Notes: Amazon/Macmillan Aftermath; Books Are Irresistible
The dust is still settling after the quick, fierce Amazon/Macmillan war over the weekend. And technically the conflict hasn't ended: although Amazon said it was "capitulating," as of this morning, the company still hadn't restored the buy button to Macmillan titles we checked.
Yesterday Wall Street took a dim view of Amazon's capitulation: on a day the Dow Jones rose 1.2%, Amazon fell 5.2%, to close at $118.87, on trading volume four times the average.
Most commentary supported Macmillan. For example, on his blog Whatever, writer John Scalzi wrote, "Oh, sweet Jesus, did Amazon ever hump the bunk." He listed in detail "all the many ways Amazon so very failed the weekend," including "the stealth delisting," losing authors' sympathies, losing authors' fans, letting Macmillan define much of the issue, offering a weak and belated response, etc.
Bill Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage, Corte Madera, Calif., wrote in the Huffington Post that "Amazon has made sure that e-books sold on Amazon can only be read on Kindles and that Kindles will not accept downloads from any bookseller other than Amazon. This is all part of a consistent approach by Amazon.com--including flouting state sales tax laws--to gain market share at any cost."
The Bookseller offered British perspective on the situation, reporting that the Guardian had noted British publishers will closely watch "this local tussle between American firms.... As one editor at a London publishing house put it: 'Whatever happens in the U.S. will dictate what happens elsewhere in the world.' Some publishers sensed Amazon was gearing up for a legal fight with its use of the word 'monopoly' in its response, posted on a Kindle forum."
Some people had fun. On her FakeBookNews on Twitter, for example, Janice Harayda posted this yesterday: "Amazon adopts new payment model after CEO Jeff Bezos reads Writer's Market: Will pay authors in 'free copies' of their own e-books."
On EarlyWord, Nora Rawlinson made a keen observation that shows that Amazon may not have made out so poorly after all: "Amazon has worked to give customers the perception that Kindle titles cost $9.99, but if you are not buying bestsellers, Kindle prices can be quite a bit higher. Of the nine titles with full reviews in the current NYTBR, only one is available in a $9.99 Kindle edition; three are not available at all and the rest were just $1.13 to $2.83 less than the hardcover price. In one case, the hardcover through a third-party retailer was cheaper than the Kindle version."
This reminds us of the phenomenon that has resulted in many consumers believing that all books at chain bookstores are sold at a discount, which has not been the case for many years.
Our sluggish economy may also be a bookish economy, according to a recent online poll that discovered three-quarters of respondents "said they would sacrifice holidays, dining out, going to the movies and even shopping sprees but they could not resist buying books," Reuters reported.
"The recession highlighted the downside of greed, indulgence and giving in to temptation, but we noticed a shift back to life's simplest pleasures," said Michelle Renaud of Harlequin Enterprises Limited, which conducted the poll.
In a piece headlined "Bookstores may have to turn page," Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat spoke with Cindy Russell, owner of City Books, who said, "We're buggy whips in an automobile world," noting that the shop, which was down 60% compared with January 2009, is "in dire straits.... It's not that people aren't reading--they are. But there are obviously forces out there bigger than I am."
Parnassus Book Service, Yarmouthport, Mass., is "one man's masterpiece," Sarah Romano told the Cape Cod Times. That man is her father, Ben Muse, who opened the bookshop 50 years ago.
"He hand picks every book," Romano. "Each book has his stamp."
When Nancy and Ralph Titcomb opened their bookstore in 1969 (now Titcomb's Bookshop, East Sandwich), "Ben Muse came to the store and introduced himself, Ralph said. Over the years, they referred customers to each other," the Times wrote.
"We were really there helping each other than being competitors," Ralph said.
Booksellers in Islamabad, Pakistan, struggle with numerous challenges, including bomb attacks that "have scared many shoppers away, including foreign diplomats who used to come to unload their libraries as they moved to a new assignment," according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Some bookshops have begun stocking alternative inventory to bolster sales, including "higher-profit material like textbooks, DVDs, and Dan Brown. (Bestsellers take a month to arrive on secondhand shelves, so pirated versions are ordered first and--at one-fifth the authentic version's price--they often sell better anyway.) The next step may be to peddle gel pens and leather planners the way the big chain bookstores do," the Monitor reported.
But Malik Ejaz, owner of the Old Book Collection, holds to a more traditional approach: "I emphasize books. There's not a lot of money. But I am happy."
Exploring how local bookstores adapt and survive, the Fort Smith, Ark., City Wire profiled Coffee & a Good Book and Book Ends.
"I think people should support their local bookstores, because we live here, we work here," said Deborah Busby, owner of Book Ends. "If the big guys get the business, we’re not going to be here anymore."
The Huffington Post continued its seasonal "Reading in Public" series by gathering more observations of what people are reading across the U.S.: "What we noticed this time was more spirituality, more history, and fewer big brand new bestsellers."
Back to the salt mines. In England, a million books from Manchester's Central Library, including some dating back to the 15th century, will be placed in temporary storage "with many going deep underground in the Cheshire salt mines... hundreds of feet below ground, for the next three years while the landmark city centre site undergoes a massive refurbishment to save it from ruin," the Evening News reported.
The house where Rudyard Kipling was born in India will become a museum, but the Telegraph reported that the "foundation restoring the Mumbai house has shelved plans to use it to house a Kipling museum, fearing that commemorating the author of The White Man’s Burden and chronicler of the British Raj will lead to a political furor. The house, instead, is likely to feature a collection of paintings by local artists."