So, when on a Friday night, the search engine for Amazon.com suddenly ceased to find books containing homosexual themes, and blamed it on a computer error out of France, I was inclined to believe them.
And when Amazon.com reached down the tether to people’s Kindles and removed a copy of George Orwell’s 1984 because the Good Folks in Seattle thought it was pirated, and then apologized all over the place and said it was a mistake, I was inclined to believe them. Big corporations make stupid mistakes, and if you give them computers, they make them very quickly.
But this weekend, right after Apple announced a deal with the major US book publishers that guarantees more freedom for creating pricing policies, all books published by MacMillan USA have been pulled from Amazon.com’s website.
The eBook (or iBook) deal was at most a side act in the show that was the unveiling of Apple’s newest appliance this week, but those of us who write books for a living were extremely interested. Amazon.com and other distributors have been following a WalMart-style eat-the-seedcorn strategy of driving book prices continually downward, both for paper books and ebooks. For awhile, it looked like the end result of this race to the bottom would be more publishers going out of business and more authors finding they could no longer afford to continue to write.
Enter Steve Jobs with an offer to publishers; more freedom to set prices, an ebook price between $13 and $16 dollars rather than $9.99 or lower AND access to the one distribution network on the planet that rivals Amazon.com; iTunes.
This deal for the first time returns to the publishers a measure of control, because with Apple’s iTunes, they might not need to put up with Amazon’s shenanigans. In fact, they might be able to threaten to pull their books from Amazon’s site altogether if Amazon would not negotiate price policies.
And last night we saw Amazon’s response: to punish rebellious publishers by yanking the books first.
We don’t know how long the books will be off the virtual shelf. We don’t at this point know whether Amazon and MacMillan are even talking to each other. They’re not talking to the New York Times blog, that’s for sure.
Here’s what we do know; as with its proprietary e-book format, its tethered e-reader and its destructive pricing strategies, Amazon is attempting to limit consumer choice and exert control over as much of the market as possible. It’s the 800 lb. gorilla, and it’s come to sit down.
Of course Amazon has a right to do this. They are a private business. They have a right not to sell MacMillan books because they don’t like MacMillan’s business practices, just as they have a right not to sell gay-themed literature or, apparently, to remove books from their network, which includes products people have already payed for.
But that doesn’t mean we as readers or as authors have to approve these strong-arm tactics. If Amazon wants to play games with the availability of books, it’s time for all of us to vote with our dollars, and go elsewhere for our reading material.
Obviously, Book View Cafe will continue to off all our author’s titles for free or for our usual prices. Print and ebooks by our authors published by MacMillan and its subsidiaries, including Tor.com, remain available at Powell’s Books. Also, you can find a local, independent bookstore by visiting Indie Bound.