In publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin’s latest blog post, he reflects on the way that changes in the e-book market (most notably agency pricing) and the relatively similar features of most e-book readers (barring the occasional pet peeve or badly-formatted title here or there) mean there is no longer any particular advantage to the reader in buying from one e-book store over another.

If I think of a book I want when I’m reading another one, I’m most likely to just buy it in the reader I’m in just because I have it open. Thanks to the combination of agency and 24/7 price monitoring, there is unlikely to be any financial advantage to shopping around. If I know exactly which book I want, there’s also no particular distinction among the four for ease of use or speed of transaction.

He then sets down some ideas for how e-book retailers can create customer loyalty and lock-in. He points out that Kindle’s closed file format is not currently a handicap for most of those who use it. It might happen eventually, “But, for now, Amazon has many millions of happy device owners for whom buying a book any other way is likely to be more trouble than it could possibly be worth.”

He points to Google’s idea, which he says seems to borrow from iTunes—letting you manage and centralize your books the way iTunes did for music. Copia is trying to make reading more social. Kobo seems to want to be the Foursquare of e-books, “tracking” your reading and giving you badges for finishing books.

I suppose the point is that when e-book retailers can no longer compete on price, and the convenience of obtaining and downloading a title is about the same for all (granted, it’s easier with iBooks, but as Shatzkin points out, they don’t have the selection everyone else does), they’ll find other ways to compete and differentiate.

I can’t say that, as a consumer, I’m terribly thrilled by the idea that e-book vendors should try to go for more lock-in. True, I own an iPad and used to own an iPod Touch, but before that I owned a Nokia and before that a series of PalmOS devices. And even as much as I like Apple’s gadgets, it’s entirely possible I might own an Android or something else tomorrow. I’d like my books to be readable on any device I might own, thank you. But then, I suppose that’s why I buy mostly from Baen anymore.


  1. letting you manage and centralize your books the way iTunes did for music.

    iTunes lets you put in your own music, ripped from CDs you already own. Unless Google’s offering to do that with ebooks, it won’t work.

    Not that many people are scanning & creating their own ebooks, but a lot of us read business documents, PDFs of legal rulings, fanfiction, and self-published ebooks from the author’s site on our ebook device or software; if Google’s only offering the ability to keep your purchased-from-them content in its system, it will fail as a manager.

  2. A very thoughtful and relevant commentary, definitely. However I have a few issues.

    – We who are interested in eBooks now, and interesting in analysing and commenting on their impact, development, marketing etc need to remember one important thing. We are not typical of the average user in the near future when eReading will be far far far more widespread than now; when eReading really starts to penetrate the masses of ordinary readers. It is really risky to extrapolate our experiences onto those users who will not be early adopter types, not techies that can convert files, upload, download, etc etc. and move between devices and software with ease.

    – I don’t buy into the concept that price competition will be dead. We have had 24/7 price monitoring for years now in other retailing areas and it hasn’t removed price differences. Also, apart from the fact that I believe Agency pricing will be outlawed within 5 years, I suspect that the average reader will not always target a specific eBook. They will be aware that some eRetailers such as the excellent selection of Indies, offer far better prices, less DRM, and better value than Amazon and B&B and many will go there for their eBooks.

    – I don’t believe average users will want to be ‘locked in’ to any eRetailer. eRetailers who try to lock readers in will fail for that reason. eRetailers need to concentrate on being easy to use on a wide range of eReader devices and add other added value services.

    ….. continued

  3. – I don’t believe that readers behave in a homogenous way that causes them to want to get all their books from one source. They want to shop around and still have a seamless experience.

    – From what I can see, Kobo do not actually have what is called hear a Social Reading function. It only seems to have a statistical tracking type of thing, a very different thing. Copia on the other hand is really trying to execute what I would call a real Social Function.

    – Google’s expectation of keeping our eBooks in the cloud is doomed to failure imho. I really do not believe ordinary readers want to rely on Google to keep their library of purchased and hard earned eBooks in the ‘cloud’.
    It’s bad enough having to endure eRetailers trying to sell us a pup by telling us that we haven’t actually BOUGHT the book, we have only licensed it (a load of cobblers) but when they now try to tell us that, in addition, we cannot actually HAVE the eBook, but they will ‘mind’ it for us … and that is added to the DRM fiasco … I just don’t think ordinary day to day non techy folk will suffer that.

    – Where I do agree is that over the next 5 years technical functionality will even out across eReader devices. They will also become very cheap and cheerful and will allow us to buy from a wide range of sources. Deriving from my comments above, eRetailers will need to work hard to compete. They will need to make the experience of their customers far more seamless than it is today, where most purchasers are tech savvy. In the future they will not be. They will need to change the way their readers explore their eBook catalogue, which is still very old fashioned imho. They will need to reassure their readers that the reader has a copy of the eBook and they are not going to have it lost or removed by the eRetailer by mistake, on a whim or if they go bust.

    – And as I have commented many times before elsewhere .. I really believe, taking all of this into account, that a huge core of average ordinary readers in 5 – 10 years time will look for real Social Reading functions ‘like’ the ones Copia is exploring. They will want to share their experiences, their emotions, their responses, their recommendations, their disasters and disappointments with other readers WITHIN their eReading device software in a social network separate from the mega social networks like facebook et al.

    All the best.

  4. Seems there may be a maximum size for posts .. I had to split my comment above to get the system to accept it. (ok ok I can hear those of you in editing telling me I could have edited it and said what I wanted to say in a far shorter post … LOL)

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