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WORD: As Amazon vs. Macmillan battle wanes, authors see books return
By BPM Smith

A battle between Amazon and Macmillan over e-book sales has been resolved (sort of) but fallout continues as book publishers try to figure out how to handle the digital rights of their titles -- an issue the electronic music industry solved last decade.

Publisher Macmillan wanted online retailer Amazon to stop selling its e-books for $9.99 because it was losing money on each unit sold. Amazon effectively gave them a big fat middle finger by eliminating the buy buttons of all Macmillan titles from its website, which amounted to banning Macmillan authors from its website.

A couple friends of WORD’N’BASS.com who launched new novels last month with Macmillan imprints bristled at the move. Wendy Clinch, whose publisher Minotaur Books is a division of Macmillan, saw her book "Double Black: A Ski Diva Mystery" disappear from Amazon. So did Randy Susan Meyers, who penned "The Murderer's Daughters" (St. Martin's) -- a debut that's garnered raving reviews.

This is the kind of fallout that bothers me. While these corporations beat each other down, invariably authors are the ones caught in the ensuing game of chicken. Though it’s easy for me to look at the human impact and side with my writer friends, this is a complex issue about technology, power, e-book piracy and old business models vs. new ones. 

Author JA Konrath has an interesting solution at his blog that echoes how electronic music labels solved this issue around oh, 2001. He says the big publishing houses, which are resisting the inevitable, must change their business models or die:

"I believe publishers need to switch their focus from selling paper (books/CDs) to connecting storytellers with readers (e-books/mp3s)," he said in a post last week.

Eventually Amazon acquiesced by returning the buy buttons to Macmillan physical book titles on Friday (Feb. 5), but through midday Sunday hadn’t yet returned its e-book titles.

This is just the latest public relations gaffe for Amazon. Last summer, it snuffed out several e-books from its proprietary Kindle platform, including ones its customers had already paid for. While the firm apologized for its heavy-handed move last summer, this time it issued a curt statement portraying itself as a victim of Macmillan’s "monopoly" on the books it publishes.

In the wake of its punch-out with Macmillan, Amazon announced that it's getting into book publishing with a model that allows users to vet titles instead of traditional publishing house editors. Whether the move becomes a model for future book publishing enterprises won’t be known for sometime but one thing's for sure: the digtial battle has only just begun.


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