Price Wars for Books Are Probably Bad News for Authors

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Is heavy book discounting bad for authors? Matt Yglesias is puzzled:

Buzzfeed has a baffling article up about how Amazon and Overstock are waging a price war on physical books featuring deep discounting and huge wins for consumers. According to Andy Meeks this leaves authors “authors caught in the crossfire.”….[But] authors are paid by publishers, who hand out advances and royalty checks. The royalties are based on a percentage of publishers’ gross revenues so the retail price of the books sold doesn’t mean authors get less money. If anything, retailer discounting is good for authors and publishers because it boosts book sales.

I think there’s a fairly straightforward way that this could be bad for authors. Amazon has been waging a battle for years now to get consumers accustomed to low prices on both e-books and physical books. So far, this means only that Amazon doesn’t make any money on books. So far.

But what happens when Amazon drives everyone else out of business and there’s no one left but Amazon selling books? One possibility is that prices go back up to their old level. Another is that consumers have become so accustomed to price-war pricing that they just won’t pay more. Amazon, however, will no longer be willing to lose money on books, so it will demand lower wholesale prices from publishers. The publishers will have little choice but to agree, and authors will get squeezed.

Nobody knows if this is how things will eventually shake out. But there’s not much question that Amazon really, really wants to train consumers to expect low prices for books. Unless you believe that Amazon is doing this out of a sense of public spiritedness and will continue losing money on books forever, eventually the piper is going to be paid. That’s likely to be bad news for authors.

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate