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Around the Kindlesphere: A Magnificent Article by Jason Epstein on "Publishing: The Revolutionary Future"

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d ?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred. 
By Stephen Windwalker
Originally posted February 26, 2010 – © Kindle Nation Daily 2010

It would be possible, from reading the mainstream business and tech media and even at times from reading posts on this blog, to get the idea that everyone associated with the traditional book publishing industry is marching in lockstep with the kind of dinosaur views expressed so cavalierly of late by some publishers, pundits, authors, and $1,959 tablet manufacturers.

Fortunately, this is not the case. While much of the industry continues to speak in unison about its master plan to survive in an ever-more-competitive marketplace by mandating that ebook prices be raised by 30 to 50 percent while demanding smaller wholesale payments from Amazon, there have strong indications from some, including even Big Six publishing executives like Random House’s Madeline McIntosh that there will be significant abstention, perhaps with enough power to reverse the order of march, from the Apple Five’s lemming-like march “into the valley of Death.”

If there is any single individual to whom McIntosh and her colleagues should be paying close attention these days, it’s Jason Epstein. Epstein knows more about the traditional book publishing business than anyone else in the world, having created the Vintage and Anchor paperback imprints for Random House and Doubleday, co-founded the New York Review of Books, and written the best book that I have read on the glory years and the subsequent decline of the best American book publishers of the 20th century. He has demonstrated his openness to new digital publishing directions by co-founding On Demand Books, which manufactures and sells the Espresso Book Machine. His thinking deserves their attention both because he is very much of their industry and also because he understands why it is doomed in its current incarnation and how it can make the most of its own greatest strengths in the changing landscape of 21st century book publishing.

You can get a good sense of what Epstein sees in the first half of this January 2010 interview with Charlie Rose, but for a more comprehensive understanding of where book publishing is and where it is going, I strongly encourage you to read his piece, “Publishing: The Revolutionary Future,” in the March 11 issue of the New York Review of Books.

I use the word “magnificent” to describe Epstein’s piece because he delivers so comprehensively on his stature as perhaps the single individual best positioned to understand its sweep, evident in these first three sentences:

The transition within the book publishing industry from physical inventory stored in a warehouse and trucked to retailers to digital files stored in cyberspace and delivered almost anywhere on earth as quickly and cheaply as e-mail is now underway and irreversible. This historic shift will radically transform worldwide book publishing, the cultures it affects and on which it depends. Meanwhile, for quite different reasons, the genteel book business that I joined more than a half-century ago is already on edge, suffering from a gambler’s unbreakable addiction to risky, seasonal best sellers, many of which don’t recoup their costs, and the simultaneous deterioration of backlist, the vital annuity on which book publishers had in better days relied for year-to-year stability through bad times and good.

Epstein is no partisan of the Kindle or of Amazon: “My rooms are piled from floor to ceiling with books so that I have to think twice about where to put another one,” he says. “If by some unimaginable accident all these books were to melt into air leaving my shelves bare with only a memorial list of digital files left behind I would want to melt as well for books are my life.”

But unlike many ideology-bound pundits he is able to see today’s realities clearly without allow affinity or self-interest to taint views such as these:

  • With the earth trembling beneath them, it is no wonder that publishers with one foot in the crumbling past and the other seeking solid ground in an uncertain future hesitate to seize the opportunity that digitization offers them to restore, expand, and promote their backlists to a decentralized, worldwide marketplace. New technologies, however, do not await permission.
  • The resistance today by publishers to the onrushing digital future does not arise from fear of disruptive literacy, but from the understandable fear of their own obsolescence and the complexity of the digital transformation that awaits them, one in which much of their traditional infrastructure and perhaps they too will be redundant. 
  • [A]ll the world’s books will eventually reside as digital files to be downloaded instantly title by title wherever on earth connectivity exists, and printed and bound on demand at point of sale one copy at a time by the Espresso Book Machine as library-quality paperbacks, or transmitted to electronic reading devices including Kindles, Sony Readers, and their multiuse successors, among them most recently Apple’s iPad. The unprecedented ability of this technology to offer a vast new multilingual marketplace a practically limitless choice of titles will displace the Gutenberg system with or without the cooperation of its current executives.
  • Digitization makes possible a world in which anyone can claim to be a publisher and anyone can call him- or herself an author. In this world the traditional filters will have melted into air and only the ultimate filter—the human inability to read what is unreadable—will remain to winnow what is worth keeping in a virtual marketplace where Keats’s nightingale shares electronic space with Aunt Mary’s haikus. 
  • With inventory expense, shipping, and returns eliminated, readers will pay less, authors will earn more, and book publishers, rid of their otiose infrastructure, will survive and may prosper.
  • Digitization will encourage an unprecedented diversity of new specialized content in many languages. The more adaptable of today’s general publishers will survive the redundancy of their traditional infrastructure but digitization has already begun to spawn specialized publishers occupying a variety of niches staffed by small groups of like-minded editors, perhaps not in the same office or even the same country, much as software firms themselves are decentralized with staff in California collaborating online with colleagues in Bangalore and Barcelona.
  • The cost of entry for future publishers will be minimal, requiring only the upkeep of the editorial group and its immediate support services but without the expense of traditional distribution facilities and multilayered management. 
  • As conglomerates resist the exorbitant demands of best-selling authors whose books predictably dominate best-seller lists, these authors, with the help of agents and business managers, will become their own publishers, retaining all net proceeds from digital as well as traditional sales. 
  • Traditional territorial rights will become superfluous and a worldwide, uniform copyright convention will be essential. 
  • Without the contents of our libraries—our collective backlist, our cultural memory—our civilization would collapse. By the mid-Eighties I had become aware of the serious erosion of publishers’ backlists as shoals of slow-moving but still viable titles were dropped every month. There were two reasons for this: a change in the tax law that no longer permitted existing unsold inventory to be written off as an expense; but more important, the disappearance as Americans left the cities for the suburbs of hundreds of well-stocked, independent, city-based bookstores, and their replacement by chain outlets in suburban malls that were paying the same rent as the shoe store next door for the same minimal space and requiring the same rapid turnover.
  • This demographic shift turned the book business upside down as retailers, unable to stock deep backlist, now demanded high turnover, often of ephemeral titles. Best-selling authors whose loyalty to their publishers had previously been the norm were now chips in a high-stakes casino: a boon for authors and agents with their nonrecoverable overguarantees and a nightmare for publishers who bear all the risk and are lucky if they break even. Meanwhile, backlist continued to decline. The smaller houses, unable to take these risks, merged with the larger ones, and the larger ones eventually fell into the arms of today’s conglomerates.
  • [D]igitization and its buzzword, disintermediation … meant that publishers could now look forward to marketing a practically limitless backlist without physical inventory, shipping expense, or unsold copies returned for credit. Customers would pay in advance for their purchases. This meant that even Amazon’s automated shipping facilities would eventually be bypassed by electronic inventory. This was twenty-five years ago. Today digitization is replacing physical publishing much as I had imagined it would.
  • Relatively inexpensive multipurpose devices fitted with reading applications will widen the market for e-books and may encourage new literary forms, such as Japan’s cell-phone novels. Newborn revolutions often encourage utopian fantasies until the exigencies of human nature reassert themselves. Though bloggers anticipate a diversity of communal projects and new kinds of expression, literary form has been remarkably conservative throughout its long history while the act of reading abhors distraction, such as the Web-based enhancements—musical accompaniment, animation, critical commentary, and other metadata—that some prophets of the digital age foresee as profitable sidelines for content providers.
  • The huge, worldwide market for digital content … is not a fantasy. It will be very large, very diverse, and very surprising: its cultural impact cannot be imagined. E-books will be a significant factor in this uncertain future, but actual books printed and bound will continue to be the irreplaceable repository of our collective wisdom.

At the risk of possibly pushing the limits of fair use, I’ve tried to tempt you with a taste here, but if you care about where reading and the book business are going I anticipate that you will take time to sit down for the entire meal.

Amazon’s Recent Moves and Kindle Owners’ Survey Suggest New Responses to Publishers’ Prix Fixe Play

By Stephen Windwalker
Originally posted February 7, 2010 at Kindle Nation Daily – © Kindle Nation Daily 2010

Related posts:

When the Big Six publishers and Apple’s Steve Jobs began conspiring recently to raise ebook prices by 30 to 50 percent from the Kindle Store standard of $9.99 for bestsellers and many new releases, it may have looked at first like curtains for Amazon’s powerful hold on the fast-growing ebook market. Amazon’s first move — referenced on the blog as its “Delete You” tactic against MacMillan titles — even seemed a bit petulant to some observers, especially when the retailer turned around a few days later and said that it would have to capitulate to MacMillan’s pricing demands.

