Amazon.com's surrender to Macmillan to raise prices on some of the publisher's e-books by as much as $5 should help authors out in the long run, but it isn't welcome news for readers.
Amazon's $9.99 price for new releases and best sellers is already too high for many of its users, who say that such non-physical books that they can't loan to friends or sell at a used-book store are overpriced.
Only days after Macmillan and four other large publishers agreed to provide content for Apple's iPad at prices tied to the same price as the print edition -- $12.99 to $14.99 for most general fiction and nonfiction titles in e-book form -- Amazon caved in to Macmillan's demands to allow it to sell its books on Amazon for the same prices as Apple's digital bookstore.
Just like that, Amazon lost an edge, although not much of one, that it had to the iPad -- cheaper books.
Amazon plans on keeping its new releases and best sellers at $9.99, but any Macmillan books it sells will be more expensive. Amazon briefly stopped selling Macmillan titles on Friday in response to the request, but gave in on Sunday and has started selling Macmillan books again.
In its company blog, Amazon explained that it capitulated "because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it's reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don't believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan."
E-book readers had better hope not. They should keep an eye on the other publishers that signed with Apple, which will give publishers 70% of each sale. Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster joined Macmillan in the deal with Apple, and if any other companies try to pressure Amazon for similar deals, don't be surprised if it's one of them.
Paying $5 more for an e-book may not stop someone from buying a sexy, full-color iPad over Amazon's black and white Kindle, but for Amazon customers it might be the beginning of the end of $10 bestsellers.
In the meantime, you might want to find your library card.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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