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The Sky Is Falling (and Amazon Is Bringing It Down)

The big news today was that Amazon acquired Stanza, the premiere reading application for the iPhone. Lexcycle promises that it is not going to drop any of the existing partners (despite that they are in direct competition to Amazon). Others around the web, however, are very concerned.

Teleread.org has some great coverage including how Amazon may force companies to either produce revenue or be forced out of the picture (as opposed to providing free access to public domain works) and how the government may want to take a look at the burgeoning monopoly that Amazon is creating. “[D]o we really want this one company to dominate so much of the book business?” asks David Rothman. Mike Cane points out 6 succinct reasons why this is bad for the consumer, the market, and basically the future of ebooks.

This isn’t an #Amazonfail, though, it is a publishing fail. It’s time to throw open the competitive doors by taking the lock off of ebooks and by adopting one decent digital publishing standard.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

9 Comments

  1. Sarah Frantz
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 05:02:32

    I read this on my Google Reader on which there are ads. The ad for this entry? Kindle. Oh, the irony.

  2. Beau
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 23:09:07

    As I stated on SBTB one important thing to remember is that amazon does not own epub. They now own one of the most well developed stand alone reader programs designed specifically to integrate other formats too epub. Epub is open source. As long as devices are enabled to read epub, Amazon really won’t be able to control the sales of epub formatted books. If they mess with all the work that has been done to make Stanza so easy and intuitive to use, they could drive people to try other programs and hence other formats…. say mobi? I’m sure that should they do that, there will be someone ready to jump in and try to fill that gap. The question is how long will it take them to get up to speed? Will it slow the adoption of epub? There already are so many epub books and plans in the pipeline though, I have to wonder whether it’s too late to stop that train.

    I’m concerned that much like the financial markets, the format wars are somewhat sensitive to the excitement and fear in the market. So even though I too initially had a moment of doubt, I’m here to say the sky is not falling and I encourage others to spread the joy too. ;)

    Re: All the other concerns about Amazon and it’s practices, I totally agree.

  3. Stevie
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 03:09:39

    Well, the entry of the Justice Department into the Google book deal suggests that at last the Anti-trust implications might get an airing

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/technology/internet/29google.html?_r=1&hp

  4. Edwina
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 06:29:42

    In response to Beau, Amazon Kindle does not sell the epub format. Instead, they require that all ebooks be converted to the Mobipocket format in order to be sold through the Kindle store and read on Kindle devices. Any epub files submitted to the Kindle store have to be preconverted to a sort of epub+ and then further converted to the prc format, so if anything Amazon are slowing the adoption of epub as an industry standard for ebooks.

  5. Elizabeth Burton
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 08:56:19

    When Ingram, arguably the largest single book wholesaler in the US and perhaps the world, purchased Lightning Source then declared they would no longer carry any POD titles that weren’t printed by Lightning Source, nobody said a word.

    When Amazon did essentially the same thing with Booksurge so they could print POD books in their warehouses instead of having to stock them, the outcry reverberated around the world.

    When Barnes & Noble bought Fictionwise/eReader, arguably the largest seller of ebooks in the US and perhaps the world, there was a modest “well, gee, we’ll have to keep an eye on this” reaction.

    Now, Amazon buys Lexcycle, which has a catalog consisting largely of redone public domain books, and once again there is a huge uproar and cries that the Evil Amazon Empire is trying to take over the industry.

    When Sony brought out their ereader, there were complaints about the proprietary format, but nobody really got too upset about the fact the unit only works with Windows, thus precluding anyone who doesn’t own an Intel-based Mac and didn’t invest several hundred dollars to purchase a copy of Windows from using it. The Kindle not only works equally well on both platforms but for a modest sum–a thin dime–Amazon Digital will convert files from other formats for personal reading; and everyone is screaming because the unit doesn’t run epub format.

    See a pattern here?

    The current outcry, I see, already carries its lot of misinformation, as with the statement above attempting to counter another post that Kindle requires all books be converted to Mobipocket format. As a matter of fact, the specs to submit a Kindle book state that simple HTML is the preferred submission format. However, in a pinch, one can use the free Mobipocket Creator software (assuming you can get it to work) to convert a file to .prc and submit it. Or just send a Word or RTF. Amazon Digital then converts from that. Indeed, they would prefer you NOT send a Mobipocket formatted book. They bought Mobi for the catalog, which were the first titles available in the Kindle bookstore.

