Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2014 Issue

Amazon and Hachette Agree to Bury the Hachet... But Who Won?

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Amazon and book publisher Hachette have come to an agreement that has been welcomed by authors, and, at least on the surface, by the two parties. Amazon has been engaged in a long-running power struggle with publishers, and if this represents a truce, it seems hard to imagine that the hostilities are truly over. It is more likely a respite for some amount of time while the parties continue to jockey for position until the next battle comes around.

 

The war started several years ago when Amazon started offering major discounts on electronic books, still a relatively new product. They were willing to accept little profit, sometimes even losses, in order to dominate the business. Amazon has long been more interested in market share and controlling businesses than making money now. The publishers were unhappy. Cheap ebooks, they believed, were a threat to their more lucrative printed book business. They did not want to see Amazon selling these so cheaply.

 

The publishers so hated cheap ebooks that the government accused them of conspiring together to fix prices. The government's claim was that five of them agreed to change their pricing method from a fixed wholesale price, to a fixed retail price, with retailers getting a 30% commission. In other words, Amazon was no longer permitted to discount their prices. It is legal for a publisher to so set retail prices, but it is illegal for them to do so as part of a joint decision. That is price fixing. The publishers settled with the government, and agreed not to consult each other in the future on pricing.

 

That temporarily reset the publishers' pricing terms as they were before, but since then, some have individually established “agency” pricing – setting the retail price below which retailers cannot sell their books. Amazon retaliated. In Hachette's case, they slowed down sales of their lucrative paper books. They continued to sell them on their website, but did not stock Hachette's titles. The result was long delays, often several weeks to ship orders for Hachette books, while Amazon placed an order with Hachette and then waited to receive it from the publisher. Additionally, Amazon refused to take pre-orders for Hachette books. It is estimated around 25% of books are sold on pre-orders for new titles. Additionally, these pre-orders are essential to appearing on bestseller lists, which in turn is essential for popularity and continuing sales. Hachette, and Hachette's authors, were feeling the pain.

 

No more. Amazon and Hachette have reached an agreement. Hachette titles have been restored to normal treatment on Amazon. So who won? That is not clear, though some believe it was Hachette. For starters, the terms of the agreement were not released. All we can do is speculate about what it contains based on a few brief comments. What we do know is that Hachette achieved its major objective – the right to set retail pricing. Amazon will not be able to discount at will, selling for less than its competitors can afford, thereby crushing the competition. This we know from Hachette's statement: “It [the agreement] gives us full responsibility for the consumer prices of our ebooks. This approach, known as the Agency model, protects the value of our authors’ content...”

 

The only hint of Amazon's side comes from this short statement by one of their officers in a joint press release with Hachette: “We are pleased with this new agreement as it includes specific financial incentives for Hachette to deliver lower prices, which we believe will be a great win for readers and authors alike.” What this may mean is that Amazon will pay a higher percentage of the retail price if Hachette agrees to lower retail prices. The idea is to give Hachette more money for lowering retail, a temptation they may not be able to resist, particularly if other publishers reduce their retail prices.

 

On the surface this looks like a win for Hachette. They get what they want – higher retail prices. Amazon only gets the right to try to convince Hachette to lower retail prices by giving them more money. Sounds fairly one-sided.

 

But... why would Amazon agree to a deal that favors Hachette when they were causing more pain to Hachette than Hachette was inflicting on Amazon? Perhaps Amazon fears that the publishers will repeat what they allegedly did as a group, only this time individually. When one publisher attempted to institute “agency” pricing, Amazon shut them out, forcing the publisher to cry “uncle.” However, when the publishers acted in concert, shutting them all out would have too greatly reduced the number of books Amazon could sell. Readers would have turned elsewhere for their books. Amazon had to back down. Now, if the publishers all individually decide to demand the right to set retail prices (wink wink), Amazon could lose book sales to competitors. Worse yet, it could crush Amazon's dominance of today's book trade.

 

Still, even if it is true that Amazon lost this round, they remain an enormous force. Estimates are that they sell 40% of all new books and 65% of ebooks (according to USA Today). That is a lot of leverage. If the balance of power shifts their way, they are not reluctant to use it. While they may no longer be able to discount the competition out of business, it may be too late to stop the juggernaut. Too many people just go to Amazon for their books. Additionally, they can offer such bonuses as free shipping, or perhaps deals on other products when purchased with books. They have enormous size and power, and given time, will figure out how to make the most of it.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Leon TOLSTOÏ. <i>Anna Karenina.</i> Moscou, 1878. First and full edition of the Russian novel, in the author’s language.<br>Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Mark TWAIN. <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade).</i> New York, 1885. First American edition.<br>Est. 5 000 / 6 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Karen BLIXEN. <i>Out of Africa.</i> Londres, 1937. First edition in the UK, before Danish translation and American release.<br>Est. 1 500 / 2 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest HEMINGWAY. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> New York, 1929. First edition with $2.50 on the dust and A on the copyright page.<br>Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris, Shakespeare and Company, 1922. First edition published by Sylvia Beach. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Dubliners.</i> Londres, 1914. First edition. Nice copy in publisher’s cardboard. Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Franz KAFKA. 8 novels in German first edition, published in München, Leipzig and Berlin 1916-1931. Est. from 300 / 400 to 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €

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