I have been thinking a lot about this Amazon/Macmillan feud. As an editor/designer for a small, basically non-profit press, I am pleased just to see our books listed at Amazon. Barnes and Noble and other large bookstores make publishers and their authors jump through so many hoops, even for a book signing. And I can understand why—like all of us, they want to pay their bills, buy some things, take a vacation. Everyone has his own idea about how much profit is reasonable—usually something just a bit more than he currently has.
We are faced with a changing economic landscape and I don’t think either Amazon or Macmillan is a bully for trying to hold on to its piece of the pie. Macmillan’s costs for development, marketing and miscellanea will not change drastically when our society switches to electronic media, as it surely will. Yet most consumers assume that the profit for electronic media is 100% because there is no paper or printing—just magic—or the internet, which is, of course, free. I work in a library and frequently watch people check out 50 CDs and (presumably) proceed to transfer them to their computer then and there. I’ve had co-workers defend this because the recording industry makes all the money and the artists want you to hear them. Electronic sharing is supposed to free artists from popular constraints. Really, it’s just about FREE.
Teachers often justify copying books because their school budgets don’t include new books. They are supposed to use books already owned. Copy paper is not as monitored. And we all know that teachers are overworked and underpaid. As a parent volunteer, I was once asked to copy all of a teacher’s materials for her student teacher. Much of it was copies of someone else’s copies of copies. Is it okay if the book is out of print? I am totally overwhelmed by the need to make the right choice. Is it okay to have books printed in China because the lower pollution standards and costs make it more profitable, especially when I have to compete with e-books and copy machines—and the local printer keeps messing up my orders at a higher cost? E-books shouldn’t pollute as much. But if all the printers lose their jobs, who’ll be able to buy even those? And I like books, and color, and paper almost as much as I like magic.
Sometimes I just want to buy something because I like it and it’s priced right. But then I’m American, and we all know how selfish and bullyish we are. It’s not just Amazon and Macmillan.