Amazon’s e-book hubris
Amazon’s starting to play some hardball negotiation with Hachette, and it’s got Amazon’s critics worried. They envision this drab world where the only way to enjoy a book is on Amazon’s terms.
People have formed this impression that because Amazon is by far the leader in selling e-books, that they somehow have consumers in some sort of death grip, unable to migrate out of Amazon’s ecosystem.
But Amazon’s really not in some insanely advantageous position. Amazon currently sells the most eBooks, but there’s not an incredible barrier to entry to opening an e-book shop. In fact, I buy almost all my books from independent publishers (mostly because they cater to my demand for DRM-free PDFs on technical topics).
If Hachette really wanted to, they could just tell Amazon to fuck off and sell all their books on the many other stores out there. It’s true that Amazon is pretty much the only game in town if you want to sell a DRM-wrapped book (iBooks is a probably distant second), but Hachette is perfectly free to just not sell their books with DRM. And as soon as publishers realize that letting Amazon call the shots is too high a price to pay to have DRM in your books, they’ll give up on requiring some asinine copy-protection scheme in their digital books.
Of course, Amazon is world’s most popular bookstore, but is that really that valuable? Being in the world’s largest bookstore just means your books intrinsically are just another face in the crowd. Is someone really just going to give up after they don’t see your book in Amazon’s results, or are they just going to Google your book’s title and find that they can grab it from somewhere else?
People could still read your books on Kindles; the MOBI format is an open standard and Kindles will open them.
If enough publishers started selling DRM-free, a bunch of other e-reader vendors could come along and offer alternative devices to Kindle, even ones that offer Whispersync-like features but without the restriction that it only works with stuff you bought from an official store.
So let Amazon keep selling you books at a loss. They’ll never achieve a monopoly position where they can excessively mark up book prices in the long run; a competitor would just come along and undersell them.
This is a potentially bright future for publishers. Whereas publishers were starting to look like useless middle men in a world where the internet makes publishing a book pretty easy, a proliferation of new eBookstores means a publisher now has a legit way to earn its keep (in addition to doing other really useful things like editing and marketing).
This is a potentially bright future for people who love books, too. I buy DRM-free almost exclusively because I want to truly own my books. I want to open my books in whatever app I choose, on whatever device I choose, and back them up however I choose, and even lend to friends however I choose.