/phone to download it, copy the cached epub file to some cloud service, import into your preferred DRM stripping tool and then read the resulting epub on whatever device you want.

56:

Most of the publishers involved in these spats of course insisted (and continue to insist) on the very DRM that has made Amazon lock-in so powerful in the first place.

57:

I've actually got much of the equipment and contacts I need ready just in case I need to start self-publishing.

I decline to go there right now because it's expensive in startup costs (think in terms of paying editors to work by the hour) and will require a lot of work, and I hate accounting, and there's a lot of it involved (think: separate business bank accounts, incorporation, quarterly VAT accounting) ... but I keep it open as an option.

Thing is, I reckon being my own publisher would take up half the time I would otherwise spend writing. It'd cut my written output by about 30%, in other words. But being forced to take up a day job would cut my writing output by something closer to 70%, before adding self-pub on top: I'd be down to 20% or less. So it's a last resort.

58:

The annoying thing from my point of view is that I ordered just short of a hundred quids worth of stuff through them about two days ago[1]. (Including the latest Jo Walton, which it now turns out will not be available in .uk until August. <Grumble>

I may well cancel that part of the order and go for The Book Suppository instead.

In fact, if Amazon are resuming those tactics again, I'll make the switch permanently. (Pity they took over Abebooks though, there isn't really an alternative to that lot.)

Bah! <waves paw>

I still prefer dead tree format, it doesn't require technology in order to read it.

Chris.

[1] Most of the order was to get my hands on stuff that won't be in the Hugo packet.

59:

Charlie you are mistaken when you think of an ereader as a physical device. An ereader is an app, this includes Kindle. As such it is trivial to move your drm'd books to any tablet that runs iOS or Android which is all of them

I think you are somewhat right in amazons long term plans with the exception that I doubt they are planning in raises prices significantly, any more then Walmart does. They want to be th biggest and cheapest through economy of scale, it's a very defendable position

60:

You do know Amazon took over the Book Depository too, right? Take a look at the Hive.

61:

While I agree completely with Charlie's perspective on this, I'm hoping for a happier outcome. I'm of the view that DRM is an appalling, horrible thing that achieves very little except damaging the legitimate customer.

If this argument makes it completely clear to Hachette (and others), that their short sighted insistence on screwing their customers has put Amazon in a position to cause them enormous damage, then just maybe they'll pull their heads far enough out of the sand that we'll see the beginning of the end for ebook DRM. Here's hoping....

62:

Amazon essential has no device lockin and never will, that ship has sailed beyond any shadow of a doubt. What they do have is an app lockin through drm, which is essentially a level of friction and inconvieance of multiple apps

63:

Charlie you are mistaken when you think of an ereader as a physical device. An ereader is an app, this includes Kindle. As such it is trivial to move your drm'd books to any tablet that runs iOS or Android which is all of them

Please do not teach your elders to suck eggs. M'kay?

Hint: does the Kindle app run on, say, the Mozilla OS? Or Chrome? Yes, there's the Kindle cloud reader, but a key issue with DRM and platform apps that support proprietary file formats is the need for a trusted computing base. (Hence, I think, the W3C and Mozilla Foundation's caving to support DRM in HTML5 ...)

If you want to read your Kindle ebooks in a non-Amazon ebook reader, that's a headache. I do; I dislike right-justified text and the Kindle app won't let me reformat with right-ragged. So I have to jump through flaming hoops, stripping DRM, importing into Calibre, updating metadata, transcoding with formatting hints, and then downloading again into my preferred ebook reader app (Marvin on iOS; Aldiko reader on Android). Do I need to go on ...?

64:

Keeping it open as an option, and tracking the costs of that option, sounds like a really good idea. Looking at the arguments over the price of academic textbooks, it would appear that publishers are capable of loading extra costs onto a product almost ad lib, as long as they get the markup associated with that extra cost. If the publisher doubled the price of your books and halved the volume sold would the net effect be a transfer of half of your royalties to the publisher?

65:

Charlie, the point is there is no device lockin and people can read kindle books on whatever physical device they want. For 99.9% of the reading public this is a great user experience and they simply don't care about the things you care about. They are not, and do not feel, locked in to a physical device since when they get a new device they can download the kindle app and be up and running in a minute

The fact that amazon failed to lock people in at the physical platform level matters a lot and removes a lot of leverage from them. If they try to price gouge, people can easily install a new app, get new books from a new source, and still retain access to their old library.

Software drm is far less scary then hardware drm

66:

If the publisher doubled the price of your books and halved the volume sold would the net effect be a transfer of half of your royalties to the publisher?

No, because I'd get the same fixed percentage of the publisher's revenue from sales.

(There are some circumstances in which it's detrimental; there's a thing called a bestseller clause, which installs an escalator in the royalty payments if sales volume exceeds a certain level -- I get a higher percentage of the revenue. On the other hand, if a book goes bestseller it's often discounted heavily, so the revenue per unit is smaller. The escalator is there to preserve my cut, in other words, and your scenario might be detrimental to that -- but in fact, what you're proposing is the opposite to what publishing is all about: which is to say, start by selling the product as expensively as possible, then gradually drop the price to acquire new customers until it's sold at rock-bottom discount prices.)

67:

Actual e-ink ebook reader sales are in free fall; phablets are preferred by most users, and indeed shipments of e-ink display panels are dropping.

Incidentally, have you run into Kindle books where the number of permitted downloads is restricted, typically to 3 or 5 copies ever? Because that's one of the more annoying restrictions you find on some books ...

68:

Damn. Should I stockpile e-ink readers before they disappear?

69:

By the way, Slashdot has noticed your posting, so expect visitors or at least increased traffic.

70:

No, because they won't disappear -- they'll just become a minority interest.

(I'm thinking of buying a cheap entry-level Nook this week. Because they're down to £30 a pop, for a cheap single-purpose epub reader. Which means if I drop it in the bath, I'm out no more money than a couple of drenched hardbacks. Whereas if I drop my iPad in the bath ...)

71:

Yup I do all my reading on tablets mostly iPads , and phones of course. The dedicated ereader device is a dinosaur

When I google the multiple download problem I find a suggestion to use the amazon website to deregister old kindle devices, it seems that amazon has an interest on limiting the number of devices a book is currently installed on, not the number of total downloads

72:

While not entirely on-topic, I must note that the publisher monopoly and love for DRM possibly did some good for publishers and authors. Nobody in the English-speaking world notices, but Russian book market effectively collapsed due to piracy. Notably, Russia one of the few book markets is one of the few where untranslated native-language books dominate. I personally do buy books online (there is no DRM in Russia, BTW, and the books cost $2-3), but _all_ people I know considered their e-book reader the last book-related purchase in their lives. Funnily, the ad-sponsored latest-generation Kindle is quite popular choice since the ads are in English and easily ignored.

It is a curious experiment in free markets and their evolution: the SF community was hit the hardest, with its tech-savvy readers scanning the books and supplying the OCR'd texts to the pirate 'retailers' on the first day the book appears in shops. Yes, the pirated books are sold through a few sites outside Russia - e.g. from Ecuador. Small-print books never appear in ebook forms; for the popular writers the ebooks still form only about 1% of sales.

Part of the blame is on publishers, who tried to ignore the ebooks and ereaders in particular until it was too late, and on offline retailers keeping the physical book prices at levels which were considered unreasonable by both authors and readers. And piracy is such an overwhelming issue in Russia that sites distributing pirated content will since August get the same treatment as those with bomb production manuals: hard, ISP-level Russia-wide shutdown first, appeal in court later.

So, the strong-hand near-monopoly online retailer is not that bad: most likely, without Amazon there would be no ebook market as we know it in 2014. At best, some 'digital library' system like Netflix for books where the book can reside on your device only temporarily.

73:

The publishers could break Amazon's retail monopoly any time they choose to, and since there are very few of them they could probably even manage to co-ordinate it. Publish wholesale prices for ebooks, payable by anyone who sells at least 100 units per year per publisher, create and publish an API, and let anyone who wants to run an ebook store as a front-end to the publishers' systems and charge whatever price they want as long as the publisher gets their wholesale price. You wouldn't get another behemoth like Amazon quickly, but you'd get hundreds of thousands of small online bookshops.

74:

Oh, and stop buying regional rights. You can't police regional rights across hundreds of thousands of tiny bookstores. Publishers would have to insist to authors and agents that they're buying world rights or nothing -- they don't have to be exclusive rights outside the publisher's home territory.

75:

Oh, and stop buying regional rights.

They can't do that. The contracts in back-list titles all specify regional rights restrictions and in many cases renegotiating them would be impractical -- dealing with literary estates or authors who are now represented by new agents but whose old agents grabbed perpetual representation clauses on older works (and who have no incentive to lift a finger to renegotiate anything).

(Oh, and I get more money by splitting my UK/commonwealth and US/Canada rights. That's why I do it; it's worth about 30% extra on my advances. I've sold world rights: the publishers who get them don't pay a bent penny extra.)

The wholesale price and open API idea is a really great one. But it won't work for those publishers who insist on DRM, and Adobe are doing their best to crap in the non-Kindle DRM pool by obsoleting everything in previous formats of Adobe Digital Editions. Maybe when sanity over DRM finally arrives ...

76:

there is no device lockin and people can read kindle books on whatever physical device they want

Marvellous. Care to describe this lock-in free process for buying and downloading the file so I can read it in my chosen physical device? One restriction, no hardware Kindle or Software Kindle app is to be involved.

77:

I will not stay inside their garden if it does not offer the books and authors I want to read. I devour books from my favorite authors and I will seek them out on whatever digital service offers them or in "dead tree" form if required. I love actual books but being in the 99% have run out of space to store them in any sensible way. Digital is more convenient but it is essentially renting rather than owning the books. Like many others, I am one computer crash or ID hack from losing hundreds and hundreds of works.

The bottom line is no matter where you publish, readers like me will find and purchase your work. We really don't have the means to fight this system and we have to navigate the ugly reality as best we can to get the products we want.

78:

Also, hey, what happened the last time publishers attempted to do something about Amazon's monopoly?

It's right on the tip of my tongue.

79:

If you're a customer and you've bought a bunch of Kindle ebooks, you can't (unless you know one end of a python script from another) easily move your books to another reader/platform. So once you've bought a bunch, you're effectively locked into their walled garden.

Well, I did buy lots of Kindle eBooks, and I brought my iPad, Nexus-7, iPhone, ChromeBook, iMac, and PC into the walled garden with me. All the books are a click away on each device. Set up took about a minute on each device. Install the app, sign in, and read any Kindle book I purchased.

80:

Crap! It may be time for a return to the brick&mortar stores. :-(>

81:

Vulch no one is saying these is not a software lockin, there most certainly is. There is just not a lockin to a particular hardware device.

The software lockin is not ideal but less dangerous to the consumer then a hardware lockin because Amazon has no way of preventing you from running competing software on the same device

Amazon's next move, IMO, since they lost the hardware play is either to acquire a legal, contractual lockin in order to prevent competing distribution or just continue to compete on price via economy of scale

82:

Fascinating stuff this ...

In 2012 Forbes had a piece on AMZN/Bezos. A first reading might give the impression that Bezos is a really great guy, and AMZN a terrific business model.
Anyways --- here are the some "quotes" plus my translation.


# "The new business platform - consists of the rules and facilities that organize ... the apps community well as its reluctant publishing partners. But writers are tolerant of that." -- TRANS: Writers don't push back.

# "The Amazon ecosystem -The second component is the Amazon ecosystem ... is made up of tens of thousands of companies whose futures rest on Amazon making the right calls, .." -- We make all the decisions. Rock the boat and if we fail, then it's all your fault!

#Amazon’s leadership values -"The whole point of the platform is to tear business away from the outdated idea of core competency" .. TRANS: We're in the transaction business and it just happened to start with books because the buyers and sellers in this sector are so meek that they'll put up with anything.

# "Universal connectors - Amazon, ... ultra low cost contractual arrangements that mean there is no time wasted on getting to know you and a handshake." TRANS: Frankly, we equally don't care about our partners or suppliers, we're a business..."

#"The cloud - The ability to grow infrastructure instantaneously and to shrink it back if things don’t work out..." - We're not going to invest in this stuff either, we're renting and if things get tough, we'll bail and let our cloud supplier die. Our business is transactions, not infrastructure, people, product, profits, ... etc.

83:

Hmm, and I was about to order a new book from one of my other favorite authors from Big River. Instead, I'll use the independent bookstore she sells her autographed copies through. We, the consumers, still have a choice. Make it count.

84:

This is basically the same trouble we were just having with Google.

Because of network effects, both companies are pretty much natural monopolies. The traditional approach to natural monopolies is to regulate them, because market competition won't check their obnoxious qualities.

Large internet-based companies span so many jurisdictions that we haven't worked out how to regulate them effectively. I expect, with time, some treaties will be worked out. Or not.

85:

> I am a producer. From my perspective ...

Mhmm. Like you could stop writing, same as any tree could quit growing or any coal seam could quit, well, lying there doing no harm ....

From their perspectiveS, I suspect you're a resource.

86:

(P.S. -- if you get the chance to edit your next contract, and can include a line to the effect that if any Act of God or Bezos interferes with availability, you retain the right to individual sales of text files online, I would be most appreciative of the opportunity to have a legitimate source and opportunity to pay you directly for the "less-value-added" plain ASCII result)

(And failing that, is there any contractual limit imposed on you for the number of volunteer proofreaders you can have working for you at that ASCII stage of the game?)

87:

P.P.S.:

> spotting typos or inconsistencies in my own work

None of us can proofread our own work.
Our brains __know__ what they put on that page.
If the eyes report otherwise, they are obviously mistaken.

Even as an unconstrainable proofreader -- typos leap off of pages when I get near them, snarling and snapping -- I know that I am very likely to see __one__ typo and miss another within an inch or so of it. That blind spot ...

And none of us finds all of the errors. Usually all of us together don't find all of the errors. True for text, true for numbers, true for spreadsheets, true for programs.

Look at Ray Panko's work on human errors for details.

88:

I'm going to come at this as a reader, which is what I am... Personally I don't care about typos. I'm not a copy editor and my professional hackles are not raised by a spelling mistake. There is another model that *will* and *has* worked. Sell the book first. Ideally via something like the now defunct FictionWise (prior to it's takeover) that aggregates Genre fiction. If not then via the publisher's website with an easy to use interface. Have a link or something that asks readers to submit corrections (if mistakes bother you). Readers who find mistakes will send corrections. Job done. Readers get a warm feeling for having helped their favourite author. Author gets free proof reading that is ***More Accurate*** than the professional one.

When authors tell me how valuable professional proof reading is I'm always reminded of the award winning Niven Ringworld where the first edition (back in dead tree days) had the Earth turning the wrong way. Pro proof readers can't find the kind of clangers that annoy this genre's readers but can only find the ones that matter not a jot to the readers. Their value add is effectively zero.

89:

SFReader you are wrong about the cloud part of your argument, amazon is itself the biggest cloud supplier in the world. There business is very much infrastructure, however because they can rent our their infrastructure to other people they can always hedge their infrastructure bets.

As far as "why books@ it's been their core competency for years and a market that was obviously ripe to be disrupted. The regulatory environment had bred an inefficient and technologically backward ecosystem, however unlike say the US healthcare system or the US financial services industry, the regulatory environment was not hostile enough to prevent entry to a determined and well funded outsider. So that tranaactional edge was monetarily significant and acheiavlable

90:

Mhmm. Like you could stop writing, same as any tree could quit growing or any coal seam could quit

I wouldn't stop writing willingly. But I know from experience that when I'm holding down a day job, my novel writing rate is about one book every 2-3 years. Whereas when writing is the day job, my output is 1-2 books/year. It's a simple matter of time: I treat writing as a full-time day job and work 20-80 hours a week (that's high intensity deep focus time, not water-cooler in-the-office-but-not-actually-doing-shit time). But if I've got a day job sucking my energy, I can only put in at most 10 hours a week, and usually less.

