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Exercising the Power of Market Share
February 28, 2012 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Last week, small press distributor Independent Publishers Group (IPG) announced that Amazon has decided to stop selling Kindle editions for the publishers IPG represents. The decision impacts over 500 small publishers and almost 5,000 Kindle titles. Neither party has offered much in the way of specifics, but other publishers have been reporting that Amazon has been pressuring them to offer higher discounts and/or pay a “co-op” fee of an additional 3%-4% on all sales to cover the cost of offering “automation and personalization” services (i.e. Customers who bought x also bought y). Authors and publishers have been reacting to the development.
posted by Toekneesan (51 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
IPG's announcement is a model of brevity:
Amazon has decided not to offer our Kindle editions at this time. Our other electronic formats are available from booksellers nationwide.
posted by lunasol at 1:53 PM on February 28, 2012


Does this mean that if I had bought a Kindle to read e-books I would no longer be able to buy books by these authors for my Kindle? Or would I just have to get them from somewhere other than Amazon? (I have no idea how getting books on a Kindle works.)
posted by benito.strauss at 2:05 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This would be exhibit #4535656 of why proprietary formats are generally not good for the consumer.
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:06 PM on February 28, 2012 [22 favorites]


So...buy another format from another retailer, transcode to a format that the kindle will accept, load onto kindle, life goes on.
posted by mullingitover at 2:08 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does this mean that if I had bought a Kindle to read e-books I would no longer be able to buy books by these authors for my Kindle? Or would I just have to get them from somewhere other than Amazon? (I have no idea how getting books on a Kindle works.)

You can read non-Amazon titles on your Kindle.
posted by yoink at 2:08 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


They'll read pretty much any common format other than ePub, for which there is a pretty good conversion tool. It still kind of sucks that you can't just directly buy, say, Eileen Gunn's Stable Strategies for Middle Managment until this is resolved.
posted by Artw at 2:14 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Boswell Book Company on this issue.
posted by drezdn at 2:17 PM on February 28, 2012


Does this mean that if I had bought a Kindle to read e-books I would no longer be able to buy books by these authors for my Kindle? Or would I just have to get them from somewhere other than Amazon?

You can buy e-books from many places and read them on your Kindle. The official Kindle Store has some nice additional integration with the device (you can order a book through Amazon's website and it will automagically appear on your Kindle using its 3G connection) but books from other stores work fine.

However, the Kindle does not support the popular .epub format, so you need to either find a store that sells books in the Kindle format (.azw), or in the .mobi standard format, which the Kindle does support. In my experience most third-party sellers of ebooks offer at least one of these formats. (You can also transcode .epubs as mentioned above.)
posted by enn at 2:17 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


You can read non-Amazon titles on your Kindle. But if you buy an epub title from Barnes & Noble or Powell's or the iStore or whathaveyou, then you need to be savvy enough to know that conversion software exists, and that it will convert the file to one that's usable on your Kindle, and you have to know how to get that file on your Kindle. When I started my ebook publishing company, I did Kickstarter to start with and fully half of the people to whom I sent reward books had to get detailed instructions from me or some technical person in their family who could explain to them how to get a file from their email to their Kindle - and those were files that were already formatted for the Kindle. If they'd had to convert those files, too, they probably would have given up in frustration, not to mention that since I'm publishing primarily poetry, the conversion programs don't work as well.

For a lot of users, it's easier to just buy the books Amazon offers and forget about it.

Amazon knows that, and so do the publishers. This is straight up bullying, and I wish we lived in a regulatory environment where talking about antitrust wasn't such a non-starter.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:21 PM on February 28, 2012 [17 favorites]


So...buy another format from another retailer, transcode to a format that the kindle will accept, load onto kindle, life goes on.

Well... for the authors and publishers involved, I think the issue is more in the vein of "Walmart won't carry your thing". Anybody can, for example, set up a digital shop at, say Payloadz - or if they're clever roll their download own shop like one of my favorite Mefites did, (which would ironically in this context be using Amazon's data transfer service which will transmit pretty much any book or album for fractions of a cent)...

