Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2012 Issue

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

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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>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. Sold for $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief, ALS, writing after pledging support to King George III against American rebels, 1776. Sold for a record $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Sonia Delaunay, <i>Ses Peintures</i> . . ., 20 pochoir plates, Paris, 1925. Sold for a record $13,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Diana, Princess of Wales, 6 autograph letters signed to British <i>Vogue</i> editor, 1989-92. Sold for $10,400.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alexander Hamilton, ALS, as Secretary of the Treasury covering costs of the new U.S. Mint, 1793. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. Sold for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Barbier & François-Louis Schmied, <i>Personnages de Comédie,</i> Paris, 1922. Sold for $9,375.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli,</i> Paris, 1897. Sold for a record $13,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ralph Waldo Emerson, <i>The Dial,</i> first edition of the reconstituted issue, Emerson’s copy with inscriptions, Cincinnati, 1860. Sold for a record $3,250.
  • <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>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini. June 27</b>
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KENNEDY ONASSIS, JACQUELINE Typed letter signed to Oleg Cassini. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> [CASSINI-KENNEDY FASHIONS] Important archives related to the development of fashions for Mrs. Kennedy… $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> [CASSINI-KENNEDY FASHIONS] Detailed ledger of the Kennedy White House years… $500 to $800
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KELLY, GRACE. Four autograph letters to Oleg Cassini. $5,000 to $8,000
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini. June 27</b>
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> CASSINI, OLEG. Group of Kennedy-era original fashion sketches. $1,000 to $1,500
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KENNEDY ONASSIS, JACQUELINE. Autograph letter signed to Oleg Cassini. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> CASSINI, OLEG. Fashion sketch titled “Mrs. Kennedy-Palais de Versailles-State Dinner.” $800 to $1,200
    Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini: [CASSINI, OLEG - KENNEDY, JACQUELINE.] Group of approximately 130 original fashion designs… $800 to $1,200.
  • <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> André Breton, <i>Second manifeste du Surréalisme,</i> Paris, Editions Kra, 1930
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Paul Eluard and Pablo Picasso, <i>La Barre d’appui,</i> Paris, Editions « Cahiers d’Art », 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Hans Bellmer, <i>Die Puppe,</i> Paris, G.L.M., 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Salvador Dali, <i>La femme visible,</i> Paris, Editions Surréalistes, 1930

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