On Friday, Amazon removed all Macmillan books from its site after what is believed to be a year-long dispute over ebook prices. Macmillan wants titles to be listed closer to $15 while Amazon wants to retain the $9.99 price–despite the fact that this is hurting publishers and writers. Sort of a strange move for a company that got its start in book sales, but it makes sense when you look at the many-headed monster that Amazon has become and realize that losing one publisher will hardly bring the company to its knees.
Amazon is no stranger to negative press. Back in April 2009 the hashtag #amazonfail dominated Twitter (and then blogs and the press) after Amazon removed all gay and lesbian titles from the search and ranking features on its site, citing their policy of wanting to keep adult content out of the public eye, though they later claimed it was a glitch despite the fact that while books such as Heather Has Two Mommies lost its sales rank, items such as vibrators were left in the search. Then, three months later, Kindle users who had purchased certain Orwell books had the books removed from their devices. Yes, the books were sold illegally (the company who added the books did not own the rights) and yes, customers were refunded, but Amazon chose to act first and notify later, leaving customers (and non-customers) confused and angry, not least because one of the titles was 1984. A 17-year-old high school student ended up suing Amazon over the removal since he had been using the Kindle to take notes on the book and subsequently lost his summer homework. Not to mention allegations of Amazon removing legit book reviews or the fact that it owns at least a piece (or all) of every link of the chain that gets books to readers.
But what about the price wars, such as they are? What does this really mean for authors and publishers? When companies like Amazon, Target, and Walmart all start slashing prices of bestsellers, who really wins? We live in a climate during which most bookstores took hits for selling Harry Potter books on or around the release date. There’s something seriously wrong with the industry–I don’t think even industry people deny this anymore, but we haven’t yet reached a consensus on what the right path is. Is it discounted ebooks or does it rely on the continued existence of brick and mortar bookstores? Is Amazon the future of book buying and selling? And what is the real value of a book?