A Big Box Spinning, or, Amazon’s response to Hachette

Amazon sent out an unsolicited email to untold millions of people today.  In this spam, they put their own spin on the bad publicity they have been receiving lately in regards to their ongoing battle with Hachette.

I’m sure they’ll get an earful about their unspoken message, which is “We only care about ebooks.”  However, some of the numbers they throw at us need a second look.  In one paragraph, they make a seemingly good “quantitative” argument that ebooks are better: more people read the book, the author gets more money, the publisher gets more money.  A few flaws, here.

The important thing to note here is that it is AMAZON that is selling more ebooks. Interestingly, Amazon does not say what happens to print sales (either their own or industry-wide) when ebook sales go up. What happens? Might not fewer print copies be sold? If they are, then that would negatively affect all of Amazon’s statistics.  Also, fewer print books would reduce the supply of used books which in turn would raise their prices (at least on Amazon’s used marketplace)? Which in turn means more money for Amazon: more money from commission on used books, and a bigger slice of the pie–they are selling a bigger percentage of the total copies sold, since brick & mortar stores generally don’t offer ebooks.

Amazon next claims that “the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger”–again, this is only if ebook buyers are NEW buyers who would not have purchased the print book.  If the author makes more money per unit on a print book than an ebook, s/he in fact would make less.

And finally, we have the claim that the book is “being read by an audience that’s 74% larger.”–again, only if the ebook buyers would not have purchased a new book, traded for a used book, borrowed a friend’s copy, or checked one out of the library…and that’s pretty unlikely.  What that means is that AMAZON gets a 74% larger piece of the pie.  If the Kindle had been around when The Da Vinci Code do you really think that 74% more people would have read it?  (In other words, what’s 74% more than everybody, lol?!?)

Amazon has gotten bad press before for its efforts to avoid paying taxes; maybe those creative accountants are the same ones who crunch the ebook sales numbers.