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Author Charles Stross: Is Amazon a Malignant Monopoly, Or Just Plain Evil?

samzenpus posted about 5 months ago | from the bad-or-really-bad dept.

Books 405

An anonymous reader writes "Sci-fi author Charles Stross has a post providing insight into Amazon's recent bullying tactics against a major book publishing group. He puts the fight into perspective for the two most important parts of the book market: author and reader. He says: '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.'"

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Mestatacized business. Nothing but growth. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093355)

The cancer analogies are VERY apt.

Re:Mestatacized business. Nothing but growth. (2)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about 5 months ago | (#47093721)

Metastasized.
Fixed that for 'ya.

Other than that -- Amazon, they sell MTB tires, I discovered today,
by way of a Google link.
Still trying to figure out why that gave me an uneasy feeling.

I may in fact concur.

Read his books (4, Funny)

PReDiToR (687141) | about 5 months ago | (#47093359)

Go to the store and buy them! They're ace! And you can give them to your friends afterwards.

I downloaded a crapload of them, he's really good.

Am I making it harder or easier for him to make a living?

Re:Read his books (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093491)

By driving down the unit revenue, Amazon makes it really hard for publishers—who are a proxy for authors—to turn a profit.

Publishers a proxy for authors? As if their interests were the same or something?
He just wants to conflate them so we sympathize with the poor downtrodden corporations.
Protip: There is no good guy here.

Re:Read his books (4, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | about 5 months ago | (#47093649)

Protip: There is no good guy here.

Yes. Ideally writers would eliminate publishers and Amazon, and sell direct to their readers. But that's hard to do when most readers want a central location where they can find new books to buy.

The funny part is that the publishers could have created that location with their own online store years ago, but, instead, they let Amazon do it.

Re:Read his books (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093815)

Publishers don't just put the ink to the paper, they also do other things like edit the books. As a slashdot reader, you're probably unfamiliar with what editors actually do, so the confusion is understandable.

Do we really need new books? (2, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | about 5 months ago | (#47093363)

The title of this comment may be provocative, but after buying a Kindle Paperwhite [amazon.com] , something that Amazon does really well (and just keep it in airplane mode all the time so you don't have to deal with Amazon's ecosystem), I have found myself with such a huge choice of classic literature titles from either Project Gutenberg or pirate ebook sites, that I feel I'll never catch up with all the old stuff, let alone hunger after anything new. For Mr. Stross, I'm sorry, but you're competing with the past, and there are a myriad of science-fiction writers like yourself that already have more books out there than anyone can read.

Re:Do we really need new books? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093385)

Fucking corporate neoliberalist shill of the worst kind! Yes! Let's destroy culture for the good of our masters' profit margin! Bow before the capital! People like you drive me NUTS!

Re:Do we really need new books? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093549)

people like you make me feel INDIFFERENT !!!

Re:Do we really need new books? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093585)

Art used to be at the whim of the aristocracy. I don't know what's worse.

Re:Do we really need new books? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093435)

The title of this comment may be provocative, but after buying a Kindle Paperwhite [amazon.com] , something that Amazon does really well (and just keep it in airplane mode all the time so you don't have to deal with Amazon's ecosystem), I have found myself with such a huge choice of classic literature titles from either Project Gutenberg or pirate ebook sites, that I feel I'll never catch up with all the old stuff, let alone hunger after anything new. For Mr. Stross, I'm sorry, but you're competing with the past, and there are a myriad of science-fiction writers like yourself that already have more books out there than anyone can read.

So, the author decides to stand up for something he believes in, and society's succinct and polite answer to that is "fuck you very much, we'll buy someone else's books."

With mentalities like that, I hope the rest of your favorite authors jump on this bandwagon. Gonna be a bitch when you're facing thousands in fines for pirating books too as **AA mentalities from the entertainment industry bleed over into other industries that are being targeted...

Re:Do we really need new books? (2, Interesting)

cheesybagel (670288) | about 5 months ago | (#47093831)

You know what dude? For every well known author like this there are a metric fuckton of authors that get more profit using Amazon's model. Guess what Amazon has competition too and nothing forbids you of using a different venue. You can even sell the books for yourself. So please excuse me ignoring this arsehole.

Amazon does a lot of bad things but trying to sell ebooks cheaper than paper books isn't one of those things.

Re:Do we really need new books? (5, Informative)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | about 5 months ago | (#47093517)

Stross's novels are an extrapolation of contemporary science and culture into various futures. As a geek, you should be able to recognize the beginnings of Stross's fantasies--crypto currencies, IT culture, malware, MMORPGs, maker culture, -- and laugh as these trends are taken to their logical conclusion in the various universes he has devised.

Now, I seek out and read hard SF. The trouble with classic works of this subgenre, (the vast bulk of which is still under copyright protection) is that it becomes obsolete. For instance, take the Bussard Ramjet-- a relativistic spaceship that was (at least for the time)theoretically possible without breaking physical laws. The Bussard Ramjet enabled a host of authors, most notably Poul Anderson, to write stories about Relativistic Time (twin paradoxes, and the like) But IIRC, the fuel density in the interstellar medium is insufficient for the Bussard scheme to work. So all those stories suffer from a patina of obsolescence.

