In publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin’s latest blog post, he reflects on the way that changes in the e-book market (most notably agency pricing) and the relatively similar features of most e-book readers (barring the occasional pet peeve or badly-formatted title here or there) mean there is no longer any particular advantage to the reader in buying from one e-book store over another.
If I think of a book I want when I’m reading another one, I’m most likely to just buy it in the reader I’m in just because I have it open. Thanks to the combination of agency and 24/7 price monitoring, there is unlikely to be any financial advantage to shopping around. If I know exactly which book I want, there’s also no particular distinction among the four for ease of use or speed of transaction.
He then sets down some ideas for how e-book retailers can create customer loyalty and lock-in. He points out that Kindle’s closed file format is not currently a handicap for most of those who use it. It might happen eventually, “But, for now, Amazon has many millions of happy device owners for whom buying a book any other way is likely to be more trouble than it could possibly be worth.”
He points to Google’s idea, which he says seems to borrow from iTunes—letting you manage and centralize your books the way iTunes did for music. Copia is trying to make reading more social. Kobo seems to want to be the Foursquare of e-books, “tracking” your reading and giving you badges for finishing books.
I suppose the point is that when e-book retailers can no longer compete on price, and the convenience of obtaining and downloading a title is about the same for all (granted, it’s easier with iBooks, but as Shatzkin points out, they don’t have the selection everyone else does), they’ll find other ways to compete and differentiate.
I can’t say that, as a consumer, I’m terribly thrilled by the idea that e-book vendors should try to go for more lock-in. True, I own an iPad and used to own an iPod Touch, but before that I owned a Nokia and before that a series of PalmOS devices. And even as much as I like Apple’s gadgets, it’s entirely possible I might own an Android or something else tomorrow. I’d like my books to be readable on any device I might own, thank you. But then, I suppose that’s why I buy mostly from Baen anymore.