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Book Publishing Needs Socialism to Save It

27 July 2014

From Book Marketing Buzz Blog:

Let me just state up front that I love America and wouldn’t live anywhere else but, I also believe there’s room for a blend of socialism and capitalism to exist in a democratic society, and when it comes to how books are sold or treated, I prefer what the French and other advanced nations do.

They protect books and the printed word. I applaud them—and so should you.

Here in the U.S., thanks largely to Amazon, books have become commoditized. You can buy clothes based on price—or a desk or the hotel you vacation at. But books should not be purchased based on price alone.

. . . .

[T]he Hatchette-Amazon battle is now being waged and the repercussions of it could dictate the fate of publishing’s long-term viability. However, in other countries, books are a much healthier product.

In France, where Amazon only owns 10-12% of the book market—but 70% of online sales, Amazon is contained because of laws passed to protect and support bookstores and publishers.

The law says online sellers can’t offer free shipping on discounted books. Further, booksellers can’t offer more than a 5% discount off a book’s cover price.

I wish it were that way here.

In Germany, books can’t be discounted. In fact, six of the 10 biggest book-selling countries have versions of fixed book prices—Japan, Italy, Spain, South Korea, Germany, and France.

Link to the rest at Book Marketing Buzz Blog and thanks to Karen for the tip.

Just a reminder that PG doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he posts here. He tries to include a variety of opinions.

Amazon, Big Publishing, Pricing

79 Comments to “Book Publishing Needs Socialism to Save It”

  1. Oh, please, another “Everything is all Amazon’s fault” blog. Like Barnes & Noble didn’t a few years ago drive thousands of independent bookstores out of business and “commoditize” books. Gie me a break.

    • Don’t worry. In a few years when Barnes and Noble goes out of business the blame of all the bookstore closings will fall on Amazon. The publishers will never understand that the discounting of large orders is what put them out of business. If an independent bookseller is paying 10% more for their stock they cannot compete.

  2. The law says online sellers can’t offer free shipping on discounted books.

    Didn’t Amazon comply by charging a single cent for shipping?

  3. *headdesk*

  4. I think clothes are more important than books. Let’s protect clothes, fabric and tailors by charging a premium even for the most basic garments. If people don’t appreciate the value of clothes by paying these costs, they can just go naked.

    Seriously. If something is fundamentally important it should be cheap so the masses can benefit. If it’s a luxury item it can cost a lot more, but then it becomes the province of the well-off.

    It seems that books and reading are important, but should be priced at luxury prices. Unless books and reading (and by extension, education) are only necessary for the elite?

    Or has my brain been fried by the weather?

  5. this is price support, not socialism. If we’re going to have modified socialism, then writers get guaranteed incomes and healthcare, right?

    Unless price support is all that’s wanted. If so, and if the government is going to control price, why not go all the way and have the government be the publisher? Perhaps have a board appointed by the currently elected government that decides which texts should be published and which writers are worthy of guaranteed incomes… and then …

    • It does sound more like price support. It’s still not going to work. Propping up books with elaborate funding schemes is not going to make more people read them. We already have libraries and plenty of people have never been to one. I’m in favor of libraries because they do more than just have books these days and they’re necessary for the impoverished among us. Other than that though, you can’t force people to take books. If they don’t want them, they don’t want them. Million of Americans don’t care about books. Thankfully millions of other ones do.

    • Setting price floors or ceilings by the government is part of a socialist economy. The idea is that the marketplace is unfair and only the government has the power to force fairness for the benefit of society at large. It sounds great on the surface but almost always leads to major problems.

      Thomas Sowell wrote a book called Basic Economics that looks at dozens of different socialist efforts and the ultimate consequences. There are some areas of the world where socialism of one type or another can work for limited periods of time, but it’s simply impossible for one person or a group of people to move at the speed of local markets forever. In the end, socialism always ends up doing more harm than good.

  6. Look how well writers did in the Soviet Union!

    • Writers who went along with the system actually did quite well in Communist countries pre-1989. It was only when you disagreed with the system (and writers, being a rebellious lot, often did) that all bets were off.

      • Write something the government doesn’t like and you’re sent to a gulag like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. If you call that freedom, I’ll have none of it.