To avoid this, it's necessary to acquaint yourself with the writers of the here and now. Stross is one such writer.

Re:Do we really need new books? (2)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 5 months ago | (#47093529)

I don't read much, except technical documents, so I'll move the argument to movies. I know the list of movies is much shorter than books, older special effects didn't age too well, etc. But nonetheless...

I'm in my 40's, so I can appreciate movies from the 1970's and up, but about once or twice a month I like to browse in the "Movie Trailers" channel of my Apple TV to see what's new. And I always find at least half a dozen titles that I'd like to see, but for that half dozen list there's all the rest that really doesn't interest me at all.

The same thing can be applied to videogames.

My point is, however huge the library is, there's some things you'll never want to read, listen, watch or play. I'll pull numbers from thin air and say that every person probably needs 100 authors to get one title he/she wants.

Re:Do we really need new books? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093573)

So you're essentially saying that anyone interested in publishing shouldn't, because there's "enough books already"? Does someone SERIOUSLY have to point out what's wrong with this line of thinking?

Re:Do we really need new books? (5, Insightful)

dreamchaser (49529) | about 5 months ago | (#47093599)

I can't believe this was modded up. Just because there are plenty of good old titles doesn't mean one shouldn't read new titles. Following your logic nobody should bother writing at all. Let's just give it all up.

Talk about drivel. Your post has it in spades.

Re:Do we really need new books? (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 5 months ago | (#47093657)

Yes. We'll always need new books. Because human beings will always have new things to say in a new way. Because even if what you do might have been done before you never did it. And now that you have you join those that came before.

We must never stop writing. Never stop thinking. Never stop making things.

Re:Do we really need new books? (0)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 5 months ago | (#47093805)

Yes. We'll always need new books. Because human beings will always have new things to say in a new way. Because even if what you do might have been done before you never did it. And now that you have you join those that came before.

We must never stop writing. Never stop thinking. Never stop making things.

If he was really doing this because he had things to say, he wouldn't artificially restrict distribution, and he wouldn't need to be paid to do it.

He just doesn't want to get a job.

When writing is done to produce a product for mass consumption, the quality of literature goes down. Hopefully, when all the writers are supporting themselves with practical work, it will improve.

Anyone who thinks we need a profit motive for great literature to exist should read The Hobbit, which was written for no particular reason whatsoever, or The Lord of the Rings, which was written for his son.

Re:Do we really need new books? (1)

Crispy Critters (226798) | about 5 months ago | (#47093801)

The flaw in your argument is clear in that you are pirating books to read. The argument should work the same if you limit it to works on Project Gutenberg, which are available legally. There are more books written before 1900 than I will ever read. But I want to read books written after that, because the world has changed. You do want to read recent books by pirating them. But if there are no new books, then in some number of years all the books will be about a distant and foreign world without the same relevance to us.

Re:Do we really need new books? (5, Insightful)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 5 months ago | (#47093835)

CR, you've turned this into a "paper vs ebook" argument, but I think you miss Strosss point: Amazon's monopolistic stranglehold on distribution forces the price down which puts publishers out of business. This results in Amazon being the dominant publisher, working directly with authors. But it also allows Amazon to dictate to authors what they will pay, just as they did with the traditional publishers. This is not "free market", it is a monopoly no less than Microsoft was, and it's not good for consumer choice.

Second point: It may not seem like it here at Slashdot, but the desire to have and to hold and to read "real" books is not dead. Certain segments of the current generation might feel that way, but I don't see it. The bookstores in my town are always busy, the library in my town is always busy, and many of the books (of the so-called "dead tree" variety) are often on hold by several library patrons before I get to check them out. I suppose you're going to say "What a quaint idea! To check out a book!", but many people still enjoy the experience of turning pages...

I know I'm probably the minority, but when I buy a technical book in electronic form, I immediately print it out and put it in a three-ring binder, much easier to locate what I'm interested and flip back and forth between sections... And here's the high-tech sacrilege: I print them out single-sided with wide margins. I use the blank side for notes...

Now get off my lawn.

Or, you could... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093369)

have your publisher stop selling through Amazon entirely. Convince other publishers to do the same. Not a damned thing in the world says you have to use Amazon. Walk away from them and use iTunes, Barnes & Noble, or hell open your own store and control the distribution channel yourselves.

Seriously, manufacturers walk away from Wal-Mart all the time. Nothing stopping book publishers from doing the same. Optionally jsut provide your crap b-list titles and in every single one of those provide info how to get your more popular stuff.

Don't complain they are bullies, walk away from their marketplace. If no one uses them, they either go under or come back to the table to negotiate in better faith.

Re:Or, you could... (2)

Slick_W1lly (778565) | about 5 months ago | (#47093547)

This.

I started boycotting Amazon after the (admittedly *very long time ago*) change in their policies from 'We will never sell your information!!!' to 'We'll give it who we damn please' and refused to 'delete' my account. This was in the late 90's...

I take some consolation in the failed pairing of Amazon and Borders, and hope to see the same for Amazon within the next decade.
Simply don't buy from them. Or distribute through them. The two combined would eventually mean they atrophy into nothing.

I'm doing my part!

