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Publishing News: Control over data is where the real war is being fought

The ebook price war is a "red herring," copyright needs the public's attention, and Wal-Mart (finally) breaks up with Amazon.

Here are a few stories that caught my attention this week in the publishing space.

Publishers, price is a distraction — focus on data control

Suw Charman-Anderson at Forbes took a look this week at Alison Flood’s report at The Guardian on the ebook price wars in the U.K., which are “prompting concerns from writers that the ‘relentless downward pressure on book prices’ could lead to industry ruin.” According to Flood’s report, authors and others in the industry are concerned that readers will get conditioned to these bargain basement prices, thus devaluing ebooks, and expect pricing at levels independent bookstores can’t afford to sustain.

Charman-Anderson argues that readers are smarter than that: “[t]he whole concept of sales, coupons, discounts and price wars is that the consumer gets something that’s worth more than the price paid, and they do so knowing full well that they’ve got a bargain. That’s what a bargain is.” She also argues that all these concerns over ebook price wars are a “red herring” diverting attention from the real problem. Referring to a post by Nick Harkaway at Futurebook, Charman-Anderson writes:

“Harkaway basically says that publishers need to become retailers in order to regain control over customer data, and he’s absolutely right. …. The value of customer data cannot be underestimated. Retail these days isn’t just about buying and selling; it’s about what additional value you can offer your customers based on the information you have about them.”

“The ebook price war is not the problem,” says Charman-Anderson. “The problem is that publishers have ceded the most valuable ground to the retailers.” Charman-Anderson’s piece is this week’s recommended read — you can find it here.

Authors Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross released their new book, Rapture of the Nerds, this week under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 license, allowing readers to share, distribute and transmit the work freely with CC-A-NC-ND license conditions. The book is available for purchase from all the usual suspects and for free on the web, but the part that caught my attention was the duo’s web intro to the book regarding copyright laws.

Both authors address issues in our current copyright system and warn that it’s in bad need of reform. Stross describes how we got to this point:

“Copyright wasn’t designed to get in your face: it wasn’t designed at all! Rather, it evolved over a period of centuries, from a tool of state censorship (you could prevent sedition by licensing big, heavy, old-fashioned metal-type printing presses) to a tool for revenue protection (Dickens and other Victorian writers were frequently on the edge of poverty because their works were copied without credit or royalty payment by any printer who could get their hands on them), and finally, recently, into a tool for rent-seeking by big corporations with paid lobbyists. Nobody in their right mind would have designed the current system — but we’re stuck with it, largely because it’s now a global mess, enshrined in law by international treaty: a many-headed hydra that would require broad international agreement in order to be replaced.”

Doctorow warns that the system is in dire need of public attention and that governments worldwide are on the verge of running amok with copyright laws behind the public’s back. He highlights the Digital Economy Act that recently was passed in Great Britain, describing it as “a complex copyright law that allows corporate giants to disconnect whole families from the Internet if anyone in the house is accused (without proof) of copyright infringement” and noting that it passed without “serious public debate in Parliament.” But he says that isn’t the worst of it. He writes:

” … around the world, rich countries like the US, the EU and Canada have been negotiating a secret copyright treaty called “The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” (ACTA) and “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP) that have all the problems that the Digital Economy Act had and then some. The plan was to agree to this in secret, without public debate, and then force the world’s poorest countries to sign up for it by refusing to allow them to sell goods to rich countries unless they do. In America, the plan was to pass it without Congressional debate, using the executive power of the President. ACTA began under Bush, but the Obama administration has pursued it with great enthusiasm, and presided over the creation of TPP. The secret part of the plan failed — ACTA ran into heavy opposition in Congress and has been rejected by Mexico and the European Parliament — but the treaty isn’t dead yet, has supporters on both sides of the house who keep attempting to bring it back under a new name. This is a bipartisan lunacy.”

You can read their full intro on copyright issues here. More information about ACTA can be found here and here, and more about TPP here and here.

Wal-Mart comes to, breaks up with Amazon

In a move that can only be described as “a long time coming,” Wal-Mart announced this week that it would stop carrying Amazon Kindle ereaders. Jessica Wohl over at Reuters reports that Amazon officials said “the decision was consistent with [the company's] overall merchandising strategy.”

Merchandising strategy is likely only a piece of the reasoning behind the move — when consumers buy a Kindle, they’re not buying a device; they’re buying a retail ecosystem. An ecosystem that directly competes with Wal-Mart. As Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru said to Wohl, Amazon “is a little bit of a Trojan horse” when its devices are sold in competing stores.

Wohl notes that Target stopped carrying the devices earlier this year, and with two big-box retailers out of the picture, “speculation has grown that the dominant online retailer could open its stores where shoppers could try out and buy Kindles.” Rumors circulating earlier this year about Amazon opening a store have yet to become reality, but Kindle device sales may not be the impetus Amazon needs to go the brick-and-mortar route. As Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps pointed out to Chris Burritt and Douglas MacMillan at Bloomberg, “For Amazon, it’s much more profitable to sell through their direct [online] channel, which is the majority of that business anyway.”


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Photo: We Are Cheaper Discount HiFi Storefront by cdsessums, on Flickr

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  • http://www.kunvay.com/ Kunvay

    Thanks for keeping our eyes on the real news story – the battle for the control of data. After the platform battles have been fought, all that remains is data. It’s easy to forget in the rush to get the latest and shiniest tech toy. We look forward to seeing content creators take more control of their content data.