Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hey, look, antitrust

When the US Department of Justice is investigating accusations of collusion among big publishers and Apple, it's a sign that people still care about reading.

Agency pricing is what self-publishers traditionally have no recourse from: you set your price, the seller takes a cut, and you get the rest. Wholesale pricing is a matter of selling the book to the seller, and then they sell it to the customer for whatever price they choose. That's kind of neat, because while self-publishers in particular don't traditionally have access to reams of statistics about the best price to sell something for, booksellers do. Letting the sellers set the price means that they'll optimize it to sell as much as possible, and takes some of the worry from you (under wholesale model pricing, you get paid the same not matter what, so you can quite gleefully cease to agonize over pricing). Amazon traditionally sold ebooks for very little over their wholesale cost. A lot of the shift to agency pricing as opposed to wholesale boils down to 'wah, Amazon's willing to make less money on this than me.'

This does raise some concerns: if ebooks are absurdly cheap, that makes printed books less attractive.

And then we take a break from numbers and theory and talk to real people. Jesse Hajicek and Cory Doctorow both have their books available for free, in their entirety, online. They both have many people who read them for free, in their entirety, online. They both also sell hardcopies. People buy the hardcopies. It's a miracle!

But this post is not about the benefits of one's work being available free. This is about colluding to make the work of the people one represents more expensive. The publishers accused of course have experience hiding collusion, so it's possible nothing may come of the accusations. But lawsuits and expensive settlements and the possibility that the people who are handling your work are doing morally reprehensible things while not notably increasing what they pay you sure do make self-publishing more attractive right now.

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