Is Amazon evil or just good at business? We’ve carried a couple of articles lately whose authors believe the latter, but it’s never been a mystery what side the Authors Guild comes down on. The Guild has just posted a lengthy essay to its blog laying out what it sees as Amazon’s predatory pricing and anticompetitive business practices.
While admitting Amazon has innovated with the creation of the Kindle, the Guild holds that Amazon used its pre-existing position as the world’s leading print book vendor to leverage its e-book position into a near-monopoly. It cites Amazon’s removal of the “Buy” button from Macmillan works as a typical anticompetitive move (which in this case backfired as it brought Amazon more negative publicity than it did the publishers). It also calls out Amazon for selling e-books at a loss, and for locking users into a proprietary e-book format.
A truly competitive, open market has no indispensable player that can call the shots. The book publishing industry has such a player, and Amazon is poised and by all appearances eager to use its muscle to rip up the remaining physical infrastructure of book retailing and the vital book-browsing ecosystem it supports.
Reader comments seem to run mostly toward skepticism with the Authors Guild’s position. Mike Cane complains:
What anonymous coward writes these laughable screeds? Where is your bleating about B&N removing DC Comics from its shelves in retaliation for DC being on the Kindle Fire? Where have you been when Apple ejected eBooks from the iBookstore, which included one political satire digital book from some who had won the Pulizer? Suddenly you have a stake in all of this? Why should you? You tried to give away every orphan work to Google!
Neil Myers suggests a fairly draconian solution: publishers should simply go cold-turkey and stop selling to Amazon altogether, and establish their own alternative market and universal format for e-books.
Publishers should be more careful as to who they allow to sell their product. No law forces them to sell to distributors who have no regard for their product or business. If the big publishing houses just refused to sell to Amazon, then this would end their dominance. Period. The Kindle would be a useless piece of plastic if you could not download the books.
I’m not exactly going to hold my breath waiting for that. From publishers’ perspective, cutting off their biggest single sales channel could be a cure that is worse than the disease.
Regardless of whether it’s Amazon’s or the publishers’ practices at fault, it seems pretty clear that Amazon is rapidly becoming the biggest fish in a small e-book and print book pond. And much as I like buying cheap stuff from Amazon, I have to wonder what will happen if it ever does succeed in killing off the rest of its competitors.