The publishers are in a powerful position, and it may indeed hurt sales of the Kindle — and of the publishers’ own bestsellers — if in a few weeks we find that few ebook bestsellers are available any longer at that $9.99 price that has become so popular in the Kindle Store.

But it turns out Amazon has some arrows left in its quiver.

First, it is clear now that, whatever its intentions, Amazon’s “Delete You” play was very effective in educating Kindle owners about the pricing controversy that was going on behind the scenes. Among the first 1,032 respondents in the current Winter 2010 Kindle Nation Citizen Survey, 71 percent agree with this statement: “By dropping MacMillan books, Amazon took stand vs. high-priced ebooks.” 11 percent disagreed with the statement, and 18 percent didn’t know or didn’t have an opinion.

The importance of this customer education, with its obvious subtext that “it is the publishers, not Amazon, who are behind the price increases in the Kindle Store” is that it helps to preserve a special relationship between Amazon and those of its customers who are Kindle owners. Most Kindle owners are extremely loyal customers, and we buy a lot of books. You don’t just have to take my word on these matters, because they are quite evident from other data provided by respondents in our current survey:

  • 88 percent have positive or very positive feelings about Amazon, but only 19 percent have positive or very positive feelings about the Big Six publishers. 
  • 70 percent agreed (and only 13 percent disagreed) with the statement that “Jeff Bezos & Amazon have my back, & I know they price things to sell.
  • 33 percent said that since acquiring a Kindle they annually buy more than 30 Kindle ebooks that are priced between 99 cents and $9.99, while another 30% said they buy 15 to 30 such books.

What will Kindle owners do if the prices of bestsellers priced previous at $9.99 increase by the 30 to 50 percent threatened by the Big Six publishers? Currently, according to our respondents, only 3 percent buy 15 or more ebooks a year in the $10-and-up price range. For some customers, that will change: 37 percent agreed with the statement that “I will probably pay $10 to $14.99 for new ebook titles if necessary,” while 54 percent disagreed.

But there are also some strong indications that this group of very active readers may be ready to make an interesting pivot in consumer behavior, one that may be reminiscent of changes in behavior in the audience for music and film in the past few decades. As these forms of entertainment became accessible in different formats and at different prices, and the costs of production and distribution declined, audience grew dramatically for music and movies with various forms of “indie” branding. In the current Kindle Nation survey, we found strong identification with the following statements:

  • With recent ebook price wars, I’ve become more price-conscious. 72 percent agreed, 22 per cent disagreed.
  • With higher bestseller prices, I’ll buy more backlist or indie titles. 60 percent agreed, 21 per cent disagreed.
  • I’ll look to buy ebooks by authors who provide Kindle exclusives. 48 percent agreed, 28 per cent disagreed.

It should come as no surprise, of course, that Amazon — and some other forward thinkers — are racing to keep up with, or in some cases help create a market for, changes in what we read and what is published. While Amazon is certainly not about to turn its back for long on bestsellers at whatever prices they are made available, there are some exciting channels opening up which will lead to expanded selection of unique content in the Kindle Store, including:

  • A high likelihood that we will soon see a significant number of bestselling or established authors eschewing agents and traditional publishers to publish their new work directly to the Kindle platform and other new technologies, as novelist Anne Rice recently hinted she might do in direct posts to an Amazon community threat that she initiated late last year.
  • Amazon’s recent announcement that its own do-it-yourself “Digital Text Platform” will soon pay 70 per cent royalties directly to any authors who choose to publish and market their work there in the $2.99-to-$9.99 price range. Even the English majors among established and successful authors may be sufficiently able to do the math that they question whether traditional publishers do enough for their authors to justify paying royalties of only 17.5 percent (the rate authors will get under the agency pricing model upon which publishers are insisting) compared with the 70 percent rate promised by Amazon.
  • Authors, meanwhile, are beginning to organize to protect and advance their independent publishing interests through initiatives like the fledgling Association of Independent Authors that may inspire more and more creative work for direct publication through the Kindle platform and other new technologies.
  • New publishing ventures such as Rosetta Stone and Jane Friedman’s Open Road Integrated Media are making a major investment in helping both established and emerging authors and their representatives to protect and assert their ownership of their digital publishing rights so that they can bring their own work to the Kindle and other platforms under more favorable terms than the 17.5% of retail list price being offered by the Big Six publishers for ebook royalties.
  • Recent deals by Amazon to publish a growing number of Kindle backlist exclusives or new short fiction by prominent authors such as Paulo Coelho, Stephen Covey, Ian McEwan and, through the auspices of the Atlantic Shorts program for the Kindle, Curtis Sittenfeld, Edna O’Brien, Paul Theroux, Jennifer Haigh, Patricia Engel and Christopher Buckley and others.  
  • The announcement this weekend by the British Library, courtesy Andrys Basten’s A Kindle World post, of a joint venture involving Amazon and Microsoft that will bring 65,000 works of 19th century literature to the Kindle, free of charge for Kindle users (although it is unclear if duties and wireless charges will be added for U.K. customers.)
  • Through initiatives such as Amazon Encore, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and its direct publication of public domain works for the Kindle, Amazon is beginning to venture beyond merely dipping its toes in the water of ebook publishing, so that within another year or two I will not be surprised to see hundreds or even thousands of new titles published directly by Amazon in the Kindle Store.
  • And last but not least, Amazon’s announcement on job boards this week that it is “seeking a uniquely-qualified individual to help drive selection of unique content for Kindle:

The position of Kindle Unique Content Specialist blends vendor management with creative and technical aspects of product development, and requires enthusiastic dedication to delivering to our customers unique, engaging, and multidimensional content designed especially for Kindle. To this end, the Kindle Unique Content Specialist will: Use customer feedback, industry news/trends, and Amazon data to identify categories and genres in which unique content will add key selection, amplify Kindle’s distinctive functionally, and further enhance/add value to the Kindle customer experience.

Where will it all lead?

We’ll see. We’ve just witnessed a strange and upside-down economic event where, in the hands of Steve Jobs and the Big Six publishers, “competition” has somehow led to higher rather than lower prices for the consumer.

What’s clear is that Amazon has no intention of biding its time while the publishers and Jobs do their dirty work. As often happens when the dinosaur sector of any industry goes head-to-head with cutting-edge, forward-thinking elements, the dinosaurs may convince themselves they are winning the battles only to discover later that the outcome of the war depended on other battles about which they never heard a word until it was too late.

Publishers and authors may be trying to convince each other that they are at war with Amazon, but they have been acting like they were at war with their own readers. Readers won’t stand for it, and Amazon is likely to do plenty to empower us by giving us more choices at better prices.

MacMillan CEO Says "Time is Getting Near to Hand" for Return of Amazon’s Buy Buttons for MacMillan Titles

File this one, perhaps, under “If a tree falls in the forest….”

If “Buy” buttons are restored to MacMillan’s new-release ebook titles at prices of $12.99 to $14.99 in the Kindle Store, will anyone pay attention to the buy buttons?

In a paid advertisement that appeared on the Publisher’s Marketplace website today, MacMillan Publishing CEO says the following:

To: Macmillan Authors and Illustrators

cc: Literary Agents

From: John Sargent

I am sorry I have been silent since Saturday. We have been in constant discussions with Amazon since then. Things have moved far enough that hopefully this is the last time I will be writing to you on this subject.

Over the last few years we have been deeply concerned about the pricing of electronic books. That pricing, combined with the traditional business model we were using, was creating a market that we believe was fundamentally unbalanced. In the last three weeks, from a standing start we have moved to a new business model. We will make less money on the sale of e books, but we will have a stable and rational market. To repeat myself from last Sunday’s letter, we will now have a business model that will ensure our intellectual property will be available digitally through many channels, at a price that is both fair to the consumer and that allows those who create and publish it to be fairly compensated.

We have also started discussions with all our other partners in the digital book world. While there is still lots of work to be done, they have all agreed to move to the agency model.

