NYT Exposes Amazon’s Fiendish Plot to Sell Books for Less Money

Books (cc photo: Sarah Browning)

(cc photo: Sarah Browning)

Boy, the folks at sure are mean–to hear the New York Times tell it.

A March 18 story by Motoko Rich and Brad Stone begins: has threatened to stop directly selling the books of some publishers online unless they agree to a detailed list of concessions regarding the sale of electronic books, according to two industry executives with direct knowledge the discussions.

It’s very clear who’s the villain in the story, tabbed on the website as “Amazon May Impede Access to Some Publishers’ Books”: The story talks about how the online bookseller is “pressuring publishers” with its “hardball approach,” shortly after it was “widely accused of abusing its position” with similar tactics that “shocked the publishing world.” If Amazon keeps it up, “it could harm its reputation in the eyes of customers and the publishing industry” and (in the words of a source) do “serious long-term damage to their own brand.”

By implication, the hero would be Apple, which is also entering the electronic book market. Apple’s business model, at any rate, doesn’t get the harsh spin from the Times that Amazon receives.

Which is funny, because Apple’s plan would result in consumers paying from 30 percent to 50 percent more to buy most e-books, and prevent publishers from allowing anyone else to undercut Apple’s inflated prices. It’s a terrible deal for consumers, whom you would think make up the majority of readers even in the Times‘ Business section–but the piece is written with the unstated assumption that we’re all rooting for the publishers.

The word “profit” only comes up once in the article, in reference to the $9.99 Amazon wants to charge for titles for its e-book reader: “Many Kindle owners have said the low price motivates them to buy more e-books, but publishers feared that the price would eventually erode their profits.” But it was Rich, one of the article’s co-authors, who did the reporting (3/1/10) that showed that the $9.99 price would give publishers about the same profit they make selling a hardcover for $26–and that the $12.99 price (let alone $14.99) gives them a significantly higher margin.

As FAIR pointed out at the time (FAIR Blog, 3/2/10), however, Rich’s earlier piece was likewise heavily spun so as to avoid giving readers the accurate impression that higher e-book prices are a rip-off for consumers. So it’s not surprising that the same pro-publisher slant is found in her coverage today.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.