So if they squeeze my revenue until I've got to go look for a different revenue source, there will be less words by and by.

But you're right that from their perspective I'm an interchangeable resource.

91:

Charlie: I've always purchased your novels via Google Books. What I'd like to know is whether or not this changes your royalties. Is this a preferred channel for you? and if not, what's the preferred channel for your loyal readers? I too, have a vested interest in seeing your output continue, preferably at 3 to 4 books a year :-)

92:

Amazon does NOT engage in "predatory pricing."

Things may be different in the UK, but at least in the US, the legal definition of predatory pricing requires that the majority of products across a line be sold below retail. Amazon has never done that. The Department of Justice investigated them in the run-up to the anti-trust lawsuit, and determined that Amazon's pricing practices were well within the law.

Amazon only sells a very tiny fraction of its whole e-book catalog, the very newest titles (and not even all of those), at below wholesale, in the same way that Best Buy or whatever the equivalent is in the UK will sell some TVs at below wholesale in its weekly circulars, to draw people into the store. They're loss leaders, and businesses have been doing that probably since advertising began. They might lose a buck or two on your very latest Merchant Princes book, but if reading it entices people to go back and buy all your other Merchant Princes books, they've turned a tidy profit on the whole transaction.

I have very little doubt that the Big Six publishers were fully aware that, legally speaking, they didn't have a leg to stand on when it came to Amazon's alleged "predatory pricing." They could check Amazon prices for their backlist titles as well as anybody else could, and their lawyers could well have told them that Amazon's pricing practice was well within the letter of the law. ("No problem," the publishers said, "we'll just get together and break the law to force them to raise their prices instead (and by the way, double-delete this e-mail).")

Of course, you don't need to be legally correct to wage a battle in the court of public opinion. The publishers are perfectly free to rant and rave about "predatory pricing," not entirely unsuccessfully. But as Abraham Lincoln said, calling a tail a foot doesn't make it one. And calling loss leading predatory pricing doesn't make it predatory pricing either.

93:

Regional rights map very badly onto reality at this point - the actual market for any media content which is distributed digitally is "Native and high-fluency speakers of the language it was produced in". Dividing that market up between regional players strikes me as ab unstable state of affairs. It may be impractical to end it for existing works, but publishers moving to a full-language rights or nothing model for new works doesn't actually require them to renegotiate their entire back catalogs.

It annoys consumers, because for many types of culture a substantial part of the enjoyment is shooting the breeze about the latest thing (song, book, tv episode..) and if publication is not synchronized globally, doing so online becomes a mine field of "here be spoilers" for everyone not in the earliest publishers domain, so moving away from this model has marketing advantages - things that generate buzz will build on that buzz much better if they are instantly available to anyone who hears the siren song than if they are confronted with a "Preorder to get this in 3 months" message.

94:

Amazon does NOT engage in "predatory pricing."

Oh, good. I'm glad that you and the US DOJ have decided on that, for all of us.

Here's a hint: I'm pretty sure that Charlie Stross isn't just making a US legal argument about this, hmm?

95:

How about Kickstarter as a model for getting more
direct authorial cash out of your effort!

I for one would put £1000 up to see the novelisation
of Palimpsest happen sooner (2015) rather than later (2017+)...

I don't believe I'm the only one who would kick in
for such an effort.

Put up a dozen of your elevator pitches that you
want to write and see which one wins,

-- Andrew

96:

Charlie claimed:

I can't go out and hire twenty people off the street and install them in a cubicle farm extruding Charlie Stross branded fiction product. (I can't even hire twenty SF novelists and train them to do that. Our product is bespoke and highly idiosyncratic.)

Of course you can. Just look at the reams of Star Wars books and Star Trek books and bogus Arthur C. Clarke books actually written by his collaborator Gentry Lee. Not to mention those dozens of Asimov Foundation and I, Robot sequels and knock-offs written by countless hordes of underpaid literary serfs.

Welcome to the future of publishing, Charlie. A generic pabulum product churned out by Amazon-Mechanical-Turk-style workers from around the world. I betcha writers from India, superbly educated, whose first language is English, but grotesquely underpaid by comparison with first-world countries, will constitute the first phalanx of an army of for-hire hack writers which will soon darken the horizon.

As with all creative work, the pay for writing fiction is headed asymptotically toward zero. In the early 21st century, Western civilization only pays a living wage for evil or useless or pointless work -- starting illegal wars of aggression in foreign countries, lying about mushroom clouds, stealing workers' pensions with Wall Street scams, or "reforming" K-12 schools with counterproductive con jobs designed to line the pockets of your relatives.

97:

84 Jay, I'm afraid that's not correct. Neither Google nor Amazon is a natural monopoly as that term is used in non-Austrian modern economics, in US law, or in European law. A natural monopoly is one that depends upon a high-value/high-inconvenience-to-replace unique infrastructure, such as power lines or water pipes, that can effectively be used by only one vendor at a time due to the nature of the product.

Now, if you've been listening to the nonsense spouted by Mises et al., I can understand the source of your misapprehension... because the Austrian school denies that infrastructure (and, for that matter, intellectual property) is either capital or a capital investment, and therefore is not a proper subject for consideration of "monopoly." That, however, is for another time.

73–75, 93 Territorial rights are dead; they just don't know it yet. And it really doesn't matter if the contracts claim territorial rights divisions that are unenforceable as a matter of law (in the EU, see JCB Servs.; in the US, see Kirtsaeng). They're also a bad idea from a freedom-of-expression point of view... and from the authors-are-rightly-suspicious-of-publisher-accounting point of view.

I strongly suspect that territorial rights will no longer appear in new contracts at all within a decade from now, and that there will be an interesting free-for-all as some publishers in some places just ignore territorial restrictions; others try to get authors in home jurisdictions to agree to limited amendments; and still others tie agreements to publish anything in the future to amending all past contracts (and probably throwing electronic rights in there, too). Think that can't happen? Just ask anyone who tried to publish anything through any New York Times Company periodical about a decade ago...

98:

I actually hadn't thought much about who you publish with and had been planning buying and reading some of your books. But regardless of what I may think of Amazon, I do not wish to support Hachette, which I consider, in your words, an "evil" and "malignant" corporation in its own right. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I hope you'll choose a different kind of publisher in the future. Until then, there are plenty of other books to read.

99:

Messrs Benford and Bear hardly count as "underpaid literary serfs" - and that's just the Gregs. I shan't wast time on the rest.

100:

Surely there are innumerable options between working as Mr Stross, and many other authors do today: through a traditional publisher, and 'self publishing' as a one man operation. They probably aren't well developed, however, if you want to maintain specialization of labor what you need is a partner, or partners. The minimal version would be a small business with, I suppose, two employees. Stross to do writing and somebody else to do/manage the rest.

More generally, however, down that path lies the app stores and perhaps full commoditization. And, while Amazon's suggestion system seems significantly better than the app store ones, its still pretty terrible (for example it fails to suggest book n+1 of a series when you finish book n of a series, instead suggesting a seemingly random selection of editions of books from the author - probably it actually chooses based on sales, or star ratings or something).

I think Apple is a very problematic white knight. Apple want's to sell its hardware, and uses content to lock people into that, so it will only ever compete for part of the market. Plus: app store.

On books, specifically, I don't think there is huge lock in based on customer inventory. Most people don't re-read books, and as Amazon books are on all major platforms the inventory is likely to remain accessible. Further books are 'long session' materials. It's not much effort to switch apps if you do want to read something you bought long ago.

Catalog size is the main barrier. Building that catalog so you actually have whatever a person tries to buy is expensive and slow. And it actually still can't be done entirely electronically. Amazon has the same advantage as Netflix over purely digital competitors in that respect. If it doesn't have the e-book it can offer to sell you the printed one.

101:

@Charlie Stross #4, #8

I bought a Kindle recently (U.S.) to see the garden from inside the wall. It's worse than Apple's, significantly worse it seems to me.

I have bought a few ebooks via Amazon or the Kindle, but mostly am using .mobi versions of vendors like O'Reilly and Gutenberg that offer other file types and no DRM. It's my way of examining the trap without getting trapped. Am about to write to one writer who only offers through Amazon and tell him I'm buying the paperback directly from him though I prefer electronic, but I won't buy through his Amazon web store. (He'll have to think about that as he packages one book by hand. But he's getting far more than market so he's not being hurt.)

"Malignant monopoly or just plan evil?"
Does it have to be either/or? It seems to be both.

I read Boris Johnson's column in the Telegraph, and then read the comments. First he seemed to contradict himself, then to insult the Ukip fanatics, and then to attempt to hijack the movement he decries - all in less than 750 words. Oh and he insults the French FN and the German AfD while trying to co-opt their Ukip fellow travelers. Odd. I read further about Cameron's, Clegg's, and Farage's comments and it seems like everybody but Farage is in near panic. The same is happening in France, and all the more because France's conservative UMP not only lost yesterday to the ultraconservative FN but the UMP has just today become embroiled in a huge campaign finance scandal that goes all the way to the top. So they are in full panic too. Hollande is denying that anything extraordinary is happening, though his party was so far in third place that it's like they didn't matter. The Belgian P.M. has resigned (forced), and the right wing separatist party won. So long to Belgium's government for another…forever? Other European countries have seen their far right (crazies) do well too. I still have to read Yanis Varoufakis from Greece for the high level view. Here in the US the Democrats look like they may lose fairly big to whatever is driving the Republicans over the cliff. And India just installed their new far right nationalist leader.

As the lady said, hang on, it looks like it's going to be a bumpy ride.

102:

Fascism is a normal response to the failures of capitalism. There's a whole lot of that failure to go around at the moment. Of course the far right's message of comforting simple authority is doing well.

(If I'm being very cynical, it means you have to fight fascism and are distracted from replacing capitalism with something that works better.)

103:

Capitalism has brought more prosperity to more people than any other system.

104:

Nope.

Capitalism leads to widespread misery. The regulated mixed-economy approach of the mid twentieth century works and you do see increases in general prosperity, but that's hardly capitalism. Straight-up capitalism benefits money, not people.

Which is what's been happening for the last couple generations in the anglosphere; people are rightly aware that things are substantially getting worse, and look to get much worse, with no sensible response forthcoming from the power structure.

We did, after all, know about global warming in the 1970s, and there was strong policy advocacy for doing something about it then. But Regan got in. Now we're past avoidance and mitigation and into, maybe, resilience.

105:

This is not a forum for debating the merits of one economic system over another.

Please do not continue.

(Applies to graydonish and everyone else, as well.)

106:

@graydonish #102 "Fascism is a normal response to the failures of capitalism."

Claiming that capitalism has failed is, in fact, the hallmark and primary political message of both socialism and fascism. I don't know which ideology you're closer to, but you're close to one or the other.

What you misidentify as the "failure of capitalism" is actually a failure of government, namely widespread and successful rent seeking (masquerading e.g. as Keynesianism, monetary policy, economic stimuli and rescue packages, or social welfare policies)

108:

Joe Konrath has written a rebuttal to this article

http://jakonrath.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/fisking-charlie-stross-more-on.html


Does anyone else think these negotiations are all about agency pricing again? What do you think about agency pricing Charlie?

109:

I've got a few books with the 5 device limit. It's very annoying but it's the publishers who've insisted on that. Like the insistence on DRM (Haven't you blogged about that before?)

110:

One very small point. I'm a contributor at Forbes, not a staffer. So it's "me" saying all of this, not Forbes itself, "ex cathedra".

Other than that, sure, I'm a free market knee jerk sorta person so the criticism is entirely fair.

111:

I point-blank (at present) refuse to use an e-reader of any sort.
Dead tree for me.
However, sooner or later the "market" will stabilise a little & then it might (just might) be worth considering a tablet for such, as well as other purposes.
[ Hell I still haven't installed Twotter on my nice new Smasung phone! ]
So ... what does one look for in a tablet - remembering that I've used an iPad once & thoroughly hated it.
Also, I get the impression that they are "overpriced" ....

112:

"Trritorial rights are dead" Huh?
Tell that to people travelling across the pond or to/from Asia Australasia & Europe, wanting to play their DVD's.

I'm told there are ways of circumventing this ... I've certainly had, once a notice that said something like:
"This is a US DVD - you appear to be in Europe - you can switch if you want to, but after that it's locked. COntinue, Yes/No?"

P.S. My own post @ #111
CHarlie notes that "Nook" is now cheap - B&W only, what platform.
[ In this country W H Smith sell them, I forget who are behind them. ]

113:

If an open API for wholesaling ebooks is a good idea but abolishing regional rights is a bad idea, how do you propose to enforce the regional rights with an open API? You could do it based on the location of the vendor, but the publishers currently insist on basing it on the location of the buyer. I guess you could require the vendor to pass the buyer's IP address to the API, but geolocation of IP addresses is a very inaccurate way to do it. And the vendor could always pass a fake IP address.

114:

Look for Android.

Seriously: decide what form factor and price range you want and go from there. Get something as close to stock Android as possible, because that will run the most e-book reader apps. I'd recommend a Google Nexus 7, myself (which is what I have), just because they're not too expensive, the processor is fast and responsive, they're a good single-hand size, and being the maker of the OS, Google will push updates out before almost any other manufacturer.

I'd tend to suggest an e-reader, too, though. I've got a last-but-one-generation Kindle and am happy with it. It's easy to read, doesn't glow at me, and I can put DRM-free e-books I get from anywhere on it. (And thanks to Calibre and Uncle Alf, pretty much any e-book I buy can be DRM-free.)

115:

Sean Eric F
Sorry
I hope that my reproduced screed is more about (corrupt) politics, than economics?

I'll go back to asking technical idiot questions about e-platforms, I think!

116:

Has Amazon UK started pressure? I was browsing Charlie's books this morning and I noticed Neptune's brood had a higher price than the paperback copy. Suspiciously high. Like rrp high with no discounting (The tactics they've been using in the US). I haven't seen that sort of pricing since agency days.

Mind you if it turns out to be over agency pricing we should probably get used to it sadly.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Neptunes-Brood-Charles-Stross-ebook/dp/B009SQ01BA/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1401176543&sr=8-4&keywords=charles+stross

117:

Tactics? How can that be tactics? They're just setting the price at what the publisher wants it to be. Given that the publishers were willing to break the law to force Amazon to raise prices to what they wanted (and not just in the USA, either), I'd think they'd regard Amazon raising the prices to their recommended retail on its own as being a good thing.

118:

@Robotech master. Please note I'm not saying I disagree with what Amazon is doing. I'm just bearing in mind that I'm a guest at Charlie's blog and at present since Amazon doesn't discuss negotiations in public we're only hearing one side of the story.

Mind you I'm certainly not on the side of the big 5 for anything much these days. Not after the shambles that was agency pricing and the subsequent discovery of collusion.

119:

"Eventually they go out of business, leaving just Amazon as a monopoly distribution channel retailing the output of an atomized cloud of highly vulnerable self-employed piece-workers like myself. At which point the screws can be tightened indefinitely. And after a while, there will be no more Charlie Stross novels because I will be unable to earn a living and will have to go find a paying job."

If Amazon follows this hypothetical course of action, no one will write new books and then Amazon won't have any to sell. That is why your hypothetical situation is extremely unlikely to ever happen.

120:

Hi Charlie. If you had actually read my post instead of summarily dismissing it based on a two-second glance at my website, you might have seen that out views aren't *that* far apart.

The proposition that I'm "fanatically dedicated" to, in short:

There isn't enough evidence to determine whether Amazon is using its market power in unfair or anti-competitive ways in this matter. And if history is a guide here (and it should be), we are very far from having the whole story.

We differ on the following points:

*I believe that publishers built the high walls around Amazon's garden by insisting on DRM (and, in a related decision, not really trying to sell direct). DRM is a choice for anyone selling on Amazon, not a requirement. I don't apply DRM to any of my titles.

*I don't believe Amazon engages in predatory pricing. While it did (and does) aggressively discount certain titles, it never made a loss on e-books as a whole (and still doesn't). And it's currently constrained by the court settlement from making a loss across any of the settling publishers' lists.

*What exactly are the "onerous terms" for self-publishing on Amazon? I grant them a non-exclusive license, which I can withdraw anytime, and I receive 70% of sale price. Granted, there are clauses I'm not nuts about in the KDP Terms of Service, but these pale in comparison to clauses in some publishing contracts (e.g. non-compete clauses, toothless reversion/out of print clauses, etc.).

*We also differ on the interpretation of the price-fixing trial, but if the evidence advanced in the case won't convince you otherwise, there's no real point arguing the matter.

FWIW, I hope the dispute gets resolved quickly. I know some Hachette authors caught up in this, and they are the ones suffering the most (as is always the case). Finally, if you are considering self-publishing at some point - it sounds like it above - let me just say that it's far easier and cheaper to do it effectively and professionally than you've been led to believe.

121:

"Territorial rights are dead."

Well yes they are, at least for DVD players.

Find your player's handbook and Google "$Brand_name $exact_model_number" "region free hack" or "region zero hack". ($exact_model_nmuber is what you need the handbook to check.)

The first or second hit you'll get will tell you how to set your player to region zero, and hence play every DVD ever made (including 'Disney DVD').

As for books, I've been reading USian imprints (bought new) since "Futureshock Books" opened on Woodlands Road in Glasgow, in the late 1970s. I know other people who've sourced them from "At The Sign of the Dragon" in East Sheen since the same sort of time.

122:


None of us can proofread our own work.
Our brains __know__ what they put on that page.
If the eyes report otherwise, they are obviously mistaken.

That's not quite true, though the exception I know is often impractical (see the reply/query I'm going to make to Charlie after this, too).

As a Greek philosopher put it, no man steps in the same river twice, for the second time it isn't the same river and he isn't the same man. So, if you can put work away for a fallow period, then you can proofread and otherwise edit it. But that needs you to be able to put it aside for weeks rather than days, on each pass, even if you have the skills to begin with. That's an issue for something I've been working on, that I'm going to ask about.

123:


... self-publishing ... [is] expensive in startup costs (think in terms of paying editors to work by the hour) and will require a lot of work ...

Cue an issue I've been having. Hoping nobody objects, I'll throw it open for suggestions.

Over some time, I've been doing some odds and ends of work on certain economics issues here in Australia, aiming at a research paper or monograph (someone commissioned it; it wasn't my own over-heated obsessions driving me). That more or less finished about a year ago, but on the one hand it had grown as I turned up more and more stuff and tied it together, and on the other hand it got ever harder to make readable because I was just too close to it to see what needed clarifying for others. To make matters worse, as I have the remains of a good mathematical education I always face the temptation to try to explain things with mathematics, and I have learned the hard way where that leads - at best, you have to explain the explanation, and at worst you have to explain the explanation of the explanation [of the explanation of ...] - damn, I'm doing it again. So I aimed as hard as I could at a narrative/economic history approach broken down into related sub-themes and into appendices for stuff that could be separated.

For six months or so I kept putting it all aside and coming back to it to firm it up, and it was barely presentable even though everything was there. At that point, someone suggested moving the appendices into the main body, linking it all together in digestible chunks, and turning it into a short book for intelligent lay readers, since that wouldn't take much more effort and resources and would offer more:-

- money; and

- practical attention paid to the material, i.e. in the electorate and among the politicians.

Functionally, politicians "succeed" if they make calls for their attention go away, so the issue for me was to get things taken seriously as an invitation to check things out and have them tested and looked over, rather than as a crank telling people THE ANSWER. That meant, a good old fashioned physical book, because, well, it's real and it's serious.

Now, I've got a small specialist publisher interested in broad terms, but he told me that I would need to pay someone to edit the material as well as reworking it myself. However, I'm effectively zonked most of the time by a (not immediately life threatening) medical condition and medications, which means I have few funds and only bursts of focus and attention for anything I haven't made routine - it's as if I look around and months have vanished with no sense of time passing since I last did A, B, or C (e.g. that reminds me that I should look up a neighbour I last saw at Christmas, and before that last May and the Christmas before that, even though we used to be in touch every other week). So I've done very little on coming back to the material after a fallow period (the silver lining to loss of time), and even though I've found some crowd funding facilities here in Melbourne, I've been able neither to mobilise them nor to find someone local to edit it all who I could liaise with so we were aiming at the same things.

So, how do I move things forward, starting from where I am and with what I've got? I can't just dump extracts for feedback on blogs like this, not least because it would be an abuse like the arguing over economic systems we've already seen deprecated. It might even be an abuse for me to raise this issue at all, only it did seem a bit connected to what was being discussed already. I would welcome any constructive suggestions within my own limitations that don't abuse host hospitality and so on. Thanks in advance - especially if your replies keep me from drifting off again.

124:

Amazon does NOT engage in "predatory pricing."

Things may be different in the UK, but at least in the US, the legal definition of predatory pricing requires that the majority of products across a line be sold below retail. Amazon has never done that.

That's a really neat Catch-22 right there!

And you're absolutely correct; it's just that Amazon broke the legal definition of predatory pricing by adding a really long tail to their product line. When they sell millions of self-pub titles, of course they don't need to sell them below cost; all they need to sell below cost are the top 500 or so best-sellers across all book categories, which account for 50% or more of all sales by volume. And that alone is enough to undercut their rivals.

The law was drafted with the assumption that products which might be dumped were mass-produced interchangeable widgets and that each customer transaction was unique and not connected causally with previous or subsequent transactions. Walled gardens and mass customization and print-on-demand simply doesn't fit inside that model of how to regulate unethical business practices.

What's needed is new legislation to regulate business practices intended to create a captive customer base. Unfortunately, that's not going to pass the US congress in any way shape or form as long as it consists of the duly elected representatives of the oligarchy ...

125:

Large internet-based companies span so many jurisdictions that we haven't worked out how to regulate them effectively. I expect, with time, some treaties will be worked out. Or not.

I've always thought that the original "Roller Ball" movie was very predictive. Wooden dialog aside.

126:

I for one would put £1000 up to see the novelisation
of Palimpsest happen sooner (2015) rather than later (2017+)...

Can't.

I'm busy until September 1st writing "Merchant Princes: The Next Generation" (about 60,000 words to go, plus a raft of editing). Then I'm busy until October 15th getting "The Armageddon Score" redrafted and ready to submit. Between mid-October and roughly April 2015 I will be busy turning around FOUR books' worth of copy edits and page proofs (2-4 weeks work per book) for the deluge coming out in 2015. I then have to write Laundry Files #7, "The Nightmare Stacks", by October 15th, 2015, for publication in summer 2016.

In my copious spare time I'm supposed to write a couple of short stories, do a shitpile of world-building for Storium (for late 2015), and there's an attack novel that wants out bad.

So I couldn't really begin work on "Palimpsest" before early 2016, in which case it wouldn't be finished until 2017 (it's a big job) and wouldn't be in print/available until early 2018 at the earliest, a decade after I wrote the original novella.

127:

In the early 21st century, Western civilization only pays a living wage for evil or useless or pointless work

This is why we need a guaranteed income scheme. (That, or a communist revolution.)

128:

I ignore Konrath; he's one of the self-publishing lunatic fringe's idols and he routinely makes the key mistake of assuming that because something works for him it must therefore work for everybody else.

(Personally I'd love to see the agency pricing model prevail for trade books. Alas, I suspect Amazon's DoJ won't let it happen ...)

129:

Hi!

My key point I guess is that this is a market failure, caused by the arrival of an intermediary that is perilously close to becoming the market, acting as a monopsony at one end and a monopoly at the other (with a high volume money extraction filter in-between).

130:

Ahem: abolishing regional rights is a bad idea for my bank balance. I recognize the logic of abolishing territorial rights restrictions, but I'll only be happy about selling world English language rights when my agent can arm-wrestle the publisher buying them into upping my advances to reflect them.

Unfortunately the internal structure of the Big Five is such that in most cases, their UK and US operations not only do not operate as parts of a single company, but actually act as rivals, publishing different editions and competing viciously with each other for exports into non-exclusive territories. It's actually easier to get a US subsidiary of Publishing Group A to co-ordinate over launch dates and editing processes with the UK subsidiary of Publishing Group B than to get the US and UK arms of Publishing Group C to see eye-to-eye about what color the sky is.

Hachette, ironically, are the best of the big five (at least in my sector) at coordinating internally across territories.

131:

@8:
you can't ... easily move your books to another reader/platform. So once you've bought a bunch, you're effectively locked into their walled garden.
---
I don't think that's an important factor.

Some of the people I know tend to keep books, but most of them will read a book once and then give it away or throw it in the trash. Once they've sucked the juice out, it has no further interest for them.

Also, most of them will only read brand-new books. Maybe a reprint of an older title, but never a used book. I've never been able to figure that attitude out.

132:

Seconded.

If I was not a heavy Apple user and wanted an open(ish), user-friendly, good value for money tablet for reading ebooks (and doing a little gaming and other stuff on the side) I would go for a Google Nexus 7, 32Gb with 3G/LTE. It's a lovely piece of kit at a good price. It's not terribly cheap (that model is £299 in the UK) but then it's competing with the high end of the compact tablet market; the equivalent Apple device is the iPad mini retina 32Gb/4G, which sells for £499.

133:

If Amazon follows this hypothetical course of action, no one will write new books and then Amazon won't have any to sell. That is why your hypothetical situation is extremely unlikely to ever happen.

Wrong.

Firstly, it'll take a long time in terms of quarterly profit/loss accounting for the supply of new novels from professionals to dry up -- years, possibly a couple of decades. What you'll notice first is simply fewer and less frequent novels by underrated/struggling midlist authors. It'll take time for the corrosive effect to chew its way up to the bestsellers.

Secondly, don't underestimate the number of folks who look at a business and see a lifestyle; there are plenty of people who want to be authors, out of some misplaced idea of social status accruing. Some of these people can even learn to write (eventually). So they'll keep going long after it makes no economic sense.

Thirdly, hobbyists: there's no commercial market for poetry (it died between the world wars, at least in English) but this doesn't mean there are no more poets.

134:

On publishers' responsibility for DRM: I think we're in violent agreement there. (I work with what I've got, and argue for no DRM on my titles when my publishers will listen to me -- because in the long term DRM is toxic -- but my first priority is earning a living, which is why many of my titles are sold with DRM.) The first mistake they made was to demand DRM; the second (and worse) mistake was to outsource ownership of the DRM platform to the ebook vendors, notably Amazon but also Nook (Adobe Digital Editions) and Apple (FairPlay). A horrible blunder, but about what you'd expect from an industry run by non-IT folks.

Granted, there are clauses I'm not nuts about in the KDP Terms of Service, but these pale in comparison to clauses in some publishing contracts (e.g. non-compete clauses, toothless reversion/out of print clauses, etc.).

Well, that's what my agent earns her 15% cut for. (You can blast an express train through most no-compete clauses if you're hard-nosed about it and know what you want to do: it's only enforceable to the extent that the author needs the publisher more than they need the author. And the reversion thing ... again: any contract signed in the past decade should have been vetted to ensure that "out of print" is replaced by "sold fewer than [number] copies in four consecutive quarters, not including remainders/dumping/steep discounts".)

135:

paws
Thanks for that ... I've made a note, so that if I come across problems, they can be fixed.

P.S. It seems my political comment got trashed, but I'm not surprised, as I suspect it was irrelevant to the discussion on this thread.

Chralie
I note that "Nook" is actually Barnes & Nable (Who are US-based?) but that also simple B&W readers are now down to under £35.
Give it a few more months & even I might be interested.
Mind you, at present, I've gone on a secondhand railwy book-buying jag, having found one or two rarities that I didn't even know existed & one that's like rockinghorse shit for rarity.....

136:

Charlie:

You've talked before about how the price differential between eBooks and paperbacks SHOULD be small, because most of the price is paying for the existence of the publishing staff. I get that.

I'm just curious: Given what you know about the system, and not bothering to correct for your bias as an author, what is a fair price for an eBook?

Personally, I find that I'll impulse purchase around $7-10 AUD (around £5), and I'm willing to pay $10-15 AUD ( £5.50 - 8.25) for newer books.

But realistically I'm finding that back-catalogue items are consistently priced around $13 AUD. That's enough above my impulse range to be annoying - for instance, I recently got around to reading my first Neil Gaiman story. Now I want to read more of them, but at $13 a throw it starts to get a bit steep after the first 2 or 3.

Am I being unreasonable? Is pricing the "long tail" of sales at $13 a throw the right strategy for the retailers?

137:

I can't say for sure, but have you tried asking your publisher if he knows anyone that might edit for you?

A small, specialist publisher probably knows someone else interested in the same sorts of things as you after all, who hasn't written your manuscript and might know someone in the same part of the world.

Failing that, Melbourne has a university. You could try and get in touch with the economics or maths departments and see if there's a recent graduate of the appropriate level who might like a temporary job as an editor on your manuscript. Someone who has just finished a masters or a doctorate might well be interested and have the experience to do the job.

Failing that, something like gumtree.com that lets you advertise free with a geographical bias for services as well as products, or craigslist or whatever the equivalents are in Australia might find you someone suitable. Or asking on blogs like this.

I don't have the ability to 'drop in' being based in the UK and probably don't have the maths background. But if no one else will speak up, hassle me sometime directly and we'll see if we can work around those issues.

138:

The problem with the publishers is when they had price determination power, the e-books cost more than buying a physical book (with the authors not seeing a penny of that increased price or the extra savings from not manufacturing a physical book). So now the publishers managed to turn that victory into a loss? Serves them right for being greedy.

139:

Just out of interest could you explain your reasoning for wanting to see agency pricing for trade books?

140:

Okay, that's one of the more well-reasoned arguments for why what Amazon is doing might qualify as predatory pricing. I still don't think I'd agree with it, but at least it's better than what you get out of most publishing partisans, which is usually "because I say it is."

That being the case, if the publishers really thought the legal precedents on predatory pricing had it wrong, they should have taken the matter to court. They still should. They'd probably lose at the circuit level, but might have more success in appeals where new precedents get remade.

They'd have a lot more luck in court than in the court of public opinion. Amazon gets ranked the most trusted brand in America by poll year after year after year. That's a lot of inertia to overcome.

141:

Re: 89: SFReader you are wrong about the cloud part of your argument, amazon is itself the biggest cloud supplier in the world.

When I first read that Forbes piece, that statement sounded wrong to me too. However, being a 'supplier' doesn't automatically mean that you have to be a 'producer' ... the traditional view.

From their Google finance NASDAQ page: Read carefully - AMZN manufactures and sells Kindle, AMZN provides access to cloud.

"... The Company serves consumers through its retail websites, ... The Company designs its Websites to enable millions of products to be sold by the Company and by third parties across dozens of product categories. ... It also manufactures and sells Kindle devices.... The Company serves developers and enterprises of all sizes through Amazon Web Services (AWS), which provides access to technology infrastructure that enables virtually any type of business."

Maybe it's awkward phrasing on their part, but I don't see anything that says this company is actually invested in the physical aspects of cloud. They're purveyors - nothing more.

142:

FWIW I'd rather you were doing other stuff than the Palimpsest novel anyway. I can't say specifically why, but the novella didn't grab me like more or less everythign else you've written has.

