Monday, August 31, 2009

Hachette Chief Aghast at Google - Amazon eBook Dealings

Arnoud Nourry, chief of Hachette, has lashed out at e-distributors like Amazon and Google for undercutting publishers of paperbacks and hardcover books.

It's not till later down in the story that the beginnings of a non-breaking news story develops. It has something to do with the way European copyright works in different legal jurisdictions. Towards then end of the article there is a brief smoke signal about "rights." I know nothing about what rights they are defending or seeking to preserve. Is it profit? Doesn't market competition have something to say about that?

Nourry basically says this:

“On the one hand, you have millions of books for free where there is no longer an author to pay and, on the other hand, there are very recent books, bestsellers at $9.99, which means that all the rest will have to be sold at between zero and $9.99,” Mr Nourry said.

There was a real and “muscular” debate in the industry in the US, he added. Retailers were paying publishers more than $9.99 for each e-book, so were selling them at a loss: “That cannot last . . . Amazon is not in the business of losing money. So, one day, they are going to come to the publishers and say: by the way, we are cutting the price we pay. If that happens, after paying the authors, there will be nothing left for the publishers.”

Some rival publishers have expressed concern in private at Amazon’s fixed $9.99 per title pricing on its Kindle electronic reader. Others note the minimal costs of distributing books electronically mean they can make higher profit margins even with lower prices than in print.

Where do you fall on this debate? I tend to think that Amazon and Google are fully in their rights to innovate, but so too are the Hachette's of the world.

It's not clear if Hachette is frozen out of negotiations here or if there is something in the business model that just prevents Hachette from ever being able to compete with Amazon or Google over free e-books.

A clue to the issue, though not fully articulated, comes here, same article:

Resistance to the Google books project from European libraries appears to be easing, with the National Library of France confirming this month that it was working with the US internet giant. But European publishers say they are determined to defend their rights.

Is an Amazon platform or a Google platform patently unfair?

Does innovation unfairly bring more profit to technology and distribution providers who innovate?

Is the Google free books project indeed a ransacking of copyright and potential profitability for publishers of authors long dead?

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