Well, it looks like as of yesterday, Amazon has restored the “buy” buttons for books published by Macmillan. During the past week, Macmillan has been negotiating terms with Amazon. Apparently they have reached an agreement. We don’t know the details. Two days ago, Macmillan CEO John Sargeant said: “Amazon has been working very, very hard and always in good faith to find a way forward with us.” Good faith, huh! I’m not sure that pulling a publisher’s books from the digital book shelf during negotiations is indicative of bargaining in good faith. It certainly showed no good faith to the Macmillan authors whose books were unavailable for a week and to the readers seeking those books. As more major publishers revise their terms for e-books, it will be interesting to see whether Amazon will stop selling those titles while negotiating in “good faith”.
This entire affair has highlighted some very important issues that go well beyond the squabbling over crumbs by two large corporations. You can read some of the comments on this blog and others. What are the dangers of monopolistic concentration in the distribution of ideas? How important are e-books in the literary future? How do commercial values conflict with literary values? What is the role of the community book store as books turn to digital? How will authors be fairly compensated for their work under the new e-book business model? What provides the better reading experience: e-books or paper books? Are the major publishers dinosaurs? How much is a book worth?
And then there is this notion that “information wants to be free”. We have discussed this in a previous blog entry about the book, Free by Chris Anderson.
Amazon was playing to the house throughout this affair by implying that they were trying to protect consumers by offering e-books at a good (i.e. loss leader) price. Amazon fans made their opinions known with numerous comments that books weren’t even worth $9.95.
Humorist Roy Blount Junior, who is president of the Authors Guild,
made a brilliant and witty statement about this curious notion in the Authors Guild winter newsletter. I’ll quote it here:
“Then of course there is the school of thought that books shouldn’t cost anything, because “information wants to be free.” One thing wrong with that notion is that just as a pie is more than its ingredients (and does anyone other than a child living at home expect pie, or even pie ingredients, to be free?), a book is more than information. It’s someone’s –several people’s—work.
“Another thing wrong with “information wants to be free” is that it is espoused, it’s my impression, by three categories of people:
“One: People who are paid by universities to teach occasional seminars and write books that not many people would want to buy anyway if they could help it. To send one’s child to one of these universities costs (say) an author maybe $50,000 a year. How about College wants to be free?
“Two: People who have invented a high-tech gimmick that has enabled them not to need any more money the rest of their lives. How about High-tech gimmicks want to be free?
“Three: People who live at home with their parents.”
Good for you, Roy Blount! Once again the best weapon against bombast is ridicule.