    Please also note that the epub format was in its infancy when Amazon began developing the Kindle, if it existed at all. That might have had something to do with their choosing to develop their own format. You don’t spend millions of dollars developing a piece of hardware hoping a particular format for content will be operational by the time you have it ready.

    I will also point out that LEXCYCLE DID NOT HAVE TO SELL TO AMAZON. They chose to do so, yet no one is criticizing them for doing so. What, are we to believe Amazon sent enforcers over to threaten their children and force them to fork over the business?

    And given the complexity of anti-trust law, people who aren’t lawyers expert in the field need to stop talking as if they understand what they’re talking about. The issue with the Google settlement is and always has been that of who will control the rights to orphaned works, and whether the wording of the current agreement gives Google de jure exclusive right over any content entered into their database. It’s a loophole that does, indeed, need to be closed, but as always the paranoid decided immediately it was proof Google was trying to monopolize the ebook industry.

    Ironically, it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that the other Evil Empire, Amazon, might have a word or two to say about that, given their investment to date in that very industry.

    Aas complex as a legal document of this kind is there are always going to be points that need to be clarified, and this happens to be one of them. The problem was that those who initiated the original suits–the Author’s Guild and the AAP–have their own agenda, which is mainly “how can we make the most money from this project.”

    Since they don’t care whether the actual rights owners–the authors–get any of that money, despite their noble statements that they are defending those very people, they didn’t pay attention to the nuts and bolts. Are we getting money for the books Google already scanned? Check. Will we continue to get money for the books Google will scan? Check. Okay, good deal.

    Commit this to memory: the mainstream publishing industry has adopted the policies developed by the recording industry when it comes to content. That is, their main goal is to maximize their profits by whatever means necessary. If the actual creators of the content they’re using to generate those profits manage to get a share, well, that’s lovely but not necessary. Getting sidetracked from that fact by these constant hullabaloos every time Amazon sneezes is not conducive to preserving the rights of authors to benefit from their labors.

  6. Edwina
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 09:23:25

    Very thoughtful post, Elizabeth, and worth mulling over. I do, however, feel a little offended at being lumped into the “misinformation” category, but I can see, rereading my comment, that I wasn’t clear. I’m not accusing Amazon of empire-building. Instead, I was just trying to correct Beau’s statement that Amazon support the epub format, which they do not, as they have their a proprietary format. Nor did I say that they require authors and publishers to submit their work in prc, just that any non-prc files delivered to them have to be converted to prc in order to be included in the Kindle store. I’m not sure about your assertion that Amazon prefer not to receive prc files–in my experience, they have requested that books be submitted as pdfs or prcs, but are willing to discuss submission in other formats. My main point, however, is that there is some difficulty in getting your ebooks into Kindle if you have epub format on hand, not prc. While Amazon are willing to ingest epub and handle conversion to prc internally, they prefer (again, in my experience only) that the epub file be modified prior to submission in order to expedite prc conversion.

  7. Beau
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 11:59:25

    @ edwina:

    I didn’t say that they sell epub. I said that they had acquired a product (Stanza) which is one of (if not the most popular) program used to access and read epub. Ultimately, IMHO, Amazon has a long term goal of trying to get mobi/kindle content accepted as “the” ebook format like mp3 is for music. That kind of strength within the market could drive all reader devices to accommodate them as well as funneling consumers to their site. Since they own mobi licensing, should they be able to gain that type of market share and influence, they could have control of production and distribution of all or most ebook content. Fostering or throttling epub formatting acceptance could impact that ultimate goal.

    With the current market, people are concerned that what most consider a considerable investment in material (books) or devices (readers) not be wasted and unusable in a couple of years. If enough doubt is raised, it stagnates sales as people try to wait until some of this is settled.

    I’m simply trying to say, ultimately I don’t want a single primary outlet nor do I want to see the primary format controlled by that single outlet. Epub as a format is not controlled by Amazon. Go epub.

  8. controversy a brewin’ « Collection Developments @ Sno-Isle
    May 04, 2009 @ 12:02:31

    [...] Amazon acquired Lexcycle, a company best known for its iPhone application for reading e-books, Stanza.  Lexcycle conforms to the e-pub format developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum which is not platform specific.  of course, the purchase resulted in immediate concern and speculation about the monopoly that is Amazon with its own competing Kindle version of an iPhone app.  for additional, unfettered commentary with insightful links, head over to Dear Author. [...]

  9. Web Happenings 4.29.2009
    Jul 19, 2010 @ 12:16:18

    [...] at Dear Author blogs about the monopolizing consequences of Amazon acquiring yet another eReader application, further [...]

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