On Friday, I was able to check off one of those bucket list items -- getting a letter to the editor published in the New York Times. This one was driven by the ongoing and rather frustrating battle between Amazon and the latest publisher that it's looking to pressure, Hachette. As a rapacious reader and a heavy investor in the Kindle method of consuming books, I am finding this whole process to be remarkably annoying.
However, after doing a bit more research, I decided that while I was ticked off at Amazon (so when exactly will we get our pre-ordered copy of the new "JK Rowling-writing-as-Robert-Galbraith" novel that's being published by Hachette and isn't available on Amazon now?), I didn't have much sympathy for Hachette and the other publishers either. Here's why:
To the Editor:
Neither Amazon nor the publishers are pure of heart. Amazon is facing serious pressure on the profitability front from investors, so it is looking to increase margins and reduce costs.
The publishers see e-books as their largest profit area. A Publisher’s Lunch article last year showed the profit breakdown for HarperCollins: A $27.99 hardcover provides a $5.67 profit to the publisher and a $4.20 royalty to the author; a $14.99 e-book provides a $7.87 profit to the publisher and a $2.62 royalty to the author.
While the publishers are making a claim to a noble struggle against Amazon’s efforts to devalue publishing, they are also seeking to protect their higher profits on e-books, not higher royalties for writers. While Amazon claims to want to offer readers the best pricing, Amazon has no qualms about using its powerful market leverage to get what it seeks while inflicting collateral pain on readers to boost its profits.
The two players that are suffering in this situation are the authors (book sales delayed or prevented, dramatically lower royalties) and the consumers, many of whom have invested heavily in the Kindle-based environment.
Barrington, R.I., May 31, 2014
(originally published in the New York Times op-ed letters section on June 5, 2014)