But it won't be the easy peasy clicky purchase on Amazon, it won't wash if the purchaser is dead set against PayPal, and the biggie is they won't be at your venue of purchase already, possibly maybe stumbling over your thing by accident. If they don't already know about your they won't know where to go.

Of course Amazon is within its rights but it just illustrates the problem of the behemoths. They owe nothing to publishers or authors or readers. They are in it for Amazon, period, and they will screw whoever at their leisure for the sake of their bottom line. Which does pretty much suck.
posted by nanojath at 2:23 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


that is a lot of computer stuff to be doing just to be able to read a book
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:33 PM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Well it beats going outside.
posted by ODiV at 2:34 PM on February 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


They've also been screwing with prices, and in effect royalties, for independent sellers.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:36 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is straight up bullying, and I wish we lived in a regulatory environment where talking about antitrust wasn't such a non-starter.

There's actually been an investigation into whether publishers are colluding to keep E Book prices up. No idea if anything came of that.
posted by Artw at 2:49 PM on February 28, 2012


You can buy e-books

... "buy", snort, snicker, sputter, guffaw.
posted by sammyo at 3:00 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


PayPal Strong-Arms Indie Ebook Publishers Over Erotic Content
posted by Artw at 3:11 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Are most (or all) books available electronically in a format that you can take with you on your flash drive and upload to your Kindle device if you so choose (and if it's in the right format)? If so, where do you get these? And aside from convenience, is there any other reason I wouldn't just buy these instead of license books from Amazon?
posted by Defenestrator at 3:14 PM on February 28, 2012


They've also been screwing with prices, and in effect royalties, for independent sellers.

There's some interesting updates and comments on the original article.
posted by Artw at 3:23 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd rather Amazon go after the Wikipedia scrapes, "reference" books, and crappy fiction novellas that clog up the listings. Especially the Kindle Owner's Lending Library, where it's sometimes impossible to find a decent book among all the digital detritus that gets churned out.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:26 PM on February 28, 2012


mullingitover: So...buy another format from another retailer, transcode to a format that the kindle will accept, load onto kindle, life goes on.

This requires the use of Calibre, a very large PC program with a somewhat obtuse UI. It is not a supported feature of Kindle, a device that Amazon has been adamant about keeping the spectre of EPUB, the other major ebook file format, far away from. It means you have to have a PC (running Windows, Mac or Linux) to convert it. Your statement is good for power users but not ordinary folks, which is really what this is all about as that's the vast majority of the marketplace. So, your statement is at best dismissive of the needs of most Kindle users. "Good for me, I don't know about all you schmucks!"

yoink: You can read non-Amazon titles on your Kindle.

Kindle can read AZW, MOBI, TXT, HTML, DOC and (somewhat clunkily) PDF. The first two are native formats that enable standard features when viewed. You can get files in these formats from some places, but you won't get the delivery or ease-of-use that Amazon supports from their ebookstore -- that is, Amazon will send files they sell directly to your device over the "whispernet," no PC required. Getting other files onto the device requires either a direct PC connection or emailing the file to your Kindle's special address.

Artw: They'll read pretty much any common format other than ePub

In point of fact they won't read EPUB, CBZ or CBR, and they view PDFs with major features disabled. (Not a lot of ebook readers to my knowledge read CBZ or CBR, but they are common formats.)
posted by JHarris at 3:36 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can pretty easily download a CBR/CBZ reader for the Kindle Fire. There's no reason why an ePub reader wouldn't work on it either, but you'd have to sideload it, because for mysterious reasons the Amazon Appstore haven't found any compatible with the fire.

