Amazon’s persistent Standard Oil act: Why publishers need to DEMAND ePub and ‘No DRM’ options for Kindle books
June 16, 2008 | 8:49 am
Are you Random House, Oxford University Press or a tiny publisher on an Arizona mountaintop? No matter who you are, your e-book people should read Small Publishers feel power of Amazon’s ‘buy’ button, in today’s New York Times.
"In the latest in a series of disputes over the division of revenue from online sales," Doreen Carvajal reports from Paris, "Amazon has disabled the ‘buy now with 1 click’ icon on its British Web site for hundreds of books published by the British unit of Hachette Livre, from back-list Stephen King novels to, naturally, ‘The Hachette Guide to French Wine.’" Ah, so the threats aren’t just against the small guys!
The message comes through loud and clear: Jeff Bezos is a brass-knuckled brawler, very possibly aiming for a Standard Oil-style monopoly—which someday might put even some large houses out of business.
On the e-book side, one of the best countermeasure that publishers can take is to insist on the option for regular houses, not just self-publishers, to avoid use of DRM on books sold at the Kindle Store. As with iTunes in Apple‘s case, proprietary DRM lets Amazon exert undue leverage against both publishers and customers. The piracy problem is minuscule compared to the damage that a John D. Rockefeller strategy might do to publishers’ bottom lines. Also to foster fairness, publishers should lean on Amazon to make the Kindle or a successor able to render the ePub standard natively.
The Solomon Scandals: Practicing what I blog about—on a book that I worked on for years
Lest anyone doubt my belief that DRM is more of a sales toxin than an effective anti-piracy tool, let me point out that a small press will release my Washington newspaper novel without "protection." I toiled for years on The Solomon Scandals. Just why would I want to jeopardize its financial prospects? On the contrary, the lack of DRM will make the electronic edition more valuable than otherwise. I want you to be able to enjoy the e-book for as long as you can the trade paperback, even if you switch machines or e-book reading software. What’s more, I want you to make as many backups as you want for your personal use.
Amazon itself brags about its MP3 store: "Play anywhere, DRM-free music downloads." Isn’t it bizarre that the Kindle store insists that e-book-publishers—with the possible exception of self-publishers?—use DRM and consequently cheapen their wares? It’s almost as if the Kindle store won’t sell you a p-book unless you agree to chain it to your wrist. Other family members can read your purchases on their own Kindles, but not on their cellphones, laptops, desktops or PDAs, and, of course, you can’t on yours. With a $360 price tag on the K-machine, I doubt that a two-Kindle household is that common. I know. Bezos has said he might let other machines use Kindle-DRMed books, but even then there may well be problems on, say, Linux desktops. Not to mention the Sony Reader. My impression is that Sony would like to offer Mobipocket on the Reader but can’t because this branch of Amazon won’t allow Mobi to appear on the same machine with other DRM-capable software. Jeff D. Rockefeller strikes again.
Legal action? Ideally not!
If Amazon won’t yield on the DRM and format issues, publishers should investigate whether legal action might be justified. Long term, what are the legalities of the Amazon’s Kindle store shunning an industry standard like ePub, which most everybody expected it to use? Let Amazon offer the proprietary Kindle format if it insists. But nonencrypted ePub should be at least available as an option.
The good news is that Jeff Bezos is no dummy. His company has promised to kill DRM on audiobooks if enough people complain. Let’s take him up on that—and also in the case of e-books. I’d much rather this be settled without a suit. Same for the format issue! Far from being an Amazon-hater, the TeleBlog is an even Associates site. But we’ll not put up with the Standard Oil II approach.