A recent survey put out by Gartner looked at portable device usage among five hundred or so participants to see how things like tablet computing were changing the way we live. One of the more notable results that they came up with was an indication that over 50% of those involved said that they prefer reading on a screen to reading on paper. This includes newspapers, magazines, and books.
They didn’t specify whether or not the participants logged any of this data based on using a Kindle or other dedicated eReading device, but that matters surprisingly little in this case. The reading experience on portable devices is becoming comparable to, and sometimes superior to, that of reading on paper. Who would have thought?
It would be somewhat foolish to claim that this was the result of the Kindle’s impact of consumer impressions. We’ve been heading toward digital text distribution since the first computers were capable of storing enough text to be useful. It was only a matter of time for it to reach the reading public. It was what the Kindle signaled that accelerated the transition.
Sony already had a better eReader on the market when Amazon released the first Kindle. What they didn’t have was the Kindle Store. Amazon made it easy for their customers to buy popular books. They even went the extra mile and made sure that purchasing could be accomplished right from the device itself. With no more need to find USB cables or memory cards, eReading was finally more convenient than picking up a book from the store. It was sometimes even easier that picking up a book off the shelf.
Over time, adding devices as they went, Amazon brought their selection to practically any device with a screen. The Kindle itself was and is still important for many people, but just about anybody who is interested will always have a device within arm’s reach that can load a book for them now. Convenience has reached an extreme.
Convenience is what the Gartner survey attributes the move away from paper to. Their participants indicated that they were willing to pick up whichever device lay closest to hand for practically any reading situation, even to the point of excluding print at times. Since all participants were required to have a media tablet and at least two other similar devices, being out of touch would have been a stretch.
None of this says that the printed book is really going to disappear. We know that won’t happen any time soon, despite the fact that the death of print has been declared regularly since at least 1984 (extra points for catching the obvious movie reference). What this means is that print is likely to lose its primary position in the reading world, even for magazine and newspaper readers, before too much time is up. Tablets used to be toys, now they are becoming household tools. Prices are dropping, exposure to options like the $79 Kindle is up, and it seems like every day readers get more to choose from. Publishers can’t even entertain the notion of maintaining their old model unaffected at this point.
There is no avoiding the fact that the Big 6 publishers created their own problem in the Kindle. Amazon provided them with an easy way to start making a move into digital publishing when it was just getting off the ground and they jumped at it. That alone wasn’t the problem, though. The issue was that they were so paranoid about the medium that they managed to lock people into the first platform they purchased any significant number of books through. Let’s face it, nobody is better at successfully selling, suggesting, and just generally getting people interested in books than Amazon.
I’ve talked here before about how the Kindle deserves its place as the top selling eReader primarily because nobody else has come close to designing a store that gives customers so much of what they want. The suggestions are often eerily accurate, the categories make sense, and the search options are almost always up to a given task. Even Barnes & Noble can’t come close because of how used to the store-based practice of sponsored marketing they are. Given a choice between accurate recommendations based on personal purchase history balanced against similar customer profiles and recommendations based on what publishers decided to pour an advertising budget into, the choice is fairly simple.
We know that Apple’s price fixing scheme was not the answer in the long run. Not only did it not work particularly well to decrease Amazon’s influence, now the publishers are enjoying legal troubles for their efforts. They do have plenty of reason to want more diversified distribution, though. Looking at Amazon’s treatment of the IPG is enough to highlight some of what it means to be completely at the mercy of a single distributor.
The problem these publishers really need to address is that of their DRM. Amazon has not required publishers to participate in their DRM scheme, to the best of my knowledge. That was forced by publisher paranoia over piracy. If done away with, they are afraid that eBook profits will plummet.
Here, it seems like publisher interests are actually well served by the design of the Kindle. Without losing existing Kindle owners as customers, publishers could easily begin selling their titles without DRM and encourage wider competition. Best case scenario, this would allow publishers to open their own cooperatively stocked eBook store. It would also make possible the creation of smaller stores taking advantage of the same opportunity.
If somebody got truly ambitious, it wouldn’t even be hard to create a Kindle alternative that allowed for essentially the same experience. There are any number of Kindle clones on the market already that do the job fairly well and could probably do it better if the provider felt it was worth the investment in development. There’s no incentive if they can’t attract customers because Kindle Store purchases are locked down to Kindles.
All of this hinges on publishers looking past the possibility of piracy. How is that really so difficult, though? The DRM on eBooks is already laughably easy to get around, judging by how common stories of switching platforms through format conversion have become. If somebody really wants to pirate content, it is going to happen anyway. If these companies genuinely believe that the only thing keeping most Kindle owners from helping themselves to hundreds of free books is the DRM scheme, they’re fooling themselves and working against their own best interests.
It has been an interesting few months of discussion, debate, argument, and drama, but The Independent Publishers Group has finally arrived at terms with Amazon that will allow their titles to return to the Kindle Store. This comes as welcome news to the many authors and publishers who rely on the IPG and is likely even more welcome to the many readers who have been unable to enjoy this content thanks to the ongoing conflict.
The terms that have been reached are as yet undisclosed. The only way we know anything of this is thanks to a mass email informing IPG publishers that as of May 25th their titles are back on the digital shelves. Anything that isn’t made it back into circulation should be restored “in the next day or two”. It will be interesting to see what exactly comes out about this new agreement since IPG CEO Curt Matthews has been blogging at length throughout this about the many evils of editor/publisher disintermediation.
I don’t agree with many of Matthews’s arguments. I think he is very persuasively trying to hold onto the past by ignoring a lot of important aspects of the eBook transition we have going on right now. Whether or not you buy into his points, though, clearly he has no interest in giving up any ground to Amazon. To hear him talk, Amazon is deliberately trying to destroy all publishing and the independent authors their self-publishing program enables are universally talentless amateurs. Taken not terribly out of context, his opinion is pretty well conveyed by this passage from the IPG Blog:
“One of the most important functions of publishers, distributors, and booksellers (book agents and reviewers too) has always been to assure a certain level of quality, not necessarily as high a level as we might want, but at least a baseline far higher than the abysmal standard—in fact the non-existent standard—set by the new electronic vanity presses.”
Details are mostly unimportant to both customers and publishers at this point, however. What matters is the fact that the books are available for the Kindle again. In order to take some of the edge off of the months that publishers have had to endure with no Amazon sales, IPG has chosen to forgo their fee on everything sold from June 1st through August 31st of this year. 100% of all revenue will go directly to the publishers.
The best that can be said about this whole situation is that it draws attention to the problems that exist in the power balance between distributers and publishers, as well in the mechanisms of the publishing industry. Publishers have a purpose and provide a great deal of value. Perhaps not as much as they want people to believe, but it is obviously going to be in their best interest to make that case.
Amazon is doing an amazing job of maintaining their place as the primary distributer of digital reading material and, despite the fact that they are doing most of that by simply creating in the Kindle the best platform there is right now, they are using that position in ways that don’t necessarily serve customers. It needed to come out, and hopefully things will be better as a result.
I am not a bestselling author, nor do I play one on television. I do, however, take a great deal of interest in how those who have managed to make it big with their self-published Kindle books have managed to pull it off. It’s a tough environment and authors don’t have the soft of support system that traditional publishing offers, so there is often a great deal of creativity that needs to come into play. If you are looking to follow in the footsteps of the KDP success stories that we have seen so far, however, there are a few things that are best kept in mind.