        • Mrs Morgenroth,
          I do not think that’s what Cora said.
          This topic has been largely discussed in another previous thread. One of the points on which both Cora and I, as European authors, were quite sensitive, was people insulting us by immediately comparing free, democratic european countries, to the Soviet Union, just because it happens that some laws are not exactly the same as in the US. In fact, most european readers, and even some (I won’t speak for all) self-pub authors like us, are quite in agreement with the system that prevents heavy discounting by big bookstores and Amazon.
          As as been also discussed, books are indeed a bit more expensive in France and Germany, but not that much, and it does NOT prevent authors to express themselves or readers to read exactly what they wish to.

        • I don’t call that freedom at all, cause it isn’t. I merely wanted to point out that Communist countries didn’t treat writers and artists badly per se, just those whose works they disagreed with.

          I can only speak for East Germany, but writers who went along with the system or at least didn’t publicly disagree generally got support and even certain privileges in Communist countries, e.g. the government organized readings for you. System-conforming writers also found it easier to get travel permits, which was a big deal in countries behind the iron curtain.

          On the other hand, if you disagreed with the system, your books got banned, you were put under surveillance, had any privileges revoked and could be imprisoned (Solzhenitsyn) or banned from the country (Wolf Biermann).

          • I lived for a year in the Republic of Georgia, in and around the city Kutaisi. While the younger people grew up in the post-communist era, many of the middle-aged and older people very much remembered what life was like under the Soviet regime. From them, I learned a bit about what life under a Soviet-style socialist regime was like.

            Georgia is a country that places a great deal of value on literature and writers. Every city and town has a Rustaveli street (named after the medieval author of The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, a Georgian classic that every child studies in third or fourth grade), a Tchavtchavadze street, a Gamsakhurdia street, etc. When people asked my profession and I answered that I’m a writer, their eyes lit up and they treated me with increased respect, unlike the United States where people ask how long I’ve been unemployed.

            These people still speak in hushed tones about the reign of Beria under Josef Stalin. Beria rounded up almost all of the writers and intellectuals in Georgia and had them killed by the secret police. Many of the people I spoke with had family members or relatives who were carried off in the middle of the night, never to be seen or heard from again.

            I have no idea how things were like in East Germany, but I do know that within the Soviet Union, the repression against writers was brutal–not just in terms of privileges being revoked, but in terms of life and death. That’s what happens when you give too much power to the state.

            • My experience with Communist literature comes exclusively from reading East German writers in German. With the exception of the Hörspiele, from the end of the Second World War (Zweite Weltkrieg) until the rise of the Berlin Wall, the best German stories came from East German writers. IMO.

          • When the communists took control in China, one of the first things they did was round up every teacher, professor, preacher, musician, and writer who disagreed with them, and killed them en masse.

            My mother-in-law was walking to school one day, looked up, and found her teacher hanging by his neck. He had said something negative about the government.

            Writers under communism weren’t uncomfortable if they disagreed. They were killed. In modern China, which has the most freedom it has ever had, you cannot print a newspaper article speaking ill of the government.You cannot say publicly that the president is a poor leader. You cannot complain publicly that the Bird’s Nest olympic stadium is ugly. You will be sent for re-education.

          • In the carrot-and-stick example you describe, the repression of the stick is obvious, but the carrot is a real danger too, if less obvious.

  7. What this dude is proposing is actually book protectionism, not socialism. It’s meddlesome, government over-control that serves the wishes of a very particular small group, and not the people.
    Not all meddlesome govt-overcontrol is socialism; not all socialism is government micromanagmement. Just because socialist France is practising book protectionism doesn’t make book protectionism a socialist practise.

    Socialism is about policy and practise that evens out the worst of inequalities; it’s about increasing access and opportunities for all social classes.

    Jeff Bezos is an entrepreneur, and Amazon is a capitalist project. Yet the results — increased access and affordability of books to readers, vastly increased access to market for and fairness to authors — actually resemble socialism far more closely than publishing practices in France or Germany.

    • Socialism is about policy and practise that evens out the worst of inequalities; it’s about increasing access and opportunities for all social classes.

      Funny thing — their version of “socialism” means for authors like James Patterson it’s business as usual.

      Wouldn’t socialism mean making sure all authors get the same contracts, marketing and “nurturing” that Patterson gets?

