Amazon and Hachette are have reached an agreement (ostensibly on pricing). In local news, The Book Depository is trying to sign deals with publishers in a way that, well, seems a bit dodgy. YMMV.
If you follow book people on Twitter, expect today’s feed to explode with news about Amazon and Hachette reaching an agreement. They’ve been at an impasse since May, with both sides issuing public statements, and supporters on both sides passionately campaigning for, well, many things, depending on which side they support.
The Gigaom article quotes the press release:
When the new ebook terms take place in early 2015, “Hachette will have responsibility for setting consumer prices of its ebooks, and will also benefit from better terms when it delivers lower prices for readers. Amazon and Hachette will immediately resume normal trading, and Hachette books will be prominently featured in promotions.”
Just in time for Christmas.
The Book Depository
A couple of days ago, Books+Publishing (subscription) reported that TBD is in talks with some Australian publishers about listing local titles on TBD and having the publishers fulfil orders to local customers directly. Before we get too excited, B+P points out that no deals have yet been confirmed. However, this post by former ABA president and bookseller of Pages and Pages Jon Page suggests that at least some publishers are thinking of getting on board.
I don’t know enough about the local industry to really understand how these arrangements will affect local authors and publishers, so I’m just going to list some of the arguments and observations from the articles, plus some of my own thoughts. I’m super interested to know what authors and readers make of this.
Disclosure: I edit the Romance Buzz newsletter for Booktopia, an online Australian book retailer that competes with Amazon, and whose CEO is quoted below. I also host the Heart to Heart podcast for Destiny Romance, an imprint of Penguin Australia. I did not speak to anyone from Booktopia or Penguin about the B+P article, or the rumours around TBD talking to publishers, prior to writing this post. All opinions here are my own.
1. Tony Nash from Booktopia is quoted extensively in the B+P article. He raises a question that most Australian booksellers have raised against Amazon/TBD: Will they pay GST on books?
I’m sure the question of GST is particularly galling for local booksellers. First, Amazon’s tax avoidance strategies were just in the news (Page’s blog post links to this news article in which he is also quoted). The Australian Financial Review has a more in-depth look at how Amazon juggles money around to play the least amount of tax. According to B+P, most of the revenue recorded against Australia by Amazon probably came from their cloud-computing business; Amazon book sales into Australia do not count. I have huge problems with this, and partly I blame the government for not putting better legislation in place.
Second, Nash doesn’t believe that Amazon or TBD plan to set up a local workforce, making them exempt from GST. But if publishers are directly fulfilling local orders, this might become a much fuzzier line.
2. What incentives will TBD give to Australian publishers to convince them to allow TBD to list their titles?
Will we see TBD excluding overseas editions for Australian readers? (And if they do, will it make TBD a much less attractive proposition against local booksellers?)
3. Will free shipping still apply if local publishers have to post the books locally?
If publishers absorb the cost of shipping on behalf of TBD, that puts local booksellers at a disadvantage unless publishers offer them the same deal.
4. Neither article talks about price, but assuming Amazon/TBD can negotiate significant discounts, what does this mean for independent booksellers?
I’m not talking about anything other than a level playing field here. If independent booksellers can’t buy books at the same prices as Amazon/TBD, it doesn’t seem fair. I’m the first to complain when I see higher prices in independent stores, and I love that more competition drives prices down, but if smaller bookshops start at a disadvantage, how do we expect them to compete? They’re already struggling against the market power of retail chains like Target, and the at times inexplicable price differences between overseas editions of books under parallel import restrictions.
Smaller booksellers also don’t really have much bargaining power when it comes to ebooks. I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that print — and particularly locally published books in print — is a much better proposition for them. In any case, Amazon’s share of the ebook market seems fairly insurmountable for independent booksellers (large or small). Part of the problem is that there’s just no alternative platform that enables booksellers to compete. So Amazon is biting at their heels (or probably is already past the heels) with ebooks, and now through TBD they’re going for print.
Is it a bad thing if we lose all our small bookshops, or drive them all online only? My heart says yes, of course. This has pretty much happened for most independent romance bookshops. But rationally…well, I’m not sure. In part that’s because I’m lucky enough to have access to a fairly well-stocked public library. But I also feel that there’s something unique about reading culture in bricks and mortar bookshops as opposed to libraries. But that might be my personal bias and it’s probably completely subjective (and something that doesn’t have to exist just in bookshops; it’s just that I don’t find it anywhere else…yet).
At the end of the day, I know that it’s getting more and more difficult to fork out even $15 for a book without at least checking to see if it comes close to the cheapest online prices.
I’ll leave the last word to Page: ‘I would warmly welcome Amazon or The Book Depository setting up a warehouse in Australia because it would a fair fight. This is not a fair fight. This is an example of pure greed, cowardice and business without responsibility.’