Authors to Starbucks Pick of the Week: Please, stay away

Buzz Bissinger should have been excited when Starbucks (s SBUX) selected his Byliner e-single, “After Friday Night Lights,” as its free “pick of the week.” But that promotion meant Amazon also dropped the price of the title in the Kindle Store to $0 — resulting in Byliner pulling the book from Amazon (s AMZN) completely. Turns out being chosen as a Pick of the Week is a mixed blessing for authors and publishers.

“After Friday Night Lights” is regularly priced at $2.99, but when it was selected as a Starbucks Pick of the Week, customers could grab a card with a redeemable iTunes code from Starbucks stores, making the book free.

At that point, the New York Times reports:

Amazon interpreted the promotion as a price drop and lowered its price for “After Friday Night Lights” to exactly zero. Byliner withdrew the book from Amazon’s shelves, saying it did so to “protect our authors’ interest.”

Byliner elaborated to me:

Our core belief is that great writing has value. So when Amazon chose to set the price of Buzz Bissinger’s After Friday Night Lights to $0.00 in response to a Starbucks and Apple promotion, we removed Buzz’s story from Amazon for the week of the promotion. We did so because we felt that a price of zero was disrespectful to Buzz and antithetical to what we’re about. On May 1, After Friday Night Lights will again be available at Amazon, priced at $2.99–the same price it carries at Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other digital stores.

According to the NYT article, when Byliner told Amazon about the Starbucks promotion, Amazon warned Byliner that this “might” happen. And what do you know — it did.

Amazon gave me the following statement:

We always try to provide the lowest price possible for customers, and we don’t believe we should make our customers pay for an e-book they can get for free elsewhere due to a pricing promotion. Our customers are huge fans of Buzz Bissinger’s work, and we hope and expect that Byliner will enable us to sell “After Friday Night Lights” again on May 1.

And yes, it has long been Amazon’s policy to match e-book prices on other sites. The company has done so in error before, but this time it wasn’t a mistake.

Presumably Amazon will do the same thing the next time an e-book is chosen as a Starbucks Pick of the Week. (It’s not an e-book every week, but it is sometimes. Random House’s “The Night Circus” was chosen last September, and I don’t think that Amazon dropped the price to $0 then, but it seems clear that that’s the new policy.)

This means authors will have to make the decision: Will they gain more new readers and sales by having their book promoted in Starbucks (for which they are also paid a royalty on each copy downloaded) — or will the sales lost through Amazon that week outweigh any Starbucks benefit? Correction: Starbucks tells me: “We do not compensate authors or other Content Providers for downloads, as content providers willingly waive royalties for the marketing exposure they receive through the Pick of the Week program.”

And publishers will have to decide whether, like Byliner, they then pull the $0 book from Amazon…or wait it out and hope the week’s over soon.