Amazon.. Not the only Game in Town... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093371)

Sorry.. But blaming the Amazon is stupid.. Blame the publishers.. There are a number of different channel partners out there. Amazon is not the only one doing eBook or physical books. If you want to compete with Amazon, goto a competitor and lower the DAMN Price of eBooks. When I see Physical Book costing more then eBook, then I know something is screwed up in the publishing world. I don't know how it works, but I don't think the Channel partner gets to say how much a book is sold for. A number of publishers are selling direct these days and the price of a eBook is still outrageous. May as well buy the physical book and take to to a second hand store to trade in.... An eBook is pure profit for a Publisher and Author.

Re:Amazon.. Not the only Game in Town... (1)

Slick_W1lly (778565) | about 5 months ago | (#47093563)

>When I see Physical Book costing more then eBook

Methinks you meant that the other way around. I'd expect a physical to cost more than a virtual. On account of um.. paper. :)

Re:Amazon.. Not the only Game in Town... (1)

davester666 (731373) | about 5 months ago | (#47093729)

> An eBook is pure profit for a Publisher and Author.

It still takes time money and effort to write, edit, and publish the bits into the various ebook formats.

And Amazon is dumping ebooks on the market by selling them below cost. I'm surprised that Amazon's shareholders are still happy with them doing this for so long, along with not bothering with actually making much in the way of profit.

Pretty stupid reasoning (2, Insightful)

Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) | about 5 months ago | (#47093373)

Yes, Amazon wants no more publishers to get a cut, just them and the author. And yes, they will want to lower the author's incentive to the minimum necessary for them to write., But not lower than that.

The publisher's aren't just representing the author. They are middle men.

Amazon will simply replace them with one vertically integrated company.

Worse for authors, maybe, but it owuld be beyond stupid for them to make it worse than the alternative.

Re:Pretty stupid reasoning (5, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | about 5 months ago | (#47093417)

While publishers are middlemen, at least they are at least some level of quality control. As an Amazon top reviewer, I get several times a week solicitations to review a book self-published through Amazon, and the vast majority of these are appallingly bad -- mispellings and grammatical errors abound, the typesetting is goofy, and in terms of style these authors could not write themselves out of a paper bag. An established publisher would reject the majority of these, saving consumers the time spent finding out that they are dreck, and for the small minority of authors with fledgling talent, there would be an editor who could propose changes for the better.

Furthermore, the publishers also provide some level of advertising. Often the books I am asked to review are hyped through a marketing agency that the author had to hire at his own expense, and considering how unreadable some of these books are, I highly doubt the authors will make enough money back to compensate for what they paid on marketing. For the vast majority of authors, the new economy is just money down the drain with nothing to show for it compared to the old model.

Re:Pretty stupid reasoning (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 5 months ago | (#47093587)

The problem is as follow:
1. Editors weed out bad titles, correct spelling, etc. so if Amazon wants to replace them, they should to do the same job as editors.
2. Doing that, however, means there would be more costs involved and would reduce the number of titles available.
3. Less titles available means a smaller library and less profits for Amazon.

So, why would Amazon want to increase costs and decrease profits?

Even if they don't care about the quality, point #3 still applies.

Re:Pretty stupid reasoning (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 5 months ago | (#47093665)

1. Editors weed out bad titles, correct spelling, etc. so if Amazon wants to replace them, they should to do the same job as editors.

That's why, last time I went to a book store, the horror shelves were full of Twilight clones and 'Steve Jobs, Vampire Hunter', novels. And why everyone I know who read '50 Shades Of Grey' gave up by half-way through. And why multiple editors rejected 'Harry Potter' before one took the clearly absurd step of asking a kid to read it and give their opinion.

Re:Pretty stupid reasoning (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 5 months ago | (#47093687)

That was CRCulver's argument for editors, not mine.

Re:Pretty stupid reasoning (1)

jonsmirl (114798) | about 5 months ago | (#47093623)

Maybe you are looking at this wrong -- start a side-line business being an editor for these people. Are there places that will proofread a book by email for $250? Maybe $1000 to do major editing on it?

Re:Pretty stupid reasoning (3, Informative)

CRCulver (715279) | about 5 months ago | (#47093653)

The problem is that -- as I already pointed out in another comment here -- most self-published authors are not prepared to spend their scanty resources on editing services. The sort of self-published books I often get asked to review are written by working-class dreamers who think they can make it big, and the tiny amount of money they have to invest upfront goes straight to marketing.

You also think proofreading is cheap. While I mainly work as a translator, I occasionally accept proofreading work, and I know that in my market (Finland) I could easily charge 8–10&euro per standard page, so a 200-page novel could easily reach 2000€. And that's just proofreading! Editing would cost much more. There's enough opportunities out there that I don't feel any pressure to lower the price, so a self-published author asking me to translate his book for $250 would just get laughed at.

Re:Pretty stupid reasoning (1)

CRCulver (715279) | about 5 months ago | (#47093743)

Sorry, that should have read "a self-published author asking me to proofread his book for $250..."

Re:Pretty stupid reasoning (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093675)

And you think publishers do that? Most of the published authors I know are now paying for their own editing, typesetting and marketing because the publishers are SO EVIL that Amazon *can* compete with them. The publishers are a cartel, whining because they've eaten so much of the profit that they can now be undercut by a startup. Amazon didn't start big; they started as the little guy, and aren't playing cartel rules anymore.

