Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Book publishers call on Apple to match 15% commission granted to developers (ibpa-online.org)
162 points by ilamont 7 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 85 comments

well, maybe they could just setup a website, let me drop a coin and download a freely convertible, virus-free copy of the book. Setup cost around ~10k, all profits go to them. (and I would actually buy books there)

I just can't get my head around that the publishers have been looking at music industry going from napster to torrent to spotify. Now they are looking at libgen and seem to be completely unable to connect the dots and come up with a coop that sells all their books with a monthly fee so that they could keep the profits instead of amazon or whatever startup that manages to circumvent all the legal hassles and make a spotify for books.

How hard can it be for a couple of larger publishers to start a common book streaming service with a note that all other publisherss welcome, you become a member in the coop and get to say how the coop works, coop takes a fee from sales just to cover operating costs and rest goes to publisher/author?

They can't do that because publishing these days is, when you get down to it, all about supply chain contract management. And in particular, my book contracts stipulate in mind-numbing detail precisely how sales will be accounted for (what percentage of net receipts go to me, or to the publisher, depending on volume and/or discount rates). The contracts make hard-coded assumptions about how books are sold that can't readily be rewritten. Also, contracts for different books by the same author may have different T&Cs, never mind contracts issued in different years (occasionally publishers try to "fix" things by turning Legal loose on their inherited contract boilerplate, usually with questionable results because they invariably make a massive land-grab and then the bigger literary agents all lawyer up and arm-wrestle for a better deal for their clients).

It's bad enough that at least one of the Big Five (to my definite knowledge, as I work with them) has fired up an internal start-up publisher, mostly using the same editorial team and production facilities, but where the distinguishing characteristic is that (a) they totally rewrote their book contracts to make it possible to do new and exciting stuff, and (b) target ebook sales as a primary channel. (Disclaimer: this is my primary publisher in the US market right now and I'm very happy with the way things are going.)

But when you're dealing with multinational publishing corporations you've got to bear in mind they have tens of thousands of book contracts going back decades which can't easily be dragged around onto a new business model, and they suffer from activist shareholders and an ever-constant threat of hostile takeover (see the ongoing Simon and Schuster takeover by Penguin Random House).

Why do the publishers need to start with a fancy business model? First they should have a basic website that sells .epub files. I would gladly pay a publisher the the amount that Amazon charges if they would sell me an unencumbered epub.

Co-ops aren't so much a fancy business model as they are a basic one. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative

It's just that more often than not, participants in western economies don't start co-ops because the profit potential for the founders isn't remotely close to what it could be for starting a run of the mill corporation.

Presumably it's because the publishers are paranoid about piracy and/or people who want DRM-free books are a minority.

I was actually surprised when I bought a book on an online bookstore yesterday and was given the option to download it as an epub in addition to reading it in the Play Books app. Apparently that's a flag that anyone can set, but most authors/publishers choose not to.

Perhaps, but Tor books are DRM-free in general. Nevertheless, it appears to be impossible to give Tor money and get an ebook in exchange.

Having worked for a very large publisher - they don’t get tech at all.

On the flip side, consumers value the physical book product very highly.

Intangible stuff is always really hard to sell. Despite Spotify, most of the revenue in the music business still went to the Walkman, the iPod, the iPhone, and now $160 AirPods. Indeed I think AirPod sales are comparable to the entire music industry’s revenue.

And a lot of people assume that the physical book artifact is some big proportion of the actual cost. Among other reasons (including that it's easy to make copies and distribute them in torrents), this means that people think a digital product that costs almost as much as a physical one is ripping them off.

Why do that when libraries will out compete you on price? Print is getting more popular again too among younger generations. Certainly easier on the eyes than staring at yet another screen for hours more a day imo.

I think eInk solves the eyestrain problem for reading books just as well as paper.

Amazon did this - it's called Kindle Unlimited.

both of you miss the point. I want to have a diskful of books, I can pass on to my kin and also share with friends (which is like normal books worked for years...). I don't want to have a streamingservice which can censor and restrict my rights to read a book at will.

You’re missing the point. Some people still buy CDs and Records. Some people fill up disks with .flac or .acc files. The industry still serves those customers, but the real business is happening on the streaming services. What _you_ want and what the market demands are two different things.

> both of you miss the point.

They don’t "miss the point", they just disagree with you.


they know that most purchased books never actually get read so they're afraid of pricing models that are based on how much people actually read. they're used to being able to sell dead trees and not having to worry about that.

