Of oil lamps, Print on Demand, and e-book machines: Amazon’s Bezos as a would-be Rockefeller
March 28, 2008 | 9:49 am
“Authors and publishers who use Print-On-Demand printers in the U.S. have recently been hearing that Amazon will only continue to carry their works if they switch to Amazon’s own POD property, BookSurge. WritersWeekly has the full story.” – Booktwo.org.
The TeleRead take: Amazon has its share of good traits, but as shown by its bullying of Toys R Us and the related legal findings, this is no charity—in many respects, not all, just the usual robber barons at work in the Seattle haze. TeleBloggers might want to revisit Matthew Josephson‘s writings or download a freebie from Manybooks.net, Burton Jesse Hendrick‘s Age of Big Business. Hendrick vividly tells among other things how John D. Rockefeller dominated the oil business, not just by financing and running huge refineries like the one shown here, but also by playing dirty against competitors. Far from an enemy of big business, Hendrick often glorifies it—thereby making all the more credible his depiction of Rockefeller’s sleazy side. Oh, and don’t forget the muckraker Ida Tarbell‘s classic, The History of the Standard Oil Company, with details far beyond Hendrick’s or Josephson’s. That’s her photo below.
The Standard (Oil) of E?
Now let’s do the inevitable extrapolation from Amazon’s reported POD misdoings, with some 19th century history thrown in. The Amazon Kindle and other e-readers aren’t oil lamps, and e-books and their formats aren’t oil, and, no, I’m not saying that Amazon can achieve as complete a control of e-books as Rockefeller did of oil, but if you go by WritersWeekly’s account of the BookSurge move, Amazon comes across as a bully who can be predatory with both E and P. Consider that someday most p-books may be POD, and that BookSurge is hardly the cheapest choice for writers and publishers. If the WritersWeekly account is accurate, and I see that the Wall Street Journal has apparently confirmed it, I hope Jeff Bezos and crew will reconsider the POD action and also stop trying to inflict his brand of eBabel on the rest of us. Amazon’s track record is bad enough. The main Amazon store abandoned Adobe PDF and Microsoft Reader in favor of its own Mobipocket—forcing publishers to switch.
NonDRMed MP3s—but shackled e-books
Amazon’s monopolistic ways should give publishers all the more reason to get serious about the IDPF’s nonproprietary .epub format at the consumer level and experiment with alternatives to DRM, which is better at protecting monopolies and near-monopolies than at safeguarding books. When, oh when, will the book business catch up with the music business and back off from DRM and proprietary formats? Amusingly, Amazon is now the second-biggest seller of online music or close to it, partly because—guess what?—it is selling nonDRMed MP3s. Time to apply the same commonsense to e-books? Amazon’s share of the pie might not be as big as with DRM, but it’ll be a bigger pie, given all the hassles DRM creates for consumers. Jeeze. Ingenious rascal that Jeff can be at times, who’s to say that a 19th-century Bezos wouldn’t have sold oil lamps designed burn only his oil and able to illuminate only Amazon-blessed books?
Why I’m not beating up on Google and Microsoft right now: Yes, I as keep disclosing, I have a small retirement investment in Google, but have criticized it, vigorously, for such practices as vandalizing public domain books with its corporate logo on every bleepin’ page. But Google isn’t as much against consumer choice, in the e-book area, as Amazon is. You don’t need a Google machine to read Google-provided books. As for Microsoft, my feelings about its proprietary Microsoft Reader e-book format are already well known. If Microsoft is smart, it will reinvent itself in the e-book area with a far more open approach.