It’s been just over a year since Amazon bought Lexcycle, makers of Stanza, and as I reviewed Stanza the other day I glanced back over some of the old blog entries TeleRead writers made back then. I thought it would be interesting to look at a couple of those predictions or opinions in light of how the past year has gone.

David Rothman wanted Washington to see the acquisition as a signal to investigate the e-book industry for possible monopoly practices:

Washington often bungles things, but at least we can vote the bastards out of office. No one elected Jeff Bezos to boss the book business. Significantly, Stanza includes not just e-book-reading capabilities, but also online cataloging ones, which could well be weakened eventually to thwart Jeff’s competition, regardless of any promises to the contrary that Amazon may have made to Lexcycle, Stanza’s developers. Amazon is trying to become the Comcast of the e-book business, the gateway to most everything, and books could become more TVish as a result if, wittingly or not, the company doesn’t give a fair shake to the more adventurous smallfry.

While David’s hoped-for investigation hasn’t happened yet, the danger of Amazon “bossing” the e-book field has at least been lessened since then by first Barnes & Noble and then Apple getting into the game. On the other hand, this has led to some of the acquired smaller fry (most notably Fictionwise and, yes, Lexcycle) showing signs of being stifled.

Paul Biba was concerned about changes to Lexcycle’s management, as well as removal of options from the Stanza reader that Amazon might see as undesirable:

[If] you look at Stanza’s current catalog you will find a lot of entries that don’t have any relevance to Amazon’s business model. As a matter of fact, they are directly opposite to Amazon’s business model. What are they? They are Books on Board, Fictionwise, Random House Free Library, Feedbooks, Smashwords, Project Gutenberg, Munseys, Book Glutton. In other words, all those book sites that do not generate any revenue for Amazon in the current model.

This concern was a touch closer to the mark in some ways. Even though most of these options are still firmly a part of Stanza’s catalog menu, the option to pull down RSS-compiled article bundles from newspapers and magazines (such as the New York Times, which Amazon sells as a Kindle subscription for which it will soon be raising prices) has entirely vanished.

What we didn’t foresee, but probably should have, is the foreclosure on revising the reader for new platforms—even when the platforms are just higher-resolution versions of the original ones.

Turning an iPhone app into an iPad app does not seem to be hard—the one-man program BookShelf did it with no sweat. Yet both Lexcycle and Fictionwise have said they have no plans to upgrade their respective applications—and both businesses were bought by corporations with their own e-book markets to grow.

In some ways this reminds me of those stories about genies, where you have to be very careful to avoid loopholes when you make your wish. When Amazon bought Stanza, it said, “We are not planning any changes in the Stanza application or user experience as a result of the acquisition.” And, apart from the magazine menu, that turned out to be true.

And it’s still true. The iPad has come out, with a higher-resolution screen that makes reading books an even better experience—but Amazon isn’t letting Lexcycle change Stanza’s “user experience” to take advantage of it.

And in a closing note, not entirely related to the Stanza acquisition, I have to give myself props for a post from May in which I talk about the clamor for Amazon to add the EPUB format to the Kindle:

But if Amazon did add ePub to the Kindle, what DRM format would it use with it? The Stanza-licensed eReader DRM? The DRM used by Adobe? Amazon’s own incompatible Kindle DRM?

It appears I predicted iBooks…

Government intervention at this stage seems unlikely—as others have pointed out, there is still plenty of room for some other company to enter the fray and outcompete Amazon. For example, if Barnes & Noble were to come out with its own reading tablet using the eReader format which it now owns through owning Fictionwise, B&N might be able to compete with Amazon on the same level.

…and the Nook (although that one was fairly obvious in retrospect).


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