Which Hachette books are affected by Amazon spat, and why Kindle users are locked in

Here’s some more assorted Amazon/Hachette coverage. First of all, Gizmodo has some examples of the books you find on “Amazon’s hit list,” with charts comparing pricing and availability at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The article itself is rather slanted, concluding with the call to action, “Amazon has every right to fight dirty. And you have every right to show them the consequences.” Nonetheless, the charts are interesting.

It’s also interesting to look at at where the story slants are. You see plenty of pro-Hachette/anti-Amazon stuff in the media and the commercial blog networks (Gizmodo, GigaOm, etc.) and the blogs of authors who write for Hachettes (Lilith Saintcrow, Charlie Stross), but not so much in the single-poster blogs (Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, David Gaughran) who are more inclined to be skeptical of Hachette.

It’s almost as if the commercial media have ties to the same megaconglomerates publishers do, or perhaps the reporters are or have aspirations of being traditionally-published book authors themselves and don’t want to bite the hand.

Even Techdirt, which I would normally expect to be skeptical of big publishing, cites GigaOm to accuse Amazon of DRM-enforced monopoly, and of “throw[ing] its customers under a bus in the name of better business deals.” And it compares Amazon’s current Hachettes spat to the time it pulled Macmillan’s “Buy” button in 2010. Oddly enough, it makes no mention of the fact that five of the then-six big publishers were found by a court of law to have illegally colluded to raise e-book prices across the industry. Who really wants to throw e-book customers under a bus, I wonder?

And who, exactly, is to blame for Amazon having DRM on their books? It’s not Amazon. They offer it, but they don’t require it. Tor hasn’t used it for two years, Cory Doctorow has never used it, nor has Baen, and many self-published authors don’t either. And as far as I know, all the other major e-book retailers offer the same choice. If the other big publishers wanted to stop using DRM, they could do it tomorrow. (Not that they will.)

And for that matter, as I will discuss in another blog post that will go up later, it’s not really the DRM that keeps people locked into the Kindle anyway. The people who make that argument tend to assume that most Kindle users are expert enough to migrate their DRM-free books to another platform if they want to. (Hint: they aren’t. Nor do they want to.) It’s the convenience.

Finally, for those who just can’t get enough of reading comments, here’s a Slashdot discussion of the matter. Enjoy.

2 Comments on Which Hachette books are affected by Amazon spat, and why Kindle users are locked in

  1. One small correction:

    They offer [DRM], but they don’t require it.

    Unless Amazon did the conversion themselves from a PDF or scanned print copy, in which case they do require the book to be sold with DRM. (Which makes sense; they’re doing the conversion so they can sell the book, not to be a free conversion vendor so the publisher can take the file and provide it to another vendor.) Kindle books converted from PDF are less common today than they were a few years ago, but this does still affect some books in the Kindle store.

  2. Quote: “It’s almost as if the commercial media have ties to the same megaconglomerates publishers do, or perhaps the reporters are or have aspirations of being traditionally-published book authors themselves and don’t want to bite the hand.”

    Actually, it’s that the press knows a good story when it sees it, particularly when the story involves conflicts between two well-known giants. And it’s the significance of that story for publishing that makes it important rather than any conspiracy theories about “megaconglomerates.” In fact, it’d be surprising if it wasn’t covered.

    Giant publishers, with their Manhattan offices, do have a home-team advantage with the also Manhattan-based media in this country. In this case, that’s an advantage that favors the good guy, meaning the bullied over the bully. That’s good.

    But coverage has also gone the other way. Back when Amazon was being sued for yanking the buy button from POD publishers who were using Lightning Source and not CreateSpace, both I and a freelance technology writer who’d worked for Amazon in the 1990s, tried to get Seattle’s two dailies, the Seattle Times and the Seattle PI to cover the fact that Amazon was being sued in Maine federal court for that. Despite the fact that a giant local corporation was being sued, the Seattle Times’ business editor told me she refused to cover it. The Seattle PI only covered it when the AP gave them a story on it. There, the home-town boy effect worked in Amazon favor–that is if getting away with something vile is really a benefit to any business.

    There’s a real sea change taking place here that’s about more than book prices. Reporters tend to be an unimaginative lot, so it’s been hard to get them to see that Amazon’s customer service is overrated. Amazon, for instance, often tailors search result to hide a cheaper version of a product (from one vendor) and show a more expensive version of that same product from another. There’s no doubt about that. An Amazon lawyer defended the practice with me about 2002 and I saw an example of that just a few days ago.

    But this dispute, now that it is resolved that it’s Amazon that’s responsible for books being unavailable, shows Amazon in a different light. Amazon isn’t just making life hard for a supplier. It’s making life hard for its customers in a very big way–hot new bestsellers aren’t shipping. Once that wall has been breached, other ways Amazon is less that pro-consumer will appear. Amazon, in their hubris, has made a very big mistake.

    And keep in mind that the very point of this dispute isn’t so Amazon can offer customers cheaper books. It’s so Amazon gets a discount denied to other book retailers and can make the same profit on a slightly lower price.

    Also, what Hachette is saying about Amazon not understanding publishing is true. Squeezed by Amazon, even giant publishers won’t have the resources to spot new authors and take a chance on them. The quality of books published will go down. Year after year, we’ll see the same cadre of aging but famous, risk-free authors write books that’ll get duller and duller. Amazon doesn’t care because for Amazon books are just a commodity like dish towels. Publishers do care.

    Also, any comparison between Amazon and publishers about DRM is grossly unfair. Amazon makes almost zero investment in creating and marketing the books it sells. If those books get pirated, it loses almost nothing. People who swipe a book aren’t people who would have bought it anyway. But publishers do loose and loose badly because they have fewer sales to cover their often substantial investment.

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