It is not surprising that Amazon has told publishers that it’s their POD (print-on-demand) service or no sales through Amazon. It is surprising that, well, anyone is surprised. Did y’all think Amazon was buying Booksurge for the fun of it? What other outcome did you expect?
Readers don’t care if a book ships from a massive warehouse or is, quite literally, hot off the press.
I am not joking. While the publishing industry worries about Google (and I am still convinced that working with search engines to optimize access to your content is in the best interest of everyone) and watches while Barnes & Noble moves further into traditional publisher territory, Amazon is amassing what is essentially a secret army. Amazon is a business, and like real businesses, engages in actions that further Amazon’s goals. Not yours…unless your goals dovetail with Amazon’s.
Businesses are not nice, fuzzy creatures that cuddle with you in the dark of the night and believe in fairy tales.
Your content is being locked to their device. Your content is being locked to their service. They get to set the terms — if the music industry hadn’t been so busy fighting consumers, they would have stroked their bearded chins and considered the fact that they lost the ability to dictate terms to a vendor. Apple owns the market; until that changes, well, the labels are victims of their own hubris. They fiddled, Rome burned, and a new empire emerged.
Your fear of piracy mirrors the actions of the music biz. You’re locked into format and device. While the Kindle isn’t near as popular as the iPod, it’s building a fan base. Sony eReaders consumers are locked out of the Amazon store. Other readers are locked out. You have allowed customers to become disenfranchised, and, unless my crystal ball is playing tricks on me, there will come a time when Amazon “encourages” you to explore new pricing structures.
POD is a lovely niche market right now, but the potential is incredible. The cost of creating a one-off book is within the range of most consumer pocketbooks. The process creates a shipping delay that is nearly transparent to consumers — if they’re ordered from Amazon, they know it takes a few days to get the book. Readers don’t care if a book ships from a massive warehouse or is, quite literally, hot off the press. They just want the book they want, when they want it, you know the rest.
Itâ€™s an incredibly retrograde step. All our recent talk about mass customisation entirely depends on open, independent manufacturing and distribution platforms – the opposite of what Amazon is trying to force on its suppliers. I have to say that we did see this coming, but it doesnâ€™t excuse a clearly monopolistic and unethical action on Amazonâ€™s part. Weâ€™ve yet to hear anything in the UK, but weâ€™re going to be watching developments in the US with a keen interest.
Amazonâ€™s monopolistic ways should give publishers all the more reason to get serious about the .epub format at the consumer level and experiment with alternatives to DRM, which is better at protecting monopolies and near-monopolies than at safeguarding books. When, oh when, will the book business catch up with the music business and back off from DRM and proprietary formats? Amusingly, Amazon is now the second-biggest seller of online music or close to it, partly becauseâ€”guess what?â€”it is selling nonDRMed MP3s. Time to apply the same commonsense to e-books? Amazonâ€™s share of the pie might not be as big as with DRM, but itâ€™ll be a bigger pie, given all the hassles DRM creates for consumers. Jeeze. Ingenious rascal that Jeff can be at times, whoâ€™s to say that a 19th-century Bezos wouldnâ€™t have sold oil lamps designed burn only his oil and able to illuminate only Amazon-blessed books?
Writers Weekly apparently broke this story wide open. As a niche publisher working almost exclusively in the print-on-demand, the Booklocker team (Booklocker is owned by the same people who run Writers Weekly) are faced with a choice: work with BookSurge — a company that didn’t do right by Booklocker in the past — or lose the Amazon sales. And, of course, like most other savvy publishing businesses, Booklocker must still work with Ingram’s Lightning Source.
And it is unclear how this will play out with Lightning Source. Amazon, surely, doesn’t want to mess with its Ingram relationship, and Ingram has built a pretty solid base of Lightning Source titles. Right now, it seems like only the straight POD houses are losing their “buy” buttons. Here’s guessing this is an opening salvo, not the final word.
Yes, I think that working with multiple vendors is a good thing, and, yeah, it’s going to cost companies more to convert books to multiple formats, but it sure beats being locked into a single provider. Right now, if you’re buying and selling in the online book market, you’re buying and selling with Amazon. This means you’re using their service, paying the fees they set, and smiling through the pain.
On the positive side, well, you can officially say that POD has come into its own.