Almost everything you need to know about the great e-book war

Salon’s Laura Miller has written this great primer on the main issues involved in the U.S. Department of Justice’s anti-trust suit being brought against Apple. But I still think she may be missing a pretty important piece of the puzzle.

It’s a complex case, but the gist of it is: did Apple collude with the major publishers against Amazon, when Apple convinced them to move from the traditional wholesale model to an agency model in the distribution of e-books?

In the wholesale model, the publisher simply sells the book to the distributor at usually half the suggested price. In an agency model, the distributor is selling on commission and everyone–publisher, writer and distributor(Apple,Amazon)–takes a percentage of the sale.

The problem started back when Amazon, using the wholesale model, was selling kindle books across the board at $9.99. Since Amazon bought the books at more than $10, Amazon  was obviously taking a loss. Was there a longterm/longtail marketing plan afoot?

Miller lists Amazon’s possible motivations. Were they trying to draw readers to Kindle? Were they simply trying to lure customers to for other stuff. Or, the most popular conspiracy theory, were they trying to drive smaller distributors out of business?

Apple stepped in to “save the day” with its agency model, back when everyone was  mostly a subscriber to the last theory.

One important theory is, however, missing from her list. The cost and effort involved in the mechanics of publishing are now a fraction of what they once were. Was it possible that Amazon intended to become a major publisher?

A friend of mine has recently been working with an Amazon editor on a Kindle Single. Amazon seems to have a pretty generous deal going with its new writers. I don’t know of any writer with a big publisher who gets 70% of the profits.

With Amazon taking advantage of the New York publishing industry’s revolving door of editors, all it has to do is  poach a few mega selling authors, and the gates will open.

Publishers are essentially banks. They loan writers money based on how likely it is the writer will be able to pay the advance back, and expect to write off many of those first few loans. Anti-trust, or no anti-trust case, the biggest bank is going to win this one.

Now does anyone want to start speculating on why Google has been selling its  Nexus tablets under cost?

New York Times to partner with Byliner and Vook

Some very interesting news yesterday from Digital Book World.  The New York Times is partnering with Byliner and Vook to produce a series of e-books.

I first heard about Byliner about a year an half ago when I spent a month at the Banff Centre, hanging out with Robert Boynton, director of NYU’s literary reportage program. We were part of a group of eight literary journalists spending the month working on long projects. We Canadian journalists were feeling dour. 2011 seemed another grim year in the slow death of newspapers and magazines. All around us, at the Centre, were young dancers, musicians and artists, all working towards their dreams.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I felt like we were the last dinosaurs in a slowly rising ocean of busy fish indifferent to our impending extinction.

Robert, however, was upbeat.  All kinds of things were happening, he insisted, in the world of long form journalism. He pointed to byliner as an example. The San Francisco startup was building a digital magazine that worked almost like a cross between Amazon and iTunes. Byliner linked up commissioned digital journalism with traditional long form journalism to create something close to a bookstore that would prompt people towards long essays in subjects or by writers they enjoyed.  It was hard to tell at the time if this was something that might break the worsening glut of undervalued high quality journalism, or one more project that would only contribute to it.

Vook on the other hand, I already knew about  This was a digital publisher that creates special interest books by combining print and video.  A few months before, I’d bought one of their most popular titles for my son, Tae Kwon Do for Kids.  It was an ingenious book/app that combined both text and video demonstrations of basic moves. For someone who struggles with co-ordination like my son, it was an invaluable resource alongside his regular Tae Kwon Do classes.

At the time I saw more potential for the Vook than the Byliner model.

But in the last year I’ve started  to notice more and more magazines (The Walrus for instance) head out on the e-book production trail.  It’s beginning to sound a little more like Christmas.   Which is probably because it’s ten days before Christmas.  But for now I’m going with the flow of possibility.