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[publishing] The Kindle $9.99 boycott vs Green - Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2009-08-25 18:02
Subject: [publishing] The Kindle $9.99 boycott vs Green
Security: Public
Tags:books, green, publishing
I received an email recently from a reader saying, in part:
I recently was browsing Amazon for new books when I saw your title Green after reading the blurb I quickly added it to my wish list to down load later. I am dismayed however to find that the digital version is priced well over the $9.99 most publishers price digital books at. I just thought you should know that almost all Kindle users honor the $9.99 boycott of digital books. With no publishing costs I am not sure how some publishers price digital versions but I suspect that the digital market is not fully understood by "dead tree publishers." They also may be testing the waters to determine what the consumer will pay. Green looked like a wonderful book but with the user tag "9 99 boycott" most kindle users will just skip it by.


I'd never heard of the $9.99 boycott, but then I'm not a Kindle user. (Though I do read books on the Kindle app on my iPhone.) Here's what I sent in response:
Unfortunately, like most authors I have absolutely no control over pricing, on Amazon or in the print channels. The $9.99 boycott may send a message to my publisher, but the people it hurts most is authors like me. This damage is done both directly by depressing the sales of the book (ie, reducing potential royalties), and indirectly by making the publisher less likely to buy future books from me as a result of the depressed sales.

While I very much appreciate -- and agree with -- your perspective, I do hope you and the other boycotters realize your largest impact is on the authors themselves, who have no control whatsoever over the situation. The boycott will mostly reinforce the presence of discounted bestsellers, and further marginalize newer voices. I certainly hope that as a book lover, that's not your goal, but it's definitely your outcome.

The law of unintended consequences comes to get us all, one way or another.


I can unpack this in a number of directions, and probably will in a future post, but for now I'm interested in your thoughts on this. What do you think of the $9.99 boycott? Do you see a relationship between the price of books and an author's income, and how much do you think it matters? What else does this suggest to you?

Originally published at jlake.com.

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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
oldcharliebrown
User: oldcharliebrown
Date: 2009-08-26 19:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Can you clarify? I keep seeing this statement spread around, but most publishers can set their own prices, to whatever levels they wish. This is part and parcel of the Amazon DTP system, and inherent in their agreement. Beyond that I haven't seen anything online that actually supports this statement.
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Eric T. Reynolds: brd
User: ericreynolds
Date: 2009-08-26 02:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:brd
Interesting. I just Kindled a Hadley Rille title recently. The publisher makes only a fraction of the 9.99--most of it goes to Amazon. Publishers make more on the printed books than on the Kindle versions.
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Edward Greaves
User: temporus
Date: 2009-08-26 02:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As a Kindle user, I flip back and forth on this issue. Do I prefer the $9.99 or less books? Yes. However, there's a lot of misunderstanding about this. People seem to think Amazon had guaranteed that they will never pay more than $9.99 for an ebook. But that's not what was promised. They said that New York Times Bestsellers would be priced at $9.99. They never claimed they would guarantee anything else.

When Jim Butcher's latest came out, I didn't buy the Kindle version immediately, because it came out priced at $14.99. I had little doubt that it would come down in price, and indeed, a few weeks later it did, so I bought it. Frankly, had I bought it at the $14.99 it still would have saved me about $10 from what I would have paid in the store. And if I'd been aching to get it THAT DAY, I would have. I don't believe that I have some inalienable right to a Kindle book that is $9.99 or less. But in general, I will prefer to pay less whenever possible and if I don't feel compelled to own a book right away, I'll simply wait down the price.

Now, the one thing that I do find frustrating in regards to the Kindle pricing, is that sometimes, they keep the Kindle price pegged to an older version of the book, IE the Hardcover or the Trade Paperback, even when the MMPB is out. I think they should keep on top of that better, because I can't imagine too many people who would rather pay $9.99 for the Kindle version when the $7.99 mmpb is out on the store shelves. I think that's an area where there is significant room for improvement.
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Blue Tyson
User: bluetyson
Date: 2009-08-26 03:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Then there's the EOS insanity, released at the same time

Year's Best SF 14

MMPB $7.99
Ebook $14.99
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
Brent Kellmer
User: skaldic
Date: 2009-08-26 02:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm fascinated by his "most kindle users"... I am a kindle user and I've never heard of the $9.99 boycott. Of course, I live in the real world, where I understand that Amazon only does the $9.99 price for big name books where it can be used as an encouragement towards getting a kindle. Unfortunately, that's doesn't tend to include that many SF/F books. And the idea that there are no publishing costs just because it's a digital edition? That's entertaining.