      If so, I don’t think they want that because that would mean less for the Pattersons of the world not the status quo.

      • I’m sure Patterson wouldn’t mind this version of “socialism” doing what socialism tends to do – drag everyone down to the lowest common denominator so that the least prolific control everyone else’s success. After all, he wouldn’t mind a newbie having access to his sales revenue, right?

    • According to Wikipedia: “Socialism is a social and economic system characterised by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy”

      So, as mentioned above, socialism in book sales would mean the government would be the sole publisher, controlling whose books were sold, how many were printed, and how much they cost. Clearly, government employees are such saints that they would never prioritize books by their mates over books by people they’ve never heard of.

      The funny part is that some who are in a privileged position with current gatekeepers believe they’ll always been in a privileged position with new gatekeepers.

      • I always believed that socialism was a system of government and communism a system of economics.

        Beyond that, I’m reminded of an anonymous quote from Quotable Quotes in Reader’s Digest sometime in 1970.

        “Socialism is a system of government that allows a man to lean upon his brother…until he’s incapable of standing on his own.”

        Reading that quote so many years ago led me to Adam Smith and his “The Wealth of Nations”. And on to Hayek, Friedman, Coase, de Sota, et al.

        My life is better for all that.

        Dan

    • Mr Babcock,
      France does not practice “book protectionism”; Quite the contrary, we translate many more foreign language books into our own language than any other country does. The government, far from trying to prevent that (that would be protectionism) in fact helps some publishers to pay the translators. I am not sure it is a good use of the taxpayers’ money, but it sure ain’t protectionism.

      • “Protectionism” is a broad term – while it usually applies to keeping foreign competitors at a disadvantage, here is just means that books (and publishers) are being protected from market conditions.

  8. Yeah, not buying it. If anything, Amazon proved that books can survive on their own. The more we try to “protect” books, the more expensive they will be because the arrogant “protectors” will think they are owed a living off the backs of writers who actually make the books possible. I’m not in this business to protect middlemen who want to survive while providing little value to me or my readers and I don’t see the value in letting books that no one can afford to buy and read sit and gather dust in bookstores that make no financial sense to run. Books are great and important, but they’re not worth that kind of inefficiency. They’re not healthcare. They’re not food or shelter. They’ll be fine if all the “protectors” actually start putting their money where their mouths are to buy books they consider important instead of trying to concoct schemes that won’t work anyway.

    • Uhm, in most EU countries the measures to protect books include charging a lower VAT rate for books, since books are classified as vital goods along foodstuffs and in some countries diapers and children’s clothes (and in Germany fresh flowers for some reason – no, I don’t get it either). Hence, the price for books is kept deliberately lower.

      One problem is that according to a EU decision from the 1990s, e-books are classified as software rather than books and are therefore exempt from the reduced VAT rate. It’s obviously a stupid decision and some countries such as France and Luxembourg (where all the European Amazons are headquartered) are working on getting it changed.

      • I was referring more to “protecting” books here in the US, as in if trad pub got its way and let the government prop them up. We would just end up protecting people who have proven to be inefficient or incompetent at their jobs at the expense of authors. There’s no need for a system like that in the US. Trad pub has been allowed to get away with its abuses because of that kind of system and now they’re flirting with the idea of solidifying it into our laws. And the first step seems to be building a consensus among their elitist friends that somehow books will go away if they’re not protected by the elites. I don’t buy it. I think this is more about saving their own butts now that they’ve been exposed than saving books. They need to just leave it alone and let consumers decide what books they will buy.

      • What are books being protected from? What is the threat those EU contries are protecting against?

  9. Ah, yes, let’s get the government to suppress varied and creative publishing. Let’s make sure only a few books are produced and sold every year. That’s GREAT for society.

    These people are idiots.

    • In countries with fixed book price laws, the government isn’t suppressing vibrant and creative publishing, instead the idea is to support literary variety (see long post below).

      In Germany or France or any other country with a fixed book price agreement, you can publish anything you want, excluding some forms of hate speech (which we are IMO better off without, besides the hate speech has to be really bad to get a book banned).

      What you can’t do, however, is randomly discount the price. Once you set a price, that’s the price the book will be sold for with some very narrow exceptions. For example, the French and Spanish fixed book price laws allow for discounts up to 5%, the German fixed book price law allows for discounting a book that is older than 18 months. All countries allow for damaged or remaindered books to be sold at a discount.

