An American Editor

June 15, 2010

From One eBook Market to Multiple eBook Markets: Who Wins?

Amazon has announced its new AmazonEncore and AmazonCrossing publishing ventures and has signed J.A. Konrath for Kindle distribution. Now Barnes & Noble has followed suit with PubIt! as a self-publishing platform with B&N distribution. eBooks are fragmenting the book market and the loser is the reader.

Amazon and B&N are only the beginnings of the upcoming slugfest. Each will try to entice both new and established authors to abandon their relationships with traditional publishers and publish their ebooks exclusively on one of these new platforms. At first glance, this looks great, especially for authors like Konrath who are midlist authors with allegedly declining sales. The problem is that these new ebook platforms are fragmenting the book market for the consumer.

Will Amazon make Konrath’s ebooks available for everyone or just for Kindle owners? OK, it doesn’t take much imagination to answer that question based on Bezos’ past practices — most of the reading world will not have access to the ebook for reading on their dedicated device. How long will it be before Amazon decides that although the future is ebooks, the present requires both e and p, and so wants exclusive rights to both versions? Or is that already part of the deal?

Traditional publishers, including the big 6 (5 of whom, in cahoots with Apple, are already screwing readers with the agency pricing model) have lots of faults but the bottom line is that they are better for readers than Amazon, B&N, or Apple ever will be — because they distribute their product to everyone. Granted I may not like their pricing policies, their insistence on DRM, and the ebook windowing, but I sure like those unfriendly policies a lot better than Amazon’s insisting that I buy from it and if I want a dedicated reading device that I buy the Kindle.

I can hear the uproar now: Amazon makes it easy to read on nearly any device through its different device-specific applications — as long as I don’t want to read on a competing dedicated ebook reading device. But if I wanted to read on my PC or my laptop or my cell phone, why would I have bought a dedicated ereading device? Why should I be forced to kowtow to Amazon?

But the issue isn’t can I read it on my laptop computer or my tiny cell phone; the issue is can I read it on the dedicated reading device of my choice. Ultimately, I think financial survival of authors — other than the big blockbuster authors like Stephen King and James Patterson — lies in the hands of those readers who buy more than 1-3 books each year; that is, the dedicated, avid reader, the reader who buys and reads lots of books and who will buy a dedicated reading device.

Authors who sign exclusive deals with Amazon, Apple, B&N, and other similar ebook publishers/sellers should be boycotted because of the harm they are doing to their fan base and to readers in general. How many of these reading devices will I need in order to read new works from favorite authors? Why should I be forced to use an inconvenient method to read just because a favorite author has signed an exclusive deal? Why should I reward the author for the hurt caused me by the author’s greed?

I don’t disagree that authors should be compensated — and compensated fairly — for their efforts. I’ve never hesitated (well, not too often) to purchase a hardcover book that interested me simply because of price. But I am much more cautious about what I spend on ebooks because of all the restrictions and because I do not want to reward flat-out greedy authors who sign exclusive deals that prohibit interested readers from purchasing their books. Konrath, for example, has lost my business.

A fractured ebook market is not good for either readers or authors, yet authors, when offered these exclusive deals with Amazon, seem to have a great deal of difficulty looking beyond today. Perhaps an author will see a short-term boost in sales, but I suspect that over the long run these exclusive platform deals will hurt authors. They certainly will hurt readers.

The rejoinder, of course, is that the books will be available for a lot less money than traditional publishers would charge and the author will make more money. I expect that both are true, certainly in the formative years. But I always have niggling in the back of my mind this: What will happen when 60% or more of the ebook market — both publishing and selling — is controlled by a single company? History tells us that when that occurs, consumer prices tend to rise and wholesale prices tend to decline. Didn’t we see that, for example, with Microsoft’s pricing of Windows and Office?

Too many consumers think that Bezos and Jobs are really their best friends, business leaders who are really only on the lookout for what is best for the consumer. Today that may be true, but will it be true tomorrow if Amazon forces B&N out of business, or if Amazon gains the type of dominance in publishing and selling of ebooks that Microsoft has in consumer operating systems?

Exclusive deals between authors and hardware+publisher+seller companies are not in the reading publics’ best interest. I believe that consumers are best served when publishers are separated from the sellers.

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: