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Beth Cox Report: July 2014

Dear Loyal Readers, Authors, and Publishers,

Perhaps you have heard of the ongoing war between Amazon, the 800-pound-gorilla of the book distribution industry, and Hachette, the fourth-biggest book publisher in the U.S. How much weight Hachette has to throw around will ultimately be decided by how the war plays out. There have been some nasty but not necessarily proven accusations against Amazon, alleging that they took steps to discourage Hachette book sales on their site.

The core of the dispute is that Amazon wants to sell ebooks at a much lower price point than Hachette is willing to set. Currently, Amazon is arguing for a $9.99 cap on most if not all ebook prices. They explained their point of view in an open post to the public on their Kindle forums at

A quick summary of Amazon's logic is: lower ebook prices will generate more sales of ebooks than high ebook prices. So much more that publishers, authors, and Amazon will all get more revenue. Amazon claims that "We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles." To put it another way, Amazon says they've done the math and the numbers add up.

One of many people presenting counterarguments is independent author John Scalzi, who does business with Hachette as well as other publishers. In his blog post at

Scalzi questions Amazon's logic. Sure, in terms of gross revenue for thousands of millions of ebook titles, lower ebook prices might bring higher overall profits... but for a struggling small author, lower ebook prices might just mean lower revenue, especially if the demand for that author is relatively inelastic.

This battle of the titans has been analyzed all over the web; here are just a few articles about it. This is a May article with the perspective of Forbes, a business-centric magazine, suggesting that there's no need to worry; the free market will sort everything out:

This is a May article from The Atlantic, notable in its speculation about how the outcome of the Amazon-Hachette war could shape the future of the physical and digital publishing industry:

This is a reporting article from The Guardian, analyzing Amazon's latest statements:

Personally, I've noticed one thing that seems to have little mention so far. Amazon's customers, or at least a vocal minority of them, really do get cross when they believe ebook prices are too high. If an ebook price is equal to or only little bit cheaper than the physical book price, its Customer Reviews selection will inevitably be barraged with one-star reviews complaining solely about the ebook's cost.

But in a free market (with the exception of some no-so-free markets such as course textbooks for college students), authors/publishers have the right to set the price they choose, and customers have the right to reject ebooks or physical books that they feel are too expensive. Or to simply visit the library instead. I'm very leery of concentrating too much power in anyone's hands, especially Amazon's.

As Scalzi explains in his blog post at

Amazon is not your friend. Neither is Hachette, nor any other publisher, nor any other company. They're not necessarily your enemies, either. They are businesses - they exist to look out for their own interests, and earn as much profit as legally tenable. However the Amazon-Hachette war shakes out, every author, bookseller, and member of the general public would do well to remember this truth.

In appreciation for Scalzi's candid testimony, I'm adding the link to his blog

to the Book Blogs section of our website. Also, July's Link of the Month is Slashdot

a site specializing in links to and discussions of the latest technology-based news. Slashdot summarizes the articles it links to in accessible, plain terms, and the stories it highlights range from ongoing coverage of the Amazon-Hachette war to a modern-day "MacGyver" grad student who created and has begun to market a cheap, effective alternative to $1,000 air purifiers, filling a desperate need of smog-soaked China.

July's Review of the Month is a title that walks a fine line between levity and being deadly serious:

A Journey to the Dark Heart of Nameless, Unspeakable Evil
Jane Bussmann
Nortia Press
2321 E. 4th Street, C-219
Santa Ana, CA 92705
9780988879843 $25.95

A Journey to the Dark Heart of Nameless, Unspeakable Evil: Charities, Hollywood, Joseph Kony and Other Abominations is a nonfiction blend of humor and real-life international horror. British comedy writer Jane Bussmann, whose career most consisted of relatively vapid celebrity interviews, received the shock of her life when she pursued an audience with human rights activist, author, and peace negotiator John Prendergast. She traveled to Uganda, utterly unprepared, and learned about an ongoing nightmare - rogue "religious nut-job" Joseph Kony has kidnapped tens of thousands of children to torture and use as soldiers or sex slaves. Ugandan President Museveni's army has failed to stop Kony's atrocities, preferring instead to loot the gold and diamond mines of nearby Congo. Museveni has received billions of dollars in aid from the U.S. and U.K.; none of this money was used to capture Kony. Though Bussmann's heartbreaking true story of widespread violence and corruption was never published by a British newspaper, she transformed it into a comedy show, and now a true-life memoir; if laughter is the only way to spread the terrible truth about the vile corruption on both sides of the law in Uganda, then so be it. A Journey to the Dark Heart of Nameless, Unspeakable Evil lives up to its title, interspersed with just enough jocularity to keep the reader from sinking into abject despair; highly recommended.

Like most people, I don't want to think about horrific atrocities, but ignoring them won't make them go away. Jane Bussmann does a public service by drawing people's attention to an ongoing nightmare, with just enough humor to stave off depression. I can only hope that her book is the first step to ending the depredations of diabolical monsters in human form like Joseph Kony.

That's all for the July 2014 Beth Cox Report. Be careful out there!

Bethany Cox
Managing Editor
The Midwest Book Review

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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