143:

A natural monopoly is one that depends upon a high-value/high-inconvenience-to-replace unique infrastructure

I get your objection, but the internet seems to breed a different sort of natural monopoly. There's no infrastructure reason that everyone couldn't switch from Google to Bing, from Amazon to Barnes & Noble, or from Windows to Linux in an afternoon, but it isn't going to happen. These companies are natural monopolies in effect if not in theory.

Another way to look at it is to consider the installed customer base as the difficult-to-replace bit of infrastructure. On the internet it is often valuable to use something simply because everyone else is using it.

144:

"There's no infrastructure reason that everyone couldn't switch from Google to Bing, from Amazon to Barnes & Noble, or from Windows to Linux in an afternoon, but it isn't going to happen."

That's because google is better than bing (unless you're searching for porn), amazon is more convenient and or generally cheaper than B&N, and windows is easier to use (excepting windows 8) than linux.

The best tool for a specific job doesn't mean a monopoly.

145:

Except when it's a multi-purpose tool, that works best for the users of one specific function, but stabs the users of another function in the face.

146:

I know people who started their career riding herd on Amazon's servers; Amazon's cloud is built, owned, and operated by them (to the point they recently won a contract to replicate said cloud in Langley for the CIA, making IBM very upset in the process).

147:

Another objection: everyone has noticed Amazon has gone from "online bookseller" to "internet supermarket," right? Even if books dry up completely for them, they still have a business.

148:

Just a few comments, mostly tweaky things:

124 The law on what constitutes "predatory pricing" was not "drafted" in any way. It is, instead, a common-law interpretation (even EU law) based upon extending the rulings in particular circumstances to broader propositions that allegedly apply to everyone... and all too often should have been limited to the particular facts involved in the initial suit (many of which weren't even in the record!).

In practice, in antitrust law the first step one must take is to define the relevant market... and that market definition is usually outcome-determinative. Related specifically to the circumstances that led to this thread, is the relevant market:
* All books?
* All trade books?
* All trade fiction books?
* All trade category fiction books?
* All trade category fiction books released within the last three years and prospectively?
* All commercially-published trade catetory fiction books released within the last three years and prospectively?
Whether Amazon even comes close to meeting the numeric "predatory pricing" test varies a great deal depending on the market definition... and those are far from the only possibilities. There's a reason that the most-vicious parts of any antitrust fight — and the least-civil arguments in the hallways outside the judge's hearing — are over market definition.

130 YMMV, but my sad experience has been that the cost of policing international same-work accounting chicanery exceeds the purported "benefit" of getting multiple foreign rights payments for the same language. But then, I'm an agressive SOB when advising authors and agents on contract negotiations and usually succeed in helping drive the author's payments up for world rights... and never advise allowing the initial publisher to have non-native-language rights.

134 I'd suggest that there's a simpler, easier-to-police solution than relying upon number of copies sold: "Fails to generate at least £200 in royalties pursuant to § 3(a) of this Agreement in each of two consecutive royalty reporting periods beginning not less than eighteen months after the date of first publication of any edition." (In this instance, § 3(a) is the part of the contract that establishes the print-edition royalty rates.) That simultaneously eliminates the "fire sale" problem and ensures that subrights aren't used to keep the edition in print without a specific cost to the publisher. Of course, a bout of hyperinflation could sabotage this, too... but under those circumstances we'll have much more pressing things to worry about.

* * *

Finally, one clarification. When I said "territorial rights are dead; they just don't know it yet" I was referring to the legal relationship, not to publisher/distributor attempts to restrict markets outside of what is legally permissible or enforceable. DVD region restrictions are probably already unlawful under various WIPO provisions, because a consumer or other end-user is allowed to cross borders with legally purchased goods and continue to use them (it's variously called "first sale" or "exhaustion"). Getting the behemoths out there to acknowledge that — particularly since some governments piggyback censorship onto regional restrictions* — is a different issue entirely. Sometimes the real world ignores legal enforceability...

* Specific example: Spycatcher.

149:

It's also worth pointing out that monopolies are not necessarily bad because they're monopolies. It's because they tend to be anti-competitive, but not always. Sometimes a business just gets big because it's the best at what it does.

Even if Amazon did succeed in driving all its competitors out of business, Tim Worstall, Senior Fellow at the Adam Smith Economic Institute in London, suggests that it couldn't rest on its laurels regardless. The moment it jacked up its prices, a competitor could enter the market and undercut it. So it has to keep competing against any business that might enter the market if it goes too far.

(There was the same sort of worry back in the '90s over where people would shop if B&N drove all the indie bookstores out of business and then raised its prices. The answer, of course, is Amazon. And the answer to where people will shop if Amazon does the same is, whatever new competitor comes down the pike next.)

For that matter, if Amazon's been trying to drive competitors out of the market, it's been doing it wrong. Amazon didn't have any serious competitors at the time it introduced the Kindle, but then, by creating the first real demand for e-readers and e-books, it caused serious competitors to come into being. Almost all its major e-book competitors—B&N, Kobo, Google, Samsung, Apple, Baker & Taylor, etc.—only started selling e-books after Amazon did. (The only exception I know of is Sony, and they were never all that serious a competitor.) Even if it drives all those out of the market, new ones could spring up at any time.

150:

NOTE
I'm told that the VLC media player, which is easily downloadable ....
(Single Google hit suffices) will play any DVD, irrepective of "jurisdiction".
Whether this is actually tue, I haven't yet had the opportunity to verify.
Maybe someone else knows tha answer to this already?

151:
The moment it jacked up its prices, a competitor could enter the market and undercut it. So it has to keep competing against any business that might enter the market if it goes too far.
Two of Amazon's competitors in their original market - online ordering print books - have already been mentioned in this thread; Abebooks and The Book Depository. They didn't seem to be any threat to Amazon; most people I know used them did so because they were against Amazon for one reason or another, and few businesses get to be monsters merely through protestors of the incumbent.

Want to guess who owns them now?

152:

I fail to see how that's relevant. Amazon doesn't own B&N, Kobo, Google, Samsung, Baker & Taylor, etc. Individual competitors come and go, competition remains.

153:

Continuing from the last post in the strand.

I don't know about the VLC "player". R0 hacks usually work by resetting the driver layer software to "Region 0", which includes all the others (particularly 1, 2 and 4, being of most relevance since IIRC 1 is North America, 2 is Europe and 4 includes Australia and New Zealand).

154:

Can't say for sure on all OSes but in the days I used to have a drive into which I could insert discs on my computer, VLC played any disc from any region for me.

Given it's free, if you've got a non-local disc that you can't play, give it a whirl.

These days I split between downloading or cloud-sourcing mostly and don't miss a hardware video storage.

155:

It's the network effects that create the monopolies. Publishers need to get their books on Amazon because that's where the customers are; customers go to Amazon because it has the biggest selection. Software developers develop for Windows because everybody uses Windows; people use Windows because it runs the software they want. People go on Facebook because their friends are on Facebook.

If a better, cheaper competitor to these companies emerged, would it succeed? Probably not. The entrenched companies derive an enormous benefit from the simple fact that they're the entrenched companies. And the best definition of a natural monopoly is a market where an entrenched company can't effectively be competed against.

156:

It wouldn't be easy but it's certainly not impossible. Start small, provide a better service and slowly grow. Look at where Google started and where they are now.

I'm still annoyed that agency pricing pretty much killed Fictionwise.

157:

And I know an IBM lifer (retired a few years now) who worked on the IBM PS/1 (remember MS/DOS?). IBM has been moving away from the manufacturing end of the business over the years, focusing primarily on research, consultancy, and design.

Also, while I'm definitely not tech-savvy, I've heard that it should be possible to 'build' and run a cloud using free 'public' online storage. The physical equivalent is: if your electrical power has been cut off, get an extension cord and plug in to your neighbors.

158:

Subletting other people's cloud to your customers; some do it, generally by adding value in some way or other. Amazon don't. And neither do IBM (who are getting out of low-margin manufacturing; they'll be shipping a new Power CPU next month.)

159:

A small company can't provide a "better service" in markets where the quality of the service is dependent on the number of people using it.

For example, IMHO, Ubuntu is a far better operating system than Windows. It runs faster, it's less bloated, it crashes less, and it's free. I've been using it for years, and I like it. Judged purely in terms of the product, Ubuntu wins hands-down.

OTOH, the vast majority of software developers make software for Windows, because everybody has Windows. And I often find myself having to use Windows, because I need to use the software on Windows. A terrible OS wins on total usability, because there are so many other companies building functionality for its product. People won't take to Ubuntu en masse until Ubuntu runs the best software, and Ubuntu is a low priority for software developers because people haven't taken to it en masse.

It's pretty much a natural monopoly. To grow the way Google, Amazon, Facebook, or Microsoft have, you have to be the first successful company in your business, as they were.

160:

I already cancelled my Rhesus Chart Amazon order on Feb. 23 and switched to Barnes&Nobel even though it cost a little more. Fuck Amazon. I only use them if I absolutely cannot get something anywhere else.

161:

I have one reason that I use the Amazon app for reading right now - I read on several devices (computer, iPad, Android phone), and it automatically syncs my last-read position.

Is there another reading app that does this? Or do I just have to remember the location and type it in?

162:

@SFreader

Amazon Web Services is the big boy in pure cloud plays right now, they run a huge number of servers and host half the internet these days including Netflix. It's weird, but it's true

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Web_Services

163:

"Publishers need to get their books on Amazon because that's where the customers are; customers go to Amazon because it has the biggest selection."

I use a search engine to find sources for what I want. I look at Amazon and choose it if I can't find an adequate alternative. I bought a guitar from Amazon a few years ago....

If Google doesn't like Amazon, then Google will make some attempts to show people alternatives. But some people do have a habit of looking only on Amazon. I don't know why.

164:

I'm told that the VLC media player...will play any DVD, irrepective of "jurisdiction". Whether this is actually tue, I haven't yet had the opportunity to verify. Maybe someone else knows tha answer to this already?

I use the VLC media player, which will also play downloaded files at least as happily as it plays DVDs, and I've never had a region problem. I think I've only actually tried disks set for regions 0, 1 & 2; there could be something funny in there I've never had occasion to encounter, but it's worked fine for me.

The question prompted me to open VLC and look at menu options I normally ignore. It has functions I've never noticed - I could stream audio from FM radio to web if only I had an FM radio receiver hooked up, for example. I'd better stop before I waste more time fiddling with the thing or set default subtitle font to Fraktur...

165:

Tim Worstall is a pretty weak reed to rely on. He doesn't know a lot about technical matters and once made a bet that he'd cornered the scandium market on the strength of his prediction that Good Cheap Batteries based on that element are coming Real Soon Now.

Didn't happen then and it's been at least six Friedman units since he made this claim. Of course, being a libertarian means never having to admit that you're wrong . . .

166:

Oops. Sorry for the mangled prose - cat scritch management while typing.

167:

Ugh. I see that in your linked piece that Worstall is approvingly citing Bryan Caplan -- you know, the libertarian nutbar that claims USian women were freer in 1880's than they are in the twenty-first century. Bottom line, don't cite either of these people if you want to be taken seriously.

168:

Why Amazon...

First competent mover into books leads to first competent mover into general merchandising; first mover with competent API skill to let others sell through them makes them the first selling portal of note (eBay auction mode fails on general purpose merchandising; eBay had 90% of what they needed but didn't see own limitations). Utilized their initial lack of sales tax collections to help hold the line on costs. First mover to convince investors that breakeven or small losses were acceptable to build up what they have become. First mover to get logistics right. First mover to utilize affiliates and sell through programs to eliminate their need to do logistics on all the items they sell. First mover of note into ebooks.

First mover to identify large structural problems in the big box book store model and exploit them, as the big boxes were in an unstable growth phase pushing out the bulk of the small local bookstores.

First mover to exploit the long tail en masse, globalized internet scale...

So, overall impression so far - They are where they are because they've done a lot of business decisions very right.

So... Accepted, some of their behavior (now and past) has been anticompetitive and author abusive.

Do we whack them with an antitrust suit, otherwise modify behavior, or try to replace/supplant them?

To replace them, we would have to do what they do well now (and in many places, were first mover or first large mover in) and do something very customer-attractive better.

I think they're vulnerable on margins; they have a fairly complex infrastructure now, and attendant overhead in many ways, though keeping that reasonably lean has been a focus point.

So, a few cost percent might be an opening.

Other openings would be include logistics-less infrastructure (all virtual product; or external logistics only, none internal). iTunes has no inventory / logistics other than net bandwidth, for example.

Those two opportunities seem difficult to exploit.


Soooo....., I think that it comes down to behavior modification for the near term. And the decision, which type of behavior modification do we try first?

169:

No. In the 1970s alarmists were telling us we were doomed because of global cooling.

170:

which type of behavior modification do we try first?

We could smack him on the nose with a rolled up newspaper, but he'd probably just stop publishing it.

171:

Interesting PR campaign under way from Hachette and its authors. Is there some reason consumers should care more about Hachette than Amazon's two-day free delivery? I'd say Amazon won the PR war before it started.

172:

So, overall impression so far - They are where they are because they've done a lot of business decisions very right.

So... Accepted, some of their behavior (now and past) has been anticompetitive and author abusive.

Businesses are where they are because of their business decisions seems to be something of a tautology -- especially given your sketch of the history. This is rendered all the more vacuous by your second paragraph, which suggests that behaviour that is 'anticompetitive and author abusive' follows from making the 'right' decisions.

On edit: we've been gone for the holidays; it's a lot easier to post when overly anxious kitties aren't interposing themselves between you and your machine.

173:

@Sean Eric Fagan "This is not a forum for debating the merits of one economic system over another"

I'm sorry, but what is this discussion about then?

Given our economic system, what is there to debate? Amazon is clearly not a monopoly and Amazon is doing what they should: they are negotiating private contracts in what they believe is their interest. And if Stross or Rowling disappears from the market as a result, that's no more tragic than if ChiaPets or ThighMasters disappear from the market.

But Stross seems to be arguing that books and authors are special and that government should intervene in the market in order to protect them. Did I not understand that correctly? In what way is that not a debate about the "merit" of our economic system?

174:

" if you're a new author with a title about to come out, it utterly fucks your first-week sales and probably dooms your career from the outset. And if you're someone like me, with a title about to come out, it frustrates and irritates your readers and also damages your sales profile"

Wait: so your publisher is going to trash the careers of their authors even when they know perfectly well that the low sales are due to their pissing contest with Amazon?

And these are supposedly the "good guys"?

I fail to see why anyone would continue to do business with that type of operation, much less defend it.

175:

Amazon has posted a statement about this mess in the Kindle forum:

http://www.amazon.com/forum/kindle/ref=cm_cd_tfp_ef_tft_tp?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1D7SY3BVSESG&cdThread=Tx1UO5T446WM5YY

Short summary: "nothing personal, it's just business". As to the effect on their customers: " this business interruption affects a small percentage of Amazon's demand-weighted units. If you order 1,000 items from Amazon, 989 will be unaffected by this interruption." Because hey, one item is as good as another item, amirite? (They do also suggest that people who want prompt service on affected items order from their competition.)

The final, lovely touch is their sop to authors: if Hachette sets up some kind of fund for affected authors, Amazon will match Hachette's contributions. Because money for current sales is the only thing at stake.

176:

Yes, VLC will happily play any DVD you throw at it, regardless of the region setting; it may take a little time to crack the CSS key, but it will do it. However. There are DVD-ROM drives out there that will refuse to supply the encrypted data unless the region on the disc matches the region set on the drive - in which case, it doesn't matter how good VLC's crack is, it simply can't do the job, because it can't get at the data at all to begin with.

The workaround? Get a BD-ROM drive instead; they enforce the region encoding solely in software, not in hardware. (at least the ones I've seen, anyway.)