      • And, if Amazon were to enter those markets with something like their KDP, the authors would be setting those prices. Self-publishing authors would find it even easier to underprice traditionally published authors.

        The fixed price laws just say that books can’t be discounted more than 5%, they don’t dictate what the original price must be.

        It looks like Germany is just at the start of having self-publishing take off. That will be a big change in the market there.

        • Amazon and KDP are already here in those markets… and yes, it is easy for us to underprice trad-pub.
          But it is true that there is not yet a fantastically successful self-pub author like Howey or Konrath or all those romance authors which have been very efficient in erasing the “stigma” of self-publishing. We are indeed a few years behind the US in that aspect, and we hope we will catch up fast.

      • I don’t think the trad publishers here really want that level of book protection for paper books. They only want book protection for ebooks. Hatchette authors are currently upset because their paper books are not being discounted as usual on Amazon.

        So the article is a bit of a strawman as it’s not really talking about what publishers really want. In America people look for a “sale”. Publishers over-price their books purposely so the books can look like a “deal”. What publishers want is the ability to dictate some prices some times. They really don’t want the government in control of pricing. Publishers want ebook prices kept high in order to, in their minds, keep people buying paper books (the business they believe they are in). If government actually got involved in book protection/pricing trad publishing would be unlikely to find itself in better shape than they are in now. It might make negotiation time less of a dog and pony show as they’d have less things to fight with Amazon about…

  10. The stupid is strong with this one.

    But books should not be purchased based on price alone.

    Yeah, duh. People don’t buy books based on price alone. Has he ever met any humans? How can he be so thoroughly unobservant of human behavior?

    If low prices are such an evil — because God knows, we don’t want those people to read books, only the right kind of people — why doesn’t he just come out and advocate the shuttering of libraries and used bookstores? Or is he just not smart enough to realize the logical conclusion of his ideas?

    • Commenting has been disabled after no one agreed with Mr. Feinblum.

      Moreover, in his original post he nowhere states WHY he thinks books shouldn’t be commodized. His blog, so he’s entitled to his opinions, but he’d be more convincing if his post wasn’t so fact-free.

  11. If price is the intersection of supply and demand, then artificially raising prices will dampen demand.

    So, fewer people will read. Fewer people will grow. Then the enlightened non-masses can squeeze tighter control over the cosmos. (Or something like that.)

    To end, I’ve always thought that capitalism (Not the crony kind. Sad we need identifiers, now.) was the best economic system for allowing everyone to achieve there own personal level of success.

    Dan

    • Hello Dan;
      As I have said in an previous thread, prices which are a bit higher do not really prevent the “masses” to read in those european countries we are talking about. Because Amazon is there too, as well as used bookstores… and because the same system allows for a very good public library system.
      For example, if I a am a dirt poor Parisian, I can have access with one library card, which is free, free like in zero euro, to 83 (eighty three) good, huge public libraries, which means there will be one less than ten minutes by foot from my home wherever I live in Paris.
      Of course it is not the same everywhere, especially in rural areas; but it is an exemple to show you that the system is not intended to have fewer people reading, quite the contrary.

      • Demand curves work in Eurpoe just like they work everywhere else.

        Higher prices don’t prevent people from reading, but lower prices make more books available to more people so they can do more reading.

        • I think that this is not so automatic. Could you refer me to some data that would show at least a correlation between “lower book prices” (thanks to heavy discount by amazon and big bookstores chain) and “more reading” (number of readers multiplied by numbers of books read by reader) by readers in countries where those lower prices apply ?
          Unfortunately, even if some people, very few I guess, buy a lot of books while knowing they will never be able to read all of them, most people (IMHO) are more constricted by time than by money and will not buy – or read – twice as many books even if they are half the price.
          But that’s not the point. My point was to say that there is no elitist conspiracy by “enlightened non-masses”, as Dan wrote, to keep the “masses” from reading.

          • Of course demand curves are automatic. Europe isn’t special. Neither are books.

            And we need no data to support the idea that people can do more reading when they can afford more books. At the margin, those who can afford few books can afford more with lower prices. Availability is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for more reading.

            Elitist conspiracy? Who cares? I’m dealing with demand curves. People buy more at lower prices. They buy less at higher prices. Even in Europe.