Treat Your Audience Well
You already know that social networking is considered the key to self-publishing success at the moment. What a surprisingly large number of authors seem to think this means is that you need to send out scores of random connection requests on Facebook and Twitter, then repeatedly advertise your book over and over again. This is the wrong way to do things.
Anybody who has access to a Kindle will already know that there are more eBooks out there than they can ever hope to read. Make yourself stand out by doing something besides badgering. Answer questions, share anecdotes, build up a conversation about your writing process, or just offer the occasional preview of your newest work. If you treat your readers like people, they will be more interested in what you have to say than any 140-character ad could accomplish.
Unlike with traditional publishing, you will not accomplish much on a book tour. Instead, harness the power of the internet to make your connections as virtual as your Kindle publication. Set up online gatherings, have a community forum on your personal site, make a Facebook fan page, and generally just keep your options open. Under no circumstances should you decide to buy into one social network at the expense of all the others. It doesn’t take much extra effort to at least cross-post news or check comments in a variety of places and you cast a wider net that way.
Build A Network
It is important to go beyond direct advertising as well. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by developing connections with other authors. Readers tend to take their favorite authors’ recommendations seriously, so it is definitely possible to form a circle of reliably interconnected readership with your peers. This is mainly just a way of directing the force that is the customer recommendation, but that can be tricky to get a hold on.
This should go without saying, but often needs to be said. You are writing for an audience. Whether it is a Kindle eBook or a paperback, that audience expects a certain amount of professionalism from you in return for their money. This means that you should exercise some care with your work. Give it an extra
Remember when I was doubtful that Amazon would feel like it was worth taking on Netflix over the video streaming market, no matter how important video was to the Kindle Fire? They still aren’t quite ready for head to head comparisons, but Amazon has taken another page out of Netflix’s book and will be developing their own content to lure in subscribers. Amazon Studios, as it is known, will basically be a step short of KDP for TV series.
Every month, Amazon will be looking at user-submitted content and choosing one series to option. Right now this is limited to Comedy and Children’s programming, but presumably a success story to work with would push them into other areas. Amazon Studios will option one series of original programming every month and begin testing it with audiences to determine whether it is worth putting into full production. Once established, the hope is clearly that this will further increase the incentive for Amazon customers to hold onto both an Amazon Prime membership and a Kindle Fire.
Those wishing to take part in the competition can submit their proposal through the Amazon Studios site. To be considered, your submission must have a five page description and a pilot script that is 22 minutes long in the case of comedy shows or 11 minutes long if you have a kid’s show. Within 45 days of the submission, you will be informed of whether or not Amazon has chosen to option your show. If selected, you will get $10,000 and your show will be tested for viability.
Anybody who ends up being picked up for a full production run will have further income. The creator will get a one-time $55,000 payment along with up to 5% of the various merchandising profits. There are other, undisclosed royalties involved as well that will presumably vary based on the series being selected and the level of involvement that the creator has in it.
Should you not be selected, you will be able to choose between pulling your submission from the site or leaving it up to get community feedback. While this is not necessarily going to be productive in many cases, there should be the potential for learning as you go and figuring out where a non-optioned script went wrong.
Amazon Studios is not likely to turn into the next big thing in television programming right away. It will allow aspiring creators and writers to showcase their talent in a way that is often hard to find through other means. If nothing else, this should result in some excellent participation.
The program is being led by experienced management and Amazon has made clear through their actions exactly how hard they want to push the Kindle Fire to do well. Since this will essentially create content that is difficult to view on almost any other tablet offering, it could be an important marketing tool. Assuming they have found a show to work with by then, look for Amazon Studios productions to play a big part in the marketing of the Kindle Fire 2!
The first major change in eBook pricing to come about since the launch of the iPad is at hand. The U.S. Department of Justice has already negotiated settlements with three of the six major publishing houses implicated in a DOJ price fixing investigation only shortly after the filing of the lawsuit. Kindle owners can expect to see an almost immediate drop in many eBook prices, once the court has had a chance to approve the settlement terms. Amazon has already declared this a big win for consumers and announced plans to drop prices on affected titles.
For those who have not been keeping track, the early days of the Kindle brought significantly lower eBook prices than we are now used to. This was the result of Amazon being able to buy their stock wholesale and price things as low as they wanted from there. Publishers were rather unhappy with this arrangement since it meant that customers might well become used to seeing affordable prices on their reading material and cause paper copies of books to lose perceived value.
When Steve Jobs approached the Big 6 publishers with the idea of moving to the Agency Model, wherein publishers would set prices and retailers get a fixed percentage for each unit sold, they jumped on it. As soon as the iBooks store opened, Kindle Edition prices began to rise. There was some drama when Amazon attempted to hold out in protest and pull titles from their store, but without those publishers it is hard to operate a major bookstore.
Since then, prices have remained high and those involved in the Agency Model arrangement have come under investigation in both the US and EU. The biggest being raised by the DOJ, aside from alleged secret meetings and clandestine correspondence between heads of supposedly competing publishers in the days leading up to implementing the Agency Model, is the Most Favored Nation Clause. Apple managed to get this introduced in their agreement with every publisher.
Typically, a MFN is put in place to prevent favoritism from allowing a wholesaler to sell more cheaply to another retailer at a lower price. In this case, since publishers were setting the price, the DOJ is arguing that it was meant to “protect Apple from having to compete on price at all, while still maintaining Apple’s 30 percent margin.”
The result of all this has been artificially inflated eBook prices meant to turn customers away from things like the Kindle. That last point is more fact than opinion, as any look at publisher comments regarding the “troublesome” convenience of eBook borrowing at libraries that has gone along with Penguin dropping out of the library system altogether.
So far we know of settlements with HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster. These will prevent use of the Agency Model for a number of years and create various other consumer protections. Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin are all still denying wrongdoing at the moment, but it remains to be seen how well they can hold out. Even if all three remaining defendents get off somehow, Kindle pricing will be completely altered for the indefinite future. The Agency Model could only be forced on Amazon through solidarity across every major player in the publishing industry. With that gone thanks to these settlements, things can’t help but improve.
The new rule for making a newspaper work seems to be maximizing its availability. This means that not only does it need to be at the local supermarket and gas stations, you also need to have editions available for the Kindle, Nook, iPad, general Internet, and more. Publishers are forced to jump through a lot of hoops to get this sort of availability built up and optimized for as broad a reader base as possible, but without that availability they tend to find themselves unable to compete in an age of increasingly all-digital, up-to-the-minute news sources.
Amazon has been doing a good job, up until now, of accommodating as many newspapers as were interested in joining the Kindle platform. Second only to iPad in terms of its subscriber base, papers are under a lot of pressure to make sure that they can maintain a place. So many have realized this that Amazon has been forced to temporarily suspend new publications until they can get things under control.
Multiple sources are now noting that newspaper publishers are being turned away. The situation is reported to be “not permanent but may be long term”. Amazon has responded by denying the existence of such a move, but then explained that they are running behind and can’t get to new things very quickly right now. Their suggestion for distributing to Kindle customers is to ask publishers to build themselves an app and submit it to the Amazon Appstore for Android.
