Yesterday morning, my husband left his Wall Street Journal for me to read. In particular, he'd tagged an article about the U.S. government possibly suing Apple and certain publishers for "collusion" in regards to pricing of ebooks. I read the article over coffee and stewed on it all day. Why?
The Justice Dept believe that Apple and these publishers "conspired" to use a publisher's model for book pricing on ebooks with the intent to force people to pay more for ebooks. The idea is that when Apple introduced the iPad, they got together with these publishers and came up with a plan to keep ebook prices for hardcover books at a comparable rate to those hardcover books - to prevent online retailers like Amazon from pricing the books low to compete.
I think the US government has their heads up their asses.
Now, before I express my opinion, I want to say I have nothing to do with the publishing industry. Yes, I would love to be a published author, but I'm not. Nor have I ever even attempted it (for reasons I don't want to go into here but chalk it up to extreme insecurity). So what I have to say here isn't coming from someone who is in the industry. Its coming from a consumer of books...an extreme consumer of books, if I must be honest.
Given the choice of paying more for ebooks and having the option of buying a hardcover or paperback OR getting cheap ebooks, I choose the EXPENSIVE ebooks. I'm more likely to buy real books. I like them. (Okay I love them.) I don't get the same kind of enjoyment from ebooks. Sorry. And while I don't think its okay to ask the same price for an ebook as a hardcover book, I do think it okay for it to be the same cost as a paperback. In addition, I think that when the only book available is the hardcopy at full price, the ebook shouldn't be priced to undermine that sale. I know, its probably a pretty unpopular view, but it's mine.
Amazon, should the USJD pursue this suit and win, will wipe out book purchasing as we know it. Because anyone with a mildly competent brain in their head knows that's who's behind this action against Apple and the publishers. Poor poor Amazon with its market share of the worldwide sales of everything from books to tutti fruitty gum (seriously, I don't know that they sell that, but I'm betting they do) is unhappy because they can't screw publishers and authors by selling books at so cheap a rate the those authors and publishers might as well bend over and give them the tools to do it.
If Amazon - through the USJD - gets their way, they will offer dirt cheap ebooks. This, in principal seems like a good deal for consumers until you really LOOK at what it means. Because with Amazon's low prices, there is no competition that can stand up against them.
There is a trickle down theory here that's more like a flood and Amazon is sitting back wiping their false tears and saying to Mr. Govt Man "this is so unfair". Unfair, my ass. If the govt goes after these publishers, Amazon will in effect kill paper book sales (which they're trying to do anyway).
But that's not all they'll do. They have a far more sinister plan. The death of paper books will kill independent book sellers who survive on those paper book sales from people who don't like Amazon's view of the future and still want to read real fucking books!
And, if the indie sellers go down, the only place to buy books will be online (since B&N is only faking being a bookstore at this point).
This suit will also damage authors' livelihoods because the profit they get from those higher books sales make a difference in whether they can continue to survive on their royalties from books. Authors are already in a precarious position whereby if they don't bring in the numbers, their contracts run the risk of being cancelled. And it's not really the publishing companies fault because publishing houses are struggling under Amazon's corporate chokehold. Authors are being forced into a position where they have to go the "indepent publishing root" using - yes, you guessed it - Amazon.
The combination of NO real bookstores and authors being forced into independent publishing, and the forced lowball prices that are supposed to create a fair market will create instead a monopoly. If the govt does this, it will eventually kill publishing companies & literary agents.
And once they've accomplished that, they will go after the other online book sellers, who will never be able to compete with Amazon's pricing.
But don't worry, Amazon will pick up the slack.
Yes, by playing the poor, helpless company who isn't getting a fair shake for the govt, Amazon has set itself up to be the biggest, most influential player in a global book market.
Yes, we will all be shopping for books on Amazon. We will have to search through millions of books for authors we might want to read. And we will have to decide that from the small excerpts that Amazon allows us to read what books might appeal to us. And we won't know whether the books are edited professionally or not until we buy them - which means a lot of bad books with typos and story glitches that an editor would have caught. And we will be reading those books, published and sold by Amazon on an Amazon kindle.
If Apple and these publishers got together and came up with this plan, I don't think it was to fuck the consumer. I don't think they were trying to hurt the competition. They see the big picture. They know what will happen if the USJD and Amazon get their way.
Amazon is Skynet people. We should all be getting our weapons ready for the coming of the Terminators. Because guess what? They're here.