Legality, Business, Writing, and E-books

In the September 2012 issue of Writer's Chronicle
magazine, Ronald Goldfarb updates us on the lawsuits the U.S. Justice
Department has taken against five major publishers and Apple for price fixing
on e-books.

image via


Three of the five have settled with the
government and the other two, Penguin and MacMillan (and Apple, of course), are
staying the course, i.e., they're refusing to admit to price fixing. In fact,
they're bringing book giant into the fray, saying that Amazon's
ability to twist arms in order to lower book prices has effectively given
Amazon a monopoly over book selling. The natural fear, then, is that once
Amazon has effective control over book selling and pricing, they will raise the
price of all books, print and digital, to ever-higher levels. 

But why, in this accusation, would Amazon want to
control book sales and prices? To sell their e-book readers, which are pretty
worthless without e-books. And then to muddy the waters even more, there's this
from Goldfarb:

"To complicate the charges and
counter-charges over the Department of Justice’s anti-trust case and Amazon’s
role in electronic publishing, a publishing trade report (Publisher’s Lunch)
noted that the U.S. State Department is negotiating a no-bid multi-million
dollar contract with Amazon to purchase thousands of e-readers loaded with
content at a bulk discount."

So what's the upshot of this?
The DOJ must decide whether the publishers are restricting competition or
whether the culprit is Amazon. Oddly, Scott Turow and The Author's Guild are
siding with the publishers, rationalizing that having the publishers in
control will ultimately benefit writers.

My opinion: clearly all sides admit that e-books
are here to stay. But should writers trust the big publishers and Apple,
or should they trust Amazon?

One thing we should all be aware of is that this
is all about book sales. There's little implied here that would benefit the
development of writers and the building of a writer's platform. Still, with the
big pub houses doing so little for the beginning or midlist writer these days,
I'd have to grind my teeth and go with Amazon. They, after all, do offer the
sort of services that benefit beginning and developing writers.

See Bob's Web site here.



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