Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2012 Issue

E-Books: A Tentative Settlement, a Challenge, and Some Lower Prices

K999

Once again $9.99 e-books can be found on Amazon.

The battle over e-book pricing that has ensnared Amazon, Apple, five book publishers, and the U.S. Department of Justice, took some more strange turns over the past few weeks. Some parties have settled, some fight on, some even wish to overturn the settlements. Meanwhile, the effect of some of the settlements has already begun to show up as Amazon lowered the price of some electronic books from $12.99 and $14.99 to $9.99, prices they set before the whole controversy erupted.

To briefly recap what you may already know, Amazon pioneered the e-book business, selling electronic books regularly in the $9.99 price range. That is substantially lower than printed copies, and for Amazon, left little room for profit. At times they sold for a loss. That was fine with Amazon. Their strategy was long term. They wanted to sell lots of their Kindle e-book readers, and dominate the electronic book field. The strategy appeared to be working as they controlled around 90% of the market.

However, book publishers, though getting their desired price from Amazon, were still uneasy. They saw cheap e-books as potentially eroding more expensive paper book sales, and feared the long term consequences of Amazon dominating the retail market. They wanted e-book prices to rise, so consumers would not become accustomed to low prices, and other retailers would be willing to enter the market.

Into this mix came Apple. Apple wanted to sell e-books too, but not for low margins. Apple likes to make lots of money now. So Apple agreed to sell e-books, provided they could charge more, yet still not be embarrassed by Amazon undercutting their prices. Apple and the book publishers had something in common – a desire to see e-book prices rise. So, five publishers and Apple agreed to contracts. These contracts specified that the publishers would now use what is known as the “agency model” to sell books. Instead of selling books at a wholesale price, and allowing retailers to decide what price they would charge, the publishers set the retail prices, and then charged a percentage of that price to the retailers. In other words, the model assured that all retailers would sell books for the same price. With Amazon no longer being able to sell for less, Apple, and others, felt free to enter the e-book retailing business.

The U.S. Department of Justice cried “foul.” This is price-fixing, they said. The D.O.J. sued. Three of the publishers blinked. HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster agreed to discontinue the agency model. Penguin, Macmillan, and Apple did not. Apple not only did not agree to the settlement, but is challenging the right of the others to agree to the settlement. After all, they have entered into an agreement with the publishers that provides for agency model pricing, so, they say, the publishers have no right to agree to a settlement that infringes on their contracts. If their contracts are illegal, then a court of law must determine so, not some private parties agreeing to abridge Apple's contracts. Apple seeks to strike down the settlements and uphold their “agency” contracts.

That has not stopped Amazon from acting quickly. Already, we are seeing $9.99 e-books return to the Amazon website where new agreements have been reached with the settling publishers. How do consumers feel? Apple and others have argued that the agency model is good for consumers because it enables more vendors to compete. Usually, consumers like competition. However, where you are selling a commodity item – all units are the same, as is the case with e-books – my guess is that consumers prefer to have one vendor who sells for less, than a whole mess of vendors, all charging the same higher price, from which to choose.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Sergio Trujillo Magnenat, <i>Bogotá 1938 / IV Centenario / Juegos Deportivos Bolivarianos,</i> 1938. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>McQueen Drives Porsche,</i> designer unknown, 1970. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>Joe Bridge, <i>Bignan / A Des Ailes,</i> 1921. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Graham Simmons, <i>The Army Isn’t All Work,</i> 1919. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>Je ne fume que le nil,</i> 1912. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>Attack of the 50 ft. Woman,</i> designer unknown, 1958. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Raymond Tooby, <i>Festival Guiness / Have You Tried One Yet?,</i> 1952. $600 to $900.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Francisco Tamagno, <i>Terrot & Co. / Dijon / Cycles Motorettes,</i> 1909. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>A. Hori, Oakland / General Motors, circa 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> James Montgomery Flagg, <i>Travel? Adventure? Answer – Join the Marines!,</i> circa 1918. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions