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Should Books Be a Commodity?

“…making books less expensive might benefit Amazon and its customers, but it sucks the life out of publishers and the authors who need their services. Big publishers bear much of the blame for their troubles. They pay out vast sums for dubious projects, often ignore their “midlist,” publish far too many titles, and generally treat the book trade as if it were a business like TV, when, in fact, it’s closer to an artisanal craft.”

via Amazon Vs. Hachette: What Would Orwell Think? – The New Yorker.

Glenn Fleishman gave a good explanation of the Amazon/Hachette dispute in a TidBITS article, but one of the broader questions here is whether or not books should be a commodity. As both a reader and author, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I want to be able to get books for less; I have a couple thousand of them, and any savings I can make on one book allow me to buy more.

But as an author, what’s happening is a bit chilling. I buy the occasional Kindle ebook from Amazon at prices from £1-2 (I live in the UK), and I know how little authors get from these. Yes, some are loss leaders; for example, my friend Peter Robinson has a new mystery out Abattoir Blues, (Amazon UK), and, to get readers into the series, one of his older books, Wednesday’s Child (Amazon UK), is currently on sale for £0.99.

The real problem here is that the value of books is being cheapened; when you can get books for a buck or a quid, you’ll be less likely to pay full price for any other books. Sure, the ones by your favorite author will still tempt you, even in hardcover, but if books get too cheap, authors won’t be able to afford to write.

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Untangling the Amazon/Hachette Dispute

“To break Amazon’s lock on ebooks, publishers could insist that DRM-free EPUB become the format of choice, eliminating the connection between reading on a Kindle and purchasing from Amazon”

via TidBITS: Untangling the Amazon/Hachette Dispute.

Glenn Fleishman, writing at TidBITS, gives a clear explanation of the current kerfuffle around Amazon and Hachette regarding ebook pricing.

I have to say, it’s because of the superiority of the Kindle that I buy all my ebooks from Amazon. Reading on an iPad is only good indoors, but I can read on a Kindle anywhere. If I could buy ebooks without DRM and use them on my Kindle or iPad as I choose – which I do now, using the Kindle app on my Apple devices – I would certainly not be wedded to Amazon for my ebook purchases.

This happened to music, in large part through EU regulators looking at the lack of interoperability of digital music files. I wonder why they haven’t done the same for ebooks.

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