Such a boycott, quite apart from the effect on the authors as you mentioned, frankly smacks of entitlement. They've arbitrarily decided that because Amazon used the $9.99 price to encourage people to buy titles, they should therefore not have to pay more than that ever. But $9.99 or not, they're still almost always less expensive in kindle format than in dead tree ware.

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ygolonac
User: ygolonac
Date: 2009-08-26 04:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"And the idea that there are no publishing costs just because it's a digital edition? That's entertaining."

So what are these costs?

I'm sure there are some costs, but, to my totally uneducated about the business of book publishing mind, it seems there would be a cost that both editions share, like the portion that goes to the author and editor and that bit, but once the book was ready to be 'printed', each dead tree version has a set cost to it while basically, each electronic one is nearly free.

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CJ Marsicano (CJマルシカノ)
User: cjmarsicano
Date: 2009-08-26 02:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Boycotts" like this are absolute bullshit. I don't have a Kindle yet, but as a longtime iTunes/iPod user I think some people have this same lame, ignorant cheapskate mentality. I've bought single albums on iTunes that were more than $9.99 in the past and didn't care because of the convenience and such. If I had a Kindle, and a Kindle version of a book were $10.99 or more and I was sincerely interested in it, then I'd lay down the bucks.
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ygolonac
User: ygolonac
Date: 2009-08-26 15:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"I think some people have this same lame, ignorant cheapskate mentality"

Right. Because I don't blindly blow my money on stuff without thinking I am ignorant and a cheapskate.
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Blue Tyson
User: bluetyson
Date: 2009-08-26 03:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Your publisher refusing to sell it to the rest of the world ain't going to help, either, speaking of being marginalised.
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Michael Curry: minifesto brandeis
User: mcurry
Date: 2009-08-26 03:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:minifesto brandeis
I don't think it even occurs to many readers that there's a connection between the price of the book and the income of the writer. Even if they do they likely think that all writers are pulling down six figures or more a year anyway, so it's not like it actually *hurts* them to have the price be lower.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-26 12:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh, yeah, six figure income. Is that why I drive a 10-year-old Chrysler and use a 3-year-old computer? Heh.
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ygolonac
User: ygolonac
Date: 2009-08-26 04:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm not a Kindle user, mainly because of the price of ebooks. The concept of the Kindle sounds great and when I read about it I want one, but I think even $9.99 is too much for an electronic version of a product.

When prices for such things get closer to rational, I'll consider buying an ebook reader, but till then I'll continue to spend my money on something a bit more solid, something I can loan out to friends or even resell if I want.
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Amy Sisson
User: amysisson
Date: 2009-08-26 05:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't mean to be argumentative, but I've seen two unrelated instances in the past few days where an author has pointed out that a boycott (the other was of an Orson Scott Card-related product) hurts the author most (who wasn't Orson Scott Card in this particular case), implying that the buyer really shouldn't boycott because it hurts the innocent author more than the publisher.

The thing is, that's all buyers have -- their only power is to not buy something. So I'm not sure it's fair to essentially guilt trip the potential buyer by saying they're hurting the author most. That may be so, but they are also hurting the publisher, even if it's in a very small way. And that is the point. They don't personally have an obligation to make sure the author is "OK", or that the author is hurt more or less than the publisher.

Again, I really am sorry if that sounds argumentative. There have been many unrelated things online lately (not just boycotts) that have made me sensitive to the impression (whether justified or not) that authors think the public owes them something: attention, a living, or anything else. I just don't think they do.

(I'd not heard of the specific $9.99 Kindle boycott, by the way. But I do not buy Orson Scott Card related products. It's a shame, but I feel too strongly about his hate-mongering.)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-26 12:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually, I wasn't trying to imply that the buyer shouldn't boycott. I was trying to imply that the buyer should understand the impact of their boycott. I certainly don't think the public owes me anything, I'd just prefer that my books have a chance to stand or fall on their own merits, rather than because one third party (the buyer) is unhappy with another third party (Amazon).
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dinogrl: bookish robot
User: dinogrl
Date: 2009-08-26 06:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:bookish robot
Such a can o' worms. I'm livid at Amazon about the Kindle for many reasons. However, I think there needs to be a full blown discussion at the pro level on this. Maybe a missive to Mr. Hartwell about programming this item at WFC?
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derekjgoodman
User: derekjgoodman
Date: 2009-08-26 07:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I get around the ridiculous prices of the ebook editions in a very simple way: I buy the paperback, and I buy it from my local independant bookseller. That way the author gets some money, the publisher gets some money, the bookseller gets money, and Amazon gets squat. So I guess in a way I was already participating in the boycott by default.

