Publish and Perish – Clueless Publishing CEO’s Enjoy an Intimate Dinner (The Passive Voice) — Did you know 16 states also filed antitrust suits against Apple and the Agency Five (as they are apparently being called)? Hey, those AG’s gotta do something to get re-elected! Look below the excerpts for PG’s advice to CEO’s on how to meet without risking an antitrust lawsuit. Utterly ridiculous the obstacles and waste forced on the market by the state.
Absent stringent government protection or physical boundaries that protect the monopoly, the long-term effects of overly-dominating a market tend to weaken the company or companies involved. If competition is permitted, the bloated and inefficient monopolist can present an easy target for an innovative and flexible competitor.
PG’s conception of monopoly is not rigorous, however, and he overlooks the fact that what made Microsoft an aggressive monopoly is intellectual property, that government grant of monopoly privilege that has no place in a free market.
The Agency Model Sucks (A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing) — J.A. Konrath does the math to demonstrate that authors make less money under the agency model. It’s bad for customers and authors.
The biggest problem facing book publishing (The Domino Project) — Perfect for the publishers, not for anyone else, not even the authors they publish. Otherwise, I tend to like what Seth Godin has to say about publishing.
Michael Stackpole, a traditionally published author who was one of the early champions of self-publishing ebooks, has an interesting post analyzing the settlement agreed to by three of the Big Six publishers — Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster — involved in the alleged ebook price fixing flap. If he’s right, the Department of Justice is going to be imposing more injustice than just preventing a little self-destructive collusive fixing of high prices. This is yet another among so many many many examples of the state stepping in to prevent something only to impose that very thing itself. Yes, it looks like the DoJ is going to prevent price fixing of one sort only to impose its own brand of price fixing. But hey, it’s only a bad thing when non-state entities do it, right?
Here is Stackpole’s breakdown of the settlement provisions:
For a period of two years,
Publishers will not be able to set a restricted retail price for their product.
Retailers will be able to set their own price for an ebook, but they cannot discount the bookbelow their own discount. (In short, the retailer cannot sell ebooks at a loss.)
Publishers cannot “retaliate” against retailers during this time.
The “favored nation” status that prevented a publisher from selling at a lower price to one retailer over another is gone.
The Agency Pricing discount of 30% off the top that retailers pay publishers can remain in place.
There are compliance procedures being set in place (that I don’t bother discussing) so the government can make sure that the publishers are complying with the agreement.
That’s right. Provision #3 fixes an arbitrary minimum price —a price floor. Retailers like Amazon will not be allowed to sell ebooks below the price they pay publishers for them; they will not be allowed to sell at a loss. For two years. And apparently there is yet more intrusive bureaucracy being set up to monitor compliance with these new regulations for the ebook market. It’s another shovel-ready Obama jobs program!
The federal government is also going to prevent publishers from requiring retailers sell their ebooks for a certain price. In other words, it bans the agency model. Now, I’m no fan of the agency model, and I think it’s self-destructive for publishers to adopt it in order to screw their customers with high prices so that they can prop up their dead-tree book business model for a while longer. But I don’t think they should be prevented by law from doing so.
Stabilization is Chaos: “Monetary policy all over the world has followed the advice of the stabilizers. It is high time that their influence, which has already done harm enough, should be overthrown.”
— F.A. Hayek, 1932
The federal government is also going to prevent publishers from retaliating against retailers for the prices they set. Also, no more contracts that stipulate publishers can’t sell to other retailers at a lower price. In other words, the state is going to short circuit the market process by preventing publishers from putting any kind of meaningful pressure on retailers and vice versa. No jockeying for position in the ebook market. Forget letting consumers decide and the best business model win. The United States federal government prefers stasis — the maintenance of a status quo of its own making.
But wait, there’s more. Stackpole does the math and argues that far from preventing publishers from fixing high prices for consumers, the settlement will actually disincentivize both publishers and retailers from setting lower prices:
Jeffrey Tucker recently discussed the Department of Justice’s decided to launch antitrust litigation against Apple and five of the Big Six publishers — Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, but not Random House — for alleged price fixing. Three of them — Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster — decided on the same day to settle straight away. The alleged sin was that Apple and the publishers decided to go with the agency pricing model in which the publishers get to set the prices for their books in the iBooks Store, while Apple takes a 30% cut.
As you’d expect, I’m with Jeffrey Tucker in believing that price fixing, collusion, cartels should not be illegal. In a free market, these practices are not stable and will end up harming the companies in the long run if they dissatisfy customers. What I want to highlight in this news post is not what so much what libertarian justice has to say about the matter but some bad economic-tech journalism about the business side.
I recently read this article on Mashable by Lance Ulanoff, the site’s Editor-in-Chief:
And if Steve Jobs really thought Amazon screwed up in alienating major publishers by not adopting the agency model, he was clueless as well. Amazon is WINNING.
Jobs pushed the agency model on the publishers? I don’t think so. They preferred that model but couldn’t get Amazon to go along with it without Apple’s help. It’s the screw-your-customers model and it wouldn’t have been good for the publishers over the long haul. They want high ebook prices so that they can hang onto their outdated IP-dependent business model of selling paperbacks and hardcovers in big-box brick-and-mortar stores for as long as possible.
That antiquated business model is particularly insane in the United States. The origin of the current wasteful publisher/brick-and-mortar bookstore relationship is fascinating. The strip-and-return system has its origin in the Great Depression (thanks Fed!).