177:

Hey, you know who else doesn't get pre-order buttons? Almost every self-publishing author. Yet (if the statistics Author Earnings has been cranking out can be believed) their earnings seem to be eclipsing the Big Five's.

Huh, so maybe pre-order buttons aren't the be-all and end-all after all?

178:

g.h @ 168
Accepted, some of their behavior (now and past) has been anticompetitive and author abusive.
And what about the way they treat their employees, whislt we ar at it?
Not nice people to know (AZN's bossses, that is ...)
Also needs addressing, somehow.

179:

iBooks on the iPad and a Mac of whatever type do this too if you have a Mac. Of course if you don't, that's not much help.

180:

You're missing the synergistic effects of the DRM on the Kindle platform. If you're a customer and you've bought a bunch of Kindle ebooks, you can't (unless you know one end of a python script from another) easily move your books to another reader/platform. So once you've bought a bunch, you're effectively locked into their walled garden.

Thankfully, this is not at all true. I don't know the first thing about python scripts, but anyone who googles 'de-drm kindle books' will find easy instructions to do just that via a program called Calibre and an easy-to-use plug-in - both of which are free.

From the time of typing your question into Google you can have your library de-DRMed in about half an hour, and I say this as someone with a 1500+ sized library. Maybe a full hour if, as you said, you're someone who has never downloaded anything before/doesn't know where a file is, but the plug-in comes with very good instructions that guided me through as a first-timer a few years back, and Calibre is very intuitive. So: anybody who wants to switch platforms can actually do so very easily with a little effort.

Also: I have championed Amazon many times because having had experience with Amazon, Apple, and B&N, Amazon has always come out top on customer service with me (by far). But there can be no arguing the fact that they are very much being dicks over this mess right now, and I really hope that they stop soon, because I really don't want to have to switch retailers.

181:

While you have apparently already decided to freak out over this, I'd recommend another writer's veiwpoint:

http://www.hughhowey.com/more-thoughts-on-hachette-amazon/

182:

In the 1970s alarmists were telling us we were doomed because of global cooling.

Yes, some were. Those alarmists were writing for the popular media, while the overall consensus of the peer-reviewed science was that warming was more likely. If you're interested in a survey of the scientific research at the time I can recommend Peterson et al. (2008), The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus, Bull. Am. Met. Soc., 89(9) 1325-1337, doi:10.1175/2008BAMS2370.1

183:

People are telling us global warming is a myth, short earth creationism is true, birth control and sex education are evil, and lots of other things.

In the 1970's there was still at least debate on the topic. The consensus was starting to form and solidify that global warming was what was going on and it gained traction through the decade (there certainly wasn't a consensus that there was global cooling) but you could stand up and say you thought there might be global cooling and here was some evidence or that there were cooling and warming trends in equilibrium and be listened to in a serious scientific conference. You might be laughed at (it does happen) but it would be down to the quality of your jokes rather than your content (unless your content was just risible which also happens but more rarely - the last time I saw it was a pharmacology conference where someone had really screwed something up). The reason for this was that the evidence was unclear - a mix of a short baseline and lower quality instrumentation.

These days - I think you might get a spot on Fox News with any of those views. Despite what some sectors of the media keep pumping, the evidence that the scientists in the field look at about the climate says that the climate is getting warmer and warmer. That's helped by 40 years more data, much better instrumentation and 40 years of Moore's law making computers about 100 million x more powerful so the modelling is just that much better.

Even if the sun is entering a lower output phase (I don't think there's evidence for that, and that was what was feared by the global cooling people mostly) the rise and rise of greenhouse gases has more than countered that. The reason there's no debate at the moment is that no one can find contrary evidence - every element you look at suggests the world on average is getting warmer. If contrary evidence starts to emerge then the scientists will consider it and start to change their tune - it's how science works after all.

And when you get idiots saying "Oh look, the 'polar vortex' that gave the US such a cold winter proves global warming is wrong" they're just proving they're idiots and they don't understand how averages work and what the world global means.

184:

The *word* global too... although if you're going to have a typo slip through, world global is a fun one.

185:

Global warming exists, but the level to which global temperature is forced by carbon dioxide is not known. The current models predict tropical tropospheric warming at the current CO2 levels, yet this has not been observed.

When there is a mismatch between model and reality, scientists usually blame the model. Politicians often blame reality. This explains much about the difference in world-view between the two.

Until useful mid-term weather models that are accurate over periods of months to years are produced, I for one would tend to question the accuracy of longer-term models, and also the sanity of those who claim (against observed evidence) that these models are a good approximation of reality.

186:

Global warming exists, but the level to which global temperature is forced by carbon dioxide is not known.

Not known in what sense? We don't have four significant digits of precision for the current -- it's a moving target -- climate sensitivity to CO2?

We certainly know the direction of temperature change. We can certainly set plausible minimums on the eventual amount. The remaining areas of uncertainty are around things like "unrecoverably catastrophic or merely very bad?"

187:

Dan H, it looks to me like you have been fooled by propagandists, and I want to pay attention to the method.

Imagine that economists had a model of the economy, and they looked at the long-term US balance of payments, and the increase in automation, and the slowing rise in US consumer demand, and the fast-rising US government deficit, and a whole lot of other facts and trends and such, and they concluded that the US economy is approaching a crisis.

And imagine that various Forbes and WSJ pundits replied that the model predicts rising inflation, but there is no inflation. Therefore the model is wrong and that means the US economy is doing fine, FINE, and there will not be any crisis.

What conclusion would you draw from that?

I say, if you want to think there will be no long-term climate change issue, then look at the models which predict that and see how much you trust them.

In the short run, if you're going to make decisions which depend on predicting tropical troposphere temperature, get the best models you can find for predicting that.

And if you lack full confidence in the long-term models, then be conservative in your long-term planning. Conservative does not mean "Let's assume there is no problem and do nothing to prepare for problems".

A conservative approach says to put a big effort into alternative fuels, because the supply of fossil fuels is not going to get much larger and we will want more energy regardless how the climate comes out.

A conservative approach says to reduce the rate we burn fossil fuels as fast as we reasonably can. They aren't getting any cheaper, and if we get into a big war we'll need them then. Burn America First is a bad plan. The more fossil fuels we leave in the ground the better off we'll be later, whether we have a big global warming problem or not. If it turns out they're safe to burn then we can burn then when they are rarer and more valuable. If they aren't safe to burn then don't do it.

The stupid argument boils down to this: "The other guy's models are not perfect. Therefore they are wrong and I am right." Don't fall for it.

188:

Until useful mid-term weather models that are accurate over periods of months to years are produced, I for one would tend to question the accuracy of longer-term models, and also the sanity of those who claim (against observed evidence) that these models are a good approximation of reality.

This makes no sense whatsoever. I cannot predict (without unreasonably precise knowledge of the initial conditions) the sequence of heads and tails I'm going to get in a series of coin tosses, and I can't even make a very good prediction of the number of heads I'll get in a run of, say, 10 tosses. This does not mean that I can't make extremely confident predictions of the behaviour of a coin-tossing experiment over very large numbers of trials. Weather prediction and climate prediction are different problems, and the latter is far more tractable than the former. (Similarly, gross predictions of climate models are more reliable than detailed predictions – to predict how much global temperatures will rise, you "just" need to get the overall energy balance calculations right, whereas to predict regional temperatures you also need to get ocean currents, wind patterns, etc., right: a much harder problem.)

189:

No, the workaround for that is Pirate Bay

190:

[[ Comment redacted on request of submitter - mod ]]

191:

** Moderator to the forum! Paging Moderator to the forum! -- We seem to be plunging towards an off-topic climate debate singualrity -- Please jettison all extraneous comments and engage full topic course-correction measures **

192:

Point taken. Delete my comments forthwith! Apologies for off-topic commenting.

193:

"And if Stross or Rowling disappears from the market as a result, that's no more tragic than if ChiaPets or ThighMasters disappear from the market"

Just: Huh?

Creative individuals producing highly unique products (possibly even quantifiable as works of art) equate to mass-produced gew-gaws in your head? I suspect that even attempting to explain to you why you are so very very wrong would be like trying to teach elephants to knit.

"Hey Bob! Throw another Da Vinci sketch-book on the fire, we're out of logs again!"

194:

Apology accepted! (Although I do not personally wield the awesome Hammer of Ban and mighty Axe of Deletion)

195:

The traditional system had several stages between the manuscript and the book in the reader's hands. The publisher, the printer, the wholesaler/distributor, and the final retailer. There was the classic division of labour in this.

Some people are wanting to put more and more of this work on the author, the specialist who creates the manuscript. Amazon has exploited technology to achieve a dominant position which combines at least two of these stages.

Is there a comfortable size for a publishing operation—Dunbar's Number comes to mind here—which Hachette and some aspects of large business management cannot easily handle. Is Hachette more like a wholesaler than a publisher?

196:

I would disagree with that. An out-of-region DVD does get payment to the rights-holder. Which does matter. (Yes, there are complications, and we could easily get lost in those details.)

There's an argument that DRM (of all kinds) adds complexity to an already over-complicated system. That should be a consideration. Amazon's system for Kindle is maybe just complicated enough to be useful. It's not meant to block people like us. It's a symbol, a line in the sand that many people don't cross.

197:

Actually there is an argument for DRM under certain circumstances. I work in the IT department of a large UK university, and one thing we're concerned with is trying to use ebooks in some manner, to push down costs.

University text book suppliers are a jealous lot, by all accounts. The one thing that really annoys them (apart from competition) is seeing their textbooks turning up on torrent sites. However, our students are using electronic kit like tablets, smartphones and the like more and more now, so electronic media would be an advantage for us. No more (or much less) money spent on buying expensive dead-tree formats which wear out over time; instead we would have ebooks which could be distributed to students' tablets and thus save us money.

Or it would, if we could only get our hands on DRM robust enough to withstand the onslaught of young, highly intelligent minds, some of whom are of the "freetard" mentality and all of whom are fiendishly clever.

An example of this was a spoof pulled over in Computer Sciences some years ago. By means devious and subtle the fingerprints of the head of department were obtained, then by means of Postscript hacking (yes, Postscript is a computer language and yes, you can use it as an attack vector) images of these were uploaded to the printers. All weekend, all printouts had the Head of Department's mucky fingerprints faintly appearing on them. The hack was removed on Sunday evening once again by means of a Postscript hack.

That's the level of ingenuity we're facing. That's why the textbook manufacturers don't think normal DRM is up to the job (and for my money, I agree with them).

If we could only DRM these ebooks and other material up tighter than a duck's wotsit, then we'd save ourselves money and maybe be able to cut tuition fees into the bargain. This, ladies and gentlemen, is white-hat DRM in action (if we could only make it work).

198:

If we could only DRM these ebooks and other material up tighter than a duck's wotsit, then we'd save ourselves money and maybe be able to cut tuition fees into the bargain. This, ladies and gentlemen, is white-hat DRM in action (if we could only make it work).

If you could do it, so could the large media conglomerates, and no one would ever own a book or any kind of recording ever again, it would all be pay-per-view.

DRM is an attempt to keep copying expensive. It makes it really tough to deal with stuff that really is expensive to produce and is now easy to copy, but making copy expensive isn't the right solution to that problem.

199:

I would disagree with that. An out-of-region DVD does get payment to the rights-holder. Which does matter.

I was about to say the same thing to dirk.bruere, but then I realized that you can buy a DVD and not ever use the disk itself, but just torrent it.

In this way, the rights-holder gets the money, which I agree is a pretty good thing, all things considered, but the purchaser gets to use the movie on whichever device.

This is still against the law in most places, I think, but it's a way of having the cake and eating it.

200:

As someone that supports students at university level I, oddly, never encourage them (even at first year level) to open a textbook. Reach for a good review paper, even if the first year. By the second or third year they thank me for it (they usually swear at me in October of their first year though).

And as more and more journals are getting squeezed about costs, it's getting easier and easier to find them. I think there will be a interesting period of adjustment as the publishers of textbooks try to adjust - because if they keep charging £60+ a pop and good review papers are freely available it won't take long for someone to publish a list of papers that correspond to each chapter and get them free via student log in to the university library system.

If, however, the books are offering a genuine additional value over the papers then they will pay. Some will doubtless still crack the DRM whatever you do - just as some borrow books, photocopy them and so on - ultimately you can't stop it.

But to return to the topic of the original post: sorry, I disagree that DRM on textbooks is justified. If the university and the publisher can't come to an agreement from the fees for their books then there's something wrong somewhere. Everyone else in the world manages to organise bulk discounts after all.

201:

I have one reason that I use the Amazon app for reading right now - I read on several devices and it automatically syncs my last-read position. ... Is there another reading app that does this? Or do I just have to remember the location and type it in?

Yes'n'no.

If you stick to one platform, Marvin for iOS does the job splendidly, and is a way better epub reader than Apple's iBooks app or the Kindle app. Works well with Dropbox, too. (I use it with Calbre and a de-DRM plugin: buy from whichever store, import into Calibre, transcode to DRM-free epub, and Marvin yanks the epub off the Calibre folder on my Dropbox account.) Marvin saves its bookmarks and locations in Dropbox, so the copies on my phone and iPad both know where I've gotten to.

On Android, Moon Reader+ does a similar cross-device sync.

But as far as I know, nobody (except maybe Nook and Kindle) do cross-platform syncing.

(Seems to me that the Marvin and Moon Reader developers need to get together and agree a common standard for bookmark metadata on epubs.)

202:

Complexity would still be an issue.

I don't think there can be a universal answer.

203:

@Dave_the_Proc "Just: Huh? ... Creative individuals producing highly unique products (possibly even quantifiable as works of art) equate to mass-produced gew-gaws in your head?"

I was merely pointing out Stross (and you) implicitly argue that books should be accorded a higher value than other goods and picked two obvious mass market products for comparison to make my point. (Perhaps your unfounded indignation at my non-existent devaluation of books merely reflects your own aspirations of becoming functionally literate some day yourself; I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.)

I gave that example to make the point that the argument here is, in fact, about "the merits of our economic system" and the need for government intervention to correct what Stross believes to be a market failure.

204:

Tom: Sean is one of the moderators on this blog.

He has the authority to delete your comments and ban you, and he's enforcing my policy.

Let me refer you to the moderation policy: you have no freedom of speech here because I am not the government, I am under no obligation to provide a platform for views I disagree with or discussions of stuff I don't want to discuss, and if you can't cope with that, go get yourself a blog of your own (try Blogger or WordPress, they both have free options).

Having said that, I am willing to host discussions where people express opinions I disagree with (as long as it's genuine argument over issues rather than ad hominem abuse or trolling). But this is specifically a discussion of Amazon and shitty behaviour wrt. their suppliers. If I want to run a discussion about "late period capitalism: what's wrong with it, and what is to be done" I'll set that up elsewhere. In the meantime, pursuing that topic is derailing the Amazon/Hachette discussion and is therefore unwelcome.

So stop doing that, please.

205:

Wait: so your publisher is going to trash the careers of their authors even when they know perfectly well that the low sales are due to their pissing contest with Amazon?

The trouble is, they don't know that. Amazon accounts for between 20% and 50% of units shipped. But Barnes and Noble can equally well fuck over a new writer by not ordering in the book. Or there could be a flood at the warehouse. (Both the latter cases have happened to friends of mine.) Or the book simply might not sell. There's no easy (or even middling-difficult) way to inferring the cause of failure to sell from the raw sales data.

Sucks, doesn't it?

206:

Publishers can't tell whether any given pre-order comes from Amazon or Barnes & Noble? Then how do they know where to send the pre-ordered books?

Seriously, they can't just exclude Amazon from their calculations and assume the percentage of pre-orders will be constant across the remainder of the market and extrapolate from the ones that come in from everywhere else?

207:

It does seem hard to believe.

I suppose that it is possible that Amazon orders a certain number of books, and doesn't distinguish between pre-orders and stock to supply later orders. Some of the other shenanigans might be different ordering rules so that fewer but larger batches of books are delivered.

How are ebooks and physical books different in all this?


208:

Some conversation up thread about amazon lack of profit. Which is true, but it has very positive free cash flow, which is more important to investors and also cannot be taxed. Amazon is famously concerned about tax management.

Good discussion of this here: http://www.eugenewei.com/blog/2013/10/25/amazon-and-the-profitless-business-model-narrative

And here
http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2013/8/8/amazons-profits

And a somewhat related one here:

http://www.asymco.com/2013/08/07/the-anti-apple/

209:

If we could only DRM these ebooks and other material up tighter than a duck's wotsit, then we'd save ourselves money and maybe be able to cut tuition fees into the bargain. This, ladies and gentlemen, is white-hat DRM in action (if we could only make it work).

The paper-only books are getting scanned or photographed and uploaded as PDF anyway. I would be really surprised if you could name a scientific/technical book for undergrads that's already been published but not already easily pirated. Even "perfect" DRM would succumb to the analog hole just like paper. Mount camera above reader tablet, snap picture, advance page, repeat.

Actually, I don't understand what the problem is from the publisher POV if your institution is the ebook buyer. Journal publishers like Elsevier strongly dislike pirates but I don't think they actually lose much revenue from them, because they sell overwhelmingly to institutions. Unlike individual students, academic librarians are not going to stop subscribing to a journal because they can find it on torrentz.ru.

So long as the institution commits to buying copies of ebooks proportionate to assigned reading lists, as opposed to delegating that responsibility to students who may copy instead of pay, I don't see how the publisher could lose out. They have already been paid for the product. Whether students use the official copies or unofficial ones afterward doesn't affect their finances.

210:
If you stick to one platform, Marvin for iOS does the job splendidly, and is a way better epub reader than Apple's iBooks app or the Kindle app.

Nice. I'd managed to miss this little gem. Looks excellent. Thanks.

211:

Sorry if this has already been discussed (TL;DNR) ...

So, we talked about and (mostly) rejected that authors self-publish entirely: too much time taken away from their core competency, i.e., crafting a good story.

My question: What is stopping publishers from setting up their own online distribution network? They're already publishing e-books .... how much more difficult would it be to sell e-books and/or dead-tree books direct off their site and/or through a book-retailer-network? AMZN is a distribution network. Big deal! It wouldn't be the first time that a tech giant lost share because their ego got too big.

I don't buy all of my groceries from the same grocer - and not just because of price - so why should I buy all of my books off the same site/publisher? (Authors are a lot less interchangeable than groceries.)

What am I not seeing/understanding here? ...

And, vertical integration can grow in two directions - up and down - the distribution channel.


212:

Multiple things.

First, a lack of interest in ebooks initially. (Baen was an exception here.)

Second, an insistence on DRM, which made it harder to just have a distribution network, you needed to have an entire ecosystem. (Baen was an exception here.)

Third, doing your own electronic store is, in fact, hard. Requiring a completely different set of skills than publishers generally have. (Baen is an exception here only because they went out and hired the right people.) (Note that I believe more and more publishers do have much, if not all, of the technical resources now.)

Fourth, not wanting to anger your existing resellers.

Fifth, they've had it made clear that if they do anything other than what Amazon wants, they will become targets of the US government.

Sixth, hey, look, there's this!

213:

Well, if that "anything other than what Amazon wants" involves illegally colluding. They damned well knew they were doing something shady (you don't use phrases like "double delete this e-mail" if you think everything's going to be hunky-dory if you're caught).

Also, I'm pretty sure the US government doesn't tell Europe what to do. (Maybe they try, but Europe's their own nations; they don't have to listen.) For that matter, while the US government prosecuted, I'm pretty sure it was only the EU government who actually raided publishers' offices.

But that aside, the biggest thing that prevents the publishers (or anyone else, really) from starting a successful e-book store is the network effect of the existing stores, combined with the total laziness of the vast majority of customers.

Most people who have a Kindle (or Kobo, or Nook, or iThing) want buying books to be Easy. They just want to tap a link and boom, it's done. They don't want to be bothered with sideloading. Even emailing the file to their Kindles is too much hassle. Many of them may not even realize you can buy from other e-book stores and then read the books on their device.

Yes, I know, if you're one of the people who's "with it" enough to be reading comments on this blog, you probably wonder where those peoples' heads are at, because you find it hard to conceive of anyone having that much trouble with a computer device. But I worked phone tech support for a major TV manufacturer for a couple of years, and TVs are even simpler than e-readers. But you'd be amazed just how many ways how many different people could find to screw up or misunderstand their should-be-dead-simple devices.

It's the same with e-readers. Baen kept hearing over and over from people complaining that their books "aren't on Kindle," even though they made it as easy as they could for people to sideload them on. So finally it got to the point where they realized they were losing more money by not being on Amazon than they were gaining from their loyal customer base's purchases. So they completely changed the way Webscriptions operated, and got their e-books into the big stores.

Like it or not, that's an obstacle any new e-book store is going to face—even ones run by the publishers themselves. If Baen couldn't find a way around it, with their decade-plus experience selling e-books, what are the big publishers going to be able to do?

214:

The market treats books as widgets. Doesn't matter what authors think.

215:

This is weird:

Is there some reason consumers should care more about Hachette than Amazon's two-day free delivery? I'd say Amazon won the PR war before it started.

One of Amazon's tactics against Hachette has been to limit inventories, with the (clearly intended) result that their titles are out of stock at Amazon a lot of the time, with delievery times for Amazon orders in weeks, not days. If two-day delivery is the basis for PR "victory", they're throwing it away...

216:
Also, I'm pretty sure the US government doesn't tell Europe what to do. (Maybe they try, but Europe's their own nations; they don't have to listen.)

I'm not disagreeing with your argument as a whole, but some rebuttal evidence for the above point...

217:

A part of me really wants to argue with you (ad hominem attacks and all), but a wiser part simply says: Don't feed the troll.

218:

I've been a fan of Charlie's for a bit now, and I've followed this blog for several months. I've never commented before because frankly, most of you are a bit over my head and there isn't much I can intelligently contribute.

Until today.

I can vouch for the objective value of writers and writing of the sort Mr. Stross and Ken MacLeod and their contemporaries over plain old entertainment and consumer widgets quite easily. You see, I'm 40 years old. My education (if you could call it that) is in personal defense instruction (formal) and various levels of business administration (informal, but extensive, AKA my entire working life). I've no university education, only that of the US public school system (in the southeastern US, natch).

Fiction of the caliber put out by Mr. Stross and his contemporaries have sent me to do research on political science writings, history, physics, economics, and astronomy SO MANY TIMES that I have accumulated a pretty good base-level (that is, conceptual - the maths are far beyond me, as the highest math I ever deal with is compound interest) that I can have (albeit at a very surface level) conversation with people on these topics. Surely I cannot pick at the nuts and bolts, but have many times sent people (who are fans of such topics) to the publications to update themselves on something I've mentioned in conversation with them. As far as I know, none of these people that I've met face to face work in the cutting edge of any of these fields, but some do have degrees in them. There is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that would be possible for me without the fantastic, eye-opening fiction of Mr Stross and others of his class. I would set them firmly above the likes of many "classic" sci fi authors. Ellison? Vonnegut? Nay I say Bradbury? All excellent, imaginative writers for sure, but I doubt any sent a reader to the textbooks (or e-publications in this era) to better understand what the writer was getting at or referencing, or even particularly challenged their audiences. They certainly never did me, and I read them in high school.

219:

I suspect that Amazon is more ambitious than you suspect.

Bezos's actions fit well with assuming that he believes that the publishing market has 2 local equilibria - the current one being 'publishing-first' - where printing, marketing, distribution, and physical sale are fixed costs divided between all consumers - resulting in similar prices for ebooks and printed books. In this market, for now, ebooks are

The second equilibria point is the 'ebook-first' market - where the cost of printing, marketing, distribution, and physical sales are borne by consumers of physical books. In this case, physical books become expensive, and ebooks are >70% of the market.

The thing is, setting sales prices to a 'profitable, but retail-margin-eroding' price is perfectly legal. Amazon is simply making the point that they can deliver ebooks more cheaply than Barnes and Noble can deliver physical books. So, any sort of wholesale pricing will result in Amazon driving the price of an ebook to be less than the price required for a physical bookstore to be profitable.

Amazon obtains lock-in, not so much by DRM, as by self-published authors. I wouldn't discount them. Over the last few hundred sci-fi books I have read, I've discarded fewer self-published works than published works. I'm willing to pay a dollar or two extra because the range of novels on Amazon is substantially higher than on other markets. Plus ease of use...and, in reality, they can probably afford to charge a bit less than their competition owing to economies of scale...

There are a few problems here...I'll miss bookstores...and the publishers don't have much of a business left once they end up as editing houses...and mediocre but lucky authors end up smack dab in the self-published masses. There's no longer any non-merit-based career path for writers.

On the bright side, my wife is less likely to consider homicide or bookburning, ebook prices will trend a bit lower than printed, and many mediocre or unmarketable and unpublished authors can publish now.

And the endgame? Not so much squeezing authors or consumers...more becoming a natural monopoly for publishing related advertising based both on availability of advertising space and on available customer data...or effectively claiming about 15-30%% of the book market for free. Hassling with publishers over profit distribution is likely to be a relatively low priority, beyond normal business negotiations. I'm not sure I want Amazon to win, but I suspect they will, regardless.

220:

Like most here, I'm watching this from the bleachers, so I may be missing some fine points of play, but I fail to grasp how Amazon's strategy is the doom of writing as a trade.

What did I miss ?

The only compelling argument I've read so far is that traditional publishers provide advances and bankroll the writing process, but that's typically only true after one has already sold some work : few are those who ever got offered great publishing deals on their first manuscript in the traditional system either.

Digital distribution, with a larger cut on retail price, a longer and fatter tail, and 60 day turnaround on payments can translate in revenues starting right after initial release, through the next book-writing, and that add up over time, all without the 6 to 12 months standard delay of publisher's royalties.

OGH being the established midlister he is, with his loyal readership, could probably sell a good run first-print of his next opus on a 2 year-ahead pre-order basis, for the mere cost of a "Patron of the arts edition" line on the cover. With three or four series running in parallel, that comes pretty close to a multibook deal with a trusted publisher, as far as I can tell.

In the end, kneecapping the likes of Hachette mostly hurts the handful of blockbuster brands which rely on TV ads, billboards and marketing tricks to hit the NYT best sellers list, and must sell a lot just to recoup the promo costs -- not the segment I'll weep for.


I take Charlie's point that he doesn't think running a small business all by his lone self is the best use of his time and talents, all of which sounds perfectly sensible to me : some of the services provided by a competent publisher range from non-trivial to critical, and are not easily emulated.
As a reader, I also appreciate the usefulness of skilled editors both in gatekeeping the market from some of the terrible crud eager to flood in, and for their contributions to turn passable manuscripts into good books.

Since professional writers already depend on agents / contract lawyers (since even the best and most caring editors are still on the publisher's payroll, not the author's), and as the share of self-published books grows, it seems unavoidable that some agents and editors will merge / pool their talents to provide writers with the external services they require (accounting, editorial counsel, copy-proofing) so that authors can focus on their core trade.

Lifted the historical justification for publishing houses existence (fronting the massive costs of print, promotion, distribution), the transition from "writers as providers of goods for publishers" to "publishing as a service for (or partnership with) authors" seems natural, at least where digital books are concerned, as the interests of writers, editors and readership can be more closely aligned in the latter model (depending on terms).

With that in mind, I don't fully grok what's so bad for authors about Amazon (or others) offering them the option to go direct-distribution for a 70% cut of retail when Hachette (and the rest of the big 5) want to keep it around 25% : surely there's enough in that 45% difference for writers to fairly compensate their specialist associates (out of pocket and/or through shared profits).

The fear, as far as I can tell, is that without the big 5, individual writers would be left alone in the cold, fending for themselves against future draconian terms imposed by Amazon (or Apple, Google, etc).
Considering how fairly said publishers have 'negotiated' digital rights with their authors until now, it's hard to see where such loyalty comes from.

If Amazon terms change to the detriment of direct-publishing writers at any point in the future, what would then stop them from switching to a different distributor/retailer ?
Unless the expectation here is that Amazon is about to not only drive Apple and Google out of the ebook market, but also can stop other contenders from emerging once they create an obvious opportunity ?

Confusedly yours…

221:

206: Retrospectively, this is indeed a conundrum. But it's not how finance-market-driven corporations think. They want predictions that work.

That is, the problem is that they can't predict that the absence of an advance-order button at Vendor X will lead to y fewer orders, with a substitution elasticity of z% presumed through substitution of vendor by customers seeking that particular product. Without predictability data that management feels comfortable manipulating in its spreadsheet models, management won't pay attention, instead focusing on

SQUIRREL!

other data that does seem to fit management's preconceived notion of what data that it can use to improve short-term financial results looks like.

Part of the problem here is that books are, indeed, nonfungible. This month's Stross is not adequately replaced by this month's Danielle Steel, even in identical packaging shelved right next to each other (alphabetical by author) as "Just Published!" Unfortunately, every single numerical tool available in the modern management toolbox (and especially the modern financial analyst's toolbox) assumes fungibility. And it gets even worse when one actually looks at so-called "just in time" management, which utterly fails to distinguish between completed-product-for-sale availability and component-part-for-further-assembly availability.

Of course, my view is a bit jaundiced by having commanded an aircraft maintenance squadron during the zenith of that management theory. There's a difference between "inadequate stock of raw materials" and "inadequate stock of carefully-machined system-critical parts that cannot be fabricated in the field" when certain dictators go over certain borders and one's unit gets deployed 5000km on three days' notice... Let's just say that my colleagues and I had Some Words with the supply beancounters who were trying to tell us what we really needed/wanted. And if you think a bit, you'll see that it's the same problem as is now occurring between the Big Brazilian River and The French Military-Industrial Conglomerate.

222:

then I realized that you can buy a DVD and not ever use the disk itself, but just torrent it.

I've done this, as the ads and promos on the DVD are painful on the 10th viewing). If overseas retailers would let me buy stuff off them, but have a delivery option on "don't", I would do it more.
I don't trust any digital purchase to give me the reliability and flexibility of a torrented file.

223:

@Charlie Stross "He has the authority to delete your comments and ban you, and he's enforcing my policy."

He didn't delete my postings, and I wasn't complaining about any moderation policy. I was simply pointing out that you are indeed having a discussion about economic systems.

"Having said that, I am willing to host discussions where people express opinions I disagree with (as long as it's genuine argument over issues rather than ad hominem abuse or trolling)."

That is an interesting point coming from someone who entitles his posting "Amazon: a malignant monopoly or just plain evil". Having said that, as a mature and intelligent person, I'll cross both your books and your blog off my list. Good luck.

224:

It's good to know that there is one "mature and intelligent" person left out there on the internet. Certainly, the ability to dismiss someone you don't know and all their work because you disagree on a minor point (of what is basically semantics) displays a level of maturity that the rest of us can only gaze at in wonder and hope some day to be able to emulate.

(Sorry moderators, I know that this is off topic and pointless as our new interlocutor has already voluntarily deprived us of his further wisdom, but I couldn't resist.)

225:

Amazon is famously concerned about tax management.
And so are HMRC, & one or two other people.
AMZN's Luxembourgois tax-haven status ( & one or two other companies) is raising hackles, even amongst supposedly free-market tories, I'm glad to say.
Sooner or later, I suspect something will be done about this scam.

226:

BIG PROBLEM with e-books either new or secondhand
You cannot "browse", you can't wander round the stacks.
You have to look for a particular item or class.
Now, if that was the model, I would not have been able, recently, to obtain some very rare (one was in the rocking-horse-shit class) specialist volumes, that I was not expecting to see.
Now, transfer this model to real science...
Serendipity & casual observation, leading to "I wonder if" or "That's unusal" leading to ...
Will vanish.
Which is really not a good or pleasant prospect

227:

Publishers can't tell whether any given pre-order comes from Amazon or Barnes & Noble? Then how do they know where to send the pre-ordered books?

Inventory management systems don't necessarily talk to accounting systems, much less to the systems accessible to editors, when they date back to the pre-computer age and have been iteratively upgraded ever since. Worse: publishers don't sell to the public, they sell to wholesalers or retail chains, on credit terms that often allow return within 90 or 120 days as an alternative to payment-in-full.

Publishers (as opposed to their warehouses) frequently use a system called Bookscan to track retail sales -- it's a networked point of sales data capture system, and their reason for relying on it is that it captures actual final customer sales (a lot of stock ordered from publishers goes to warehouses ... then comes back for credit 90 or 120 days later). Trouble is, it's imperfect. In the UK, bookscan captures almost everything except Amazon sales; in the USA, it used to capture about 50% of sales ... but anecdotally, it's fallen off a cliff in the past couple of years and now captures somewhere in the range 20-50% of sales. From which you have to extrapolate, if you want to get a handle on what's actually selling to customers.

So the whole business of selling hardcopy books is really messy and sloppy and hard to get a handle on. And you've got to manufacture a physical product that costs more than your final net profit margin before you can sell it. (Which is why ebooks are so attractive: marginal cost of manufacture per SKU is zero, it never goes to a warehouse -- every order is a final retail sale -- and never goes out of stock.)

228:

My question: What is stopping publishers from setting up their own online distribution network?

The big online distributors are Nook and Kindle, with Apple as a newcomer. With the exception of Apple, these are owned by dead-tree retailers. The publishers are terrified of going into direct sales to the public, because historically whenever a publisher tried to do that, their existing retail channels took it as the starting signal for Armageddon and declared war on them. When a distribution channel declares war on its supplier, this seldom ends well for anyone. (What's unusual about Amazon is that Amazon have managed to change the rules so that the publishers need them.)

The other point is that internet shoppers are timid and afraid of giving their credit cards to random strange e-commerce sites. Amazon is huge -- it's one of the four or five biggest collections of customer accounts on the internet (along with Apple, Google, eBay, and possibly Facebook). Some publishers (notably Baen) do sell ebooks direct to the customers. Funnily enough a year or so ago they began selling via Amazon as well, even though this meant paying Amazon a hefty cut. Obviously it looked more profitable to give a middleman 50-70% of their gross revenue than to take 100% of a smaller pile ...

229:

The market treats books as widgets. Doesn't matter what authors think.

This is a symptom of market-fundamentalist thinking, and I submit that the fanatical obsession with markets uber alles has gone way too far when the markets are actively damaging our cultural heritage.

230:

If I try really hard (I'm a long, long way from being an economist) I can sort of see the logic that a book is a widget. There are consumers for books, there are producers of books, and if you connect one to the other they will flow and money will change hands.

Evidence from other things like beer suggested that although people protest when fancy, interesting (and expensive, small volume) beers disappeared the desire to drink outweighed the desire to drink nice beer and people would drink bottled crap beer. There was still a fringe market (for stereotypically bearded weirdoes, and that was just the women) but the big money was in mass-produced gnat's piss. (Of course the return of the micro-brewery in vast numbers and in the UK at least the massive decline of the traditional pub and other things puts the lie to this model to some extent, but the free market economists are doubtless blaming that on other things rather than their model being wrong.)

But although books are in a 1:many relationship, unlike artisan furniture for example where each piece is in a 1:1 or 1:few relationship at best, they're much more like that really. Readers don't necessarily have a close relationship with the authors they read - I wouldn't claim to know Charlie although we bat ideas back and forth (he might eye roll every time he reads one of my comments though), and I know a couple of other authors, one well (we see each other most weeks) - but there is some sort of relationship nevertheless. And even authors that write within an genre (and so are supposed to be similar) don't necessarily work that way. I like Urban Fantasy as a genre. The Twilight books, probably the best known of the genre - I've started one and couldn't face reading any more of it. In fact another friend of mine who is also a keen reader of the genre - we have only about 1/3 of the authors within the genre we agree on. Fortunately we're friends for other reasons too because some of the authors who write supposedly similar books we really strong disagree about.

They won't of course, the free market people, but I think at some point, someone should start thinking about applying something more like ecological modelling.

Some products are more like water is (or was) in the UK, essentially freely available. Some are not really competed for but still selectively browsed. Rabbits and squirrels don't seem to struggle for food and don't compete after all. While Charlie writes and his books are distributes and another author I like writes and her books are distributed I'm ok on both counts. If one or the other dries up, I'm in trouble. And some things are much rarer. The analogy isn't exact, the equations won't work directly I expect, but I suspect they'll work ok. And they'll work better than "books are widgets."

231:

Charlie, I think you're looking at this from the viewpoint of being an author and fan yourself, rather than from that of being a printer or wholesaler. All numbers in the ensuing are arbitrary.

As a wholesaler, I know that I need to shift, say 50_000 books per month to break even. Just why should (or would) I care (except to know what I might be better to order next month) whether that number is achieved by 50_000 of 1 volume by her Pinkness, or 1 copy of every F and SF volume in print?

232:

Inventory management systems don't necessarily talk to accounting systems, much less to the systems accessible to editors, when they date back to the pre-computer age and have been iteratively upgraded ever since. Worse: publishers don't sell to the public, they sell to wholesalers or retail chains, on credit terms that often allow return within 90 or 120 days as an alternative to payment-in-full.

Maybe this should serve as a wake-up call to publishers that they should develop better ways of getting data and not continue to coast along on an old system that it just takes one big retailer to screw up?

But then, if it were that easy for publishers to change things, I imagine they wouldn't still be intentionally printing more books than they need, paying shipping to and back from the stores, then pulping or remaindering the excess.

233:

As a wholesaler, ... Just why should (or would) I care

Because if you're interested in staying in business in the long term you try to stock what your customers want. Yes?

Now, the 80/20 rule probably applies: 80% of the demand is for 20% of the product range. But if you neglect the other 80% of the product range you're leaving money on the pavement. Worse, you're training your customers to discount your utility to them -- by not having what they want in stock. This is not a good long-term business strategy; in fact, it's the opposite of Amazon's traditional strategy, which is to maintain the broadest possible inventory database and keep it filled via just in time procurement (so that in many cases a product is only ordered when a customer places an order for it, and it passes through Amazon's warehouses at high speed, only pausing to be packaged and despatched.)

234:

I am afraid I cannot have any sympathy for Hachette -- they seem to be the most virulently pro-DRM of the major publishers and, apparently, won't even allow subsidiary brands to not use DRM when their own management want them to. Maybe if they treated us like adults and customers they would get more sympathy.

Much as I enjoy your work, Charlie, I won't be buying anything while you choose to use Hachette (or anyone with DRM) or choose to split rights regionally. I quite understand your explanation that that maximises your income and I presume you allow for the fact that it cuts off income from some of us.

I have the DRM-removing tools but I don't use them and I strongly recommend others not to as well. DRM needs to die but will only do so if we all refuse to support anyone who uses DRM by buying their product (even if the DRM is ineffective and can be easily removed). Kindle is convenient but there are plenty of other readers and plenty of non-DRM books to be read -- I have many more books queueud up on my reader than I can read in the foreseeable future.

235:

"This is a symptom of market-fundamentalist thinking, and I submit that the fanatical obsession with markets uber alles has gone way too far when the markets are actively damaging our cultural heritage."

Yes. We play games, and we mostly follow the rules of the game because we have to.

It used to be, if you lived in eastern europe then you paid your government whatever it took to field an army that could hold off the Austro-Hungarian empire, because if you couldn't or wouldn't pay that much, then you paid whatever the empire decided you'd pay to field the empire's armies.

If you want to make a living selling books, you have to obey whatever the rules of the game turn out to be. If the game is set up so there's no way you can win, then find some other profession.

Or change the rules. There were various ways that paper booksellers could have done things different. Offer a big whopping discount to people willing to order a book from a bookstore to be delivered later, keep one copy on hand for them to look at and the prepaid books won't get pulped. Or a customer orders a book and the BOD printers have it ready in 10 minutes or so while he has a latte. But the distribution system was set up so it was hard to make changes to improve efficiency, and it's still hard even while they lose. So they'll probably fail.

If you want to make a living writing, and not writing as somebody's employee, then you do it in some kind of market. You need to find a way to manipulate the rules of the game in your favor. That's hard, considering that book publishers and distributors had trouble doing that, while Amazon is good at it. Maybe you can get some help from organizations like SFWA.

One possibility -- find some other writer who has learned the details of online self-publishing, and work out a deal with him to market some of your books. Division of labor, he handles the parts of the business you don't want to, and if you pick the right guy he'll find more possibilities from being an online publisher (and maybe editor) than from his own writing. It's chancey, but increasingly so is everything else.

He wouldn't necessarily do things just like you want them, but if you pick the right guy he'll at least listen and think about it, which is better than you can expect from bigger businesses.

236:

I think that's a very short term POV.

Do I trust Her Pinkness to shift 50,000 copies this year and next? Or do I trust that those die-hard SF&F fans will buy 5,000 from each of 100 authors this year, next year, the year after and so on for the next 10-20 years and keep me in business for that long?

Do I trust that there will be another sensation to replace Her Pinkness and that I'll be the one to publish her?

From Amazon's perspective, they care a bit less - they originally pushed the books between the publisher and the reader but now they're playing hardball with the publisher and squeezing there.

237:

I would like to note that the current Hachette/Amazon dispute is nothing to do with DRM. Amazon have in the past pulled exactly the same de-linking stunt on Tor, who are staunchly anti-DRM.

238:

One thing I am getting from this thread is a list of large management failures by the publishers, just on the basic 'running a business' level. Destructive competition between divisions, the fact that an author can extract significantly more money from them by selling rights in pieces that then hamstring the publishers down the road vs selling them in larger blocks, inability to track how their product is being sold.

Sounds like they really ought to put a focus on getting their own houses in order.

239:

The problems you see are structural in the industry, and a result of the way the (current) industry emerged. I'm not going to give you a TL:DR essay, but the takeaway is that publishing is a very old business -- it's been around in some shape or another for over 500 years, and in much its current shape since the mid-Victorian period.

Except ...

Until the 1980s, publishing houses were generally small family-run businesses who owned their own typesetters and printing presses and employed their own production people and warehoused their own stock. And growth in the industry was negligible -- it's a mature field, you can't easily "grow" a business in publishing because the consumer's eyeball-time available for consuming more product is an inelastic constant: the best you can run is a zero-sum game against other publishers.

Then a wave of agglomeration and take-overs swept through the industry, first in the USA and then in Europe. This was largely complete by the mid-90s, and utterly changed the landscape. The former family businesses were now "imprints" or trading subsidiaries. Core competencies were merged, with cost savings, while less central stuff like owning warehouses and printing presses was out-sourced. Costs were pared to the bone. A senior editor these days doesn't 'edit', they're a business manager running acquisitions and supervising product workflow and marketing strategy.

But it's still a more or less global zero sum game (competing for readers eyeball-hours). And because the rate of individual production is relatively low and the product is still produced artisanally by cottage industries, product lead time is measured in years, time to achieve net positive revenue is also measured in years, and it's important to keep the back list on tap because it can take decades to grow an author's career. Stephen King was an overnight success with "Carrie" after a decade of learning to write, but Terry Pratchett took about 15 years to finally break big. J. K. Rowling took 3 books to really get rolling, and she grew eye-wateringly rapidly by industry standards. I've been in print since 1986, for 28 freaking years, and I'm just now hoping to break from front-of-list to minor-grade genre bestseller in the next few years (if I'm lucky, and good, and do the business right as well as the writing).

So reforming the publishing industry is a very non-trivial undertaking.

Which is also why Jeff Bezos picked it as his #1 target when he founded Amazon. He set out to disrupt an incumbent mature industry using the internet, and picked publishing because it was obviously the most dysfunctional. After all, if he'd gone after groceries he'd be competing with sharks like Tesco and WalMart.

But the trouble with disruption is that it's dangerously close to detonation. You can end up destroying what you sought to shake up and take over.

240:

That last comment is now yanked into a new blog entry.

241:

"Quote from I've forgotten who: "If the EU was a business, HMRC would have closed it down years ago, & the directors would be in jail""

Great sound-bite but a lousy principle.

Repeat after me: governments are not businesses and business are not governments.

242:

OGH points out in comment 239 and in the next blog entry that there is something of a zero-sum game among publishers and authors for reader's eyeballs. This is consistent with books being partially fungible to me as a reader. While I don't expect to be reading Danielle Steele any time soon, I have a limited amount of time and money to spend on reading the sort of books I like. While I'd really like to read the next Laundry novel, there are more things I'd really like to read than I will actually get round to reading, so the next Laundry novel is partially replaceable by something else in that category - perhaps even something I don't think will be as good but something different I might pick up just in case I like it. I think I did once try starting a Mills and Boon just to see what formula was, so perhaps Danielle Steele is not out of the question.

243:

I certainly read cross-genre.

The "Romance" thread isn't always a killer. Consider the work of Helen MacInnes. Also some aspects of The Lymond Chronicles (though I am not sure that Phillipa is quite as real as Lymond).

Anyone who thinks that the genre boundaries are clear and simple isn't playing with a full deck.

244:

Maybe this should serve as a wake-up call to publishers that they should develop better ways of getting data and not continue to coast along on an old system that it just takes one big retailer to screw up?

I suspect that the issue in the US is that more and more books are sold via Sam's, Costco, and Walmart. Now toss in Amazon and you've got maybe 50% of the hard covers in the US not trading data with anyone.

Just guessing here.

245:

and it passes through Amazon's warehouses at high speed, only pausing to be packaged and despatched.

If that.

246:

...although imperfect..you can get samples...and there are lots of random search options. I prefer bookstores for browsing, but not so much that I would spend half an hour traveling to one...I have discovered most of the truly random books I've read recently online.

Truth is, I suspect that Bezos will succeed in growing a business that functions better than the past publishing industry. I am not much of an oracle, so I base this mostly on the fact that I prefer the current state of affairs in publishing and music to the past.

247:

Deccio Barry ...
But, if that meta-government IS a (thoroughly corrupt) business, what then?
If that guvmint deliberately alters the business market (Yes, I know all of them do this, but ... ) so that the big lobbyists get preference & everyone else gets screwed?
And the whole thing makes a loss, because the dosh is being siphoned off ....
The EU is supposed to produce accounts, isn't it?
I've forgotton how long it is since said accounts were even vaguely ratified as "A True & Fair representation" & then signed-off.
The one that really scares me, though , is the provision that is contrary to the Bill of Rights.
You can be hauled off to ( a foreign) jail, without the corrupt or incompetent prosecution even having to produce a prima facie case.
Which is supposed to be illegal in the UK (& the USA I think)

248:

While I think the European Arrest Warrant is too authoritarian, it's actually exactly the same power that exists in the UK and the US and other places. A case has been made before a judge or similar that X is wanted to be tried for these crimes and should be held in custody for some reason until they can be tried. It happens here all the time when bail is not set for some reason - they're a flight risk, they're a danger to others or similar. It used to be that we judged the merits of the case as well because "our justice was better than theirs" but now we don't. But it's just not true they don't have to produce any sort of case, they just don't have to produce one in the UK, they have to produce one in their own jurisdiction to get the EAW issued.