And now on to royalties. Three or four weeks ago, we began discussions with the Author’s Guild on their concerns about our new royalty terms. We indicated then that we would be flexible and that we were prepared to move to a higher rate for digital books. In ongoing discussions with our major agents at the beginning of this week, we began informing them of our new terms. The change to an agency model will bring about yet another round of discussion on royalties, and we look forward to solving this next step in the puzzle with you.

A word about Amazon. This has been a very difficult time. Many of you are wondering what has taken so long for Amazon and Macmillan to reach a conclusion. I want to assure you that Amazon has been working very, very hard and always in good faith to find a way forward with us. Though we do not always agree, I remain full of admiration and respect for them. Both of us look forward to being back in business as usual.

And a salute to the bricks and mortar retailers who sell your books in their stores and on their related websites. Their support for you, and us, has been remarkable over the last week. From large chains to small independents, they committed to working harder than ever to help your books find your readers.

Lastly, my deepest thanks to you, our authors and illustrators. Macmillan and Amazon as corporations had our differences that needed to be resolved. You are the ones whose books lost their buy buttons. And yet you have continued to be terrifically supportive of us and of what we are trying to accomplish. It is a great joy to be your publisher.

I cannot tell you when we will resume business as usual with Amazon, and needless to say I can promise nothing on the buy buttons. You can tell by the tone of this letter though that I feel the time is getting near to hand.

All best,


Today’s Question for High School Civics Class or Harvard Law School Students: Can a competing retailer (Apple) really dictate individual item prices to another retailer (Amazon) by colluding with a publisher/wholesaler (MacMillan)?

By Stephen Windwalker

  • Originally posted February 1, 2010 at Kindle Nation Daily – © Kindle Nation Daily 2010

I received this email overnight entitled, “Steve, Stock up on Audiobooks for Less,” and it got me thinking, which is always dangerous.

Yesterday, as Kindle Nation and others were fanning the flames of consumer revolt against the inside-dealing, self-dealing, double-dealing, dealing-with-the-devil tactics of Steve Jobs, Apple, and the big publishers who are conspiring to send ebook prices into turmoil, Amazon took what seemed in the moment to be a surprisingly meek move: it apparently threw in the towel with an announcement on one of its own community forum pages that “ultimately … we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms.”

Then I received that email from Audible.com, which is owned by Amazon, showing me a picture of an iPod Touch and urging me to buy a ton of audiobooks and listen to them on my iPod Touch. That’s an Apple device, by the way. I don’t happen to own an iPod Touch myself, although I have given them as gifts to my son, one of my daughters, and my girlfriend. I do have an Audible.com account, and in most cases I listen to the associated audiobooks on my Kindle. In about three months I’ll be getting a 3G iPad, now that I am persuaded that the iPad will run the Kindle App, Skype, and my blogging service. I own a little Amazon stock, and my best friend owns a little Amazon stock and a little Apple stock. Not enough in either case that it would ever affect what I write in Kindle Nation, but enough so that I occasionally think about what Amazon does not only from a Kindle owner’s perspective but also from a shareholder’s perspective. Since I make limited use of my cellphone, I’ll probably cancel my month-to-month Verizon wireless account in favor of using Skype on board that iPad, although my sister works for Verizon, and the savings will pay the wireless costs for the iPad. Perhaps I won’t mention this to my sister when we have dinner next week. I’ll continue buying a lot of Kindle books and subscribe to Kindle blogs, newspapers, and magazines, and I will probably even buy books published by MacMillan, although I will not spend over $9.99 for them unless they involve a clear case of some expensive technical or professional book for which the dead-tree edition would be priced at least 20% above the Kindle edition price. I will even continue, occasionally, to buy a paperback or hardcover from MacMillan or other publishers. I have nothing against paperbacks or hardcovers now and then, and I was even charmed recently that one of Japan’s largest business publishers contacted me through an agent and offered me a nice sum for paperback Japanese translation rights to my Kindle guide. I’m just glad the publisher in question isn’t part of MacMillan’s global publishing empire, because that would be just too confusing.

Er, what’s my point?

