Amazon Removes Buy Buttons, SUNY Albany Removes Departments

Amazon Removes Buy Buttons

Amazon plays hardball with publishers, according to Onnesha Roychoudhuri writing in the Boston Review (HT to A&LD):

This past January John Sargent, CEO of the publisher Macmillan, met with Amazon executives in hopes that he might regain control over the pricing of Macmillan’s books. If anyone could sway Amazon, it was Macmillan, a huge bookmaker with imprints such as Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; Henry Holt; Picador; and Times Books. Sargent flew to Seattle and laid out his terms. By the time he stepped off the plane in New York, Amazon had removed the buy button from every Macmillan book on the Web site.

This was Amazon’s way of throwing a fit because Macmillan didn’t bend over and accept Amazon’s demand of steep discounts, which are “52–55 percent, with some as high as 60 percent. In contrast, bookstores—even the chains—get discounts that usually top out around 50 percent.”

Rates this high are putting the squeeze on publishers who are clearing from between 5% and 8% of a book’s cover price, after deductions for printing, marketing, electricity, salaries, authors’ royalties, etc. That’s the on-average rate, naturally, which means some books bring in more, some less. But it’s the best sellers that bring in less, and the small sellers that bring in more per book. Only the small sellers don’t bring much in, so the discounts hurt most here.

Thus, some publishers are balking at Amazon’s not-so-polite requests to up the discounts. Amazon retaliates by removing the “Buy” buttons from these publishers’ books. Roychoudhuri doesn’t say, but the natural question is why don’t publisher accede to the steeper discounts while simultaneously increasing the cover price of the books? Probably because they fear a decrease in sales at physical book stores. But these stores are dwindling in number.

And then there are e-books, the prices of which are mostly set by Amazon without consultation with publishers. That price is about ten bucks, less than half the cost of a physical hardback book. Many readers complain that this rate is too high because they figure that most of cost of a physical book is in its printing, transportation, and moving. It isn’t, though. Which means that when an e-book is sold, somebody is taking a loss. Roychoudhuri says that Amazon is absorbing the costs, for now. Publishers are worried that customers will become fixated on the low price and refuse to shell out more once Amazon stops eating the loss.

Excuse me. I meant to say above “when an e-book is licensed.” Readers don’t buy, they lease. That being so, why haven’t publishers and sellers capitalized on this idea more fully and advertised e-books for lease? “Rent John Grisham’s Latest for $5 for a week!” The drawback is obvious: too many people would opt for the rental fee and not buy, which means Amazon, publishers, and authors would realize even less per book.

Perhaps the rental fee would work for back-list books. I noticed a copy of Jim Herriot’s Everything Living Thing on Amazon’s e-book list, set at the full price. This title is clearly over-priced since you can buy paper copies for a penny (plus S&H).

Something has to be done for e-books that restore the idea of used books and sane pricing of old titles.

SUNY Albany Drops Classics

If you haven’t seen this already, read Gregory A Petsko’s open letter to George M Philip, President of the State University of New York At Albany, entitled “A Faustian bargain.”

On a late Friday afternoon back in October, Philip hastily convened a “Town Hall” at Albany and announced that he was whacking several departments.

He said, “It remains critically important for the University to rethink and rebalance its core academic and research mission given its reduced revenue base, and reallocate resources accordingly.” By which he meant that he “issued a directive today to suspend all new admissions to five program areas – Classics, French, Italian, Russian, and Theatre.” He offers no explanation other than that student enrollment in these areas is low.

It’s low because, as everybody knows, classes in these areas are no longer required. Offered the chance, students on the whole opt for easier material. Like enrolling in “business” or some other program which they believe will make them attractive to future employers.

Colleges now are viewed by most as jobs training programs. Their essential and original purpose has become a dim memory.

But I write in haste. Read instead Petsko’s well considered response.


  1. Raymond

    I suggest that the University’s new Strategic Plan was fundamentally flawed, and that Mr. Philip has played a pivotal role by leading the university away from its original purpose.
    Consider these themes from the recent revision of the Strategic Plan and the headlines from the campus website that follow them.

    To engage diverse communities in strategic partnerships to increase public, scholarly and economic benefits

    Revise the General Education Program into a more flexible, coherent, cohort-building experience for both freshmen and transfer students

    Provide the necessary infrastructure to instill values of diversity, inclusion and equality in order to promote the safety of all and ensure that all students are extended a full and equal place in the community

    Develop recruitment and enrollment strategies for non-traditional populations such as adult learners, Veterans, students returning to retain(sic) for new careers, etc., and explore curricular and instructional revisions to address their needs

    SUNY Chancellor and UAlbany President inaugurate initiative
    to achieve leadership equilibrium in business and government

    Berkshire Bank and UAlbany Team to Create Financial Literacy Toolkit

    Black Friday and the Holiday Shopping Season
    Q&A With UAlbany Associate Professor of Marketing Sanjay Putrevu

  2. Briggs


    What in the Dear’s name is a “cohort-building experience” and why would anyone want to one?

