Here's the thing. I know that most of you only want to read some good books. You don't care much about how the sausage is made. You just want it to be free of typos. I understand that. Your lives are complicated enough. Kicking back with a cup of coffee and a novel is supposed to offer an escape from the chaos. It's supposed to be a bastion from the madness. But there is a running street battle going on behind your e-reader's screen, and everyone's involved, from e-retailing giant Amazon to niche e-distributor Smashwords, from bestselling authors like King to indie authors like me, from Big 6 publishing houses like Random House to the small independents Ridan. Even independent bookstores have joined the battle—and Congress is trying to 1984 us all.
Most of these battles are are fought by lawyers behind closed doors. Only the occasional fact or snippet of dialogue ever leaks out. But if you take the time to assemble them, they paint a moderately distressing portrait. So much so that I thought even readers might like to hear a bit about it...
In the same unpleasant month that SOPA (the tiny little act that will allow the US Government to prevent you from visiting websites) was in committee and then abandoned by the committee and then double-secretly reopened for debate by said committee, Amazon unleashed a war of roses.
First, Amazon began to squeeze the Big-6 on their wholesale pricing. They want a bigger cut of the retail price, and they want a bigger say on how their content is presented.
Second, Amazon released a price checking app. This mobile device app allows consumers to enter brick and mortar stores, scan these stores' products, and instantly get better offers on the same products on Amazon. Not only that, but some are given Amazon store credit as a reward.
Finally, Amazon announced a new KDP Select program. KDP-S is a new contract for indie authors that offers some perks in return for the indie author pulling their books from competing online retailers' shelves. If I accepted their terms, you would not be able to get my book on your Nook. Heck, you would not be able to get an EPUP or PDF version of my novels at all. But I would get to exploit some of Amazon's incredible marketing muscle. I could expect better positioning for my books, the ability to 'rent' books to Amazon Prime customers, and the opportunity to set my books 'free' for 5 days out of 90. I turned it down, but the deal proved too tempting for many indie authors. Over 40K indie-titles went Select in the past week alone.
So how did the publishing industry respond?
Let's just say that the members of the book industry are not known for calm and poise. The backlash against Amazon was quick and furious. The Big-6 began a passive aggressive campaign that involved having their writers spread the word that Amazon is actually means Satan in Gaelic. (For instance, the NYTimes published an Op-ed by Richard Russo lambasting Amazon's price-checker ap.) Competing retailers screamed anti-competitive practices. Mark Coker, head of Smashwords, alleged Amazon was attempting to clear competitors' shelves of Ebooks. Ron Charles argued in a Wash Post editorial that Amazon was bribing it's own customers to gain an advantage (an odd concept, no?). And, of course, the American Booksellers Association announced that, as usual, Amazon was playin' dirty, and remained the spawn of the Great Unholy.
|But she's clearly going for the ball!|
Then, when the self-inflicted head wounds had just about ceased oozing, Farhad Manjoo of Slate preformed one of his famous rabble-rousing cannonballs. In 'Don't Support Your Local Bookseller", Farhad argued that independent bookstores are unnecessary vestiges of a paper book past, that they harm the environment, that they are inefficient, and that they are full of pretentious scum undeserving of your nickels. The 1.5K comments on that piece indicate that the shit, as it were, had entered an apparatus with spinning rotors.
Amazon's response to the storm and furor was priceless. Famous for never revealing sales numbers, they announced they are selling about one million Kindle e-readers every week.
|My E-ink brings |
all the readers to the yard
KDP Select and a Not-So-Speculative Jaunt into Ebook Hell
I love the ebook revolution. It’s fantastic that it’s easier for authors to be read more than ever before, and I heartily endorse ebook adoption across the world. My dream is that we will have a truly global reading and publishing culture, where stories will be read because there are readers for them, not because of the arbitrary decisions made by a small bunch of Americans in New York.
While this revolution can march into a better world, it can also descend into ebook hell.
This is my personal vision of hell:
- ebooks are only available in .azw and they’re DRMed
- Amazon is the only company that sells books in the world
- the retailer takes at least 70% of the cut
- all your ebooks only exist in the retailer’s servers (in the cloud), because you can’t back them up to your hard drive due to DRM
- the retailer can continue to pull books from its digital shelves without elaborating on how the book had violated its terms of conditions or responding to its customers, because it has an unexplainable beef against gay characters in fiction (because hetero smut is okay, but somehow LGBT smut isn’t)
- readers in “international” countries must continue paying an arbitrary surcharge
- there are no more public libraries, because all ebook lending is done through Amazon if there is any lending to be done at all
- and everything is YA paranormal romance
Frida's post and the comments that follow outline some of the concerns both authors and readers should have in the back of their minds as these battles play out. Personally, I love what Amazon has done for e-publishing. Amazon took a floundering industry (Ebooks had been out since the mid-90's), infused it with some breakthrough e-ink technology, and showed everyone how to use search algorithms to generate additional sales. I also respect what Smashwords has done for indie distribution (even though I can't seem to get my own manuscripts uploaded onto their site). And I've had some great experiences with indie bookstores—I especially like the ones that focus on a single genre—and I'd like to see a future ecosystem that can afford them all. Chances are, however, that the real jungle of free market capitalism will surprise us all.