It’s just that all of this is very confusing and entangled. And if it’s confusing for me, can you imagine what it’s like for Jeff Bezos? However much he and his Kindle team might like to take names and kick ass in these battles over ebook pricing, it’s certainly reasonable for Amazon’s shareholders to expect the company to play nice with its vendors and even with those competitors, such as Apple, with whom it is involved in various strategic or de facto partnerships (what I mean here, for instance, is that the availability of the Kindle App on the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and Mac are extremely beneficial for Amazon, just as it is also extremely beneficial to Amazon to be an authorized reseller of most of these devices in the Apple-branded store at Amazon.com.

So, yes, I was disappointed to read Amazon’s apparent capitulation yesterday. When I read the last line where Amazon said “Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission,” I wondered if it have been more transparent to change a few words so that it read “Kindle may be a mission for Amazon, but at the end of the day it’s all just business.”

Maybe that’s fair, but maybe not. It is clear to me that Amazon is treading carefully here, and setting things up for future strategic steps.

Amazon might be in a better position to charge some of the other players with price-fixing and anti-competitive collusion, after all, if it takes a step back (as it has just done) and lets things develop a bit:

  • if it restores MacMillan titles to the Kindle Store (and the main Amazon store) and MacMillan sets exorbitant and, more to the point, fixed prices for its ebooks;
  • if the other Big Six publishers all move into lockstep with MacMillan and insist upon $12.99 to $14.99 ebook price points combined with the “agency model”; and
  • if the entire scenario plays out just as Steve Jobs said it would.

Perhaps I am working too hard at harvesting inferences from Amazon’s statement yesterday, but given what I have already said about treading carefully here, I have to think Amazon chose its words — especially its use of the word “monopoly” — very carefully. Corporations seldom throw such words around without consulting with their in-house counsel.

Such consultatons, or any related communications that Amazon or its barristers might be holding these days with representatives of, say, the Federal Trade Commission, might properly revolve around some fairly simple questions:

  • Can publishers — or any wholesalers, for that matter — really dictate individual item prices to retailers?
  • To focus a little more precisely on what seems actually to have happened in this instance, can a competing retailer (Apple) really dictate individual item prices to another retailer (Amazon) by colluding with a publisher/wholesaler (MacMillan).
  • What about “it’s a free country?”

Perhaps Amazon will rely on market forces to sort these issues out over time, or perhaps it will seek the intervention either of the courts or of regulatory agencies. Amazon may also be reticent to engage ebook pricing issues in a courtroom if it feels that some of its own strategies may be vulnerable to judicial or regulatory scrutiny, given the claim by some publishers that the Kindle Store currently has an effective monopoly with respect to ebook content, with 90 per cent market share.

But to the extent that either the Big Six publishers (Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster) or their authors believe that they will somehow protect themselves from Amazon by lying down with Steve Jobs and Apple, an old caveat comes to mind: “Be careful what you wish for.”

For starters, don’t underestimate the market power of Kindle Nation’s citizens. Neither Kindle owners nor iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch owners nor those who have both are stupid, thank you very much. Price points matter enormously in influencing sales velocity. The same downward pressures that we have all seen on Kindle ebook prices and for that matter on discounted hardcover prices have also been a powerful force in Apple’s Apps store. If you are thinking that Steve Jobs’ 125 million i-customers are suddenly going to start springing for $14.99 ebooks, well, that’s just silly.

Publishers would be wise to spend a little time going to school on the rise and fall of the music industry as chronicled in Steve Knopper‘s Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age. It’s available in hardcover for $26 (discounted to $18.82 by Amazon), in paperback for $16.95 (discounted to $11.53 by Amazon), and a Kindle edition for $10.38.

Hardball: Amazon Ceases Shipping of All Books by MacMillan Publishers and Imprints over Kindle Pricing Dispute

By Stephen Windwalker

Are you ready for the latest chapter in the business thriller saga of the year? The one that has some print-book publishers in a death match with Amazon in their efforts to hold onto the last remnants of their publishing prerogatives from an earlier century?

We’ll call this chapter “HardBall.”

Brad Stone and Motoko Rich report in the New York Times today that Amazon’s has pulled all books by major publisher MacMillan from its shelves. That’s all print books, all ebooks, all books, period, although some quick spotchecking by this reporter suggests that Amazon’s move may not yet have been extended to all titles.

Amazon has been involved in difficult discussions with MacMillan over Kindle Store pricing for months, and has responded with a “temporary” move to stop shipping the publisher’s books. It is widely believed that Amazon is responsible for over 20 percent of all book sales in the United States, with Kindle-formatted books representing more than one-third of all Amazon sales.