Amazon gained monopoly power over book distribution before they knew what hit them. Now I'd imagine they are stuck.

genuine question : isn't the continued existence of Barnes and Noble a counterexample to monopoly power?

No. I'm not sure there is anything Barnes and Noble could practically change that would gain them a significant amount of market share from Amazon. The network effects of Kindle, Audible (the unlimited variants of both), and Prime delivery would make it impossible for B&N to really compete in the way a normal American would think about it.

The term monopoly power is colloquial doesn't require a market to only contain a single company. It's enough for a single dominant player to have market-setting power in either a region, nationally, or globally.

On Amazon, I have almost no way to guarantee I'm actually going to get the edition (print, that is) I intended to purchase. Barnes & Noble lets me buy the particular edition.

Amazon lumps in rip-off photocopy books with the actual print editions and calls them all "hardcover" or "paperback" with different prices. You get an ISBN for some edition of the book, but not necessarily the one you have selected when you add it to your cart.

I've taken to buying more print books from B&N for this reason. (War and Peace, Shogun, Moby-Dick... it's hard to find proper hard cover editions of these books, especially if there's a particular translation you're looking for, like in the case with Tolstoy.)

I have this silly hope that the market will begin to swing away from Amazon as consumers attempt to avoid the rampant counterfeiting, and the lack of specificity and control for what you're actually buying.

Time will tell.

More like the dying existence of Barnes and Noble. They have shut down most of their stores and fired most of their employees. And they are losing online too. Can't compete with Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited. A monopoly in multiple-domains gives holistic, undeniable advantages in kicking any competitor to the curb. Amazon is the Godzilla smashing B&N worker-ant into paste.

Completely unable? Amazon runs Kindle Unlimited which is spotify but with text. And then there's Audible Plus which comes with some selection of books.

And companies like O'Reilly have been running services like Safari since before Apple named their browser Safari.

But piracy apologists continue to claim that the publishers aren't tech savvy enough or business savvy enough. The services are there. I can only presume that readers prefer to buy their books one at a time, often printed on paper. That's the only reason the services haven't become household names like Spotify or Netflix.

I wonder if it's because reading books is more niche compared to listening to music or watching TV. So a higher percentage of book readers are enthusiasts who prefer to own rather than stream.

Super agree with the sentiment of this comment. Just this morning I read a recent Kottke post and noticed he's got a shop set up on bookshop.org, and so decided to check it out – it's a site that says they help small local bookstores. Great! But I prefer e-books, and the only way I can consume ebooks through this service (or through kobo’s similar “support local bookstores” marketplace) is to use their terrible apps (I know, I know, you who are reading this find Kobo’s app to be just fine, but I’m picky and don't like it) so Apple Books or Kindle it is, all because of DRM.

I know from their perspective it's a calculus – they'll lose some money to piracy, and maybe that adds up to a lot more from what they'd gain from selling to persnickety people like me, so maybe they're making the right call. But what I want as a consumer is to sometimes buy hardbacks, mostly buy ebooks, read them in the reader of my choice, and to support my local bookshop and the authors and editors, which I guess is an impossible dream.

maybe in the first place they would allow me to buy an ebook i want.

Often i want to buy some ebooks in English, but i legally cannot. UK based publisher has rights to the series, but doesn't sell ebooks, while US based one has an ebook but cannot legally sell it to me.

The whole ebook industry is absolutely atrocious from consumer PoV. DRM, locked down systems, the problems outlined above.. and for some reason ebooks usually cost more than physical books over here!

I mean one has draconian DRM and license attached, can be purged from your device and account for no reason.. while other is a physical good without such restrictions, that i can legally lend to my friends.

book market things: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixed_book_price

They prevented what happened to music so nothing will change ever.

Now that’s just crazy talk!

Isn’t this what No Starch Press is doing?

10k? Like $100 lol


Parent comment is not a joke - I would also like to purchase ebooks without DRM - just a file that I can convert/load onto my Kindle, iPhone, etc.

They can sell the ebooks on the web and have you download it onto your iPhone. It doesn’t have to be all in one app.

That’s not what OP’s saying, they’re talking about a website that lets you download books (ie .ePub files) that you would open in the Books app.

The reading experience is no different.

You can download files in safari...

Lets mature web standards so that one can write and publish a book - with just html.

Then also do distributed search so that one can find things. Something with supper nodes for those of us who want faster and more complex queries. html, with some minor upgrades, again seems good enough.

DRM is a silly idea, we should forget about it. Just write free works until the audience is impressed enough to donate to current effort.

And finally some simple to use aggregation formula so that authors can learn what we want to read about.

No more middle men.

You can already do all of that. Epub is just html in a wrapper file. I don't know what a supper node is. Is it anything like a breakfast node or dinner node? Seems like it would be quite messy to mix food with ink.

Writing free stuff works for a few people. Most people can't afford it. This means we'd end up with significantly fewer written works, and almost of what remained would be the highly-marketed James Patterson-type formulaic crap that sells well. In fact...James Patterson is the personification of your aggregation formula. He doesn't even write his own books anymore (and hasn't for almost a decade); he looks at trends in reader data and pays other writers to ghost-write his novels for him.

Middlemen exist because they provide valuable services: editing/proofreading, printing, distribution, and marketing. And in book publishing, they provide one of the most valuable services of all: discovery based on an author's talent, not their personal marketing abilities.

> You can already do all of that. I can already do all that, you can too but everyone should be able to publish without depending on anyone or any corporation.


>Writing free stuff works for a few people. Most people can't afford it. This means we'd end up with significantly fewer written works

You cant monitor and control what people read nor should you want to. The desired goal imho is to make available to the reader as much material as possible. Readers have finite funds (if any) You could similarly argue that if some 4% ends up with the writers most can't afford to write.

> James Patterson-type formulaic crap...

I don't dare have an opinion. If people are buying this its their money.

> Middlemen exist because they provide valuable services

We buy lots of services. They should ideally never control us. If measuring talent is worth something the author can pay for it.

Your suspicion is right tho. Indeed I would prefer to see the entire industry die and switch to a basic income.

I get that people think if the music industry dies some will drop their instruments and stop singing. History was the other way around. When people got radios everyone stopped making music themselves. I think we don't even have to bother comparing it to the polished fast food. I liked how Prince put it: Finally people can make music for the sake of making music.

> Just write free works until the audience is impressed enough to donate to current effort.

I get the rest of the comment, but I don’t understand that part: unless you already have too much money, there’s absolutely no reason you should work for free.

You don't need to much money to do what you like. I want to see a basic income which makes DRM one of the many "old world" formulas that cant work perfectly even if you throw infinite money at it. To pay people to write is as simple as it sounds.

While some components might be legitimate there is really no end to greed in rent seeking formulas. We can look at the TV license in the UK to see what the future might look like. They didn't even have the modern tools to monitor everyone. The system involves a database of houses where the license was not purchased. Agents will make unannounced visits to search your house.

In stead of impossible some would argue it was simply a hard problem to write into law. From that perspective we failed to create a carefully balanced set of rules. As long as the demands are small steps the copyright industry gets what they want every time while the consumer, the party argued to so greatly benefit from these laws (what a joke),..... well.... the consumer gets to play and sing songs from before 1923!

When Swartz downloaded a pile of ancient garbage articles he was going to get 35 years in prison for wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer. This is complete nonsense and everyone knows it. If the industry wants to go full retard it should be treated as such.

Therefore we should burn it to the ground and keep the authors and keep the artists. Pay them for what they do. The only thing that matters is that the unwashed masses who already cant find work get access to educational materials. Everything else is either not important or simply entertainment. You cant use tax money for entertainment as long as you are taking it from people who can barely pay their bills. You can use it to sponsor crowd funding so that they can learn useful things and ponder the many intelligent thoughts others wrote down. To me this sounds a lot better than [say] sponsoring scientific journals with public funds so that they can paywall the stuff we've paid for.

There are tons of old books. People can go read those first before demanding more free work from authors for the benefit of publishers.

It is also easy to remove % fees from app stores by writing some laws. Or are we to think it will bankrupt google and apple? I cant recall paying Microsoft any fees.

It is my country. The legal system is there to serve me.

What about we first start with the book publishers paying a fair share of royalties? 1.5% is nothing

My first thought... when you realize they've been taking 96% as the gatekeepers for so long, Apple's fees don't sound as absurd. With traditional print publishing there is a lot of value add, but with ebooks they're really just choosing winners.

Aside: I have met several people who admitted to downloading my books on torrents, and they gave me the $2 I would have made if they'd bought it :)

It's sad that books don't have the equivalent of steam sales. I have so many games I'll never play, because at $2 it seems rude not to but at £30, I gotta think about it.

A few of the tech oriented publishers have ebook sales on their websites from time to time. Like Apress has $6 per ebook during black friday. Informit was 55% off per ebook book.

