A quick recap….in case you’ve been vacationing out beyond the orbit of Jupiter:
First, after about a year of rumor and anticipation, Steve Jobs, on behalf of Apple, played with an iPad. Personally, the iPad is not the convergence device I’ve been waiting for….which is no surprise: I haven’t been an Apple person since they dumped the Apple ][GS in favor of the Mac. I’ve withstood the seductive advances of the iPod, the iPhone, the iTouch and iTunes….probably for the same reason I still drive a stick-shift car: I’m a control freak and I like making decisions. OTOH, it’s a much-demonstrated fact that I’m so far out of step with mass-market taste that it’s doubtful I’ve ever even heard a drummer much less marched in step with one.
Anyway, the iPad, which is not really an e-book reading device, apparently connects to the iBookstore and Steve Jobs is caught on-the-record saying that the iBookstore’s prices will be in line with other ebook purveyors — which seemed to be taken to mean that the iBookstore would be more like Amazon than unlike it, at least with regard to pricing and DRM.
Which was kind of odd, because it wasn’t all that long ago that a quintet of traditional NYC publishers (Macmillan among them)made it known that they weren’t at all happy with the way Amazon was configuring the 21st century publishing marketplace and had plans to do something different.
Anytime I encounter “publishers” and “plans” in the same sentence, I cringe. The traditional publishing business plan (and I’m quoting one of my editors here) can be described as “throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks.” When my first book came out in 1980, a 40% sell-through was considered a success (that is, six out of every ten books in a print run, never sold….maybe never made it to a bookstore). Five years ago, my editor (at Tor, btw) said they were trying to make peace (and profit) with the idea of a 20% sell-through.
One might have thought that publishing, as a whole, would have embraced e-books which, after all, have a de facto 100% sell-through. But, no…with a few exceptions, they’re convinced that they live in a zero-sum world where every e-book sold is a cannibalized dead-tree book and their plan is to make e-books inconvenient, restricted, and expensive, in the hope that misguided e-book readers will repent of their digital delusions.
So, I’m not surprised that the big-name publishers would ally themselves with the iBookstore to create expensive product for a device that’s not really an e-book reader. And I’m not really surprised that Macmillan lobbed the first salvo at Amazon. Macmillan is owned by a German holding company (Holtzbrinck) that’s made no secret of its antipathy to e-books in general and its preference, if e-books cannot be eliminated altogether, for strong DRM, delayed release, price points at or near DTB levels. (They’ll tell you that it costs as much to produce e-books as it does to produce DTB books, without taking into account how much anything costs when you’re lucky to sell 20% of it.)
When Tor took tentative steps toward supporting e-books back in 2006, Holtzbrinck said No in unmistakable terms. Their business is paper and their goal is to get back to 40%.
I’m a little surprised that Amazon capitulated last night and more than a little suspicious of the over-the-weekend timing. Then again, if Macmillan et. al can make the $14.99 price stick, Amazon wouldn’t complain. OTOH, almost as soon as Amazon pulled the “Buy Now” button, there were whispers that AUTHORS (that scary, flakey bunch) might have grounds for anti-trust action against Macmillan—‘cause we have contracts with our publishers and one of the few things that those contracts require of the publishers is that they at least attempt to publish, market, and sell our books….and when Macmillan tried to strong-arm Amazon, they were also saying they’d rather not sell their product (our books) in the largest market on the planet.
I already had my breach-of-contract letter written, because it’s not like either Amazon or traditional publishing has my interests at heart, either as a reader or an author. They may well be willing to go to war with each other (and I read Amazon’s capitulation letter as a clear indication that they plan to fight another day on a field of their choosing), but they share a common perspective: books are bowls of spaghetti, readers are sheep to be herded and fleeced; and authors are wells to be pumped dry.
That’s why CJ, Jane, and I have formed Closed Circle: goodbye and good riddance to everything that stands between authors and readers. I don’t know if we’re going to be successful (although I can’t see how I can fail worse on my own than I have in the tender care of my publishers), but at least we’re going to be in charge of our own fates (that control-freak thing again) and when you buy one of our books, we’ll do our level best to produce it in whatever format you need now…or in the future.
Our plan is to be small and agile—like mammals avoiding dinosaurs.