Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, is probably the best known advocate of ebooks as an alternative to traditional publishing, yet he doesn’t want those publishers to disappear. He made this clear in an article on cnn.com on Sunday entitled, “A dark day for the future of books.” http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/15/opinion/coker-book-publishing/
The Justice Department launched an anti-trust suit against Apple and five large publishing companies for adopting “agency pricing” and allegedly forcing Amazon to comply. At the time, Amazon was pricing many books below cost, a move the other publishers feared would harm their print book sales. Three of the publishers have settled, while the remaining two, plus Apple, are going to court.
Coker seldom sides with big publishers, but in this case his reasons are clear: he fears the Justice Department’s intention to protect consumers could actually harm them by harming the publishing industry by “forcing them to comply with onerous conditions…including restrictions on collaboration with fellow publishers and increased federal auditing and reporting requirements — [which] will increase publisher expenses and slow their business decisions at the very time when publishers need to become faster, nimbler competitors.”
Coker says that although agency pricing raises ebook prices, it “prevents deep-pocketed retailers or device makers from engaging in predatory price wars to harm competitors or discourage formation of new competitors. It would enable the marketplace to support more retailers, which would mean more bookstores promoting the joys of reading to more readers. And it would force retailers to compete on customer experience rather than price. Customers are best served when we have a vibrant e-book retailing ecosystem.”
As I understand Coker’s argument, if ebook prices drop too low, print publishing, the staple of brick and mortar stores as well as libraries, will become a money losing proposition. I think we all know a certain “deep-pocketed retailer or device maker” who isn’t above “predatory price wars.” Much as I love my kindle, I don’t want Amazon to become the only game in town.
I suggest everyone with an interest in writing, publishing, and ebooks read Coker’s article, the latest installment in a very convoluted drama.