Naturally this won’t be a huge comfort for many publishers. The Kindle eReader is by far the more widely distributed product at the moment, even if the Kindle Fire is quickly catching up, and that whole branch of the product line would be unreachable through Android perpetually. Also a factor is that any number of newspapers has been working hard to get their product in compliance with Amazon’s Kindle Newspaper guidelines with the express intent of reading the eReader side of things. To completely shift focus and abandon existing efforts in favor of an Android app seems less than ideal, when it would work at all.
The Kindle Store’s Newsstand currently stocks around 200 papers, with more being added all the time. While we can’t know the underlying cause of Amazon’s sudden hold on expansion, there are some speculations that make sense.
Possibly it is a matter of volume, given that this is something that requires trained oversight from Amazon staff to ensure quality integration. Also possible is the idea that this will force publishers to adopt KF8 and optimize for the Kindle Fire. Regardless of whether either of these actually works, it is hard to imagine that this is a major profit-building area of Kindle Sales and so it is highly tempting imagine a tactical move taking place here.
For now, what publishers have been pushed off are trying to work with Amazon to figure out where their options are. In the near future, we may find that only the biggest names in newspaper publication are available on the Kindle anymore.
Not much is known at this time about what options are being discussed by the publishers under attack by the Justice Department. We do have good information that there are settlement options on the table and that the Agency Model pricing model currently to blame for high Kindle Edition eBook prices will be on the chopping block regardless.
Reports from unnamed informants close to the matter have indicated that there is reason to expect a settlement within the next several weeks. Neither Apple nor the publishers have responded to any requests for comment at this time. The Justice Dept declined to say anything.
Whether this is a sign of consensus among the defendants or merely that one or two are feeling the pressure and wanting to end what they see as a losing battle should not matter much in terms of the outcome. In the event of one publisher involved in the price fixing scheme reaching a settlement, the terms would undoubtedly involve release of evidence necessary for ensuring a successful prosecution of the rest.
Basically, assuming the news is true, this means that the end of the Agency Model is at hand and that the Kindle has made it through possibly the most harmful barrier to eReader adoption without so far becoming irrelevant. A return to the wholesale model, even temporarily, will mean more affordable reading material for Kindle owners. This in turn should spur sales of the eReading line. Amazon’s willingness to take a loss on bestsellers to promote their product line is what game them over 90% of the eReading market before the Agency Model was imposed and there is no reason to see this practice changing overly much if the Agency Model is destroyed.
The big question will be what comes next. Settlement or unfavorable ruling aside, publishers are not going to give up on their position that readers have no right to expect inexpensive books. It is incredibly unlikely that they will all pull out of Amazon in reaction to this, but they’re going to have to find some new way to prevent Kindle customers from being too happy with digital books.
The case at hand is all about how the defendants collaborated to impose the Agency Model on Amazon. The means to achieve this goal is in question, not the model itself. Depending on the terms of the settlement, publishers could be permitted to go back to it in time. They could also turn to something even more unpleasant for potential customers. It is hard to tell at the moment.
In the short term, the clear winners will be customers. Prices on eBooks should drop abruptly, especially in the Kindle Store, following official announcement of the deal being made. In reality, expectations may need to change with regard to how profitable a new bestseller should be per unit sold. Big 6 publishers will be forced to come to terms with this. Beyond the immediate benefits to Kindle customers there is little that can be asserted reliably about the effects of this situation. It will be interesting to see how the situation evolves. Any thoughts or predictions?
It’s been clear since early this year that as the Kindle Fire was taking off so impressively, Amazon was experiencing some amount of decreased Kindle eReader interest among its customers. It is probably fair to say that most people expected this. The Kindle accomplishes its narrow purpose well, but many people will always prefer a device that does many things adequately over one that does one thing extremely well. As the trend continues, and as the Kindle Fire becomes the first in its own line of tablet products, do we have to worry about this being a popular enough substitution to lead to the end of the Kindle eReader?
A year or two ago I would have, and am known to have, argued against the idea. The strengths of the Kindle are things that you just can’t match in a tablet. The Kindle Fire’s inferior screen, shorter battery life, and greater weight all make it a distant second-best for reading activities by comparison. Clearly not everybody is agreeing with those points, as sales estimates for the popular eReader have been declining coming into this year.
I believe it is possible to argue against this being just a matter of one device being somehow better than the other, though. The real problem is the way that Amazon has segmented their customer base.
If we assume that the Kindle Fire is more appealing to people who only read occasionally, and who would like to get more regular use out of their purchase, that leaves E Ink Kindle buyers as the more dedicated reader base. Let’s face it, Amazon’s actions lately have not been entirely pleasant for many fans of literature despite bringing prices down.
People get very attached to their favorite authors, and to the idea of authorship in general. For many, the “One of these days I’m going to sit down and write a book” mantra is less a matter of actual intent and more a sign of respect for the craft. The cult popularity springing up around any number of self-published Kindle authors is just another sign of this. By pitting themselves against groups like the IPG, and thereby inspiring even more public condemnation from big name author and those speaking more or less officially on their behalf, Amazon is damaging their pro-reader stance.
I don’t believe that the eReader as we know it is on the way out. The E Ink Kindle remains one of the best options for reading that money can buy and the combination of great selection with commitment to customer satisfaction works heavily in Amazon’s favor. This sort of questionable behavior does much to dampen enthusiasm for the product among potential buyers, though.
So is Amazon biting into Kindle sales? Definitely. There’s at least as much interference coming from their heavy-handed negotiation tactics as their tablet alternative, though. The Kindle Fire is an amazing little device and most people seem glad to have it once they take it home, but for reading nothing can beat E Ink so far. Sadly, Amazon has been doing some work making sure people have doubts about tying themselves to the otherwise amazing Kindle ecosystem in the long term, and so there are issues.
Since the rise of the Agency Model that Apple made possible for publishers in a partnership surrounding the release of the iBooks application and store for the original iPad (a partnership now awaiting trial in an anti-trust case), there has been serious talk about how Amazon has set out on a crusade to utterly destroy traditional publishing with the Kindle. This isn’t news, exactly, but it has become an important and popular topic after the recent contract dispute that the company had with the Independent Publishers Group that has resulted in the ongoing absence of IPG titles from the Kindle Store.
There can be no question that Amazon is acting like a bully in this dispute. They want a lot and are in a position to demand rather than ask or negotiate. What has risen up in response to this anti-Amazon sentiment has been shocking to say the least, however. Scattered around popular blogs, we can now see any number of authors and publishers coming out against Amazon and claiming that publishers were somehow right to have engaged in price fixing and that even if it was technically illegal they should be allowed a pass because otherwise Amazon will win.
On the one hand, it is understandable sentiment. Thanks to the Kindle, Amazon controls around 75% of the eBook market already. Without their platform, the rise of eReading as we now know it would slow to a crawl. Nobody else has the resources, or seemingly the interest in customer satisfaction, that Amazon is willing to put into keeping such a platform going.
On the other hand, this is insane. Publishers were unhappy with how poorly the old business model applies to new media and so their potentially illegal activities should be excused. It makes no sense to me, somehow.
This is made to seem like it is a one-sided arrangement. I believe that to be a mischaracterization. If publishers lacked power, they could not have compelled the adoption of the Agency Model in the first place. They were just too concerned at the time with short term profits to be willing to take a stand and risk losing Amazon as a storefront. It was a move that only made sense for every individual company if they knew that none of the competition would be capitalizing on their threatened withdrawal.