TBH I;m more pissed at them for that than a contract dispute with IPG I and most of the rest of everyone know nothing of the details of, and certainly more pissed about it than I am Jim C. Hines whining about them price matching to Kobo after he set a discount on Kobo himself.
posted by Artw at 3:41 PM on February 28, 2012


The irony is that Amazon is doing this to get around the fact that e-books don't have a 'right of first sale'. When you buy a physical book, you can do whatever you want with it. You can loan it out to people in a library, you can sell it for whatever you want.

With physical books, Amazon could sell them for whatever they wanted. They're nothing different then any physical object. Amazon owns them, they can sell them for whatever they want.

But that's not true with e-books. You're not buying a 'digital copy' you just have a license to distribute it. Copyright holders can dictate whatever terms they want for the products.

At least in the past this fight has been about Amazon wanting to offer discounts to customers to get them to buy the Kindle version over other books. The publishers/authors still get full price.

So keep in mind people are arguing against Amazon's right to give you free money if you buy certain books. It's something they would be able to with traditional books.

But the fact the fact there's no 'right of first sale' means that Amazon really has only two choices, sell the books at the terms the publishers want, or don't.
So...buy another format from another retailer, transcode to a format that the kindle will accept, load onto kindle, life goes on.
Only if you're technically skilled enough to do that. I'm pretty sure my mom could handle buying books and reading them with a Kindle, but buying on another site, cracking DRM, transcoding, and putting on a kindle directly? Anyone capable of doing that is also capable of pirating the thing.

There's a difference between what you can do with a Kindle and what's realistic to expect random computer users to do.

---

Right now, if you want to pirate an MP3 or movie, you just type in the name of the artist and boom, you get exactly what you want. I guess for Harry Potter it's just as easy. But 'regular' people aren't going to know how to upload the files to their kindle easily. If there a standard, truly open decentralized e-book format and payment system that anyone could use it would be a free for all. It would be as easy for a regular person to pirate an e-book to their e-book reader as it is for them to pirate an mp3 to their cellphone or mp3 player now.

Maybe it wouldn't be as big of a deal, since people still buy music online. But if there was an intrinsic payment system, people could actually profit from book piracy.

And of course, there would be even less benefit in going with a publisher.

So I think publishers want some central control as well.
posted by delmoi at 3:45 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can pretty easily download a CBR/CBZ reader for the Kindle Fire.

There is your problem. There are many other Kindle devices than the Fire; my own model is a 3 (now called Kindle Keyboard). These restrictions also apply to Kindle on PC and Kindle on Mobile platforms. I'd guess that the absence of EPUB from the Fire appstore is because of an Apple-style app editorial process to keep EVIl FEATURES out of the hands of users.
posted by JHarris at 3:48 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


TBH I'm not sure a n eInk reader is well suited to comics anyway, so... /shug?

I'd guess that the absence of EPUB from the Fire appstore is because of an Apple-style app editorial process to keep EVIl FEATURES out of the hands of users.

Oh, that's not even a guess. They don't even bother gussying it up with some Apple style bullshit policy, they just flat out don't offer it. On the other hand, sideloading is a piece of piss, so it shoudln't be that much of an inconvenience for anyone who really wants to read EPUBs on one. So far all 3rd party books I've wanted to read have been available in other formats, so I haven't bothered.
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on February 28, 2012


There's a difference between what you can do with a Kindle and what's realistic to expect random computer users to do.

Much like it's unrealistic to force users to either disable Gatekeeper on OSX Mountain Lion or ignore "You should move this app to the trash" messages if they want to use software Apple hasn't signed.

We're starting to enter into the Suck Phase of the computer revolution: manufacturers are taking advantage of proprietary devices and formats in order to win themselves massive profits, and it is advantageous to them to forbid some features if they don't align with corporate strategy. This could have the potential to actually be worse than the Windows monopoly was, for at least once you had the dev tools on Windows, there was no restriction on what computers could do with your software. This is exactly the kind of thing Richard Stallman has long warned us about.
posted by JHarris at 3:55 PM on February 28, 2012 [13 favorites]


Did Amazon stop selling them out of nowhere, or did they just not agree to a new contract after the old one ran out? Because its not like Amazon could still sell the books without a contract...
posted by smackfu at 4:08 PM on February 28, 2012


So is it typical for most book publishers to offer .epub as well as .azw and .mobi formats, or do they tend to fall into one or the other?

