The Class War is Subtle

The book publishers are in the process of picking a fight with Amazon and other sellers over the pricing of e-books. If the publishers are lucky, they’ll lose. Here’s why.

Publishers generally sell e-books to Amazon and its competitors for the same price they sell paper books to retailers—about half the list price of the paper version. Amazon and the others insist on selling most e-books for about $9.99, which pleases the publishers when the e-book retail price is close to that of the paper edition: Currently, Amazon is selling the $14 list paperback of The Big Sleep for $10.98 and the electronic Kindle version for $9.99.

Does the Book Industry Want To Get Napstered? Jack Shafer, Wednesday, July 15, 2009, at 7:13 PM ET

Republicans like to toss out the idea of a “class war” in order to conjure up frightening images of rock throwing thugs and police tossing tear gas and chaos in the streets. Usually, they are complaining about something simple, like the necessity of avoiding regressive taxation in a democracy. The rich, apparently, have an infinite right to be richer, no matter the price to the rest of us.

The class war, however, is at times much more subtle, involving almost invisible changes in the relationships and social agreements and assumptions that make up what we call private property. As Shafer suggests, that’s what happened with music, or, rather, that’s what continues to happen with music. Now, he says, we might see the same thing with books.

That’s already happening elsewhere, of course, as at some universities make their courses open-source. In the sciences, there’s the Public Library of Science and every month or so it seems another academic journal adopts a free online model. Wikipedia, too, represents a shift in the old “private property” paradigm and its associated copy-write regime.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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