A few months ago we saw Amazon and Walmart and Target engaged in some aggressive price competition in the sale of on-line books. I haven’t heard to much on that front of late, so I assume that the dust has settled and those firms will fight another day. Amazon is back in the thick of things, this time aggressively defending its Ebook turf from the encroachment of Apple and its new iPad.

The book world is all a flutter. Here’s a note from one of friend of mine, who has intimate knowledge of the sordid dealings of the book world (edited for content; these book people drink like journalists and swear like sailors):

So this ebook pricing conflict is getting serious. Amazon has pulled all of Macmillan’s titles from its store — physical, ebook, etc. — in response to Macmillan wanting higher prices for some kindle editions than $9.99. So, for example, you can’t buy any Picador titles. That’s a lot of bestselling books.

[I’m not certain I agree with Amazon’s actions here]. To dictate $9.99 for all books and instill that price point in readers minds as the only appropriate ebook price is just ridiculous — especially when they’re losing money on every kindle edition they sell of a hardcover book.

And this:

So it’s about Macmillan trying to switch over the agency model of pricing, which is what Apple is offering with their new ibookstore. It makes a lot more sense than the distribution model that Amazon uses for ebooks.

Nothing like a good old fashioned price squabble to keep things interesting. I’m looking into the details of this “agency pricing” model and of course will let you know when I find out.

Stay tuned to this space.

Update: This stuff is so delicious I just want to take a big bite out of it. It appears to be more of a market power argument than a transaction costs argument. And it appears this may well have all come to a head with or without the iPad.

Thanks to my source, “The Big Stick,” for the tips.