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Game On: Amazon Removes the Buy Button for All Macmillan Books

Lisa Kleypas Amazon page

Louisa Edwards screenshot

On Friday, blogs noted an exchange between Walt Mossberg and Steve Jobs about ebooks.   Steve told Walt that publishers hate Amazon and that they would be withholding their ebooks from Amazon.   Late Friday, the “buy it now” button has disappeared from books by Julia Spencer Fleming, Lisa Kleypas, Louisa Edwards, Lora Leigh, and virtually every author who publishes through Tor, St. Martin’s Press, and other Macmillan imprints.

A fight occurred between Hachette and Amazon in 2008 in the UK.   Hachette wasn’t happy with some of the terms that Amazon wanted (or so was reported) and thus Amazon removed the Buy It Now button. The dispute was settled and the Buy It Now button restored.

The reason that this hurts the publisher is because the only option that is available to readers is through the secondary market.   Consumers who want the print version can easily get the title from a secondary seller, both in new and used versions.   But the secondary market means no royalty for the publisher or the author.   One publisher person told me that Amazon could comprise up to 15% of sales which, for a publisher, could mean the different between a profitable year and a non profitable one.

John Sargeant, CEO of Macmillan, is not an ebook fan.

But some publishers worry that the convenience of borrowing books electronically could ultimately cut into sales of print editions.

"I don't have to get in my car, go to the library, look at the book, check it out," said John Sargent, chief executive of Macmillan, which publishes authors like  Janet Evanovich,Augusten Burroughs and  Jeffrey Eugenides. "Instead, I'm sitting in the comfort of my living room and can say, "Oh, that looks interesting' and download it."

As digital collections grow, Mr. Sargent said he feared a world in which "pretty soon you're not paying for anything." Partly because of such concerns, Macmillan does not allow its e-books to be offered in public libraries.

Macmillan has had a very negative attitude toward ebooks.   It has charged 50% more for the digital equivalent of the mass market paperback (usually $9.99 versus a paper copy which sells for $6.99-$7.99). In this link, the list price is $14.00 for a mass market.   It delays the release of ebooks. Some books aren’t released in ebook format at all (Tor books).   Prices of ebooks aren’t reduced even after the mass market versions are released. (I still await Julia Spencer-Fleming’s books to be reduced).

What will Kindle owners do? Will they blame Amazon? Will Amazon tell them that Amazon wants to sell them the book at a good price but that the publisher is demanding that Amazon raise the price? This is a serious battle and I can’t guess who will win.

UPDATE: I called customer support at Amazon and was told that if the Kindle version of the book was removed it was either because there was an error in the book or the publisher removed it.   Amazon would make it available to Kindle owners if it could.   I was told to click the “Tell the Publisher” button so that Amazon could relate to the publisher how many Kindle readers would like the book in Kindle format.

I asked about the missing “Buy It Now” button and asked if Amazon was in some dispute with Macmillan.   I was told that sometimes Amazon likes to promote the Amazon Marketplace.

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

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