Re:Pretty stupid reasoning (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 5 months ago | (#47093421)

Amazon will simply replace them with one vertically integrated company.

So, both malignant monopoly and just plain evil then?

Re:Pretty stupid reasoning (4, Insightful)

jonsmirl (114798) | about 5 months ago | (#47093437)

I have to agree with this, the need for a publisher is disappearing just like the need for a recording label. Stross should self publish and then cut a direct deal with Amazon. He'd probably end up with more money that way.

Since he's a well know author, maybe try putting his self-published books up on Indiegogo first. He might net enough off from doing that for each book that the later revenue from Amazon is just gravy.

monopoly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093705)

I have to agree with this, the need for a publisher is disappearing just like the need for a recording label. Stross should self publish and then cut a direct deal with Amazon. He'd probably end up with more money that way.

And if Amazon ends up with over 80% of the market and starts dictating prices, regardless of whether Stross like it or not, then what?

Publishers may be middle-men, but at least there are a few of them so there's some competition from an author's perspective.

Thanks US DoJ, for going after Apple, who could have acted as a counter-force to Amazon, but now can't.

Re:Pretty stupid reasoning (1)

Redbehrend (3654433) | about 5 months ago | (#47093747)

I agree publishers are a thing of the past plus they take most of the authors profits. I know people that write books and self publish or use amazon to make more money than the days they used old school publishers. If someone can do it better and cheaper in the same country you need to rethink your business.

Confused (-1)

N_Piper (940061) | about 5 months ago | (#47093379)

Waitwaitwait....
People can still buy BOOKS from Amazon?!
I thought they quit that business when they stopped making new e-readers and moved to iPad lookalikes locked into that shitty Netflix competitor.

Re:Confused (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093431)

I guess you're wrong. NEXT!

Re:Confused (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 5 months ago | (#47093593)

But... the guy before me got free bread!

Re:Confused (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 5 months ago | (#47093511)

People can still buy BOOKS from Amazon?!

As far as I can tell, if it's legal, available, and a little profitable, Amazon will sell you any damned thing they can get their hands on.

They're not overly concerned about what you buy from them, just as long as you do.

Let me be blunt. (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093381)

Anybody who uses Kindles to read DRM'd books has no appreciation for knowledge or art, and any author who relies on this customer base is making a grave mistake.

Re:Let me be blunt. (1)

mooingyak (720677) | about 5 months ago | (#47093559)

Anybody who uses Kindles to read DRM'd books has no appreciation for knowledge or art

So... is it DRM or the Kindle itself that removes the ability to appreciate knowledge or art? FWIW, I don't own a kindle, but I think buying one and using it would not change my level of appreciation.

and any author who relies on this customer base is making a grave mistake.

All authors should be elitists who only let the right kind of people read their books?

Re:Let me be blunt. (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 5 months ago | (#47093579)

So... is it DRM or the Kindle itself that removes the ability to appreciate knowledge or art?

Kindles don't have the new book smell, without which a true appreciation of literary art is impossible. Or the old book smell, where they get damp and mouldy.

Alternative Summary (4, Insightful)

ustolemyname (1301665) | about 5 months ago | (#47093387)

The author's intentions could be summarized as, "Does this false dichotomy make me look smart?"

It is not even a false dichotomy. (1)

denzacar (181829) | about 5 months ago | (#47093445)

"Malignant - Or Just Plain Evil" is asking if Jeff Bezos is still beating his wife. [wikipedia.org]

Re:It is not even a false dichotomy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093647)

I hate to tell you this but just about any company you support, by your reasoning, will be supporting wife beating, racism, sexism, child molesting, rape, gang violence, the sex trade, the drug trade, illegal immigrants being left to die in the northern Mexican desert, puppy kicking and all other forms of no good.
 
You send your kids to school? It's known that child molesters become teachers to seek out new targets. You just fed your child to a dirty bird molester!

Re:It is not even a false dichotomy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093717)

woooosh!

Alternative Summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093459)

I'd make a reasonably educated guess that he's a good deal brighter than you are.

Amazon Store (1)

DaveHowe (51510) | about 5 months ago | (#47093391)

Not seeing why, if a publisher doesn't want to sell though the Amazon store, they can't as easily sell though their own website or even though traditional brick and mortar stores. For that matter, I don't see why an author can't do that themselves and cut out the other middleman, unless they are tied into an exclusive contract.
kindle books are just files - you can sell them from anywhere.

Hachette Group isn't a tiny publisher... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093401)

Hachette has been around for quite some time. Their entry to the US market was by way of buying Time Warner books. They've bought Hyperion books too.

So it's probably not a struggle between the big mean web store and the innocent niche publisher. I don't think either of them are even slightly concerned with your interests.

Amazon attacked (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093403)

Amazon is being condemned for the same tactics publishers used for years. If publishers are not smart enough to keep up with the times then they have a problem.

same story every industry (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093407)

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.

