What is Wrong with Price Collusion?

If you’ve read The Wall Street Journal’s article on the impending DoJ’s investigation of potential price collusion between Apple and five of the Big Six publishers, it might seem kind of cut and dry.

But with anything having to do with publishing and books, it never is.

Mike Shatzkin talked about some of the potential implications for other retailers, ebook manufacturers, distributors, and publishers (don’t take my word for it; go read it here), and I must say that it’s kind of scary. Shatzkin always has a lot of smart and wonderful things to say (even when they’re scary as hell from an independent publisher’s perspective), but I wondered if there was something else that might be at play here, something that could end up being good for the author…

One of his last points is this: “But, in the long run, all authors will just get less. They will join the legion of suppliers beholden to a retailer whose mission is to deliver the lowest possible price to the consumer.”

As I think about this, I’m just too damn stubborn to accept it. I don’t think that publishers have been passing the savings along to the author, and maybe it’s about time that the authors themselves rise up and say that they are going to control pricing in a way that is actually beneficial to them and not the publisher or distributor (one of the unsung middlemen in this whole thing). Yes, I agree that publishers are the ones that do a lot of work in the process, but they should be in service to the author, not the other way around (which seems to be the case, especially if you consider just how honored a writer is who is actually published). They should be running to authors right now, saying, “holy shit, things are crazy, but we promise that we’re going to take care of you; just let us figure this thing out, so we can make sure you get honest pay for honest work.”

Maybe I’ve got too much idealism floating around in my head right now; maybe I’m just too hopped up on the sunshine spilling in through the windows. Distribution is changing the entire business, and agency pricing seems to be in place to keep the status quo moving along, and to a degree, I’m okay with that shit going away.

I wouldn’t be surprised if when the dust settles, there will be a new approximation of what it used to be like: digital storefronts, great editors with their favorite ebooks that they’ve worked on, author/publisher relationships that are mutually beneficial, and readers with books.

And that sounds perfect, as long as authors are eating…



2 thoughts on “What is Wrong with Price Collusion?

  1. What is Wrong with Price Collusion?
    I’ll tell you. Let’s imagine you want to buy an ebook, so you go online to the publisher’s website and see it at $20, then you go Amazon and see it at $20. In fact, no matter which site you visit, this book is always $5 more than the hardcover price. This is how publishers are a monopsony on one side and a monopoly on the other.

  2. To add to the above: Of course, traditional publishers are no longer as in control as they would like to be, what with the increase in the opportunities to self-publish that has been created by the growth of the Internet and the development of the World Wide Web. This is why they came up with the Agency Model; desperation.

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