I suppose if people are boycotting the Kindle editions but not the books themselves, there's nothing wrong with it. If they're completely avoiding a book they might enjoy just because one edition has a wonky price, then that's a little ridiculous.
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Amy Sisson
User: amysisson
Date: 2009-08-26 15:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is well stated. As you say, there's a big difference between boycotting a specific edition for a specific reason as opposed to writing off the work itself.
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The Green Knight: Never Enough
User: green_knight
Date: 2009-08-26 10:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Never Enough
As it appears that it is Amazon setting the profit on this, it seems writers would be better served by people waiting and buying the paperback. (How much do Kindle sales go into a publisher's consideratins of whether a writer is profitable? If the Kindle profit is very low, maybe not so much.)

As a consumer, I feel that paying more for an eletronic edition _that may be recalled by Amazon and that I can only download a very limited number of times etc_ than for a paperback with all its printing and distribution costs (and which will be MINE forever hereafter and endure for the rest of my life) is insane. I see electronic books more on par with cinema tickets - you pay to enjoy it once, and any other use you get out of it is a bonus, and there's a limit of how much I am willing to pay for that experience.
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Edward Greaves
User: temporus
Date: 2009-08-26 15:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The limit to the number of downloads is with regards to the number of DEVICES you can download your content, not the number of TIMES you can download the individual file from Amazon. It also doesn't restrict you on the number of times you can read it.

You can manually backup every file off your Kindle, and keep them in multiple locations (I do) just in case you want to be able to reload them. Frankly, its a good idea because you never know if Amazon might go out of business. (It's not like we haven't seen some major corporations that no one ever believed would go under, go under within the past year or so.)

I agree, you shouldn't pay more for an electronic edition than you would for the print edition. (I won't.) However, the $9.99 boycott is not about that. It's about the misunderstood impression that some people got that Amazon promised no ebook would ever be more than $9.99 and that's just not true. Amazon never said that. They only promised that a limited subset of books (NYT Bestsellers) would be made available at that price.

The books that people are boycotting would still be saving them over $10 compared to the price of going out and buying the hardcover.

Pray tell, what do you spend on Cinema tickets? Around here it's over $11 a movie. So if you're saying you would spend money on ebooks as if you would on movie tickets, well....you're already there for most of them.

I've bought about 14 books on my Kindle so far. I've yet to pay more for that ebook than the cover price of the currently exisiting version of said book in physical copy. I've also "purchased" through amazon nine books for free that were basically publisher giveaways. All of which were first books in series.
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Lawrence M. Schoen
User: klingonguy
Date: 2009-08-26 11:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm a big fan of Amazon when it comes to buying books, but I reverse myself 180 degrees when it comes to Kindle.

Reading the Kindle contract (posted with commentary some weeks back by SFWA) I was utterly appalled, stunned, and disgusted.

I'm holding out hope that once the Kindle gets some serious competition the situation may improve.
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Edward Greaves
User: temporus
Date: 2009-08-26 20:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
If this is real: http://www.stumbleupon.com/s/#1KzQRw/www.emagazines.com/shopcontent.asp?type=devices/

I think then you just might have some major competition that will bring market forces to bear.
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Dan/Дмитрий
User: icedrake
Date: 2009-08-26 12:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Data point: $10 for a book you are essentially *leasing*, and that after you've spent $300 or so for the device to enable you to read it in the first place? Cold day in hell before I buy either a kindle or a remotely-deactivated ebook to read on it.
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gvdub
User: gvdub
Date: 2009-08-26 15:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The whole DRM thing is one of the reasons why the newly announced Sony wireless touchscreen e-book reader sounds attractive. Sony has announced that they're going with the ePub format, which is open, so you're not tied to a single vendor or to DRM'd nastiness. As long as it has decent pdf support as well, I'm so on board with it once it's released. I already have one of the earlier Sony readers, and have been pretty happy with it, aside from the pdf support being so-so.
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peanut13171: dos santos warbreaker
User: peanut13171
Date: 2009-08-26 16:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:dos santos warbreaker
Just read in today's paper that Sony will also allow you to download ebooks from your local library for 21 days. Hands down, this would be my choice for e-reader.

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-sony26-2009aug26,0,3428395.story

"Sony's readers have another feature that's not present in the Kindle: All of the devices are capable of displaying digital books that have been borrowed from thousands of public libraries that lend electronic books.

The Daily Edition goes one step further by finding local libraries with a digital-books collection that let users wirelessly download the book for 21 days -- provided they have a library card for that particular library."
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