I have yet to invest in a reader partly because it's gotten so complex in terms of formats/DRM that I can't commit to something that will lock me out of possibly buying a book I want or making it a massive headache. So congratulations manufacturers, you haven't yet gotten my money even though I'm a rabid reader because I'm reluctant to get locked into your walled garden.

Won't the market end up favoring the readers that allow the most formats, at some point? Is there some reason why this wouldn't happen?
posted by emjaybee at 4:08 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because the publishers are selling the walled gardens, not the readers.
posted by Artw at 4:10 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I got into buying of ebooks once I found out how easy it was to strip DRM so I could back them up safely. I have an epub-only reader, but it's not difficult to convert from mobi (the deDRMed Amazon version) to epub. I think the former but not the latter is currently legal in Canada.
posted by jeather at 4:24 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am computer savvy. I know how to use Caliber; I have no problem sideloading books onto an ereader. Still, this is a clear example of why, until ereaders are store agnostic, I will not buy ebooks. If I buy something I want it to just work, and frankly the market is mature enough for everything to work painlessly. As long as readers are tied to specific stores and use store specific drm (and in amazon's case use a store specific format), i don't want to be their customers.
posted by aspo at 4:36 PM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


TBH I'm not sure an eInk reader is well suited to comics anyway, so... /shug?

Depends. There's a program called Mangle that allows you to resize image files per your particular Kindle, at which point you'd upload via USB to your pictures folder. Tends to work best with high quality images that are b&w to begin with, & aren't text heavy. So, for example, if Amazon offered Osamu Tezuka's Buddha for the Kindle, I might be tempted to purchase. To contrast, I probably would shy away from The Walking Dead, given how small the Kindle screen is & how wordy the characters can be.
posted by Hesychia at 4:41 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


To paraphrase Hiro Protaganist: "Books don't run out of batteries."
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:48 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


On theother hand, books run out of book. /never going on holiday without an eReader again.
posted by Artw at 4:51 PM on February 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


As long as readers are tied to specific stores and use store specific drm (and in amazon's case use a store specific format), i don't want to be their customers.

Note that Amazon's format, .azw, is really just .mobi with a couple of tiny, nearly irrelevant changes. Kindles read .mobi directly, and converting an AZW to work on a reader that supports .mobi would be trivial, once you broke the DRM.

Of course, that's a lot of extra bullshit steps in the case of the AZWs, so buying books from Amazon may not be such a great idea. But using .mobi is easy on a Kindle, so that part of the equation is okay.
posted by Malor at 5:22 PM on February 28, 2012


Because the publishers are selling the walled gardens, not the readers.
posted by Artw at 6:10 PM on February 28


Seems to me the vendors (Amazon, B&N, Apple, etc) are the ones trying to set up walled gardens. Harper Collins isn't doing anything structural to prevent or discourage me from buying books from Penguin.
posted by joannemerriam at 7:41 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's actually been an investigation into whether publishers are colluding to keep E Book prices up. No idea if anything came of that.

Other than laughter audible from space?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:48 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, sorry, Amazon, Apple and the like, not publishers.
posted by Artw at 7:56 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Artw.

Not that the Big Six wouldn't try it if they could.
posted by joannemerriam at 7:59 PM on February 28, 2012


This is exactly the kind of thing Richard Stallman has long warned us about.

It's really disturbing how often that paranoid nut turns out to be right.
posted by grouse at 8:32 PM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Calling him 'paranoid', grouse, says more about you than it does about him.
posted by Malor at 1:18 AM on February 29, 2012


I think grouse was being factitious. Or at least I hope he was.
posted by JHarris at 2:16 AM on February 29, 2012


I got into buying of ebooks once I found out how easy it was to strip DRM so I could back them up safely.