The music giants are anti-musician, and will deprive you of the varied artists you want to listen to.
The television giants are anti-creativity, depriving you of anything that doesn't have the same old Tropes.
Ditto for movies.
The technology giants are anti-programmer, anti-architect, anti-inventor, wanting only more monkeys to churn out more cogs and more cog-making machines, depriving you of TRUE innovation.
Really it could all be summed up as:
The corporations are anti-worker, depriving you of a dignified and satisfying occupation, as well as the ability to make a meaningful contribution to your own society.

Summary Headline Error (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093411)

TFA accuses Amazon of being a monopsony [wikipedia.org] , not a monopoly.

Amazon is short-sighted (1)

dskoll (99328) | about 5 months ago | (#47093413)

Squeezing your suppliers' profit margins is never a good long-term strategy. Amazon is not yet powerful enough to completely dictate to publishers; if they band together and reject Amazon, Amazon will soon be left with no worthwhile content.

If Amazon needs more money, it can raise its prices slightly. There are effectively no viable competitors in the online book market and Amazon's prices are very low, so it does have some room to move without annoying its suppliers.

Yes, that's too bad if you buy books, but in the long run it's better for everyone to get a fair share of the profits.

Re:Amazon is short-sighted (4, Interesting)

0123456 (636235) | about 5 months ago | (#47093531)

Squeezing your suppliers' profit margins is never a good long-term strategy.

Publishers aren't Amazon's suppliers: writers are. Publishers are just middle-men who get in the way.

And, oddly enough, those writers only get about 15% royalties if their ebooks are sold through a Big Five publisher, whereas they get 70% if they sell direct through Amazon.

Maybe you're telling the wrong organization to give everyone a fair share of the profits.

Re:Amazon is short-sighted (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093603)

It's 70% only if Amazon has exclusive rights

Re:Amazon is short-sighted (2)

0123456 (636235) | about 5 months ago | (#47093617)

It's 70% only if Amazon has exclusive rights

No, it's not.

Anyone selling ebooks for between $2.99 and $9.99 in a country where Amazon has an online store gets 70% royalties.

Re:Amazon is short-sighted (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 5 months ago | (#47093631)

Actually, I should correct that. That was the case until they opened their most recent stores; I believe you do only get 35% royalties in India, and maybe Mexico? But few people sell books there anyway.

Re:Amazon is short-sighted (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093739)

Fucking spics are too stupid to read anyway. Fuck them.

Re:Amazon is short-sighted (1)

turgid (580780) | about 5 months ago | (#47093811)

Publishers aren't Amazon's suppliers: writers are. Publishers are just middle-men who get in the way.

Amazon is a middle-man. It just gets in the way between the creators and consumers.

Re:Amazon is short-sighted (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 5 months ago | (#47093849)

Amazon is a middle-man. It just gets in the way between the creators and consumers.

Absolutely. As I said above, writers would be better off if they could sell direct to readers.

But that's no reason to put two middle-men in the way.

Re:Amazon is short-sighted (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093535)

Squeezing your suppliers' profit margins is never a good long-term strategy. Amazon is not yet powerful enough to completely dictate to publishers; if they band together and reject Amazon, Amazon will soon be left with no worthwhile content.
 
Yeah guys... just turn your back on the biggest supplier of your product on the face of the planet. Please do. I need a good laugh.
 
These writers and their publishers missed the boat. Their chance was years ago when the first Kindles came out. Amazon isn't going to be flexible about it today because none of those with a stake in the game is going to outlast Amazon in a battle of profits. When push comes to shove Amazon can just stand by and fight it like a war of attrition. And consumers? They're not going to turn their back on Amazon either.
 
Game. Set. Match.

Re:Amazon is short-sighted (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093577)

No viable competitors? Really? Tell that to all the people I know that buy books on their Nooks from Barnes and Noble. Or all the people with Kobo & other e-readers.

I guess all those books I've bought on my Nook over the past 2 years or so proves that B&N isn't a viable competitor, eh?

Why don't the authors (1)

future assassin (639396) | about 5 months ago | (#47093427)

and the musican for that matter create their own distribution websites. Seriously there's power in numbers especailly with the connection and access to instant customers they already have. They just need to accept the fact that people will pirate like people will shoplift. Make the products price reflect the production/distrubution costs and don't treat you customers as criminal and they will buy.

Even though I don't read books that much these days I do watch lots of movies/shows and if I could "buy to own" new releases that play cross platform with out some special player for say $10 and older movies for $4-5 there would be WAY less money in my bank account.

Direct Market =! a bad thing (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093429)

The consumer (reader in this case) hardly suffers from the loss of the middle market keeping prices artificially high. You, as the author are competing not against Amazon, but against other Authors for position on a consumer's device. The loss of publishers in my opinion, is a good thing. It allows for competition (um, free market anyone?) and anyone, of any size can get their book to the reader. If you cannot get enough of a lion's share to keep afloat, then it is likely you are not popular enough and indeed should consider writing more of a hobby. This is the equivalent of the music industries problem of promoting only certain people over others. Itunes (online music distribution) showed how broken the old model was.

Who cares about publishers? (1)

melchoir55 (218842) | about 5 months ago | (#47093433)

Amazon is grabbing publishers share of the profits? Why do we care? Publishers are just middlemen leaches. They used to add value because publishing used to be expensive. Now people could easily publish their own given a marketplace which wasn't controlled by publishers (like... amazon?).