Amazon’s acting like a bully aside (because in the matter of the Agency Model and its potential legal implications that that does not apply) they have built the simplest and most usable way for readers everywhere to access eBooks. Nobody else has come close, despite competing efforts from Barnes & Noble’s Nook line, the Kobo, and more. This does not mean that anybody has been compelled to use it.
There would be no case against them if the Big 6 Publishers had come out with their own Kindle competitor and started offering all of their titles through it. The Kindle would still be there attracting self publishers and generally making itself useful in various ways, but it wouldn’t have the content to be so important.
These publishers don’t want to have to deal with building new distribution channels, though. They also don’t want to have to adapt when other people build them. The fact that there is a power disparity is undeniable, but that doesn’t mean that these publishers were ever powerless. Nobody compels them to use the Kindle platform. To say that they should be able to get away with their own anti-competitive and manipulative actions because otherwise the Kindle line will make people start seeing books as more affordable and ruin their profits is just ridiculous.
Amazon’s controversial Kindle Owners’ Lending Library has proven to be a hit among readers and an appealing option for many self-publishers, but there still remains some question as to how successful it can hope to be as an ongoing project. The basic organization is simple. Authors who are willing to make their work available exclusively through the Kindle Store will find themselves with the option to allow lending through the library. When included, they get a certain share of the money pool being filled in each month by Amazon to keep the service going. The more popular a book is among borrowers, the larger the share of that pool that goes to the contributing author. For many self publishers who find they make the majority of their income through the Kindle anyway, going exclusive is not really a big deal in terms of income alteration. The worst that can happen is that nobody borrows the book, and even then it doesn’t cost anything significant.
Leaving aside the philosophical issues in choosing to contribute to Amazon’s ever-growing list of exclusive content, which is an interesting and complex subject for debate that will probably come up again at greater length in its own post to better do it justice, as the number of participating authors grows we may see a drop in interest among new potential contributors. The restrictions regarding access to the library play a fairly large part in this. Each borrower must own a Kindle eReader or Kindle Fire, be an active Amazon Prime member, and remember to make use of their one monthly rental each time around if an author is to get anything.
This is a very specific audience to be targeting with your marketing and may prove to be somewhat hard to pin down. Add into this the fact that, while the number of Kindle Editions now available through the library has grown past 100,000 titles, the amount of money being competed over has not been increased in any ongoing way and you have a complicated decision presented to self publishers. A highly limited number of readers needs to be enticed to choose your book from an increasingly large pool of options in an environment where the reward for each individual choice is likely to count for less due to the pre-determined maximum award size and ever-increasing number of Kindle owners.
Can Amazon hope to keep the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library growing at a decent pace? Chances are good that they can. Will it continue to be a persuasive reason for new authors to agree to exclusivity? That might be harder to keep up. As numbers come out and we learn at least enough about the big success stories to determine how little of the cash pool was available for other authors to divvy up, we should be able to get a clearer picture of how well somebody can expect to do through this program, After all, even if you were only making $1 per book sold on each of your hypothetical 30 annual sales through Barnes & Noble, that’s better than getting nothing at all from a lending library for Kindle owners. A clearer picture should emerge as more time passes, but without a new source of big name titles or an increase in funding, Amazon’s Kindle Edition lending effort seems like it might have a limited shelf life.
In response to some arm twisting by Amazon, the Independent Publishers Group has decided to take a stand and pull all of their titles from the Kindle Store. While the Kindle is a great device and the Kindle platform is possibly the best on the market for the consumer right now, this is a move that both makes sense and needed to happen. The only question now is whether or not either side will be willing to explore the options presented by the situation rather than simply holding their ground and waiting to see who blinks first.
Basically, the problem is over pricing. The Big 6 Publishers have enough clout to force Amazon to accept the Agency Model price scheme with all of their titles. I’ve gone into why this is not a good thing plenty of times before and will do so again in the future, so it isn’t really worth indulging in today. Smaller publishers, including the IPG, sell their content to Amazon wholesale. This means smaller profits on each individual sale and it allows Amazon to exercise more control over the prices offered to readers. This is also not necessarily a good thing, as in this case when Amazon is using their position as the main supplier of eBooks in the world to force their suppliers to offer more favorable terms than they can afford.
So we have Amazon wanting to lower prices on Kindle Editions and the IPG wanting to maintain their profits at a level roughly similar to what is made off of print books (based on statements taken from the IPG’s main site). What we really need is not for one side to win over the other so much as a more adaptive model to emerge. It makes sense for new releases of Kindle books to be priced similarly to their printed counterparts. There should always be a premium on new media like that, although the savings inherent in using the eBook format should still be reflected in the price for readers. When it comes to older titles, though, something else needs to be done. Unlike physical reprinting, there is no ongoing cost of production. Aside from the author royalties, they are pretty much pure profit for publishers and distributors. Perhaps a tiered system would make more sense?
Regardless of any proposals for revamping the system, this is probably going to end messily somehow. While the loss of a mere 5,000 eBooks won’t make a huge dent in the Kindle’s selection, the press surrounding the drama taking place won’t help Amazon any. They are as likely to be persuaded to offer somewhat better terms just for the PR boost as to ignore the problem entirely. On the other hand, the IPG is going to be hurting fairly quickly from the lack of Amazon as a channel. They can’t last forever. Where this goes will be based on the support they receive and the pressure that can be brought to bear on Amazon. If you get the chance, lend your support in some way. They’re going to need it, and Amazon is going to need an overhaul of some sort sooner or later to keep quality content coming in for their Kindle customers.
Obviously there has often been a bit of strain in the relationship between publishers and libraries, much of the time with arguments along the same lines as those currently used against media piracy, but eBooks have been an especially touchy issue. To illustrate how serious they are about disliking eBooks in general and the Kindle in particular, with regard to lending at least, Penguin has chosen to abandon eBook availability in libraries entirely for the time being. This is hardly the first time a major publisher or even Penguin in particular has reacted publicly against eBook lending, but it could be the first time there was anything resembling a sane rationale behind it.
At the moment, the vast majority of libraries in the US offer any eBooks they have available to borrow using the OverDrive service. As essentially the only major platform that libraries have the option of using, pulling out of OverDrive means pulling out of libraries. Unfortunately, publishers see the partnership that this service has developed with Amazon to provide Kindle compatibility as being damaging. Currently when a Kindle owner wants to borrow a library book, they pass through Amazon’s web page. This allows the retailer an opportunity to offer suggestions or advertisements and thereby potentially monetize library lending. There is ample evidence that publishers really dislike Amazon and the Kindle platform in general already, and this extra bit of opportunity is even more of a problem than the already distasteful fact that libraries let people read without spending money.
Sadly, this could spur some of the competition for OverDrive into a more prominent position. 3M, for example, is working on ways to take a part of that market for themselves with a new service by giving publishers more of what they want in terms of control. What do publishers want? Mostly they want things complicated. An oft-expressed complaint about eBook lending is that it is too fluid. Borrowers should be required, they maintain, to be at the library when they borrow at the very least and even that is a minimum standard. As much friction as possible is desired so that eBooks do not become more convenient than paper books. The 3M example is particularly relevant since they are discussing offering kiosks that users would be required to use any time they want to borrow an eBook. While it defeats the point for many people, these publishers would generally prefer them not to borrow in the first place anyway.
