Update 5:12 PM (CST): Global edit, Hatchette->Hachette. Because apparently I thought the publisher was actually named after an axe.
Updated 5:18 PM (CST), 11 August: Someone popular linked to this and site traffic is crazy. Load times are slow. Apologies. Also, see the addendum at the end.
I hoped I’d be able to stay out of this whole Hachette/Amazon mess. It should be easy: I’m not a recognized authority on publishing, after all, and my soapbox isn’t really pointed in that direction. But as it happens, no one in this argument is saying what I want them to say, so I’m going to have to say it myself, and leaving comments on other people’s blogs just isn’t going to cut it for me.
The Short Version
This is a horrible fight. No matter who wins we’re probably screwed. Hachette isn’t the hero, and Amazon isn’t the hero either.
The Long Version
Looking at this fight all by itself, without any context at all, Amazon probably deserves to win--and honestly, I think it probably will win whether it deserves to or not. There’s no legitimate reason an ebook should cost the same as a paperback. “Well we really want to” is not a legitimate reason. “Because we can get away with it” is only legitimate from a business perspective if you can actually get away with it, and the current fight between Amazon and Hachette suggests that they can’t.
As reader of books I want ebooks to be cheaper than paperbacks because a) they’re obviously cheaper to make and b) when I “buy” an ebook I have fewer rights to do what I want with it than I do when I buy a paperback, so please don’t try to pretend it’s the same thing. If the first sale doctrine doesn’t apply to an ebook purchase, or doesn’t apply as completely, then it better be cheaper. So strictly within the boundaries of the current argument between a publisher that wants to charge stupid prices for their product and a retailer that wants to sell a product at less-stupid prices, regardless of their actual motives, as someone who buys ebooks I gotta hand Amazon the win.
That said: an Amazon win is probably not in anyone’s long-term interests.
Here is the secret to understanding my take on Amazon: they’re not part of the publishing industry, although the things they do certainly affect it. They’re not a service and retail company, though that is the way they make all their money. At its core, Amazon is and always has been part of the computer industry, and if you view them from that perspective their business practices should scare the shit out of you.
More below the cut.