Yeah, and the sad part is that the paper copies royalty is different from the ebook copies. And when someone buys your book in bulk or the publisher gives away promotion copies it get counted differently.

Still waiting for hunderds of US dollars worth of royalties :(

That's hilarious. I would give you $2 to just keep writing. Sadly the technology is just not there. Everyone is busy welding the next digital prison for popular walled gardens. Building a forest of plastic plants.

You are off by an order of magnitude.

Standard book royalties for first-time authors in the U.S. are 15% for paperbacks and 20% for hardcovers. Established authors can make more than that.

Do you have a source for that? According to this article, they are much less than that:

>...royalties, at least among the top houses, are basically the same. Authors are paid, for hardcovers, 10% of the cover price on the first 5,000 copies sold, 12.5% on the next 5,000, and 15% thereafter. For paperbacks authors receive 7.5% of the cover price (occasionally with an escalator) and for eBooks 25% of the publisher’s net receipts. Many independent publishers pay lower royalties than these, but rarely do they pay higher. Competition between publishers takes the form of advance competition, with royalties generally being very similar, especially at the big houses.


Yes, I was actually referring to the page you cited... It's the "authoritative" source for the Google search on US book royalty rates. See further down:

"Under standard royalties, an author gets roughly 20 to 30% of the publisher’s revenue for a hardcover, 15% for a trade paperback, and 25% for an eBook. So, very roughly, every hardcover release that earns out brings the author something like 25% of all revenue earned by the publisher. This percentage would drop once the paperback comes out, if it sells in significant numbers."

10% of cover price is usually the same as 20-30% of the publisher's revenue. You only drop down to 1.5% territory if your books are being discounted, meaning, if they aren't selling at cover price and they've been put into the bargain bin.

The computer books market is different compared to your typical fiction books market. Looks like you are referring to the latter.

As is the article under discussion...

Computer books is a tiny fraction of the book market.

Sure, but that's what I got as co-author on a computer book nearly ten years ago

Who is only paying 1.5%? That is substandard.

I thought writers do it because it is their passion and publishers merely provide an audience for their art. Isn't the exposure and feeling of fulfilment enough? /s

Sure, milk whatever they have the political or economic clout to achieve.

But I would say that the argument is even less favorable for them that Apple exerts an unfair monopoly over the outlets for them to publish their works. They have a world of ways to publish their content and simply want a bigger cut of this one. No principles about it.

This is true. I mean, no one I know has ever admitted to purchasing a book through iBooks.

I exchange please remove DRM from ebooks.

Ebook DRMs are truly some of the most annoying things ever.

I just want to click "Pay", and then click "download PDF" so I can annotate the books in my favorite app. Why do they have to make it more complicated than that.

This reminds me of a few months ago when I accidentally bought a 90 USD Ebook that came with DRM. I didn't realize it until I clicked the download button and got some Adobe digital editions file. I immediately Googled for a PDF copy of the book and saw that there were plenty on the first page of Google, so I don't know what the point of the DRM was other than to make me have to download some crappy reader just to read it. Thank goodness the company that sold the Ebook was willing to refund me.

It is a game where only the honest i.e. customers are punished.

This is why I have turned to libgen, torrents, and Usenet for my books and other media.

I would pay for my content if I actually got to own it. But no, ironically I have a greater sense of ownership by obtaining my content via alternative means than the traditional legal means.

The only media that I still have on streaming services is music. Spotify is just so damn convenient. I need to find a way to move off it though, as over the years I’ve found many of my favorite albums just disappear as Spotify ends licensing deals or whatever.

If we are going to be subject DRM and on par or worse pricing on ebooks they should at least update the contents on them for a year or so in exchange. Their cost of distribution is zero and their cost of duplication is zero. Give a little in exchange. I would buy more paper books if I also got the PDF for on the go or just for the convenience to search.

Short Story: A few weeks ago, I had trouble to connect my Sennheiser Headphones to a bluetooth splitter. So I downloaded the manual and after some time I found what I was doing wrong.

To let me find the critical part faster next time, I wanted to highlight the relevant part of the manual. Sadly the manual was DRM protected and didn't want to let me annotate the manual...

So I had to find a way to work around it, but I felt like a criminal, just because I wanted to use a highlighter on the digital manual of a physical product I bought.

What is even the point of DRM protected manuals? I can understand it on book, but manuals? Piracy of a manual isn’t going to affect sales of the product; I (almost all the time) have no need for the manual if I don’t own the product.

Maybe they want to avoid anybody who copies their hardware from copying the manual. About the only thing I can see but at that point you lost the war.