And the EU does produce accounts. It's true they're never ratified. But if you look at why, some of that is people like Nigel Farage who never vote in favour of accepting them just because. I rather suspect the accountants who do the work aren't dishonest but politicians who want to play political games about how corrupt the EU is say "OMG these accounts are wrong" and then turn around a month later and say "OMG look, the EU hasn't had it's accounts ratified in the last 20 years" is a glorious level of doublethink.

249:

My understanding is that the problem with the EAW is how it's implemented. Some countries place a lower threshold on extraditable charges -- it has to be a serious imprisonable offense, as a rule. But others don't: Poland in particular will automatically issue an EAW any time someone is wanted in court, for example for an unpaid parking ticket, because it's an automatic side effect of raising any arrest warrant if the target is out of the country.

250:

Inventory management systems don't necessarily talk to accounting systems, much less to the systems accessible to editors, when they date back to the pre-computer age and have been iteratively upgraded ever since.

Gods yes!!! Two observations to show this is endemic: on a guided tour of the U-505 it was mentioned that it had two periscopes, one for navigation and one for attack, which were sent to Top Secret labs to analyze and replicate the optics. The nav 'scope was lost for several years despite what were presumably scrupulous inventory controls and only recently recovered. The attack periscope is still missing.

That might seem to be an old error, but here's something more recent: I'm considering taking on a project which involves writing predictive software for a certain large beverage company (and where I can finally use those fancy homological algebra techniques as well as bog-stand statistical analysis.) The problem is, I'd have to interpolate data because the company itself doesn't know how their product is packaged at the retail point. Why don't you just read this data off from when it's scanned at purchase and do a big merge, I asked the suits at the table. Chuckles and an outright guffaw or two at my naivete. Apparently even in this age of ubiquitous UPC that data is simply not available and it's very, very hard to extract and assemble it out of a database.

So: look at at least several decades more of this sort of crap before tagging is rationalized according to officially sanctioned standards hammered out by some dreary committee. This applies in spades to legacy systems, which, of course, describes most of the publishing industry.

251:

scentofviolets:
The problem is, I'd have to interpolate data because the company itself doesn't know how their product is packaged at the retail point. Why don't you just read this data off from when it's scanned at purchase and do a big merge, I asked the suits at the table. Chuckles and an outright guffaw or two at my naivete. Apparently even in this age of ubiquitous UPC that data is simply not available and it's very, very hard to extract and assemble it out of a database.

The technical hassles with that are probably manageable. The other, likely dominant problem being, there's a different scan / inventory / SKU lookup system at each retailer, and many of them treat the sales details like that as sensitive / proprietary, even within vendor relationships. And in many cases the systems in stores aren't reliably connected to the central net. Even today. There's a lot of batch job modem calling sort of stuff, with local in-store SKU databases updated daily via a phone modem transferred update file.

It is definitely enough to make a data analyst want to cry...

252:

Yes, that's exactly it: the vendor/retailer interface. Why this stuff hasn't been rationalized yet is beyond me. You'd think there would be incentives to do so on both sides. But -- again -- chuckles at my naivete.

Anyway, the larger point is that this sort of thing is endemic to the inventory control of any large organization; not just publishing. Yet another problem that will be resolved by the end of the 21st century. I'm wondering if the consequences will be relatively modest or if they will have the impact on business that containerization did in the 20th century.

253:

scentofviolets wrote in part:
Anyway, the larger point is that this sort of thing is endemic to the inventory control of any large organization; not just publishing. Yet another problem that will be resolved by the end of the 21st century. I'm wondering if the consequences will be relatively modest or if they will have the impact on business that containerization did in the 20th century.

As an example... (check NDAs... all expired!)

In 1998-2000 I worked on a project bringing the blockbuster.com video sales website to life for Blockbuster Entertainment, then known for their widespread video rental stores. The idea was to sell those same videos online.

Phase 1 was straightforwards; product catalog, sales distribution center, shipping, website to show product, make recommendations, execute sales and shipping. Actually pretty complex for the time (3-tier website architectures were just becoming the standard...), but in modern terms just "full featured" ecommerce sort of thing. Major challenge for me was desired scale, based on target sales rates.

We kept pushing them to commit to Phase 2, which was to add a rental reservations system and tie the website to the stores, so someone could either buy a video, or reserve a copy in the local retail store via the website and go pick up the reserved copy in person. It would have nailed the Netflix business model - you'd have to go in person but you'd get it as soon as you wanted it. It's fair to say that it could have saved Blockbuster, who are now gone.

The major reason they wouldn't commit to it wasn't lack of money or technical ability to code up the website or the reservation interface engine etc. They could just not take it seriously that we'd be able to wire up their network of store locations for realtime internet type access to send the message to the store staff to go pull a copy of the video off the shelf for Ms. So-and-so. They kept complaining that their network management was such a pain, many of their locations had no internet connection and just did the phone / file transfer thing, and many that had internet still used the batch protocols etc. They did not think it was possible to get the stores reliably up and connected.

It was somewhat daunting, but we had the budget to run redundant leased line T-1 internet connections to each store if we had to. And could have handed any of several several telcos the order and said "make it happen" and they'd have handled the logistics.

Blockbuster corp just never believed us on that. Whole project never happened. They're gone now. They're gone for more reasons than that, but I believed and still believe that the business model would have made them viable to this day. Their subsequent 2004 Netflix-Lite video by mail business was late adopter, never got a fraction of Netflix' business, had the same time delay / mail shipment disadvantages. They never did tie the (peak of 9000 stores) in realtime.

254:

NO
There was the classic case, 4-5 years back now, where a brit student rotted in a Greek jail after the local police beat "confessions" out of his companions, which they retracted the nanosecond they were outside Greece.
The unfortunate student's lawyers tried to show theat the was no case to answer, & were overruled, because prim facie does not apply to EAW.
Of course, there was no case, so he was deliberately kept in jail, whilst they tried to look for a way to break him, or "confess" or something.
Left a very bad taste that did.

Your statement over EU accounts ia simply not true, I'm afraid. You are, at the least, very severely misinformed. OK?

ALSO CHarlie @ 249
Precisely.
I THINK ... that Britain just goes - "EAW - take him (or her) away!"
Rather than actually looking at the case.
Either way, it is still contrary to the Bill of Rights.

255:

Sorry, it's just not contrary to the bill of rights. Holding up an example of where it's gone wrong and implying "British justice never does this sort of thing" is misguided at best.

I never argued that the system is perfect. However, even in that case, there was a case presented, and an arrest warrant issued in Greece.

In this case there are lots of things that should be done about how the case was handled in Greece. Based on this specific case you can suggest that the student's lawyer should have gone to Greece, argued that the confessions were obtained by torture, retracted and the case should be dismissed. You can equally argue that if there's an argument for dismissal the EAW should be suspended as an amendment to the current law. I'm not saying there's no room for amendment when bad applications of the law, such as the one you write so emotively about come to light.

But you're still wrong, a legal warrant for his arrest was issued by a court. Just because you don't agree it should have been doesn't automatically mean it violates the Bill of Rights. It simply means we, in the UK, accept that the courts in the other countries of the EU have the authority to issue warrants of arrest over our citizens in our country and they (should at least) reciprocally accept it when we issue it over theirs.

I think there should be some version of the (now defunct) arrestable offence too. But the idea of being extradited for a parking ticket... no. I'm not saying you shouldn't pay the fines and so on, but some sense of scale please.

256:

Vendor/retailer interfaces have been rationalized just not for book publishers. This is just another example of how the publishing industry is 25 years behind from a technology perspective, and why they are losing and failing to compete.

I once consulted on this briefly for Simon and Schuester and they degree of technical illiteracy in the analytics space was mind blowing

Here is an article about how Walmart does this

http://www.retailcustomerexperience.com/blogs/walmarts-secret-sauce-how-the-largest-survives-and-thrives/

257:

El
No
The student's lawyer should have been able to present, in the British courts, that there was no prima facie case - because of the forced confessions, etc ( & already-known-to-be-dodgy other "evidence" )
But the court refused to entertain such a plea.
IIRC, sany such plea will be rejected in this country.
OK?

IMHO, all cases involving Brit citizens of this sort, wherever the supposed offence has taken place, should be tried here, under our rules.
If it's really that serious, then the country making the case for a prosecution will bring the case.
If it's not that serious (Polish parking-tickets) then they needn't bother.

Your comment: but some sense of scale please. is spot on the mark, thank you. The problem is that we have a one-size-fits-all "policy" which is plainly crap.

258:

I am not a fan of Amazon but this fine print from my eBook retailer Kobo for 25% off my next purchase does not incline me to support Hachette Group's business practices.

"Discount code is valid for one time 25% off any eBook purchase excluding those from the following publishers: In the UK - Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Wiley, and Zondervan, and all respective subsidiary imprints. In the US - Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Wiley, and Zondervan, and all respective subsidiary imprints. In CA - Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Wiley, and Zondervan, and all respective subsidiary imprints. In NZ - Hachette Book Group, and Wiley, and all respective subsidiary imprints."

259:

Since the small print you quote basically says "voucher not valid for books from any publisher with a turnover larger than that of Kobo Inc", I don't see that it provides any reason to be concerned about Hachette's business practices. It does make me suspicious about Kobo, however - the implication is that they're offering you a discount and forcing the publisher to take the financial hit, without reducing their take from the sale. Which would definitely not be behaviour I wanted to encourage. (Publishers aren't allowed to fix the retail price of a book in the UK, so if Kobo want to offer a discount at their own expense, there isn't anything Hachette or anyone else can do to stop them.)

260:

this fine print from my eBook retailer Kobo for 25% off my next purchase does not incline me to support Hachette Group's business practices.

Ahem: that discount voucher is no discount voucher at all. Because the excluded publishers are basically all of the big five plus the biggest academic publisher -- between them responsible for 80% of the entire trad publishing market.

That Kobo voucher should be illegal as false advertising -- all they're offering you the discount on is self-published stuff, and a shout-out to small presses.

261:

Sorry for the delay replying, El - and for replying here rather than contacting you separately, but I don't see how to reach you (if you want to reach me, you can get an email address for me from that google log in for me at gmail separated from com by a dot).

Yes, thanks for your suggestions. Those are broadly those that people have already made, though (someone else I know of, who self-published mutualist/anarchist material, told me he used a blog he coincidentally had to get editorial feedback, but I suspect that that might harm my eventual credibility in reaching the policy arena). They also suggested that law faculties might provide some of the right sort of recent graduates or similar, i.e. people who could get up to speed on technical material and could function as the intelligent but uninformed and non-specialist readers I want to reach - if I end up needing readers with a maths. background then I've failed. I also made some preliminary enquiries of the Monash economics faculty since I got an M.B.A. with some economics units at Monash University, lo these many years ago now.

But finding impoverished graduates isn't the bottleneck on the critical path for me, not in isolation. I've since found out that unless I can pull off crowd funding with time points and get my next drafts done to the matching time points and line up an editor for those time points at mutually agreed rates, I can't go that route at all even if I can find someone cheap - particularly since my own issues make my meeting any time points that much more rubbery. So the only half way realistic course I can see at the moment is to proceed by myself, slowly so I can get the silver lining benefit of delay making my own eye fresher again, and to hope I can contact someone else who wants some editing as and when (I did once edit a quarterly amateur magazine for over a year or so, so I do have the basic skills). That way, we can swap editing jobs, like villages in Papua-New Guinea who swap the pigs they have raised from pigletcy as they can't bear to kill and eat the ones they have come to know. Maybe someone doing media studies would need an editing swap like that, only I don't have any contacts in that field at all, not even the cold ones in the Monash economics faculty, and the publisher I've talked to only has a very slight overlap with the policy field I'm addressing (I think I've pushed my luck with him already). Failing that, I have to do my best to compensate for being a one man band; at least I don't have a blind spot about it, so that's a start.

And, of course, there might be something out there I just haven't thought of at all, so I want to encourage suggestions, not dump on them. So thanks again.

262:

A few posters mentioned buying their books/e-books on AMZN and I'm curious about how well the e-books law suit settlement is going, from a customer-experience perspective.

Specifically, in December 2013, AMZN was ordered to return the $ it overcharged its U.S.-based e-book customers. AMZN chose to 'return' this money to affected customers by issuing credit, basically, forcing these same customers to buy more e-books from AMZN.*

All AMZN US-based (excepting non-participating states, e.g., Minn) customers were supposedly emailed this info around March 15 2014 and advised that this 'credit' program would come into effect on March 25 2014, with a firm close-out date one year out.

* Way to go AMZN! Excellent example of turning a legal penalty into a market share grab. Need to watch what happens to market share effective April 2015, once this 'credit program' expires. Wonder whether this move has also allowed AMZN to negotiate lower acquisition costs from publishers .. lower costs that will last well beyond the 'credit' program. Never looked at this org so closely before: generally not liking what I'm seeing.

263:

All of the epub sellers did that.

I got credit from both Amazon and B&N.

264:

Glad to hear that ...

265:

As I was telling someone last night, you can still find a number of good titles that coupon will apply to. For example, Hugh Howey's Wool and Shift omnibuses are e-published through a small press, as Howey split the e-book rights off from the print. And plenty of traditionally-published authors self-publish their rights-reverted titles via Smashwords, which also puts them onto Kobo.

Anyway, I'm not entirely sure Kobo can be blamed for this. I know that when agency pricing was on, discounts and coupons and the like on agency priced titles were strictly verboten. That's what killed off Fictionwise's Buywise discount club, and subsequently Fictionwise itself.

I don't know what the current terms of their contracts with such publishers are, but it's possible they might still forbid such discounting. Especially given that Kobo doesn't exactly have the negotiating might of Amazon.

Agency pricing is apparently still ongoing in Canada, given that Kobo is complaining that ending it there would put them out of business. Which would mean the coupon definitely couldn't be used on agency pricing publishers there. So perhaps to keep things simple they just made the Canadian limitations apply everywhere.

267:

Without knowing the details of the negotiations between Hachette and Amazon, its hard to parse the accuracy of Hugh Howley's piece, it's pretty much pure speculation in a vacuum.

One problem that I do have with it is that the author seems to be trying to have it both ways with Amazon: On the one hand he points out that Amazon is the master of just-in-time ordering and delivery, but then also tries to say that they would have great difficulty delaying specific orders. As one commenter on the article highlights: since Amazon already clearly has a process in place for fast-tracking some orders while ensuring others don't arrive too soon, it would seem to be trivially easy to slow the delivery of specific products down.

Also, wouldn't it be better business (from a customer point of view) for Amazon to continue to take orders and pre-orders, only offering refunds if and when it absolutely cannot honour them? Not to mention more damaging in the long run for Hachette (in PR terms) when Amazon can turn round to their customers and say: "Here's your money back; sorry we couldn't deliver your book; it's due to a supplier (Hachette) problem." This would be more indicative of a company concerned with keeping it's customers happy (as the article implies), rather than a company trying to screw it's suppliers to the wall.

268:

Day late, dollar short (I was moving house across the North American continent), but I have to leave a comment.

OGH wrote, "...my product has to compete for your attention and money in the same market as the [...] Assassin's Creed games. Neither of which have a near-monopoly incumbent like Amazon squatting between them and their customer base, trying relentlessly to depress prices...."

Except there is in the case of video games. Steam has a near monopoly on digital PC game sales channel. (Consoles might also be "video games", but they're a very different beast. Like comparing fiction and non-fiction markets.) Even a competing service run by one of the largest game publishers (Origin by EA) can't compete with Steam. Steam is well-known for their regular sales where games are discounted as much as 90%.

Now, Valve might not seem to be quite so cutthroat as Amazon, but it's a very similar situation and mostly hinges on the graces of the 800 lb gorilla who controls the vast majority of the market. We video game developers just pray that Steam doesn't choose to alter the terms of the agreement further.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on May 26, 2014 12:59 PM.

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