One of MacMillan’s most venerable imprints, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, is headed by my old college friend and literary zine colleague Jonathan Galassi, shown here, who weighed in with an intriguing but incomplete op-ed piece in the Times late last year.

“Macmillan, like other publishers, has asked Amazon to raise the price of e-books to around $15 from $9.99,” said Rich and Stone in their report, although the phrasing that suggests that publishers in general have taken that position is, according to our information, grossly unwarranted.

The only way you can buy books published by MacMillan and its imprints at the Amazon website is to get them from third-party sellers through Amazon Marketplace. (This, by the way, will be a huge boon to third-party sellers, like the thousands who have built their businesses by applying the principles and strategies described in Selling Used Books Online: The Complete Guide to Bookselling at Amazon’s Marketplace and Other Online Sites.)

The background for this story, of course, involves Steve Jobs and Apple playing the uncharacteristic role of David to Amazon’s Goliath and attempting to build an iBooks catalogue for the iPad — from scratch — by trying to convince publishers that millions of prospective iPad buyers will want to pay $12.99 to $14.99 for the types of iBooks “bestseller” offerings that have previously been available for $9.99 in the Kindle Store. Ordinarily one might say, “Good luck with trying to get that dog to hunt, Mr. Jobs,” but Jobs is as tenacious a player as Jeff Bezos, if perhaps not quite as focused and consistent. And Jobs gave a remarkable impromptu interview to Walt Mossberg at the iPad launch event in which he claimed that “the prices will be the same” between the iBooks and Kindle stores and touted his belief that “publishers are actually withholding books from Amazon.”

Indeed, Rich and Stone report that “publishers have withheld select e-book editions for several months after the release of hardcover versions of books.  It is not clear yet if publishers can withhold books from Amazon while giving them to other parties like Apple. Antitrust lawyers said it could raise legal issues.”

In that final sentence, I think, is one very likely denouement for this saga: a courtroom drama that might well be worthy of John Grisham’s talents, but of course if he writes the book, we won’t get to read it on the Kindle.

And then there’s the fact that such courtroom solutions tend to take years, during which the entire landscape would change anyway.

MacMillan is owned by the global publishing holding company Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, based it Stuttgart (that would be Germany, not Arkansas), whose imprints include:

  • Macmillan
  • Farrar, Straus & Giroux
  • Faber  
  • Farrar, Straus 
  • Hill & Wang  
  • Sarah Crichton Books  
  • Henry Holt  
  • Holt  
  • Metropolitan  
  • Times Books  
  • Macmillan Children’s  
  • Farrar, Straus Children’s  
  • Frances Foster Books  
  • Melanie Kroupa Books  
  • First Second 
  • Holt Children’s 
  • Christy Ottaviano Books  
  • Kingfisher
  • Macmillan Children’s
  • Priddy Books 
  • Roaring Brook Press 
  • Neal Porter Books 
  • Square Fish  
  • Starscape  
  • Macmillan Science  
  • Palgrave  
  • Picador USA 
  • St. Martin’s Press  
  • Griffin  
  • Minotaur 
  • St. Martin’s  
  • Thomas Dunne Books  
  • Truman Talley 
  • Tor/Forge  
  • Forge  
  • Orb  
  • Tor  
  • Macmillan Publishers (UK) 
  • Pan Macmillan 
  • Boxtree  
  • Campbell Books Kingfisher 
  • UK Macmillan  
  • Macmillan New Writing 
  • Macmillan UK Children’s  
  • Pan Macmillan  
  • Picador  
  • Rodale UK 
  • Sidgwick & Jackson  
  • Think Books  
  • Tor UK 
  • Young Picador 
  • Pan MacMillan Australia  
  • von Holtzbrinck 
  • Droemer Knaur 
  • Droemer Profile  
  • Kiepenheuer & Witsch 
  • Rowohlt  
  • Kindler  
  • Rowohlt 
  • Rowohlt Taschenbuch  
  • Wunderlich  
  • S. Fischer  
  • Fischer  
  • Fischer Taschenbuch  
  • Krueger  
  • Scherz 

It is not known, as we post this, if the German imprint Kindler will be barred permanently from the Kindle Store.