Now, pulling out of OverDrive over Amazon’s sales opportunities makes sense in a few ways given the concern about the company’s increasing influence and the fact that other OverDrive partners don’t have similar options. By offering no alternatives and openly embracing a philosophy of obstruction regarding eReading as a whole, however, Penguin is sending a message to their customers that they just don’t care who gets hurt by their sluggish reaction to new media. They want to drive people away from the Kindle by making life harder for Kindle users, but really this just damages their own position. Making a move like this without offering libraries other options was at best premature.
While it is hardly the only place that media piracy is coming up these days, eBook piracy is very much on the minds of publishers and booksellers. There has been some informed speculation made that possibly as many as 20% of all eBooks currently loaded into devices like the Kindle are pirated rather than purchased. The number is almost shockingly high for some and seems to demand a response. The big question is what action could and should be successful.
Since I’m assuming that this reaches a relatively well informed and reasoning audience, I don’t need to spend much time on the fallacy of assuming that every eBook loaded onto a Kindle thanks to piracy is a lost sale. Naturally this is not the case as studies have shown repeatedly when looking into music, movie, and video game piracy. Most of these same studies have shown that piracy does not have any strong negative effect on sales at all, but let’s assume for the moment that at the very least it allows the market trends to shift based on where customers see the most value to be gained for their money.
This is where the piracy “problem” gets relevant. Publishers wish to control the perceived value of their product. It is problematic for them if customers are able to get the same quality of experience from a $3.99 eBook that they do from a $17.99 hardcover, as this has an adverse effect on a mainstay of traditional publishing. Unfortunately, this sort of control can only be exercised in a situation where the publishers can regulate the flow of new work being made available to customers. eBooks naturally render this impossible, especially given how simple it is to choose self publishing these days thanks to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others.
Do I agree with the idea that books should lose value in an environment where there are too many of them to possibly read? Not entirely, but that’s just the way things work. If you have two similar titles being offered for wildly different prices then the cheaper one is likely to win out, barring dramatically successful marketing efforts. The only way that piracy really plays into this is in allowing readers to still have access to their favorite authors in situations where they would feel unable to justify paying now-outrageous prices. This is not necessarily a view of the emotional or philosophical “rightness” of the act, just an awareness of the psychology at work.
When it comes right down to it, you can’t stop piracy. No matter how restrictive the DRM, there are always more people interested in breaking it than maintaining it. What you can do is adapt to the market and respect your customers. Publishers who insist that if they can just shut down piracy sites and force Amazon to set high prices for Kindle books then all will be well are deluded. The only way to control piracy is to make legal acquisition affordable enough and simple enough that the alternative is too much of a hassle to be considered. The problem is not that the Kindle allows readers to access files they pick up from anywhere on the net, it’s things like the Big 6/Apple Agency Model implementation that try to freeze an entire form of media into an economic model that no longer functions.
Jonathan Franzen, author of such wildly popular titles as The Corrections and Freedom has recently made a bit of an impact on the eReading community by coming out against electronic media. Apparently the Kindle is ushering in the end of the book, which normally we would agree is a bad thing that we need to be aware of. Sadly, rather than leading us all to a new understanding of the book as a format that happens to rule out safe transition to digital forms, his arguments against eReading are somewhat misleading and represent a person more interested in rationalizing a knee-jerk reaction to new technology than in understanding what he’s talking about.
Probably the biggest, and certainly the most publicized, aspect of Franzen’s argument centers on his perception of the supposed permanence of the printed word. This makes sense, as after all once something has made it to print it can never be altered. Of course it also completely ignores the facts of multiple book editions, author revisions, and abominations like the 2011 release of censored copies of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
His assertion that “A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around” and therefore “for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough” is entirely based on the obvious misperception that digital copies are somehow fluid. If you are talking about your personal copy of a book, it is far easier to drop, rip, stain, or otherwise destroy a paper copy than it is to break open the Kindle Edition and make your own changes. Assuming he is talking about the master copy of each book, as in the one that is stored centrally by Amazon, then it would be hard to argue that the printed edition is significantly different in that regard as there have historically been scores of authors with a tendency to re-write later editions of their books. One of Franzen’s own books involved a recall to accomplish exactly this, in fact. I’m fairly hopeful that he didn’t mean to imply that anybody besides the author was likely to go in there and start playing around with the text on a wide scale, but even if that were the case it is not worth addressing here.
It is one thing to claim that you have a strong preference for paper books. There is nothing wrong with that and any number of people would agree with you (myself included depending on the situation). To try to talk others into agreeing with you through groundless arguments is a shame though, especially from somebody in a position to reach such a large number of readers.
Maybe this was all a publicity stunt meant to draw attention to the smaller point he made regarding the dangers of a society obsessed with instant gratification, but if so then he strongly undermined his own credibility by opening with such ridiculous assertions. I won’t even go into the irony of these comments having been made by somebody who has done extremely well in terms of Kindle book sales, but even without that you have to wonder what he was thinking.
In what is just the latest point of conflict between Amazon and Barnes & Noble over their relative positions in book sales, B&N has announced that they are unwilling to stock any Amazon published works in their stores. It is clearly an informed decision that responds to multiple pressures coming from Amazon.com and online retailers in general, but it also raises the question of whether the Brick & Mortar chain can make such a bold move without drawing customer attention to the value of owning a Kindle.
The stated reason behind this decision is that Amazon has been increasingly successful in arranging exclusivity agreements with major publishers and authors that have prevented the competition from being able to provide the best possible service to their Nook customers. A fair point, and not one that many people would disagree with. Amazon is definitely fond of throwing their weight around. At the same time, however, it is a general admission that the Nook is unable to manage to compete on equal terms against the Kindle as things stand right now and possibly not the best way to reassure customers and investors of the long term viability of the product line.
This also relates to the extremely controversial practice of “showrooming” that has made headlines regularly ever since Amazon released their price check app for iOS and Android smartphones. Since Amazon’s structure allows them to save a great deal of money on things like local stores, they can offer lower prices on a wide variety of things. This is especially the case with paper books, where it is extremely unusual to fail to catch a deal compared to any local retailer. A company that relies on their overt physical presence as much as Barnes & Noble does will obviously be negatively affected by such instant access to price comparisons since it deters impulse buying and turns their stores into profitless showcases for another company. By refusing to carry the physical copies of Amazon’s new publications, they clearly hope to demonstrate to those lured into exclusivity agreements that the Brick & Mortar is still vital to success.
Again, I can’t help but feel that this is a big gamble. If Amazon were not already well ahead in book sales then this would not be a problem in the first place. The Kindle has, thanks to their huge investments and the very exclusivity arrangements that B&N is unhappy with, built up the most substantial library and user base in the eReading world. It will take something drastic to knock them back down to a manageable level, but the idea that Barnes & Noble showrooms can have that kind of influence is questionable.
This feels like something that will end up turning major authors into Kindle exclusives whether they intended to be or not, further devaluing the selection at Barnes & Noble. While they have also declared that these books would still be available through web services, it will take a lot of customer loyalty for that to be a viable purchasing option compared to Amazon.com.
When it comes to publishing an indie book, the Kindle Direct Publishing program has done wonders for new authors all over the place. Some, like John Locke and Amanda Hocking, have manages to hit it big as a result. In spite of these examples though, it is impossible to deny that for the most part people don’t take most self published works too seriously at first glance. There are a few big factors that I believe play into this.