            • “And we need no data”… and we need no comment.

              “Elitist conspiracy”… My initial answer was to Dan who wrote exactly of this.

              Please notice that I am not defending higuer prices per se. Of course demand curves work everywhere. They just work more or less. Maybe less in the book market. Cora and I have just been saying that most european readers (not all) are happy with a system with slightly higher prices (but lower than the inflated hardcover prices in the US) that prevents high discounts if it allows the preservation of the local bookstores network. I know it sounds like anathema to all those who think that print books should disappear asap.

              • No one thinks that print books (or brick and mortar stores) should disappear asap.

                But lets talk about the book store experience, shall we?

                I mean to go to a book store soon, to pick up a book that was published July 1st, so that I can ask the author to sign it this weekend. Will that book be at the bookstore? Lay chances for me. The author is a bestseller in Romance. Will that book be in the book store 4 weeks after it was published?

                If I’m at all smart (and I am) I’ll open another tab on my browser right now, go to Amazon, and order the book. It will almost certainly be delivered in time for the weekend so I can ask the author to sign it.

  12. They still can’t give me a convincing reason that book cannot be sold based on price alone? Sorry. Not buying it.

    • If books were sold on price alone, Stephen King wouldn’t be selling millions of ebooks at $9.99+, while indie authors argue whether $5.99 is an ‘absurd’ price for ebooks and should they sell theirs for $0.99?

      So, the other dumb thing about these kind of articles is that books are definitely not commodities. My books are not interchangeable with Stephen King’s, and few people would rather spend five hours reading a bad book because it only cost $0.99, than a good one that cost $5.99, or a book from their favourite author that cost $9.99.

      • Yes, this. There is plenty of stupid in this post, but that’s not among it.

      • “My books are not interchangeable with Stephen King’s,”

        Sure they are. It depends on the needs of the consumer.

        A consumer might simply want a book for the Red Eye flight. He just wants soemthing to read, and thousands of books can meet his need. Each of those books is unique, but their uniqueness is not a factor in meeting his need.

        Another consumer may be looking for the newest King book, and no other book can meet his needs.

  13. There is stupid…and then there is scary stupid. This is the latter.

    Lower prices for books increases availability, making it easier for people to buy books and for authors to get their work to those readers. By what conceivable definition is this “threatening” the “printed word?”

    This entire argument is based on vortex of ludicrous and self-contradictory nonsense. No entity in history has done more than Amazon to get books to people. So what is the real gripe?

    I guess it doesn’t sound so high and mighty to say we need to preserve an elitist and non-competitive industry so those few who benefit from it can continue to do so. Far better to act like the biggest seller of books in history is somehow trying to destroy books. It doesn’t make any sense at all, but at least it sounds better.

    Worse, most of the people spouting this nonsense don’t really have a stake in the book publishing industry. They just want to sit at the intellectual cool kids’ table and repeat the party line endlessly, though they understand little of what they are saying. A sad state of affairs for self-proclaimed intellectual elites.

    My suggestion to the writer of this article (and the many other like him)…once in your life before you die (call it a bucket list item) actually look at an issue and analyze the reality of it. Really understand it before you shoot off your mouth. And here’s the big thing…think for yourself, develop an opinion based on facts rather than regurgitating a party line from people whose acceptance you crave.

    A simple thing. One, bonafide, well-thought out, factual thought on something before you die. Try it on. See how it feels.

  14. As a poor struggling independent author, I want to point out that without the discounting of books, indie authors will be poorer than present. When Amazon discounts a book, the author still receives his original cut. And as for socialism, there is no place for it unless you, perhaps, work for the ACLU.

  15. The author clearly has no idea what Socialism is, but then that is quite common. Hint: Fixed book prices or other price control laws are not Socialism.

    I would also take his figures regarding marketshare with a grain of salt. Now I’m not intimately familiar with the French book market, but they do seem off to me. France is a highly centralized country, so people living in rural areas would often have no choice but order online.

    However, and I know how shocking this must be to many here, fixed book price laws are largely uncontroversial in the countries that have them. People might quibble with some details, but the idea itself is not controversial.

    And the loss of the so-called net book agreement in the UK did have an impact on the British book trade. I was a student in London around the time to net book agreement was repealed. And I bought a lot of books in the many London bookstores, from small indies to big chains (several at the time) to shops specializing in every subject under the sun. Now many of those stores are gone and those that remain are mostly part of only a single chain. Was the loss of the net book agreement the only reason? Probably not. But it certainly played a role. As for the reduced hardcover bestsellers sold in supermarkets, those are no replacement, at least not for me, because I don’t buy hardcovers regardless of price and I don’t read bestsellers.

    And price is obviously not the sole deciding factor for purchasing a book. Content, genre and author are far more important. For example, when I need a linguistics textbook, a 99 cent new adult romance is not going to be an adequate replacement, even if it is much cheaper. And if I want a specific science fiction novel, another science fiction novel by a new to me author is not an adequate replacement, even if it is cheaper. What a low price does is make readers more likely to give a book a chance, if it otherwise matches the reader’s preferences. But it’s not the sole deciding factor.

    And there is a fundamental cultural difference between the US (and UK to some degree) and continental Europe in the fact that the US views cultural products (not just books, but also music, films, theatre plays, etc…) purely as commodities, whereas in continental Europe cultural goods are viewed as something deserving special protections and support. And this special support also includes keeping cultural products accessible, e.g. many EU countries charge a lower VAT rate for books, since books are considered a vital good along with foodstuffs. As for fixed book price laws, the idea behind those was to prevent publishers from setting high fictious prices in the expectation that the books will be reduced anyway.

    These policies may not make sense to you, but they work for us. I don’t see why it would concern most of you either, since nothing is stopping you from discounting your books to your heart’s content, for fixed book prices usually only apply to books published in the country in question.

    • Suburbanbanshee

      You’ve right. Price fixing is essentially a naked exercise of power, not necessarily socialist in nature. And if companies collaborate to do it, they are breaking the law in order to prevent stores from being nimble enough to respond to market conditions; but if the EU does it, it is protecting the stores from being able to respond to market conditions. Yup, that is great.

      • At least if it’s argued on that basis, we would then discuss the importance of having stores in the area, local employees working at them, and the value of maintaining local economies (since if bookstores go out of business, it means a loss of employees’ income, the income to the landlord, the income going to the utility companies, etc.).

        Then we could argue about the value of protecting ALL local businesses, so that Wal-Mart can’t go below a certain price level along with Target, Kmart, Sears and other stores.

        This would be a valuable discussion to have.

        Instead, we see, in essence, piecemeal arguments that represent nothing more than one group protecting their industry, and everyone else go hang.

    • And there is a fundamental cultural difference between the US (and UK to some degree) and continental Europe in the fact that the US views cultural products (not just books, but also music, films, theatre plays, etc…) purely as commodities, whereas in continental Europe cultural goods are viewed as something deserving special protections and support.

      Can you tell us how you reach the conclusion that the US treats cultural products purely as commodities? That sounds good, but what does it mean?

      In continental Eurpoean culture, what is a commodity, and how is something purely treated as one?

    • I’ll agree that lower VAT and similar mechanisms designed to increase the affordability of books can help to support books and promote reading. However, I do not see how fixed book prices or mandatory restrictions on discounting do. Increasing the cost of something makes it harder for most people to buy it. Period. Mandating high book prices is a monstrously elitist activity, one that does nothing to promote reading, literacy, or culture. All it does is support a single industry and its hangers on.

      Does anyone really believe that the publishing industry, with its shaky marketing, absurd returns policy, and bloated operating costs represents the highest level of efficiency possible? In the US, the whining is based more profoundly on the fact that publishing execs don’t want to surrender their enormously expensive midtown Manhattan offices and move into the kind of digs 99% of the corporate world occupies.

      Amazon, though constantly targeted as some kind of Gothic horde about to descend on Rome and smash civilization has done more to get a greater number and variety of books at a lower costs into more peoples’ hands.

      What does that do for the “culture” of those who have a limited budget to buy their books…or do the unwashed hordes not matter in this debate? (not addressed to you, Cora, but to the author of the original piece)

  16. Nowadays the term “capitalism” covers a wide variety of activities. Some are socially useful, others corrosive. Self-publishing is healthy, small-scale capitalism, whereas the behaviour of the major corporations (in their lobbying of, alignment with, and special dispensations from government) is really more akin to fascism — when defined as an unholy alliance between big business and the state against the interests of the populace.

