Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2012 Issue

Electronic Book Pricing Under Attack

Kindlejobsbio

The Kindle edition of the Jobs' biography, for sale on Amazon.

The electronic book and publishing world is anxiously watching legal actions that may affect the profitability of this form of an over 500-year-old business. Allegations have been raised by private parties, and unconfirmed reports indicate the U.S. Department of Justice may be looking into the claims. We do not know what, if any, action the DOJ will take, but a look at a lawsuit filed last summer, and updated about a month ago, gives us a glimpse at what is at issue.

The complaint was filed by Hagens Berman, a large law firm that likes to take on class action suits. These are generally suits where a lot of individuals' claims, often each of which is relatively small, are combined into one large action against a much bigger foe. That foe is often a large corporation, or what is known in the trade as a “target” defendant, or one with “deep pockets.” If the suit is successful, the defendant is stopped from committing further wrongdoing, the damaged individuals get a little compensation, and the law firm makes a whole lot of money. Some people are understandably offended that the law firm is the only one that gets seriously paid, but if something like price fixing is taking place, and the government doesn't act, this may be the only way private citizens can stop the practice.

This class action suit was brought against five publishers – MacMillan, Hachette, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins (a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.), and one very deep-pocketed target defendant, the most valuable company in the world – Apple. With $100 billion (yes, billion) in cash sitting on its balance sheet, who wouldn't like to sue Apple?

When Amazon started selling e-books, a primary part of their strategy was to make them cheap. The $9.99 book was created. Amazon didn't make much on selling these e-books, at times even taking a loss. Amazon, unlike Apple, is not a massively profitable business, but there is a reason. Amazon is more focused on building their business for the future than making a lot of money now. By selling e-books for much less than printed ones, Amazon figured (correctly) it could wean a lot of readers over to electronic reading. On top of this, Amazon, with its Kindle e-reader, dominated the e-reader business, with something like 75% of the business. Selling cheap e-books encouraged readers to buy a Kindle e-reader. And ultimately, Amazon even started selling the Kindles cheaply, foregoing profits on them to get you hooked into the process of buying your e-books from Amazon to read on your Kindle electronic reader. The idea was to get people into the habit of fulfilling all of their book reading needs through Amazon. If it wasn't enormously profitable short term, in time that huge customer base would become a large source of revenue and profits for Amazon.

The publishers didn't much like this. Sure, they were getting paid their price for their e-books, but they did not like the long term implications. If Amazon established in consumers' minds that a book is worth only $9.99, and no more, it would make it very hard for them to ever raise prices, and it would make it very hard to sell traditional, printed books for typically established prices. Publishers seriously wanted Amazon to charge more.

So, according to the allegations in the lawsuit, the publishers decided to set the retail price for electronic books. A typical price appears to be $14.99.

Meanwhile, someone else became interested in selling electronic books – the aforementioned Apple. Apple was interested in encroaching on Amazon's e-reader market, selling books to be read on their iPad tablet computers, portable devices which can function as e-readers. Since Amazon is starting to morph their Kindle e-readers into being tablet computers as well, to go after Apple's dominant iPad market, Apple was more than willing turn the tables and go after Amazon's e-reader market. To this end, Apple was willing to go along with what is called the “agency model,” the complaint alleges. In this model, the publisher sets the price, and the seller gets a fixed commission, like 30%. However, while Apple did not seek to garner market share by undercutting the competition, they did not want to charge more than others either. Therefore, to get Apple to sell their e-books, and have them charge higher “agency model” pricing, the publishers had to force up Amazon's retail pricing, or so the complaint alleges.

In their complaint, the e-book consumers, as represented by law firm Hagens Berman, claim the publishers “conspired with Apple to force Amazon to adopt a new agency model in which publishers set prices directly, effectively ending Amazon’s ability to provide consumer-friendly pricing for e-books.” After the new pricing model was unanimously adopted by the publishers, the complaint further alleges, “the price of e-books shot up 30 percent.” The law firm describes this as a “price-fixing conspiracy,” and as “illegal,” which, if their allegations are true, is probably correct.

The law firm cites various alleged statements as evidence of the conspiracy. It cited a statement by Hachette CEO David Young in the New Yorker that if the consumer comes to believe a book is worth “ten bucks,” then “to my mind it's game over for this business.” It says Macmillan CEO John Sargent wrote on a blog that the previous market was “fundamentally unbalanced,” but that the agency model is “stable and rational.” The law firm also claims a Hachette executive met with Amazon and said that a price increase would solve the industry problem. Finally, they cite the Walter Isaacson biography of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, with Jobs reportedly saying that Amazon “screwed it up,” and that Jobs described his request that no other retailer be allowed to sell e-books for less than the price Apple charged.

By the way, if you want to read Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, you can buy a copy on Amazon. The price is $14.99.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 372: Martin Luther King Jr. March for Freedom Now! Placard. Chicago, 1960. 28 x 22”. $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 567: Warhol, Andy. Tate Gallery Exhibition Booklet, Signed on the Cover by Warhol. Tate Gallery, 1971. $700 to $900
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 72: Mitchell, Margaret. <i>Gone With the Wind.</i> New York: The Macmillan Co., 1936. First edition, first issue. $4,000 to $5,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 468: Photo Archive Documenting the 1930s—50s Chicago Jazz and Night Club Scene. A significant collection. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 143: Dr. Seuss. <i>Oh Say Can You Say.</i> 1979, First Edition, Signed. $200 to $300
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 285: [Maps] Thomas G. Bradford. <i>A Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical & Commercial.</i> Boston: William D. Ticknor, 1835. First Edition. $1,600 to $1,800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 69: Herman Melville. <i>Moby Dick, or The Whale</i>. New York: Random House, 1930. First Kent Trade Edition. $400 to $600
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 295: John James Audoban. Group of 148 Lithographs from the Birds of America. Philadelphia: J.T. Bowen, ca. 1840s. $600 to $800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 54: Langston Hughes. <i>One-Way Ticket.</i> New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949. First edition. $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 7: Ray Bradbury. <i>The Martian Chronicles.</i> With a Wine Label Signed by Bradbury. Garden City: Doubleday, 1950. First edition $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 121. Frank L Baum. <i>The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.</i> Chicago: George M. Hill Co., 1899, 1900. First Edition. $4,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 369. [Declaration of Independence] Peter Force Engraving of the Declaration of Independence. One page; 29 x 26”. From the "American Archives" 1837-1853 series of books. $15,000 to $20,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>The Tragedie of Julius Caesar.</i> London, 1623. 1st appearance in print, Complete from the First Folio. Sold for $175,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Zane Grey, Inscribed photograph album depicting Grey and party at Catalina, fishing, and in Arizona. $700 to $1,000
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    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> The Gentleman Angler. $300 to $500
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    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Ken Robinson, Flyfishers' Progress. [London: The Flyfishers' Club, 2000. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> G. H. Lacy, North Punjab Fishing Club Angler's Handbook. Calcutta: Newman & Co., 1890. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> J. Harrington Keene, Fly-Fishing and Fly-Making for Trout, etc. New York, 1887. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Arthur Macrate, The History of The Tuna Club, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California, 1948. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Joseph D. Bates Jr. Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company, 1966. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Paul Schmookler and Ingrid V. Sils. Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials: A Natural History. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Herbert Hoover, Fishing For Fun - And To Wash Your Soul. New York: Random House, 1963. $400 to $600

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