Amazon has disrupted the book world again. Last year there was a dispute with a major publisher over who set the price of e-books – the publisher or the distributor. This time the quarrel is with self-published authors and others who view Amazon’s recently released Kindle Unlimited as a threat to the incomes of authors. Kindle Unlimited is an Amazon subscription service that lets subscribers have access to over 700,000 titles for $9.99 per month. Amazon says that the readers are the ones who benefit from what it is doing. This reader’s recent experience is a look at how the world of book buying and selling has gone crazy.
Like most writers, I read a lot. Especially when the book is written by a Mississippi author or the book is about Mississippi. Last year I discovered John Hailman, author of “From Midnight to Guntown.” The book is about Hailman’s experience as a federal prosecutor. He also was legal counsel to Senator Stennis when the senator chaired the Armed Services and Ethics committees during the Watergate era. But that is not all. He began his career as a journalist with the Washington Post. He later was a nationally syndicated wine, food and travel columnist for Gannett News Service, where he was featured for 15 years in 100 daily papers. An Indiana native, he is a Millsaps College graduate, and has a master’s degree from Tulane and a law degree from the University of Mississippi. He was also a Graduate Fellow in Trial Practice at the Georgetown University Law School. He also attended the Sorbonne and National School for Magistrates, both in Paris, as well as the Université Laval in Quebec.
It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Hailman’s pen – or keyboard – wrote about things other than crime. Recently I came across an article about his latest book, “The Search for Good Wine,” published by University Press. Having a slightly above average interest in wine and having just returned from some time in Paris and Burgundy, France I just had to get Hailman’s book on wine. Another influence was that he was a Mississippian. Hmm… a Mississippian and wine. That just doesn’t seem to go together, does it? Alas, another reason to order the book. Off I went online in search of places to order the book. Being that today is the season of “After Christmas” the thought of a good deal entered my mind.
My first online stop was the website of University Press, the book’s publisher. It listed the price as $29.95 (cloth), plus $2.62 tax and $7.50 for shipping, for a total of $40.07.
Next was Amazon.com, which offered a variety of prices. They were as follows:
Hardcover (?) version for $22.19, plus $4.98 shipping = $27.17;
“New” — 34 from $16.86, plus $3.99 shipping = $20.85;
“Used” — 10 from $15.11, plus $3.99 shipping = $19.10; and
Kindle edition for $16.49.
Further searching revealed that Target.com offered the book for $9.19, plus $2.79 shipping and $.84 tax, for a total of $12.82.
Finally, I checked my local independent bookstore, Lemuria Books, and discovered that it had the book in stock at a price of $29.95, plus tax of $3.97, for a total of $32.34. However, there was something special about this copy of the book. It was a signed, first edition. Because I live about a mile from this bookstore I did not consider shipping costs.
So there it is. My choices are to buy the physical book online, where the price range is from $12.82 to $40.07 delivered to my doorstep or drive a mile and pay $32.34 for a signed first edition. And, of course, there is the Kindle edition, which is a click away for $16.49.
This episode illustrates how traditional book publishing has morphed into a totally new business model. Under the old model the publisher controlled the publishing and the distribution of a book. Except for the superstars, most authors made relatively little money. In this new model the distributor has more control. Authors do not need to get an agent, have their work submitted to a publisher and receive a royalty check every six months. They can self-publish their books, set their own price, have them listed on Amazon.com and receive a much greater share of the sales proceeds. Under the new model, book sales increased and more authors received more money. In 2010, Amazon had 600,000 e-books in its Kindle store. Today it has more than three million. Revenue from e-books in 2013 was near $3 billion, after increasing nearly 50 percent in 2012, according to BookStats.
If the publishers’ oxen were getting gored by the new model that favored authors, it is now authors who say that this even newer model, the Kindle Unlimited, will cut into their revenue. They worry that if they do not participate their books will not be promoted. After two months in the Kindle Unlimited program some self-published authors have found that their revenues have dropped substantially. In short, what we have now is too much competition.
From a reader’s standpoint, things could not be much better. Prices are lower and more books are available in more formats than ever. Books are also available at more locations.
So there in the offering of one book is an illustration of the now crazy, fascinating world of book buying and selling.
» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and CEO of The Hardwick Company, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at www.philhardwick.com.
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