With the holiday season come and gone, it’s nice to know the period was marked by a little peace on earth. Hachette, 4th largest publishing house in the United States, and Amazon settled their long standing dispute over the selling price for eBooks. (Blog 9/25/14) The question is, who won? As Shannon Bond writes in the Financial Times, it’s hard to say because details of the agreement haven’t been disclosed. (“Issue of the week,” The Week, 11/28/2014, pg. 34)
What is known is that Hachette maintains control over book pricing, a win for the company and its writers, and a loss for Amazon that wanted to sell eBooks at $4.99 or less. The quid pro quo, however, is that Amazon gained the right to offer special incentives. How often these can occur or what they would entail doesn’t appear to have been nailed down, giving Amazon, like the proverbial camel, the ability to push its nose under the tent. Nor did Hachette come away unscathed, proving Amazon still has leverage with publishers. During the struggle between the two companies, Hachette lost as much as 18% per quarter because Amazon delayed offering new publications or, in some cases, refused to provide them at all.
Where Amazon lost was in the court of public opinion. Readers became annoyed when they were unable to buy their favorite authors and sided with their idols. But the battle isn’t over, as Suzanne McGee of The Fiscaltimes.com points out. New negations are underway between Amazon and the other major publishing houses. (Ibid pg. 34) In the meantime, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon hasn’t been idle. He’s has been aggressively pursuing his in-house publishing firm and has enticed some well-known writers away from their former publishers. (Blog 7/14/14) According to McGee, thousands of popular titles are now priced on the company’s web site at $4.99. One way or another, Bezos seems determined to have his way.
Cutting the price of popular books seems a bargain which the public is likely to embrace, but as Amazon behaves more and more like Wal-Mart and makes its profits on volume, the decrease in the price per book means starvation for the writer. How thinly can you slice pennies to make a profit? And pennies is what I get for my eBooks sold on Amazon.
I have admitted many times that a writer writes because he or she must. But like the screen writers who went on strike in Hollywood over pay, (2007-08) there comes a point when many will revolt and say “Enough is enough.”