With Kindles at least everything is sort of backed up anyway - by which I mean if you lose your kindle, you just download it again from the "Manage your Kindle" section to a new device.

I'd rather Amazon go after the Wikipedia scrapes, "reference" books, and crappy fiction novellas that clog up the listings. Especially the Kindle Owner's Lending Library, where it's sometimes impossible to find a decent book among all the digital detritus that gets churned out.


Agree about this - but only sort of. Sometimes I feel it's impossible to find a decent book in the Kindle top 100, due to all the stuff that costs £0.10 and is worth about as much.
posted by rhymer at 5:17 AM on February 29, 2012


Facetious? Well, somewhat. Stallman has often seemed like some sort of paranoid Cassandra, warning of far-fetched worst-case scenarios. Of course, Cassandra was right, and Stallman has been too, repeatedly. (I describe the BitKeeper story that made me think differently about Stallman in a MetaFilter comment.) And it's alarming that the far-fetched worst-case scenarios come true over and over again.
posted by grouse at 6:34 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shelf Awareness has an interesting and related story this morning about some of the findings of the latest Book Industry Study Group study on ebook consumers and trends in their buying habits.
People who read e-books are buying more books--both print and e-books--online and via apps and buying fewer books at bricks-and-mortar stores, according to the latest results of the Book Industry Study Group's Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading survey, conducted by Bowker Market Research.

More than half of e-book readers used apps more to purchase books, and more than a third increased the use of general retail websites such as Amazon.com. This increase apparently came at the expense of bricks-and-mortar stores: more than a third of e-book users said they have decreased spending at chains and 29% are buying less at independent bookstores.

Among other findings of the survey:

While still favored by a majority of e-book readers, dedicated e-reader devices are slowly losing popularity. Some 60.9% of respondents prefer e-readers, down from 71.6% in the previous survey.
Almost 17% of respondents prefer tablets for e-reading, up from 13%.
Smartphones similarly rose, to 9.2% from 5.3%.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:54 AM on February 29, 2012


Pretty sure bookstores are inevitably doomed with or without the existence of eReaders. Hell, the disappearance of of my local indy bookstore was a deciding factor in getting a kindle for me.
posted by Artw at 8:47 AM on February 29, 2012


There's actually been an investigation into whether publishers are colluding to keep E Book prices up. No idea if anything came of that.

Other than laughter audible from space?


Hmm... looks like it's still going:
Report: Justice Dept. Threatens Apple, Publishers With Price-Fixing Lawsuits
posted by Artw at 9:42 AM on March 8, 2012


One of the affected publishers, Bryce Milligan of Wings Press, recently blogged that their delisting from Amazon has so far cut his business by 40% and states that the terms Amazon required would force most, if not all of IPG's clients, to lose money on almost every book they sell on Amazon.
posted by Toekneesan at 9:26 AM on March 15, 2012


Dude needs to make his mind up.

Also stop bitching about being "delisted" - there is no valid contract, that is happens, idiot.
posted by Artw at 9:32 AM on March 15, 2012


Makes you wonder what a distributor even does for e-books.
posted by smackfu at 6:11 AM on March 16, 2012


I think one analog might be a union. Distributors can bring collective clout to the table when dealing with larger players in the market. Amazon would love to cut out the distributor and sign the individual presses up for their its own distribution and file conversion platforms. Put all these presses into POD. Yes, there's money to be saved, but I can assure that savings won't be passed on to the small press and while some of it will probably reduce the price, I would suspect the lion's share of the money saved would go to shareholders.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:15 AM on March 17, 2012


Sorry, that wasn't quite finished, but my cat walked across my trackpad and posted it for me.
Yes, there's money to be saved, but I can assure you that savings won't be passed on to the small press, and while some of it would probably be used to reduce the price, I would suspect the lion's share of the money saved would go to shareholders.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:45 AM on March 17, 2012


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