Whatever else may be happening in the book business these days, it’s now clear that the publishing industry has decided to fight back on the fundamental issue of pricing its products. It’s also clear that this is a concerted effort, as against the general aimless flailing demonstrated over the previous six months.
After a protracted price decline took hold last fall and accelerated toward the holiday season, the core issue of product pricing came to a head at the end of January when Amazon pulled Macmillan’s titles from its site rather than agree to Macmillan’s demand that e-book prices be raised. (Amazon has an interest in keeping e-book prices low because it spurs demand for Amazon’s e-reader, the Kindle.)
Despite Amazon’s large customer base and beloved-brand status, after only a few short hours people began excising Amazon’s dead links from the consumer loop and pointing those links to other sites carrying Macmillan’s products. Demonstrating once again the shallow loyalty of online associations, as well as the vast difference between hosting and controlling a social network, Amazon was also reminded that even though it is (or rather was; more on this in a moment) one of the publishing industry’s biggest wholesale customers, from the point of view of the end user it’s just another easily replaced retailer. (Because of its Kindle e-reader Amazon is also a direct competitor for publishing dollars, further weakening the publishing industry’s interest in supporting Amazon’s pricing decisions.)
Sufficiently humbled by the experience, Amazon relented, providing everyone an opportunity to draw the wrong conclusions about who won and who lost even though the jury is still out. The only issue that was settled was the question of who will be calling the shots on pricing. Whether those prices will be met or rejected by consumers remains undecided, and it remains the obvious basis on which other interested parties can attempt to compete. [ Read more ]