The first would be, as sad as it is, poorly designed cover art. Even if you are writing for the Kindle, the first thing people are going to see will be the cover you have chosen to represent your work. A piece of clip art or quick Photoshop-ed photo will only serve to indicate that you couldn’t be bothered with quality control. Nobody will deny that marketing is the most important of making an indie book take off and your cover is the most basic piece of marketing.
Second, and somewhat more intuitive, is editing. If you get comments in reviews about having a poorly edited book, that will work against you. Nobody really likes to read badly written prose even when it tells an amazing story. It can completely destroy immersion at key moments. Now, obviously nobody is perfect and even the best books slip through to print with errors, but that doesn’t mean there is any excuse for failing to triple-check your work and find somebody else to look over it for you too. You’re expecting people to pay money for this in the end, so it should be worth a little extra effort.
Third and finally, is the quick release schedule. While it has become almost commonplace to hear the advice that Kindle publishing requires you to release a book every 6-12 months to retain reader interest, this should be considered very carefully. While you will definitely start making money faster the more of a back catalogue you have going for you, it is more important to make sure that the best possible product is going out. Five poorly reviewed books will not only earn you less money than two well reviewed books in the same time period, they will pull you down even if later works improve dramatically. When you write you are building your name into a brand. Keep in mind how you want that brand to be perceived.
Naturally this is all fairly general and there are a few reasons that all of these points, especially the last one, can be less important for certain projects. There is significant potential in self publishing these days thanks to the Kindle though, and it is painful to see potentially great authors being ignored thanks to missteps made in the rush to get a piece of the readership. Just remember that readers are going to keep reading. The Kindle is more popular all the time and unlikely to fall away as the most widely used eReader in the world any time soon. Take your time and make something you can be proud of.
We are well aware now what the big Apple announcement for January was: their new iBooks Author program. It is a program that allows for easy creation of books, most notably textbooks, for free. iBooks might have failed to kill the Kindle platform, even given the whole Agency Model collusion with publishers (the legality of which we’ll have to wait and see about), but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to give up. After some experimentation with the new program I find myself conflicted. I wanted it to be mediocre, but it’s not. And therein lies the problem.
You see, there is a bit of a problem with the program’s EULA. It won’t be a deal breaker for just anybody, but there is definitely important information to be aware of. By using the iBooks Author program, you are agreeing that not only will anything you sell be available in Apple’s eBook store but also will never never be sold for the Kindle, Nook, or any other non-Apple device.
Before going into the subtleties of the wording, and there are a few arguments with varying degrees of merit that have been made toward the harmlessness of this clause, consider that this can definitely be read as a response to the recent Amazon effort to gain author exclusivity. The only difference is that Amazon brings in authors with a chance at more money while Apple just quietly restricts their distribution rights with a clause that users not only never explicitly accept, but don’t even see unless they go out of their way.
That said, there are a few situations where I think this will be an extremely valuable thing to have. If you are planning to create and distribute your work permanently free of charge, I have yet to find a more intuitive, affordable tool for making textbooks or manuals. If your book was always intended to be marketed primarily to users of the iBooks store, this probably won’t have much of an impact on you.
Now, let’s acknowledge some ambiguities in the wording and clarify some of the many common points of contention:
Restrictions Only Apply To iBook Format: FALSE
The definition of “Work” used in the EULA clearly indicates that anything generated using the software counts. It does not matter if you export to PDF, for example.
Apple Is Stealing Author Copyrights: FALSE
Anything you create is yours from the moment you create it unless you explicitly hand over permission. What Apple is doing is telling you where you can sell it. Using iBooks Author allows them to restrict distribution of your work, but otherwise seems to offer them no rights to it.
All This Applies To Is The Formatted Product, Not The Content: AMBIGUOUS
Leaving aside the textbook for a moment and assuming we are talking about a book that is completely text based. If you want to release a Kindle version, it would seem possible to just copy the text and reformat. The wording of the EULA describes “Work” recursively as “any book or other work you generate using this software”. This can, and hopefully would be, read to mean that only the final, fully formatted output is affected, but the ambiguity is troubling.
It Is Free Software, They Have A Right To Expect A Return: TRUE-ISH
Nobody is forcing you to use this program. It is being provided free of charge by Apple and provides far greater functionality than any other free program out there for the same purposes. Most such restrictions are aimed toward restriction the active use of the software rather than restricting how a creator can manage their own work, though. Neither illegal nor unprecedented, but odd and somewhat troubling.
Not A Consumer Targeted Software Anyway: FALSE
This one comes up a lot. Despite the large number of advertisements being done involving the cooperation of such publishers as Pearson and McGraw Hill in the iBooks Textbook initiative, there has been no indication that they are contributing work under the same agreement. This is free software pointed at teachers and authors in the advertising (particularly the promo video). It has bundled templates to simplify the work, a simple drag and drop interface, and tons of automation. There is depth for those who need it, but definitely not aimed solely at experienced professional textbook publishers.
Apple Can Prevent A Finished Book From Ever Being Sold: TRUE
All that is required for a book to be covered by these restrictions is that it be a product of iBooks Author. Publication is neither automated nor guaranteed, and just because Apple turns you down does not mean that you are free to market your work through another platform or sell through your own means.
Apple Offers Better/Worse Royalties Than The Competition Anyway: FALSE
Apple is effectively offering the same cut of all sales to authors as the vast majority of authors receive when selling for the Kindle and nearly the same (within 5%) as that offered to Nook sellers.
Now, I’m not about to claim that this is the most horrible thing ever done to authors or even that it is deliberately malicious. Some have claimed that just as this is a 1.0 software, so is the EULA in early versions too and ambiguity will inevitably be removed. If so, and there was no intent to deceive or control, so be it. It is already a complicated enough process to get anything out of your eBooks that authors should be aware of what they are getting into, though. I, for one, wouldn’t want to be locked out of the Kindle platform by accident when that’s where all the readers are.
This is good software. Possibly great software. But the limitations aren’t the same as you get when publishing a Kindle Edition, where all you need to worry about is not selling things cheaper elsewhere. Under the current wording it seems to literally stop you from reaching an audience. That’s just unpleasant, and something that people need to be aware of when deciding whether or not iBooks Author is for them.
Recent reports indicate that later this month we can expect to see Apple host a press conference related to, of all things, eBooks. After news that the Kindle Fire has had a noticeable impact on iPad sales this past quarter, clearly something has to be done. This is not official as of yet, but multiple sources in positions to be aware of such plans have passed along the same information. While we have no way as of yet to know for sure where this will lead, the most common rumors seem to point to Apple’s launching of a digital self publishing platform to compete with the Kindle Direct Publishing program.
In reality, such a move on Apple’s part would be quite surprising. In addition to the fact that simply matching the competition seems to offer far less reward than the effort would be worth given that the iBooks store has failed to really take off so far anyway, Apple is already making about as much on each book sold to owners of their devices as they would be likely to make off a program competitive enough to draw in new authors. Keeping in mind the fact that anybody publishing through Amazon’s KDP program, or even Barnes & Noble’s slightly less popular PubIt, will already be available to iOS users, the only real motivation for Apple here would be to draw authors into an exclusive arrangement in some way to enhance the iBooks selection. Amazon has already begun a similar effort tied into their Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, so this would not necessarily be a shocking move, but there is little reason to suspect that Apple is desperate to suddenly push into the eBook market in a major way.
Since we can be fairly certain that whatever the announcement is about will be related to publishing in some way, however, there are a few other possibilities. Textbook rental is one of the more likely possibilities. While Amazon’s new Kindle Format 8 provides some more robust formatting options to publishers and the Kindle Fire obviously handles the demands of textbooks more easily than E INK reading devices, so far the Kindle Textbook Rental program has failed to draw much attention. Given the iPad’s larger screen and Apple’s strong presence on college campuses, it would make sense for them to jump to fill in this gap in the market before anybody else beats them to it.
It is also possible that this has something to do with the ongoing class action lawsuits against Apple and the Big 6 publishers over price fixing and the imposition of the Agency Model around the time the iPad was released. In the past month the situation has become quite a bit more intense, with the US Justice Department joining in and at least 15 ongoing suits. It would seem unlikely that the company would want to comment on an ongoing legal battle, but given claims of detailed inside information on the part of certain plaintiffs there is always the chance that preemptive spin on an anticipated settlement attempt might be in order.
The one thing everybody agrees on is that this will not be a hardware announcement. While there is still speculation with varying degrees of believability about a smaller iPad meant to compete with the Kindle Fire, that will have to wait until later. For now, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect.
Kindle owners found themselves targeted recently in a fairly unpleasant way. Penguin USA, one of the largest publishers in the world, decided that it would be a smart business move to pull their entire collection of publications from libraries across the country for Kindle owners. Everybody else, including owners of competing eReaders like the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch, could still get these books. Now, while things have been temporarily dealt with since then – Penguin has temporarily stopped singling out the Kindle users entirely – new Penguin books will not be made available anymore and there is reason to believe that the event will recur unless Penguin and OverDrive (the service providing eBook lending services for most libraries these days) are able to work out a deal by the end of the year.
Neither Penguin nor OverDrive has said anything about the exact details of Penguin’s problems. OverDrive was simply sent word to disable the “Get for Kindle” functionality for all Penguin eBooks immediately. There was not even a warning sent to the affected libraries before the change took effect, which led to a great deal of ill will. These libraries purchase each copy of the eBooks they rent out and as such were left sitting on the results of essentially wasted money that could not be lent out despite Kindle-owning customer demand. The expected outcry for massive refunds, which would certainly have garnered a great deal of public sympathy, might well explain Penguin’s temporary capitulation.
Many have believably argued that this is a direct response to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library that Amazon launched recently for their Prime members. The timing certainly fits. Amazon got around the fact that major publishers have refused to buy into this new program by focusing on their KDP titles, smaller publishers, and by outright purchase of each rented eBook that they could get their hands on through wholesale arrangements. This last move is what causes the ill will since many publishers and authors feel that this exceeds the scope of their current relationships with Amazon.
While nobody involved in the Prime lending library is directly losing money, a major worry in the industry is that eBooks will lose perceived value. If customers start thinking of eBooks as somehow inherently cheaper that printed books, then printed Book sales will suffer and publishers would be forced to rely on sales of the eBooks, which means being subject to Amazon and Barnes & Noble even more than they are now. This is the same sort of reasoning that brought on the behind-the-scenes deal with Apple to fix prices of eBooks around the time the iBooks store opened up.
I would say that this is going to go poorly for Penguin. While their need to react is understandable given that they feel wronged, the targeting was off a bit. Instead of attacking Amazon directly, they have gone after their own readers. Yes, the Amazon deal with OverDrive increases the incentive to purchase a Kindle, but going after libraries doesn’t do a lot to make you look better to a customer base that loves to read. The Kindle is unlikely to be pushed out of the #1 slot in eBook Readers any time soon, even if all the major publishers pulled out of the library system in the same way. It’s difficult to understand what Penguin is still hoping to accomplish here.
Amazon made what appeared to be some fairly big opponents in the earliest days of the Kindle. All they had to do was decide to go with a closed format. Unlike some companies who might have decided that a strong DRM scheme was plenty of protection, they made sure that Kindle owners were locked in by consciously failing to support the industry standard eBook format. It struck many people, myself included, as manipulative and more than a little bit condescending.
Thinking back, many of my earliest complaints about the Kindle revolved around the EPUB format. I was ideologically supportive of the Nook in a very strong way as a result. They might have wanted to lock in customers via DRM, but at least things like outside purchases and library books would work if the user wanted to make the effort to access them. MobiPocket format was already too outdated in many situations.
Oddly enough, in principle the objections remain to this day. The difference is that now customers aren’t expected to buy into an unproven platform with no guarantee that success was ahead. Keep in mind that the Kindle was not the first E Ink eReader. Sony was already doing a fairly good job of fizzling out by then and has been taking a back seat in the field ever since as a result.
My own change of opinion regarding the importance of the eBook format conflict stems from purely practical matters. We have reached a point where there is literally nothing you can’t do with a Kindle that can be done on another device. Library books are plentiful, no author or publisher is likely to boycott the Kindle platform in favor of the competition, and on the off chance that you find a DRM-free eBook you want on your device you can convert it for free with Calibre (a practical necessity for the eBook enthusiast in case you haven’t adopted already. Google it!). In a situation where the format itself offers no particular advantage inherent to itself, there is no longer much reason to cling to it. There is a reason you don’t see much use of HD-DVD anymore, or Betamax before that.
As we move forward into the next generation of formats, HTML5 forms the underlying structure. Kindle Format 8 looks to allow for as much, or as little, formatting as the person producing a given publication desires as a result. This will improve Amazon’s ability to present their media equally well on practically any size display, which makes sense given speculation regarding future Kindle Tablet options. Nobody else seems to have really adopted an equally versatile approach yet, and even if that happens it won’t necessarily change anything. There is only so much you can do in order to essentially show off text in an attractive manner.
What it all comes down to is that customers will go where they get the best experience. EPUB might be better than Mobi, but with the Kindle providing the better hardware and Amazon backing their product with strong infrastructure and a great book store that didn’t matter enough. It’s one more format war down.
For those who have been paying attention, it doesn’t come as much of a shock to hear that people are unhappy about the rise in price of Kindle eBooks caused by the Agency Model pricing forced on Amazon by the largest publishing houses in the business. Apple came out with iBooks as a means of adding value to the iPad’s initial launch, and in doing so arranged things to prevent Amazon from having an advantage. They went to the publishers, worked out an industry-wide deal, and ended the era of the affordably priced eBook. Now, finally, somebody is calling them on it.
The basis for the suit is a number of early indications that Apple knew ahead of time that all of the major publishers would be turning on Amazon at the same time. A much publicized Wall Street Journal article from early 2010 had Steve Jobs clearly aware of the impending changes and certain not only of his company’s ability to price match but of the publishers’ willingness to boycott Amazon in order to change the state of the market. While Amazon did make every attempt to keep the Kindle Store free of such manipulation and price hiking, in the end each publisher is the controller of its own works and they were forced to concede defeat in order to keep the content available to Kindle readers.
The suit charges Apple and the five largest publishing companies with antitrust violations, among other things, and would seek to represent anybody who has purchased an eBook since the prices jumped over 30% practically overnight last year. If successful, the Agency Model would be completely overturned, as would the arrangements currently in place preventing price discrepancies between retailers.
There is every reason to believe that this has at least a chance of success. It is not even the first legal obstacle that publishers have faced since they turned on the Kindle. In 2010 both Amazon and Apple were brought to talks with the Attorney General of Connecticut, who had concerns that the abrupt change would lead to a situation where competition between companies would be impossible. Such anti-competitive behavior would of course be a dangerous thing to be involved in, but the companies being looked at at the time were clearly not colluding. This time, looking at Apple and the publishers, it might not pass quite so easily.
Though it will be months, at best, before there is even an indication of which way this is likely to turn out, it is possible that there will be some change in the meantime. eBooks are the only area where the publishing industry seems to be growing lately, and the Kindle platform is the driving force behind eBook sales in the US. Anything that publishers can do to improve sales will be to their advantage, and they have shown at least some small interest in the potential from reduced pricing. Will it be enough to change the face of eBook publishing without legal intervention? Time will tell. It seems inevitable that publishers will come to their senses eventually and drive their numbers up any way that works, though, and the success of the lawsuit is still just speculation.
As most of you will almost certainly be aware by now, the ever popular Harry Potter series is on its way to the Kindle. The author, J.K. Rowling, is keeping control over the distribution of the books by attaching her sales platform to the Pottermore companion web site that will be opening this coming October. While the combination of extra content and fan loyalty will certainly make the site and eBook sales even more of a success than we expect, in the meantime the anticipation building around the site has left over-zealous fans open to scams built around the pre-release proceedings.
You see, a lucky few have managed to secure invitations to experience the Pottermore site well ahead of time. There was a contest of sorts that allowed the truly interested to get their names in, but it was arranged in such a way as to technically allow somebody to get multiple invites. This, of course, opens to door to eBay sales even if they are technically against the site’s Terms & Conditions. Sadly as we all know by now, I hope, where there are electronic invitation sales, there are scams.
Harry Potter fans hoping to get in have been singled out for everything from hundred dollar fake early access accounts to total identity theft from some fairly convincing dummy sites asking people for far too much information in order to gain entry. Pottermore admins have, naturally, warned people against falling for these scams and have pointed out that even if people do manage to find a legitimate account transfer they will still be banned for breaking the rules, but when people are trying this desperately to get around existing restrictions and rules there is little chance of such advise from the people creating the barriers being heeded.
If you are one of the millions looking forward to the Pottermore site, whether for access to Kindle versions of the books or to enjoy the content, your best bet is to just wait it out. The only worthwhile avenues at this point are the official ones, so if you don’t see what seems to be your way in written about on the Pottermore placeholder like ‘The Magical Quill’ contest has been then you are inviting trouble by pursuing them.
When the site does open up, Pottermore will be completely free to the public. Users will be able to access it in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish, with more options coming within the year. There will be over 18,000 words of new material for you to read through, a shop to purchase things like eBooks from, a number of simple games that go along with events in the books, and a generally social experience through which to share your enjoyment of the Harry Potter series.
There is a lot there to get excited about, and if you are a big enough fan to be interested in paying large amounts of money just to get into a soon-to-be-free site then you’re probably very excited indeed, but wait it out. Rowling, Harry Potter, and the Pottermore site will all come together in just a couple more months. No book is important enough to risk identity theft or large sums of wasted money.
In recent news, Apple has decided to start thoroughly enforcing their in-app purchasing rules after a bit of a delay. While this is inconvenient for Kindle users, Nook users, and pretty much everybody who isn’t Apple, perhaps the most uniquely affected portion of the eBook marketplace will be the fans of Nook Kids for iPad app. Its narrow audience and specific requirements definitely make it a special case.
If you think about the strengths of the iPad, or tablets in general so far, when it comes to eReading, the biggest factor in favor is the color screen. Not much good for the purpose if you read a lot of bestsellers, classic literature, poetry, or anything along those lines, but absolutely essential for optimal viewing of kids’ books among other things. Right now, the Nook is pretty much the only eBook line handling children’s books in a thorough fashion. One of the things you’ll see on all their advertisements is that they have the “largest collection of kids’ books all in one place”, and that even seems to hold up pretty well.
Now, if you make the assumption that few parents are grabbing their children tablets of their very own, which I think is a fair assumption given the average prices and general fragility of the gadget compared to the toys they might be used to, the change becomes particularly inconvenient. Basically, if my hypothetical child were to have their own Tablet PC or Kindle, it would be in my best interest to not allow them any way to make purchases on the device itself. Whether this is accomplished via parental controls or simple lack of functionality doesn’t matter much. On the same device that I keep around primarily for my own use, that I simply happen to pull out during shared reading time, the lack of functionality is an infuriating factor. Yes, browser-based purchasing is still simple enough to use, but it adds enough steps to the process of acquiring a book that will likely only take a small amount of time per reading anyway that it renders impulse buying less attractive.
This was Apple’s plan, of course. Force people to either give Apple a 30% cut of every sale or lose a large portion of their revenue entirely. When nobody else is offering the same service, it won’t necessarily kill the business, but I would expect interest among iPad owners to fall off to a certain degree. A big setback in the short term that may allow competition to rise up if Barnes & Noble can’t get a better handle on the situation. Personally, I would anticipate seeing Nook Kids for Android apps any time now. The tablet market is growing noticeably, and it is only a matter of time before something pops up that can compete with the iPad. Right now that looks like an Android Tablet. Maybe it will be the Kindle Tablet, maybe not, but as far as the OS choice goes, there isn’t a whole lot else going on right now for portable devices.
The Kindle has done a lot to bring publishing from fantasy to reality for new authors everywhere. In an industry previously dominated by publishing houses that have a track record of refusing to take risks on new things, it provides an easy way for somebody to get their work out there and let it stand on its own merits. This is not without its issues, however. Under the old system we had some regulation, even if it was ridiculously over-restrictive. Now, we can only hope that the best rises to the top.
The downside of the Kindle and its self-publishing options has generally been seen to be a lack of editorial input. Bad books get published, poorly edited books get published, basically anything that people churn out can hit the digital shelves the day the author hits the Submit button. Unfortunately, that’s not really all we have to worry about. There were always going to be a few less than original titles that were meant purely to get the most cash for the least effort and to hell with the customer, but now a method has been devised for anybody who wants to put in the effort to put out 10-20 new books a day without even bothering to write.
The form that this takes can be anything from republished PLR content (content that the “author” buys the rights to republish under their own name) to the deliberately malicious. The former are interesting in that they at least have the potential to be real, quality works, even if they aren’t exactly originals. A system calling itself “Autopilot Kindle Cash” claims to be able to teach people to publish as many as 20 of these recycled eBooks per day at minimal expense. For the most part, it is a load of worthless writing that offers little enjoyment, advice, or information, but that doesn’t mean that the occasional gem might not appear. I can’t say that I support the idea, but it is the lesser of two evils.
On the more unpleasant side, we have scam links. Some of these will come at the end of PLR content. Others will just be thrown in wherever is convenient. I’ve personally come across several that took me to scam sites promising easy money, but there is no reason to believe that there aren’t quite a few that link even more unpleasant content.
It would be unreasonable to expect Amazon to have every eBook checked out before publication. Given the size of the platform, it just wouldn’t make sense. To be fair, they even respond promptly to complaints by bringing down the offending eBook or author and offering refunds. It seems a little strange to have to deal with this sort of issue while shopping for books, though.
For now, readers might want to watch for vaguely worded product descriptions, books with few or no reviews on them, and authors who seem to put out a lot of books all at once. Most importantly, as with anything that can send you around on the internet, be careful what links you click on. It’s a shame that the Kindle isn’t entirely safe from this sort of abuse, and I hope to see something fix it in the near future, but it’s simple enough to stay safe if you’re cautious.