Amazon drops Lightning Source: Mobipocket to thrive at rivals’ expense? Anti-trust risks in future?
July 20, 2006 | 11:43 am
Amazon will no longer accept e-books from Lightning Source‘s distribution operation. Very possibly, Jeff Bezos and friends want publishers to deal with them directly and use the Amazon-owned Mobipocket reader and format.
This is not good news for publishers or independent retailers, especially the latter.
Competitor Number One, Jeff, apparently wants to own and do everything, or at least as much as possible. That would be in line with Amazon’s no-holds-barred treatment of Toys ‘R Us.
Even Jeff, however would fare better with a truly open format with different readers available to use with it. Nothing like consumer choice, eh? I love Mobipocket’s interface, but my desktop can’t run at least one version of the program without developing memory problems.
What’s more, how about the risks from anti-trust prosecution in the future if Congress and the Justice Department get more serious about these matters?
Although I currently lack proof that Amazon will be shifting to Mobipocket for self-published books at the very least, I’d be stunned if it didn’t, given the company’s strong NIH tendencies and past noises about synergy. I’ll welcome more details from members of the publishing community about self-publishing and other areas in which Amazon may be phasing in Mobipocket. Just how much choice will publishers and readers have in the future?
Is it possible that big publishers will be able to offer a variety of formats on Amazon but small houses dealing with Amazon will have to use Brand M? And just how seamless will the Amazon-related transition from Lightning Source be for publishers? How much will they lose in sales?
Dear Publisher note from Lightning Source
Meanwhile here is an excerpt from a “Dear Publisher” note that Lightning Source, a branch of Ingram, sent out on Monday:
…Amazon.com has decided to discontinue its use of Ingram’s e-Book delivery services effective mid-July for new e-Book sales and the end of August for prior e-Book sales. Amazon.com was a significant portion of our existing e-Book business and it is likely you will see a decline in your e-Books sales. As an innovator of services in the digital market, Ingram is committed to e-Books and we are very excited about our future opportunities and initiatives to provide digital services and solutions to you as part of your e-Book publishing program.”
The letter mentions some new ventures in which Ingram is involved. Still, there is only one Amazon.
Unhappy with change
Jeannette Belliveau of Beau Monde Press, an independent publisher in Baltimore, tells me she’s worried whether Mobipocket’s $150 conversion software will be compatible with her Mac. Apparently it is not.
Anyone with a definitive answer? Jeanette also wonders about the terms that Amazon will offer independent authors.
PR spin from Lightning Source
Sure enough, in sending out the Dear Publisher letter, Lightning Source put the most important news at the end of the note. Here’s the main part of the note:
I want to make you aware of several significant developments to the e-Book fulfillment services Lightning Source has provided to you for the past six years.
As you may know, Ingram Digital Ventures (IDV) was formed in 2005 to extend Ingram’s services to publishers and content owners by providing state-of-the-art digital content accession, storage, management, and delivery services. IDV is a natural expansion and complement to Ingram’s existing wholesale, distribution, bibliographic/merchandising information, and the print-on-demand services provided by Ingram Book Group and Lightning Source. IDV is assuming management responsibilities of Lightning’s existing e-Book business and will be working to develop future digital businesses, including new types of content, delivery platforms, and other evolving markets.
In a strategic expansion step for Ingram in the digital arena, IDV has announced the acquisition of Vital Source Technologies. Vital Source is a leading trusted provider of digital solutions in
education and professional learning environments. Please see the attached press release for details of the IDV acquisition of Vital Source. Visit their website at http://www.vitalsource.com
vitalsource.com for further background information and a description of their extensive capabilities.
When Amazon UK dropped Lightning Source ebooks last year, just a month after acquiring the French ebook vendor Mobipocket, I missed the signs. I should have at least looked into Mobipocket, but I figures that most of my ebook sales came from Amazon in North America, so there was nothing to worry about. A week or two ago when I noticed a flood of hacked Mobipocket titles showing up on Amazon here, it didn’t occur to me to wonder why I was seeing Mobipocket for the first time, I focused on the fact that somebody was abusing the system.
Well, it turns out Amazon is dropping Lightning Source ebooks, and the $500 a month they were netting me. It also turns out the Ingram, in what probably amounts to a strategic retreat, is assuming control of the LSI ebook operation and rolling it into their Digital Ventures.
Reminder: I’m among the ringleaders of the OpenReader Consortium, which favors an open format evolving under the umbrella of a mainstream standards organization such as OASIS. Our goal is fair treatment not just of consumers but also of e-book-related companies–from Amazon to Joe’s E-Books. Meanwhile I’ll be delighted if Amazon can pledge to allow even small publishers an option of formats. Although the real solution is a universal format, I’m all in favor of letting the marketplace settle that question.