Did you catch the article in yesterday’s NY Times?
David Streitfeld penned a delightfully absurd anti-Amazon screed in which he tries to turn Amazon’s pricing policies into some terrible misdeed. I have not seen such heights of biased unsubstantiated anti-Amazon ranting since March, when The Telegraph complained about Amazon’s ebook pricing policy (the Melville Publishing House blog sometimes comes close, though).
Do you know what Amazon is doing that is so unbelievably evil? They’re actually having the gall to sell books at prices that are only sightly discounted from the retail price set by the publisher. *Gasp*
Today I thought I would quote some of the choicer misstatements, figments of someone’s imagination, and utter nonsense found in this piece of text (I would not call it an article). I’m going to comment on the assumptions and point out how ridiculous this story really is.
Jim Hollock’s first book, a true-crime tale set in Pennsylvania, got strong reviews and decent sales when it appeared in 2011. Now “Born to Lose” is losing momentum — yet Amazon, to the writer’s intense frustration, has increased the price by nearly a third.
Mr. Hollock’s first book had decent sales when it appeared in 2011, but now that it is losing momentum, Amazon raised the price.“At this point, people need an inducement,” said Mr. Hollock, a retired corrections official. “But instead of lowering the price, Amazon is raising it.”
Let me rephrase his complaint: “My publisher put a high price on this book. Now that Amazon is not willing to sell the book at such a huge discount fewer people are buying the book. Curse you, Amazon.”
It is difficult to comprehensively track the movement of prices on Amazon, so the evidence is anecdotal and fragmentary.
Translation: We have no evidence that Amazon is up to no good but we are complaining anyway.
But books are one of the few consumer items that still have a price printed on them. Any Amazon customer who uses the retailer’s “Saved for Later” basket has noticed its prices have all the permanence of plane fares. No explanation is ever given for why a price has changed.
Fact check: That has been the way Amazon has operated for the entire 6 plus years I have shopped at Amazon. How exactly is it an issue today?
When the University of Nebraska Press brought out a bibliography of the novelist Jim Harrison four years ago, Amazon charged $43.87. The price this week: $59.87.
Rob Buchanan, a sales coordinator for the press, said the $65 list price of the book had not changed, nor had the price the publisher billed Amazon. “I can’t think of a reason on our end why they’d be charging more.”
Translation: “I don’t understand why Amazon isn’t willing to lose money on a book that isn’t selling well.”
Higher prices have implications beyond annoyed authors.
Fact Check: Sorry, but I was under the impression that publishers are the ones who set the retail price of paper books, not Amazon. Why is it Amazon’s sin when Amazon sells a book at a price nearly as high as the price set by the publisher?
For all the hoopla around e-books, old-fashioned printed volumes are still a bigger business. Amazon sells about one in four printed books, according to industry estimates, a level of market domination with little precedent in the book trade.
Now, with Borders dead, Barnes & Noble struggling and independent booksellers greatly diminished, for many consumers there is simply no other way to get many books than through Amazon. And for some books, Amazon is, in effect, beginning to raise prices.
Amazon sells only 25% of print books in the US, and yet they have no competition? Really? Really?
Could someone explain the math to me? I was under the impression that a minority share of a market indicates that Amazon has a lot of competition.
Also, if B&N is still struggling then doesn’t that mean they are still competing? What about the regional bookstore chains, or the remaining independents? Have they all given up and gone home?
Stephen Blake Mettee, chairman of the board of the Independent Book Publishers Association, said that Amazon was simply following in the tradition of any large company that gains control of a market. “You lower your prices until the competition is out of the picture, and then you raise your prices and get your money back,” he said.
Okay, now we’ve ventured into Wonderland. One, Amazon doesn’t control the print book market market, and two, Amazon is still selling for below the retail price.
But never mind the facts; Amazon is evil.
Authors like Mr. Hollock say they feel helpless about Amazon’s control over their fate. Mr. Hollock says he has called Amazon several times to ask why the price of his book was going up, and never received an answer that made sense.
Oh, my. I don’t know what to say. This author is making assumptions that are so disconnected with reality that I honestly cannot refute his claims.
One small nonfiction publisher, which requested confidentiality because Amazon is a crucial account, said the retailer sold its books at a discount ranging from 25 to 35 percent for years. Then, despite steady sales, the discounts began to shrink. Their most popular book this week was 16 percent off.
For this publisher, that means less revenue and less profit as some buyers reject the more expensive books.
Translation: Curse Amazon for not selling the books at such a steep discount.
Curt Matthews, chief executive of the Independent Publishers Group, a Chicago book distributor that got in a dispute with Amazon last year over margins on e-books, speculated that Amazon could be data-mining its customers.
“They are wondering, ‘If we knock off only 10 percent as opposed to 35 percent, where do we come out ahead?’ ” Mr. Matthews said. “They don’t care how many books they sell. They want to know how many dollars they get.”
Translation: I am shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that Amazon is in business to make money. Publishers, of course, are only interested in producing unique cultural artifacts.
Yeah, the text published yesterday has absolutely no substance to it. But you don’t have to take my word for it; go read it yourself. Be prepared to laugh derisively, though.