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Publishing News: B&N boycott becomes booksellers' cold war against Amazon

The Amazon Publishing boycott expands, dropping DRM is an ace in the hole, and insightful observations on reading.

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my eye this week.

The booksellers’ cold war rages on

NoEntry3.pngTwo weeks ago, Amazon made a move that might have landed it access to B&N brick-and-mortar stores. Last week, B&N slammed its brick-and-mortar doors in Amazon’s face. This week, B&N was joined by Canada’s Indigo Books and Music and Books-a-Million, and also (in effect) by the American Book Association (ABA) — in what the Guardian dubbed the “cold war between North American booksellers and Amazon.”

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Janet Eger, vice president at Indigo, explained the company’s position: “In our view Amazon’s actions are not in the long-term interests of the reading public or the publishing and book retailing industry, globally.”

The ABA denied the initial reports by Publisher’s Weekly (which has since edited its original post) that it joined the “boycott,” but it did remove Amazon titles from its IndieCommerce database this week and made an overall change in its policies. As PW reported:

“Not only has IndieCommerce decided not to list these titles, but it has created a new policy that states ‘only publishers’ titles that are made available to retailers for sale in all available formats will be included in the IndieCommerce inventory database’.”

Individual stores, however, can opt to add Amazon books as custom products to their own websites if they so choose.

Amazon didn’t appear to be phased by the news. In fact, the company appears to be focused elsewhere: Rumors of Amazon’s plans to open its own brick-and-mortar store heated up this week when GoodEReader reported on a proposed location in Seattle.

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DRM is publishers’ ace in the hole against Amazon

Ace2.pngBattle techniques for the Big Six to use in this cold war against Amazon were proposed this week as well. Paul Biba at TeleRead suggested that the Big Six have greater control and influence than they realize — they just need to wield it:

“There is no reason why the Big Six can’t offer exclusive deals to Kobo and B&N. Give them a three-month exclusive selling period for expected ebook best-sellers and do away with the agency pricing during that period. After three months, make the ebooks available to everyone and reinstate agency pricing. This would boost competition and play against Amazon’s exclusivity program.”

The problem with this strategy is the same problem that would arise if publishers cut out Amazon altogether — consumers would be alienated and sales would suffer (let’s face it, Amazon’s got the biggest piece of the market share pie at this point).

Publishers do, however, have an ace in the hole — they just need the courage to play it. O’Reilly publisher and general manager Joe Wikert pointed this out in very clear terms in a post at Publishers Weekly:

“In a terrific blog post entitled “Cutting Their Own Throats,” author Charlie Stross argues that publishers’ fear has enabled a big ebook player like Amazon to further reinforce its market position, often at the expense of publishers and authors — an unintended consequence of DRM. Given all these issues, why not eliminate DRM, since even the music industry has seen the light and moved on from DRM.”

Transferability and cognitive friction improve the reading experience

Alan Jacobs at the Atlantic made a couple of thought-provoking observations about reading this week. In one post, he compared Nick Carr’s affinity for the “fixities of the printed book” and Kevin Kelly’s for the “fluidities of the ebook.” He argued that both Carr and Kelly’s observations, though they make good points, are too narrowly focused on the book as an object, rather than as “a tool for use.” Jacobs shared a story about losing his Kindle, but not losing any of his content and annotations as a consequence, and observed:

“So what we have here is best described not as fixity or fluidity, but as transferability — a reassuring kind of consistency across platforms and formats. You might say that this is fixity enabled by fluidity: the reproducibility of pixels combined with the stability of Amazon’s enormous database amount to insurance against the fragility of any particular designed object. (And by downloading my books and annotations to two or three ‘designed objects’ I also insure myself against the failure of Amazon’s databases.)”

In another post, Jacobs took a look at the cognitive experience of reading and suggested that retention is improved by increased “cognitive friction” — the effort required to read, annotate, highlight and otherwise process digital content. Both posts (here and here) are well worth the read.

Photo (top): NO ENTRY by markhillary, on Flickr

Photo (bottom): battle 002 by Paul J Everett, on Flickr

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  • jim

    Amazon didn’t appear to be FAZED by the news.

  • http://www.carolynjewel.com Carolyn Jewel

    Exclusivity is bad for consumers. I think Amazon’s exclusivity options are not in an author’s overall interests and they’re not in the interest of readers

    Ultimately, you need readers to buy books. Readers already have a laundry list of ways in which publishers and vendors limit their ability to buy and then use the products they want buy. I hate to see talk about adding to that list.

    Concentrate on making offerings to readers available and usable everywhere and anytime. Period.