    A thriving literary culture is best served by many small publishers rather than five big ones which are components of some of the media conglomerates that have had such a baneful effect on mores and attitudes over the years. To hold up these corporations as guardians of culture isn’t just ridiculous but extremely stupid, and to suggest that their lackeys in government should interfere with publishing is worrying at best.

    If a thriving literary culture is best served by many small publishers, then it is even better served by a myriad of self-publishers. Amazon is still in the junior league as far as corporations go, but if it becomes another News Corp or Disney the self-publishers will find other outlets for their work.

    TL;DR: this guy is talking out of his hat, or possibly another place.

  17. Books have become commoditized? Meaning before Amazon books were what? Gifts from a benevolent socialist god? I think I just killed several million brain cells just trying to understand this piece.

    • “books are commoditized” is just code for “there are too many books for my books to stand out and sell, the way they did in the past, when we controlled access”.

  18. While I don’t buy books based on price, I do indeed NOT buy books based on price. There are too many good books out there to spend my limited funds on expensive books. Anything over $8 won’t even be a blip on my radar. I’m finding new (to me) favorite authors all the time…mostly I’m of the opinion that there are “too many books, too little time” and I’ll spend my money on writers who understand that.

    • Yep, agreed. I don’t buy many books based on price. Higher priced books are looked for in libraries or skipped even if I really like the author. My price limit for ebooks is $5.99 – more for bundles. I’m not sure I’ve ever spent $9.99 on a single fiction ebook.

      One of my favorite authors had her ebook price go from $5.99 to $12.99 for the latest release – she is in hardcover for the first time. I’ll be reading her latest from the library instead of buying. Last book had sales as low as $1.99 – this book pre-release so far has gone down to $10.99. I think I just picked all of her previous ebooks up for under $15 total as part of the promotion for the new book. If they think I’m paying almost the same for a single book they’ve got bats in their brains.

  19. From the original article.

    The law says online sellers can’t offer free shipping on discounted books. Further, booksellers can’t offer more than a 5% discount off a book’s cover price.

    I wish it were that way here.

    In Germany, books can’t be discounted. In fact, six of the 10 biggest book-selling countries have versions of fixed book prices—Japan, Italy, Spain, South Korea, Germany, and France. . .

    Save the price wars for sales of widgets, not books.

    Price controls for books. This is what the author of that piece wants.

    Price controls. Price floors.

    Really?

    I kept reading to see why he thinks this would be such a boon, but he never provides a reason.

    Can anyone out there even attempt to make an argument that tries to show how price controls benefits the author or the reader?

  20. The original author doesn’t seem to have a clue what Socialism means. Even the US has things like worker’s compensation and unemployment programs which were driven by Socialism (or as a means to co-op support from it).

    The author is advocating price controls which isn’t socialist. I think the only two examples of it in the US that come to mind are Milk and Raisin pricing. I don’t think there’s a need for a third.

  21. A few short bits on price controls and price floors.

    A five-minute basic economics explanation

    Another for AP Economics review

    Thomas Sowell on price ceilings and price controls in general

    Bottom line: price floors –> fewer books read

    And fewer books read means really good things for authors and readers!!!

    ?!

  22. What is being suggested is not so much socialism as protectionism. And if we’d follow the suggested logic back in the day–say circa 1900–stores would still be carrying buggy whips and butter churns as well as 8-track tape decks.

    • You’re right. As a pseudo-socialist with some libertarian leanings on certain issues–try explaining that at Thanksgiving dinner–I hate how so many Americans don’t have a clue what socialism even means. Too tired to do ‘splain.

      • “As a pseudo-socialist with some libertarian leanings on certain issues–try explaining that at Thanksgiving dinner”

        I love that. I describe myself an a “fiscal conservative bare bones socialist with libertarian leanings.”

        Socialism is the Zamboni of politics. It scrapes of the high spots and fills in the low spots.

      • If it’s any comfort, they don’t have any idea what a republic is, or libertarianism, or most other -isms really are. Or care.

  23. OP: read the Sherman Act and its impact on those who like the notion of a restraint on trade. Clue: it’s illegal.

    “The French and other advanced nations?”

    Advanced because they implement restraints on trade?

