The Book Wars: What to Do?

It has been clear for some time that the more book buyers (you and me) depend on Amazon the greater the destruction of bookstores.  It is becoming more apparent that publishers are also threatened. Amazon, the biggest distributor, wants a bigger share of e-book prices which it sells.  Hachette, no small business itself, is refusing.  Amazon is delaying  or making hard to order, Hachette books.  What to do?

In the US

The confrontation between Amazon and Hachette is growing louder and meaner, as the combatants drop all pretense that this is a reasonable dispute among reasonable people.

Amazon has proposed giving Hachette’s authors all the revenue from their e-book sales on Amazon as the parties continue to negotiate a new contract. Hachette’s response on Tuesday was to suggest that the retailer was trying to make it commit suicide

…  For more than six months, Amazon has been trying to wring better e-book terms out of Hachette. The publisher, which is the fourth largest in the United States and whose imprints include Little Brown and Grand Central Publishing, is energetically resisting.

Amazon has responded by delaying shipments of Hachette books and making it harder for customers to order them. Hachette authors have responded by publicly excoriating Amazon.

…  One author,, Ms. Robinson, whose books are not published by Hachette, said that “what writers want is a long-term healthy publishing ecosystem, not a temporary windfall.”

That applies to both parties, she added. “From our publishers we want a fairer share of e-book revenues; from Amazon we want an end to predatory practices that unfairly threaten their competitors, as well as the continued existence of the printed book.”

NY Times: Streitfield

In France

France, meanwhile, has just unanimously passed a so-called anti-Amazon law, which says online sellers can’t offer free shipping on discounted books. (“It will be either cheese or dessert, not both at once,” a French commentator explained.) The new measure is part of France’s effort to promote “biblio-diversity” and help independent bookstores compete. Here, there’s no big bookseller with the power to suddenly turn off the spigot.

The French secret is deeply un-American: fixed book prices. Its 1981 “Lang law,” named after former Culture Minister Jack Lang, says that no seller can offer more than 5 percent off the cover price of new books. That means a book costs more or less the same wherever you buy it in France, even online. The Lang law was designed to make sure France continues to have lots of different books, publishers and booksellers.

Fixing book prices may sound shocking to Americans, but it’s common around the world, for the same reason. In Germany, retailers aren’t allowed to discount most books at all. Six of the world’s 10 biggest book-selling countries — Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Spain and South Korea — have versions of fixed book prices.

NY Times: Druckerman

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