  3. Ari

    I build cohorts all the time. Mostly out of Lego. I hear people make them out of matchsticks as well, but that sounds like more work than necessary.

  4. So SUNYA no longer requires students to learn Italian. Heaven forfend. It’s the collapse of Western Civilization.

    Perhaps the hubris of the Intelligentsia has moted their vision. Make the child learn Baroque Italian and the social dialectic of Climageddon. Mentor them, so that they might qualify for Mensa klatsches with the Diplomatic Corps.

    Meanwhile somebody has to do the heavy lifting, not to mention the crotch grabbing in airports, so that the Proletariat is subdued and doesn’t rise up in fierce anger against the Power Elite and burn the latter’s mansions on Nantucket to the ground. By that I mean grow the food, sew the clothing, hammer together the shelter, and all those other mundane and non-intellectual chores that mitigate against the Power Elite starving to death naked in the rain.

    What would Marie Antoinette say?

  5. “Cohort-building”. Sounds as if SUNY is concentrating on ensuring freshmen and transfer students become proper criminal conspiracy team members. To help avoid detection? It’s about time. State prisons are almost full. And it contribute to the first goal:

    “To engage diverse communities in strategic partnerships to increase public, scholarly and economic benefits”

  6. SteveBrooklineMA

    Petsko’s rant is idiotic. World literature is covered these days in English departments, indeed at Albany, spring 2011, Course AENG222: “World Literature… Possible texts include: Goethe, Elective Affinites or The Sorrows of Young Werther; Flaubert, Madame Bovary; Tolstoy, Anna Karenina; Proust, Swann’s Way; Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago; Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence; and/or Satrapi, Persepolis” Or spring 2011, course AENG295: “Classics Western Literature: Heroes & Homecomings… Texts will likely include The Iliad, The Odyssey (selections), The Oresteia, The Aeneid, Beowulf, The Inferno, Paradise Lost, works by Euripides and Pope, and on.”

    Does Petsko really think that if we require students to take Russian, they will keep at it until they are able to read Russian Lit in the original Russian? Give me a break. Students will take these classes only until they are able to pass the proficiency test, and will forget what they have learned soon after. Perhaps they will work their way through a short story or two. For the vast, vast majority of students, foreign language requirements are a complete waste of time.

  7. Ari


    If foreign language requirements are a “waste of time,” then I’m a monkey’s uncle. My foreign language experience has shaped my career in many positive ways, and led to possibilities that I would have never had otherwise.

    Not only am I more worldly thanks to my language experience, I learned to analyze my own native language (English, natch) better.

    I think it’s better said that if students feel that their time is being wasted by these cruel requirements, then they perhaps don’t have a place in college.

    I may have had the chance to read Japanese literature in “world literature 101” or some fluffy class, but reading it in Japanese was a better, more meaningful experience. And having it taught by a Japanese speaker brought ideas to the forefront that were otherwise ignored.

    The kind of education one gets in a single semester reading many snippets of text is not the same as the kind of education one gets through the focus that dedicated courses offer.

  8. Pat Moffitt

    So according to Ari if one has the audacity to question what should or should not be required courses – one does not belong in college? Sounds like a liberal arts program.

  9. Speed

    ” … publishers who are clearing from between 5% and 8% of a book’s cover price … ”
    As average discounts to retailers close in on 50%, publisher’s net margins close in on 10% to 16% according to my slide rule. These numbers are not different from other industrial concerns.

    A book “publisher” is really a printing and distribution company with a product that would go unsold without something interesting printed inside. In a free market they should receive (our economists tell us) a return on their capital investment and variable costs that is attractive when compared with other investment opportunities. Authors should receive enough to keep them writing instead of becoming dentists or heavy equipment operators.

    The publisher has control over one price — that which he receives from retailers. He must charge all customers (retailers) the same (volume based) price. The retailer sets the price charged to readers.

    Popular books (as opposed to text and reference books) are entertainment and therefore compete with television, video, sports, movies, long walks on the beach, candlelight dinners, physical exercise, gardening, stamp collecting, video games, facebook and every other thing available to modern man and woman. Publishers need to think about how they can make someone send $9.95 a month to them instead of Netflix et al.

    Imagine some scribe in 1439 complaining that Gutenberg was ruining the publishing industry by flooding the market with tens, hundreds or even thousands of cheap bibles.

  10. Marty

    I agree with SteveBrooklineMA–Petsko admits he doesn’t have a clue what is going on at SUNY Albany, and then starts personally insulting its President while offering generalities and weak-appearing analigies that may or may not have anything to do with the actual situation in Albany–but on the surface sound pretty irrelevant.

    Sometimes, when people don’t know enough about something to have an informed opinion, they should just STFU, instead of being busybodies.

    Yes, spending taxpayer money to sustain programs that only justify themselves because students are mandated to take them–that’s enlightened public policy, for sure.

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