Amazon might drive the publishers out of business, or cut into their profits? Good.

Analogy cut short? (2)

CurryCamel (2265886) | about 5 months ago | (#47093453)

Should not the analogy continue a bit further with:
and when there are no more Charlie Stross novels, the customers can not buy them, making Amazon's incomes diminish. At which time they have to pay more to the Charlie Strosses out there.

Is this not just precise how capitalism is supposed to work?

Flawed premise - price (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093469)

Flawed premise. From my perspective the sale value of creative works has yet to correct it's self for the lowered production and distribution costs associated with modern electronic computing.

Publishers are Dinosaurs. (4, Insightful)

brunes69 (86786) | about 5 months ago | (#47093475)

Publishers are not "proxys for authors". They are another obsolete industry group fighting the inevitable for their survival, no different than the RIAA.

Assume there is a world where I as an author can contract with a third party for proofreading and editing at a fixed cost, and then "self publish" to Amazon and other eBook providers, without a man in the middle publisher eating up my profits, I can sell the books far cheaper and interact directly with my audience. Many authors are flocking to self-publish nowadays and the number is just going to keep growing.

Re:Publishers are Dinosaurs. (1)

CRCulver (715279) | about 5 months ago | (#47093503)

Assume there is a world where I as an author can contract with a third party for proofreading and editing at a fixed cost

You can do that, but as an Amazon top reviewer that often gets solicitations for a review, I find that few self-published authors are doing so. With very little money to invest -- these people are often working-class dreamers -- they often have to spend what little they have on marketing, and there's just nothing left for proofreading and editing (and the result is embarassing). At least a traditional publishing house covers those costs for you.

Re:Publishers are Dinosaurs. (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 5 months ago | (#47093561)

You can do that, but as an Amazon top reviewer that often gets solicitations for a review, I find that few self-published authors are doing so. With very little money to invest -- these people are often working-class dreamers -- they often have to spend what little they have on marketing, and there's just nothing left for proofreading and editing (and the result is embarassing). At least a traditional publishing house covers those costs for you.

Publishers have been slashing the amount they spend on editing, to the point where, last time I was in a book store, one of the trade-published books I picked up off the shelf even had typos in the back cover blurb.

Oh, and the publisher doesn't 'cover those costs for you'. They pay for them out of the 75% of the ebook royalties that they pocket before they hand the writer their measly 25%.

or, they're just a business (2)

argStyopa (232550) | about 5 months ago | (#47093479)

Any organism will try to dominate its environment.
Corporations are the same; they will work to optimize the merger for themselves. Then either they will dominate, or someone will come along and outcompete them, and they adapt or die.

Let's remember that publishers Mr Stross is bemoaning have themselves acted as plutocratic gatekeepers to the public reading markets for a century or more themselves.

Amazon's just doing it better now.

I'm sorry if an author feels he can no longer make a living being a writer, but he isn't entitled to that occupation. He can either keep doing it because he loves it, it he can, as he said, get a real job. Sorry if capitalism is painful that way.

There's a gaping hole in his theory (2)

Rix (54095) | about 5 months ago | (#47093483)

Amazon isn't forcing DRM on the publishers. They would be quite happy to let them sell ebooks without it.

That and the publishers "share" of profits is exactly zero. Anything above that is a market inefficiency.

To be fair... (1)

Luthair (847766) | about 5 months ago | (#47093487)

It hasn't been that long since publishers formed a cartel with Apple and tried to stick it to Amazon.

Is the a "Tragedy of the Commons?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093493)

It was TLDR, so my uninformed comment.
The underlying question is one worth thinking about, is this circle of writers, publishers, distributors, readers at risk of a Tragedy of the Commons?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

Will the Amazon model effectively squelch the number and quality of valuable literary works? I think the answer is yes.
The current trend is toward uniformity in cultures, even globally. Larger shared experiences require more and more uniformity.

But will it really become a tragedy? Perhaps not. Knowledge and art have be expressed in many ways. Recent example of Industrial Design in the news.
http://www.marketplace.org/topics/business/motorcycle-design-history-books

captcha: shocks

He forgot one thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093495)

Good blog post, but he forgot that Amazon can sell product for almost zero margin for an indefinite time until all their competitors are gone. Other businesses need profits to survive. Amazon apparently can exist indefinitely with no real profits. Their whole purpose is to destroy margin and remove the ability to make a profit from retailing. They're apparently going to destroy all other businesses, and I guess commit suicide when they're the only ones left? I don't know how investors think what Amazon is doing to retail is a good thing, since there's no way to ever make money if your goal is to destroy all margins. Eventually, there's no way any other retailer like Barnes and Noble could survive without making money, but Amazon can. How do you compete against a company which is subsidized by investors who allow it to not make money? I haven't figured it out yet.

Amazon does not rely on DRM (4, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | about 5 months ago | (#47093499)

Publishers demanded that Amazon use DRM... and now whine that readers are locked in to Kindle because that DRM prevents them from moving those books to a different ebook reader.

Any publisher who wants to can upload DRM-free ebooks to Amazon.

Re:Amazon does not rely on DRM (1)

overshoot (39700) | about 5 months ago | (#47093789)

Any publisher who wants to can upload DRM-free ebooks to Amazon.

And yet somehow even books from Baen and Tor (who don't DRM their books) end up on Amazon indistinguishable from those from other publishers.

Re:Amazon does not rely on DRM (4, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | about 5 months ago | (#47093817)

And yet somehow even books from Baen and Tor (who don't DRM their books) end up on Amazon indistinguishable from those from other publishers.

Maybe they should stop enabling DRM on their Kindle books, then.

When you upload a Kindle book to Amazon, there's a checkbox to enable DRM. Just don't check it. Job done.

Apple vs Amazon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093501)

The Justice Department slaps Apple with an antitrust lawsuit for abuse of their iBookstore for negotiating a favoured nation contract with book publishers resulting in the industry switching to an agency model rather than a wholesale model making it possible for other digital booksellers to compete with Amazon.

Amazon strong-arms major publishers, pulling their content from their store unless they accept their truly questionable terms. Amazon is the overwhelmingly dominant digital bookseller and one of the most dominant physical booksellers in America. Justice Department does nothing.

Yeah.

Ok.

Someone bought the right politicians...

Psychopathic corporation (1)

mspohr (589790) | about 5 months ago | (#47093509)

Amazon is just your standard psychopathic corporation.
It has no "conscience" and it focused only on making more money. At times this is good or bad for consumers and suppliers.
It exploits workers (good for consumers, bad for workers, good for profits).
It (mostly) exploits suppliers (good for consumers, bad for suppliers, good for profits).
It exploits government tax rules (sales tax, corporate tax, etc.)... (bad for tax revenue, good for consumers in the short term, good for profits)

Stross Has It Wrong (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093519)

I don't see a problem. I can take any file, convert to MOBI (or use PDF) and upload it to my Kindle or Kindle App. So there's nothing stopping Mr. Stross from selling me his e-books from his own web site, or starting a collective with a bunch of other authors. (SFWA?)

What I interpret him to mean is that he wants to do the same as Amazon, (a) charge me the same price for a file I download as if I bought a hardcover book, and (b) still wrap it in highly restrictive DRM so that having bought it, I don't own it, and my ability to read is at the mercy of whatever DRM configuration they dream up and only as long as they continue to support it.

Take a lesson from the music industry (strange to hear anyone say that!). They tried all sorts of restrictive DRM, but today you can buy a song for a dollar as an unrestricted MP3 where you used to have to buy the CD for $10 or more. Supposedly, they are still making money that way. The price is lower, but purchase is become an impulse thing rather than a big expenditure.

If I buy a paperback off the rack in the drugstore for $8.99, how much is the author getting anyway? Better to sell the ebook for $2 and pocket the majority of that. If Amazon won't give you that deal - sell off your own website.

Re:Stross Has It Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093715)

Take a lesson from the music industry (strange to hear anyone say that!). They tried all sorts of restrictive DRM, but today you can buy a song for a dollar as an unrestricted MP3 where you used to have to buy the CD for $10 or more. Supposedly, they are still making money that way. The price is lower, but purchase is become an impulse thing rather than a big expenditure.

99% of the songs desired on any given album were hits. I can remember hit music singles for as long as I've been collecting music (how quickly we forget what the hell a 45 was used for), so the concept of a single song costing you an entire album is bullshit, and has been since we were listening to music on vinyl.

On top of that, I prefer to enjoy my music where not every fucking thing I do with those songs is tracked, monitored, and sold to the highest bidder. Sorry, I guess I still find value in privacy where others sold that off for 99-cent tchotchkes.

Re:Stross Has It Wrong (1)

overshoot (39700) | about 5 months ago | (#47093733)

What I interpret him to mean is that he wants to do the same as Amazon, (a) charge me the same price for a file I download as if I bought a hardcover book, and (b) still wrap it in highly restrictive DRM so that having bought it, I don't own it, and my ability to read is at the mercy of whatever DRM configuration they dream up and only as long as they continue to support it.

Nice hypothesis. As it happens, Mr. Stross' most recent books have been published by Tor -- which does not do DRM.

Facts. Annoying things.

DRM or no DRM, pick one (3, Insightful)

Solandri (704621) | about 5 months ago | (#47093581)

rely on DRM on the walled garden of the Kindle store to lock consumers onto their platform

It's a bit duplicitous to criticize Amazon for using DRM, when the primary reason you wish to sell your book on Amazon is to take advantage of their DRM for your ebook. Non-DRMed books from any source can be converted to work on the Kindles just fine. Set up your own website, sell ebooks there, and retain 100% of the profit. Yeah a lot of people shop on Amazon, but they search with Google, BIng, and Yahoo. If your website is the primary source for your ebooks, it's almost guaranteed to rank in the top 3 search results and people will find it.

Oh, but you want DRM on your ebooks when people read them on a Kindle? Well, just as you have the right to use DRM to restrict what readers do with your ebooks, Amazon has the right to use DRM to restrict how authors sell their books if they want to be readable on a Kindle. Sorry, them's the breaks. Live by DRM, die by DRM. Don't expect me to shed a tear because someone is arbitrarily restricting your options, when that's exactly what you're doing to me.

Re:DRM or no DRM, pick one (1)

Luthair (847766) | about 5 months ago | (#47093611)

Amazon also allows DRM free books, its the publisher requiring DRM....

Re:DRM or no DRM, pick one (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 5 months ago | (#47093641)

It's a shame they don't explicitly tell you which books are DRM-free. I believe any ebook that lists 'simultaneous device usage unlimited' on the Amazon page is DRM-free.

Re:DRM or no DRM, pick one (2)

volsung (378) | about 5 months ago | (#47093797)

Interestingly, Scalzi's latest publication calls out that it is DRM free in the book description: http://www.amazon.com/Unlocked... [amazon.com]

Re:DRM or no DRM, pick one (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 5 months ago | (#47093833)

That is interesting. It doesn't have that 'simultaneous device usage' line on the Amazon page, so maybe Amazon removed that so you can't tell which books are DRM-free any more?

Just say no to Amazon DRM (1)

overshoot (39700) | about 5 months ago | (#47093591)

Tor and Baen don't do DRM. That's a very good start.

There may be others, too, but it's remarkably hard to find out who they are without buying a book to find out you can't read it. Anyone care to contribute to the list?

Re:Just say no to Amazon DRM (1, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | about 5 months ago | (#47093605)

Again, it's not 'Amazon DRM'. Amazon don't care whether publishers enable DRM on their ebooks. The publishers enable DRM, then whine that it ties people into Amazon. Well, fscking duh.

Legalized Prostitution (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093651)

His parents were affluent so they could have afforded it even if it might have gone against their morals. I wonder if a night with a high-price callgirl would have prevented any of this?

Stross doesn't benefit from it, so he's against it (1)

illumined (3666963) | about 5 months ago | (#47093689)

The reality is publishing is a dying business. It used to be that the only way an author could sell to the mass market was by begging publishers to take it to print. Naturally because it limited competition it tremendously benefited big, established authors like Stross. Another unfortunate side effect was that it severely limited books about skeptical topics like debunking paranormal nonsense. It's no accident that in book stores there's usually only a handful of science related books and row upon row of new age spirituality books, because that's what the PUBLISHERS decided was popular. Amazon and other e-publishing platforms changed all that. Now we're seeing an explosion in lower priced books with far more variety than could be conceived before. What Stross is really saying is that people should pay more and have fewer choices about what they pay for. Let's not pretend it's anything other than a cynical ploy to turn people against a system that has so far proven to be far more pro-consumer for his personal gain. Shame on you Mr. Stross, shame on you.

many sides to this (1)

bzipitidoo (647217) | about 5 months ago | (#47093691)

Publishers, especially Elsevier, deserve a good kicking. They've profited by screwing authors and customers. They've done all in their power to hold back progress, for the sake of their antiquated and extremely inefficient business model. They've crossed the line repeatedly, suing customers, clinging hard to bad logic (copying = stealing, DRM is good and it works). and spewing propaganda based on it.

Authors, whom one might expect to be just a little wiser, a little more in touch with reality, have, with a few notable exceptions, fallen for publisher bull. It's hard to be sympathetic to the struggling authors who insist that their customers stick with dead trees or wear DRM chains because that's the only way they can think to make the system work so they can earn a living. Telling fans that not wearing DRM chains is somehow unfair to authors is a fast way to lose them. That's logic from the same murky depths of religious dogma that says because the Bible is the Word of God, and it says God created the World and everything in it in 7 days, so therefore evolution is false. I talked with a number of authors at a GenCon, and found a mix of denial, despair, and anger over their imagined plight. I was quite disappointed with Nebula Award winning author Ursula LeGuin when she complained about Cory Doctorow over a usage issue. Many of her works are very liberal, and to see that apparently old age has turned her into not just a conservative on this issue, but a wrong-headed one, is sad. Good authors are supposed to be progressive thinkers, supposed to challenge our dogma, our assumptions, and help us take the tints off the glasses through which we all view the world.

Malignant monopoly or just plain evil (1)

Vermonter (2683811) | about 5 months ago | (#47093693)

Are those my only choices? I mean, Amazon is not a monopoly, because I can buy all that stuff at other places, so that just leaves plain evil. So I guess I am forced in to answering that Amazon is just plain evil?

Disagree on the point authors get squeezed (1)

marcgvky (949079) | about 5 months ago | (#47093713)

This is the similar argument made by authors that can't get a manuscript published, by one of the larger houses.

In the simplest terms, markets (in free economic systems) are constantly be reshaped by innovators. The book market is only becoming more efficient and all authors will have to price their wares according to demand, not some artificial pricing structure based on the authors reputation (i.e. I wouldn't value something ghost written for Hillary Clinton or Al Franken as toilet paper).

Just business (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47093735)

This "psychopathic tendency" that you speak of is really just business as usual. Its completely normal for businesses to be ruthless, psychotic, psychopathic, murderous, malevolent, greedy, lying, and manipulative. They even break laws whenever they can, so long as it benefits them or harms others. That's all 'just business'. And since corporations are people, and money is speech, we need laws to prevent these entities from causing harm to society. Business people will argue otherwise, but I believe the APA behaviors of the company affect the people who work at them.

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