    Seriously?

  24. Sometimes, I’m really glad I’m too busy to read certain threads. This was definitely one of those times.

    Or… Duty calls.

  25. The word commoditization has been overused past the point of absurdity in these types of articles. A commodity is, by definition, something where each quantity of something is virtually identical to another. Gold, for example.

    The term is sometimes used to apply to products that may be branded differently, but are essentially all extremely comparable. PCs are an example. They are all assembled from basically the same parts and, at the same level of processor and memory, etc., they are functionally the same.

    It has NOTHING to do with pricing or price competition, and calling something like books a commodity (regardless of the snotty cultural overtones) is ignorant, pure and simple. Each different book (other than copies of the same edition or the same book, which are commodities by definition relative to each other) is different from any other. The cover is different, the story is different, the genre or subject matter is different. It has nothing to do with “culture.” A book of pornography or a comic book is no more a commodity than a book of poems or a volume of highbrow literature.

    Price competition DOES NOT make something a commodity. Period. Everything competes for the buyer’s limited dollar. I may choose to buy a $15 book or go to the movies tonight. The mere fact that I have only enough money to choose one of those does not make either a commodity.

    When I read these articles I always hear the writer of it in my head saying, “If you can’t afford a $30 paperback get back to the tractor pull where you belong.”

  26. Every industry believes it is special in one way or another. One of life’s little secrets: no industry is special. Writers will continue to create stories whether they’re sold by the publishing industry (NY Houses, small presses, etc.) or the tech industry (Amazon, Apple, etc.).

  27. “As for fixed book price laws, the idea behind those was to prevent publishers from setting high fictious prices in the expectation that the books will be reduced anyway.”

    — This makes sense. Rather than set the price of a book to $30 and then offer it at various wholesale prices based on retailer size, (30% bookstore, 40% chain, 50% costco), a book would be priced (one hopes) ‘reasonably’, say $16, and then sold in that narrow range across retailers. No pitting Moe’s books against Walmart.

  28. But for the unfair trade practices of Goodyear wagon wheels would have been just fine. That’s an important lesson.

  29. Here is an interesting fact about how fixed book prices and free book prices work in comparison:

    As has been discussed in the comments here, Germany uses fixed book prices that allow for little discounting. In Austria, right next door, German speaking and thus a market for many books published in Germany, the law about fixed book prices was repealed about five years ago (not sure, won’t check).

    Since that time, most German-language books have two prices printed on their back: one for Germany, one for Austria.

    And very consistently, the price for Austria is about one Euro *higher*. So much for the concept that fixed book prices drive up the price for books. (It might fit with the idea of setting the price higher for the expected rebates.)

    • There is suggested price, and actual price. In countries where discounting is allowed, like the US, the two have little to do with each other. (I write a lot of sales contracts: trust me, suggested price and what the customer actually pays for anything are casual acquaintances at best.)

      Witness the fact that one of the things Amazon has been vilified for the most is selling Hachette books at cover price, which even Hachette thinks is the same thing as massively raising the price.

  30. I wanted to rage until I scanned down through the comments. Now I really want to!

    Socialism… sigh. I won’t launch into a political argument here. I’ll just say that socialism will never benefit literary culture or diversity or even access to good old entertaining books. For all of those reasons, you want a market that’s as free, open, and unrestrained as possible. People saying crap like socialism is all that can save books, these are people who see themselves losing the war of ideas. Amazon is forcing openness on the market, and the market is loving it. The people who “need socialism” are the old gatekeepers, the elites who profited from their choke-hold on culture and literature up until now. With that in mind, how could socialism possibly help anyone besides the biggest publishers?

    But then again, the article admits this. The title is “Book Publishing Needs Socialism,” not “Culture, Diversity, and the Book Market Need Socialism.”

  31. http://fbdorr.blogspot.com/2014/07/romeo-must-die.html

    Main datum:

    Spain, agency price mandatory, by law. Recently, a 5% discount was allowed. In theory, to protect the classics, to ensure access to culture. However… Check “The Master of Go”, in Spanish. About 50 bucks vs. 15 in the US, pre-discount. Bookshops still pretend you pay S&H of books… books they’ve already sold and aren’t subject to returns. In a country with deep discounts for book parcels.

    Reminder: both books are translated from an unrelated language.

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