As all and sundry go round and round about Amazon/Hachette and the end of author royalties as we know it, I stopped to consider. I believe the eBook marketplace is healthier with competition, even if Amazon is right now a pretty darned good company to do business with. I do not consider B&N, Kobo or Apple to be the ideal competition, although together, they may not be too bad. So, I asked myself, with both my reader and author hats on, what it would take to be a contender in the eBook marketplace.
As a reader
This was tough because Amazon does so much right for me as a reader, but if a site were to be better than Amazon, I think they’d need the following:
1. Support for all eBook formats
While that sounds good in principle, it’s not easy to support Kindles as smoothly as Amazon does. I thought Baen used to do a great job, but not everyone found it easy. They used the “Send to Kindle” feature, which Amazon could discontinue at any time, complicating sending content to a Kindle without a wired sync.
DRM also would prove a challenge. As far as I know, Amazon controls the Kindle DRM, and I’m not sure another bookstore could send DRMed content to a Kindle or Kindle app.
2. No DRM
I would love a completely DRM-free bookstore, but until the big publishers allow content to be sold without it, a lack of DRM is going to limit the availability of books in this hypothetical bookstore.
3. Just books
While I do buy from Amazon, I would love a competitor who sells just books, ereaders and reading accessories. I don’t always want to be offered an electric kettle or a new coat when I drop by to buy a book.
As an author
This was a bit easier, as I do have several gripes with Amazon as an author
1. Good keywords searches and discoverability
Amazon does this well, so any site would have to do it as well or better.
2. No gatekeepers
The idea came after I read Konrath’s latest post in which Eisler lobbies for a more effective traditional publishing model. While I support that, in principle, the reality of any operation with a gatekeeper is that bias will creep in on “what will sell.” If publishers listened to Eisler (and they should), Amazon would still have a competitive advantage because anyone can publish there. I don’t think an Amazon competitor should be selective in their process. Yes, it leads to crap, but it also allows readers to make their choices.
3. Support for indie authors
A good Amazon competitor would provide some level of support for indie authors, and I think that support can be tiered. Provide a list of vetted providers of editing, formatting and cover design. Smashwords does something like this, and it’s a good idea. However, it could go farther. Perhaps subsidize the services for certain authors. The obvious ones would be the already proven sellers, but with a bit of creative thinking, a site could come up with ways to subsidize the services for new or struggling authors, the ones who really need the financial help.
4. Easy process to upload. Good sales dashboard. Competitive royalties
All go without saying.
5. Fostering a sense of community among authors
The KBoards Writer’s Cafe is a great example of a community of authors. A great Amazon competitor would foster some sort of community on their site.
6. Promotional opportunities
Why couldn’t a new ebookstore have a BookBub like feature?
7. No exclusivity
I love subscription services. I’d love to have my books in Kindle Unlimited. However, I also love Scribd. Don’t make me choose. Don’t give one group of authors something cool which is denied to the rest.
There’s my list. I wasn’t surprised that the author list was longer than the reader list. Amazon really has been good to readers. However, I think the longer the indie author movement continues, the more obvious will be our needs, and serving those needs is an opportunity for someone out there to take advantage of.
Any additions to the list? I’m sure I missed something obvious.