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booksonboardsite Is Amazon pricing e-books below cost and risking anti-trust action? And is Macmillan favoring Amazon and Sony stores in the e-book wars heated up by the Kindle? So charges Bob LiVolsi of BooksOnBoard. It’ll be interesting to see what rebuttals come from Amazon and Macmillan.

The above issues arose when BooksOnBoard revealed promo codes to make available “Clive Cussler’s The Chase, David Baldacci’s Stone Cold, Valerie Plame Wilson’s Fair Game, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Wheel of Darkness” for just $9.99.

“Our pricing system,” LiVolsi said in a comment to the TeleBlog in the wake of our e-book pricing post, “was designed to prevent pricing (except via promo code) below a certain calculated cost to us. We did not anticipate that Amazon, as the dominant player in the space, would risk anti-trust action with pricing below cost.”

Accuses Macmillan of favoring Amazon and Sony

“Macmillan pulled Rhett Butler’s People from our Mobipocket feed two weeks ago after we had already positioned it for promotion,” Bob LiVolsi also wrote. “They are making it available only through the Mobipocket.com store, Amazon and Sony. It is not available to the rest of us, nor are the rest of the Macmillan imprints. Other Macmillan titles include all of the Andrew Greeley titles, the St. Martin’s Press line, etc. No explanation has been provided by Macmillan. This kind of action by dominant players in the book space is troubling at many levels.”

As TeleBlog regular Mike Cane, a fan of St. Martin’s books, makes clear, it’s reasonable to wonder about possible restraint of trade if the LiVolsi accusations are factual. Assuming that’s the case, just who and what led Macmillan to pull the titles from BooksOnBoard’s Mobipocket feed? And how about the other W—why?

The F Word factor

Jeez. As if we didn’t have yet another reason for a standard nonproprietary e-book format! Remember, Amazon (owner of Mobipocket) and Sony aren’t mere retailers, they’re also giant tech companies with proprietary e-book formats and the usual corporate urges for dominance. And publishers such as Macmillan can hardly escape notice of that, especially with the use of Mobipocket as a distribution format for books from St. Martin’s and other important imprints.

To Sony’s considerable credit, it apparently will use the International Digital Publishing Forum‘s nonproprietary .epub via software on the Sony Reader—not just Sony’s in-house BBeB and Adobe’s PDF. But what kind of tacit or not-so-tacit understandings might be happening between Amazon and Sony to choke off smaller rivals, perhaps in part through Amazon’s playing tricks with the Mobi format? Significantly or not, I notice that Fictionwise, too, not just BooksOnBoard, wasn’t carrying Rhett Butler’s People as of Friday afternoon. So there could well be something to LiVolsi’s statement that Amazon, Mobi and Sony are the only e-stores carrying the book.

An anti-suit or other legal action in time?

Smaller retailers and publishers of all sizes, including big guys, Macmillan among them, should not just heed LiVolsi’s general warning but also go beyond and consider the F Word. Format.

I wonder if/when antitrust suits or other legal action will be filed in time over format-related matters among other things. Amazon, the 600,000-pound gorilla of e-tailers, at least partly sabotaged years of e-book standards work by the IDPF when it insisted on a new proprietary format for the Kindle. Meanwhile concerns exist about the Amazon-owned Mobipocket format that so many independents use; will Jeff Bezos and buddies kill it off or let it shrivel away, now that they’re playing up their new Kindle format, complete with $10 bestsellers that the Mobi store doesn’t offer at that price. Questions are even arising among tech-hip TeleBlog and MobileRead readers as to whether Amazon simply tweaked Mobi to create a new proprietary format—perhaps mainly to increase its dominance over other e-tailers? Is it the same old Mobi with just new DRM and fresh machine-identification numbers?

Keep us posted, Bob LiVolsi! And assuming you’re the same guy as this one, a former HP executive, the very best of luck with your first novel!

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