Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Authors/Readers vs Publishers vs the U.S. Dept. of Justice

It appears that Apple plus five of the Big Six publishers are being threatened by a lawsuit.

It seems to be revolving around the “Agency Model” of pricing

Personally, I have no rock-solid opinion, though I am leaning in a certain direction—which should be obvious when I include a few excerpts from the last reference-link below—in fact, even if you read all the referenced articles, I encourage you to read the last one first then go back and judge the others

Let me introduce you to a few published opinions:

From The Atlantic: How Cheap Should Books Be?

From the independent publisher, Melville House: Authors Guild head (and attorney) Scott Turow warns DOJ about the effects of law suit.

From The Guardian: Ebooks: defending the agency model.

From The Christian Science Monitor: Right pricing e-books: Is the government actually discouraging competition?

From TechDirt: Author’s Guild Boss On E-Book Price Fixing Allegations: But… But… Brick-And-Mortar!

And, From A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing: Barry, Joe, & Scott Turow.

Just a few excerpts from that last one [italics are Scott Turow, President of the Author’s Guild; Joe is Joe Konrath; Barry is Barry Eisler]:

Yesterday’s report that the Justice Department may be near filing an antitrust lawsuit against five large trade book publishers and Apple is grim news for everyone who cherishes a rich literary culture.

“Joe: Translation: It will be grim news for bestselling authors and billion-dollar publishers.

“Barry: I always wonder what people mean by these vague references to ‘rich literary culture’ (and when I see the same phrase crop up in more than one place, it really sets my bullshit detector tingling). Ordinarily, these buzzwords sound appealing in the abstract, but dissolve like an urban legend when subjected to a bit of thought.”

The Justice Department has been investigating whether those publishers colluded in adopting a new model, pioneered by Apple for its sale of iTunes and apps, for selling e-books. Under that model, Apple simply acts as the publisher’s sales agent, with no authority to discount prices.

“Joe: Translation: Under the Apple model, publishers can set their own prices. That isn’t Amazon’s model, but if enough of us band together (i.e. collusion), publishers can force Amazon to accept the prices publishers set.

“Look, a retailer should be able to sell whatever they want to sell, for however much they want to charge.

“Imagine going to a car dealer and being told, ‘We have to sell this Mazda for $19,999, and you can’t bargain.’ Imagine owning a store and not being able to put anything on sale.”

Amazon was using e-book discounting to destroy bookselling, making it uneconomic for physical bookstores to keep their doors open.

“Joe: Translation: Amazon was using free enterprise to gain market share, something that worries inferior competition.

“Barry: Oh, come on. Amazon’s lower prices were intended to ‘destroy bookselling’? Not to sell more books and gain market share? It’s ipso facto evil to compete via lower prices?

“I really wish all companies would collude to charge higher prices. The world would be a better place.

“Joe: The Big Publishing Cartel monopolizes distribution for decades and that’s fine, but some upstart comes in and starts treating authors and readers with consideration, and it is a call to arms.

“Barry: This argument is just bizarre. I mean, Amazon, which sells more books than anyone, is destroying bookselling? Amazon is destroying bookselling by selling tons of books?”

So, what do you think about all this?

Are Apple and the Big Five right?

Is the President of the Author’s Guild in the pockets of the Big Five and Apple?

Is Amazon evil?

Are Joe and Barry crazy??
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

17 responses to “Authors/Readers vs Publishers vs the U.S. Dept. of Justice

  1. Barbara Blackcinder March 14, 2012 at 3:24 am

    Thanks again Alex for all the excellent links, smashing the bullshit from the big 6.


  2. Martina March 14, 2012 at 7:40 am

    Hello Alexander,
    I happened to read the newsletter of a German organisation for publishers and booksellers just before I came to your site. In this newsletter amazon was ridiculed for its ranking of german towns and especially so for the explanations amazon offered. The explanations were really not very conclusive but that’s not the point. Amazon poses a danger to the old order of publishers and booksellers, worldwide apparently.


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  5. Freedom, by the way March 18, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    From a consumer’s viewpoint, the more robust the marketplace, the more choices in product and venue, the better. e-books, hard cover books, online retailers, bricks & mortar retailers–never in history has man had so much access to literature and to the discovery of new writers. Leave it to the government to wade in and mucky it up. I have a deep mistrust of the government in general and the DOJ, in particular, and am quite sure there is a “follow the money to the campaign coffers” in this investigation.


  6. Alexander M Zoltai March 18, 2012 at 3:47 pm


    Good to see you here :-)

    I’ve noticed that even some folks who would like to see the Agency Model of e-book pricing go away are saying the DOJ isn’t necessary to have this happen

    Apparently, the “disruptions” from Amazon and other digital outlets are enough to bring Apple and the “Big Five” into line with consumers’ desires


    • Freedom, by the way March 18, 2012 at 4:11 pm

      Yes, this is another instance where the free market can sort itself out, thank you. Let consumers decide with their wallets. I would hate to see brick & morter bookstores go away, but if that’s what happens if it becomes unprofitable, so be it. I have not purchased a tablet or Kindle, yet. But again, if that’s where the market goes, I will. Much like we all had to purchase digital cameras and have switched from hitting the blockbuster store to steaming.


      • Alexander M Zoltai March 18, 2012 at 4:40 pm

        I know there are plenty of things humanity could do without that have sprung from technology but So much is straight-up Good.

        I wish I could understand folks who hate the Internet and Kindles and electronic books

        Sure, I’d love to be able to have a house in the woods, half-way up a mountain. But, I’d want a large screen Internet and Total connection :-)


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  9. Caroline Gerardo March 27, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Great discussion. With complex emotions.
    But –As long as there are choices Amazon will play nice with us lowly creatives.
    As Apple, B&N and Publishers try to combat the Goliath- they forgot about a
    few US laws.


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