No good deed goes unpunished. But really, apps and books are apples and oranges. Similar in one regard, both are digital goods, but not in important ones that matter strategically. Apple doesn’t have the stranglehold on ebook reading that they have on apps. For those who don’t know, you can’t buy ebooks on iOS without paying an Apple tax, but as many kindle users know, you can of course buy kindle books via a browser and then read them in the kindle app. Not to mention the work that goes into custom developing an iOS app compared to simply compiling text an editing to whatever format Apple requires.

Is it really that different? You can think of it as an app that shows information you can navigate. It just needs a runtime e.g. pdf viewer just like apps need e.g. java runtime.

That’s an interesting point, because I guess nothing stopping an author from publishing their book wrapped in an ereader app and getting the commission discount, although they lose some of the market discovery benefit. Different contexts and ecosystems. The tech behind it has very little to do with the business/production and user end use.

I think some religious books are actually delivered this way and are quite successful.

Yes it's quite different. It's a deliberate platform lock in. Its pervasiveness does not make it the same as alternatives, it's far worse.

I don't see a need for this. The reason Apple's commission for apps is a problem is that they have a monopoly on iOS app sales. But publishers can sell books that can be read on iOS without going through Apple. If they don't like the cut, they should just sell their product elsewhere. (Now if Apple were to do something like ban ePub reader apps that worked on outside purchased books, I'd change my tune.)

That's one commonly presented half of the app problem, the other commonly presented half is the blocking of alternative means of payment from the device. The latter half isn't talked about as much on the app side because once you can load an app outside of the official app store the presumption is there won't be any problems with the app using non-apple payment. It's still a problem whether or not you can buy something externally and then import it as Apple has restrictions as to what the app can tell you about this (e.g. you're not allowed to say "go to website.com and buy it for 30% less than on your iPhone" in the app) and it's artificially increasing the barrier to this option.

Whether or not you think those points on their own is enough to warrant specific action is up to you. The problem is people talk in these threads as if arguments they don't agree with don't exist which leads to a lot of the same discussions every time a thread about this comes up.

My personal take is the official store should be able to set whatever percentages as long as the option to use 3rd party distribution and 3rd party payment is there. I.e. let people decide if alternatives are better not try to force Apple to set certain cuts. I can see a lot of why others don't think that though but for me it really comes down to full vertical lock in being as damaging to competition as full horizontal lock in IMO.

And what percentage do the publishers extract? I’m betting the Author doesn’t see 30%.

Even 15% is still outrageous. 2-3% would be reasonsble or a small fixed amount

Imagine credit card company taking 15 or 30%...

A reasonable argument, if the credit card company also provides the infrastructure for distribution of the goods.

A reasonable argument, if we had any proof that infrastructure is actually what is driving the 30% cut. Unfortunately there are no alternative integrated payment and distribution methods allowed so we can't really say. My gut feeling is nowhere near 28% of the cost of a digital book is in delivering the file to the user though.

Many purchases are virtual goods these days even. Its difficult to understand how anyone could argue that Apple is not exploting this situation, its gross and pretty unethical

Have a look at Apple’s revenues from digital services, then tell us again with a straight face that their prices are driven by infrastructure costs - I dare you.

So we should work with the hypothesis that distribution and infrastructure is free?

I'm not saying that Apple doesn't have a healthy profit margin, only that comparing them to a card processor is simplistic.

This whole tone of "straight face" and "I dare you" comes across as affective and childish.

Appstore distribution seems a simple problem compared to becoming a payment provider. Payment infrastructure is a lot more complex and difficult to implement, and it also needs integrations.

This is like an industry getting tax breaks, then another asking for the same assuming all else is the same.

Didn’t Apple lose an anti-trust lawsuit for plotting to do exactly this before the launch of the Books store?

No. Apple plotted with the biggest 5 book publishers to enforce a 30% commission not just on the Apple Book store but all other ebook stores as well. This new request is by a consortium of independent book sellers, authors that the App Store and Apple Book store commission rates should match

I thought the key proposal was changing to an agency business model where Apple would charge a commission and publishers would set prices, as opposed to Amazon’s status quo at the time where Amazon would both set prices and their own fees.

The key problematic proposal was not the business model per se (the agency model was left largely in place even after the anti-trust was lost and punitive measures applied), it was Apple coordinating the publisher oligopoly to force Amazon and other ebook stores to switch their business models in concert.

Yea, they lost for doing something Amazon was doing and is still doing :D

Applications are open for YC Winter 2022

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact