Amazon and Macmillan

So far, the best comment I’ve read on the current war
between Amazon and Macmillan
, which has caused a lot of
books people would be buying and reading to disappear from the
Amazon shelves, is this
one
by Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing.

He points out how ridiculous both sides look — both Amazon masquerading as a defender of
consumer rights by demanding low prices for ebooks and Macmillan
masquerading as a friend of the book industry for demanding that
ebooks sell at the price of hardcovers.

He says:

If true, Macmillan demanding a $15 pricetag for its ebooks is just plain farcical. Although there are sunk costs in book production, including the considerable cost of talented editors, copy-editors, typesetters, PR people, marketers, and designers, the incremental cost of selling an ebook is zero. And audiences have noticed this. $15 is comparable to the discounted price for a new hardcover in a chain bookstore, and it costs more than zero to sell that book. Demanding parity pricing suggests that paper, logistics, warehousing, printing, returns and inventory control cost nothing. This is untrue on its face, and readers are aware of this fact.

If true, Amazon draping itself in the consumer-rights flag in demanding a fair price is even more farcical. Though Amazon’s physical-goods sales business is the best in the world when it comes to giving buyers a fair shake, this is materially untrue when it comes to electronic book sales, a sector that it dominates. As mentioned above, Amazon’s DRM and license terms on its Kindle (as well as on its Audible audiobooks division, which controls the major share of the world’s audiobook sales) are markedly unfair to readers. Amazon’s ebooks are locked (by contract and by DRM) to the Kindle (this is even true of the “DRM-free” Kindle books, which still have license terms that prohibit moving the books). This is not due to rightsholder-demands, either: as I discovered when I approached Amazon about selling my books without DRM and without a bad license agreement for Kindle and Audible, they will not allow copyright owners to modify their terms, nor to include text in the body of the work releasing readers from those terms.

…[lots of good stuff about the bad effect of DRM on the marketplace, LEC]

If Macmillan wants to flex its muscle on an issue of substance and moment, an issue that will make it the hero of readers and writers and booksellers everywhere, it can demand that Amazon, Apple, B&N, and all the other ebook readers allow for interoperability and remove contracts that undo centuries’ worth of book-ownership norms.

And if Amazon wants to throw its toys out of the pram over a consumer rights issue, let it announce that it will offer a fair deal for any book that publishers and writers will allow a fair deal — no DRM, no abusive EULA, just “This book is governed by 17USC, the United States Copyright Law. Do not violate that law.” Let Amazon label the books that are a bad deal for readers with warnings: “At the publisher’s request, this book is licensed under terms that prohibit reading it on other devices, selling it used, or giving it to your children.” And let them put a gleaming seal of approval on the books that offer fair terms and a fair shake.

And trust readers to make up their minds.

In combination with the Apple announcement that the new Apple
bookstore for the iPad will have a different proprietary
format for the books it sells, this has been a bad week for
readers of ebooks. I haven’t been buying DRM that can’t be
broken — maybe I should go back to not buying DRM that can’t be
*legally* broken.

I’m currently reading:

  • A hardcover from the library for my
    bedtime book (and dealing with the light and the reading glasses
    when I want to stop).
  • A DRM’d ebook from the library on my laptop for
    my reading downstairs.
  • A Project Gutenberg ebook on my Nokia
    for when I’m out of the house and don’t want to carry anything
    as heavy as either the dead tree book or the laptop

It would really be nice if the publishers of the hardcover and
the library ebook would sell me what I want to buy and put their
books out in a format I can enjoy on my device of choice. I’m
not the only person who wants this, and there are publishers (Baen for instance) who seem to
stay in business selling it to me and others like me. But it’s
not looking like either the big publishers or the retailers are
getting the message.

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