Dog-Eared and Dispatched: October 27, 2013It’s all about the benjamins in this week’s rundown of the wild world of book culture. The Illinois Supreme Court set the tone for the week by declaring the state’s online sales tax unconstitutional. Meanwhile, HarperCollins witnessed a new sales record with the release of the final installment in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series. Mid-week, Amazon customers were given notice of the company’s decision to raise the minimum purchase price associated with its “Free Super Saver Shipping.” Behind the scenes, Amazon Publishing’s Chief Executive, Larry Kirshbaum, confirmed his departure from the company in January. Finally, Apple faces an estimated $307 million in damage charges in relation to the price-fixing lawsuit it lost this summer.
The potential for a nationwide online sales tax has been of increasing concern for consumers over the past few years, with each new state to incorporate such fees setting a precedent for future developments. However, on Monday, October 21, t he Illinois Supreme Court ruled the state’s online sales tax—known as the Main Street Fairness Act—unconstitutional . This two-year-old tariff, referred to informally as the Amazon-tax law, has caused no small amount of grief for Illinois, with several internet retailers choosing to sever their affiliations with the state rather than pay the mandated tax. In its verdict, the court stated that the online sales tax ” violates a federal decree that prevents ‘discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce.’ State law cannot trump federal law.” [Publisher’s Weekly, Chicago Tribune, Shelf Awareness, ABC’s Channel 20 News]
This Tuesday, October 22, HarperCollins experienced its largest first-day sales figure in history with the publication of Veronica Roth’s YA novel, Allegiant . Across all available formats, the book sold 455,000 copies globally within 24 hours of the book’s release. These sales were boosted by not only HarperCollins and Roth’s dual marketing efforts (with the series’s website broadcasting an pre-taped reading of the first chapter of Allegiant by Roth at midnight of publication day) , but the accidental early shipment of the book by Canadian retailer Indigo Books. The final installment of Roth’s Divergent trilogy, Allegiant has an initial print-run of two million copies. Roth was greeted by a crowd of 800 fans at the book’s launch this week at 92nd Street Y, a nonprofit cultural and community center. Another 1200 people attended the Barnes and Noble evening party on October 23. [Publisher’s Weekly]
Amazon announced a minimum purchase increase for its “Free Super Saver Shipping” this Wednesday, October 23. Customers will now be required to pay $35—as opposed to $25—to receive free shipping options through the online retailer. Paulo Santos of Seeking Alpha, a stock market news & financial analysis website, sees this decision as one of distress: “Free shipping has long been a cornerstone of Amazon.com’s growth strategy. Moving this threshold is a borderline desperate measure . A measure which would only be taken if Amazon.com internally was looking at some seriously ugly numbers.” This development comes in addition to other dubious price increases, such as Amazon’s choice to fluctuate the cost associated with its “free” two-day shipping membership, Amazon Prime. Of this particular change, The New York Times reported that “Prime users discovered that the company had started charging variable amounts according to size and weight, with a minimum of $2.99.” [Shelf Awareness, Seeking Alpha, The New York Times]
Larry Kirshbaum will be stepping down from his position at the helm of Amazon Publishing o n January 17. Announcing a return to agenting as the impetus for this change, Kirshbaum hasn’t experienced the easiest go of it during his time with the online retailer, failing to deliver the bestseller quota Amazon was hoping for and gaining unwanted attention this summer when a sexual assault lawsuit was filed against him. If either of these are part and parcel of the decision to replace Kirshbaum, Amazon isn’t saying. Instead, Amazon has been giving kudos to Kirshbaum for his efforts in relation to the launch of the company’s New York office, the establishment of a partnership with New Harvest, and the introduction of a children’s book section. “We’re sorry to see him go,” a spokesperson for Amazon stated, “and wish him the best of luck as he returns to life as a literary agent.” Kirshbaum’s departure is just one in a series of editorial changes being implemented at Amazon Publishing , possibly in light of the company’s lack of bidding power. In response to the rather lackluster prospects of their publishing initiative thus far, Amazon is focusing more on specialized publishing imprints like Thomas & Mercer, as well as its self-publishing business. [Publisher’s Weekly, Shelf Awareness]
$307 million. That’s the going price of damages held against Apple, Inc. according to Roger G Noll, professor emeritus of economics at Stanford University. Noll and his team have established a damages model to determine this amount, with Noll stating that the “total number of e-books sold for which damages are calculated” is approximately 149,424,374. Apple’s attorneys responded by publicly announcing their disagreement, attempting to discredit Noll’s findings and stating that the calculations are based o n ” complex econometric techniques applied to a massive database , ” thus necessitating further review. Alongside Apple’s damage charges, the amounts held against each of the Big Five publishers are as follows: 1) Hachette’s damages were put at $54,971,899 on 280,353,383 in e-book revenues, 2) HarperCollins damages were put at $62,033,851 on $279,204,694 in e-book revenues, 3) Macmillan’s damages were put at $17,013,853 on $212,238,705 in e-book revenues, 4) Penguin was assessed with damages of $105,779,657 on e-book revenues of $481,408,045, and 5) Simon & Schuster was assessed with damages of $68,009,155 on total e-book revenues of $295,019,073. What amount Apple and the Big Five will actually be charged with won’t be determined until after the damages trial takes place in May of 2014. Still, things aren’t looking too good for Apple, with Judge Denise Cote retaining the right to as much as triple this damages fee. [Publisher’s Weekly]