We know that there are issues related to ebooks that have nothing to do with libraries. For example that you don’t own your ebooks, you lease them, that you can’t loan them at all or can’t loan them easily, that you can’t switch platforms (without some possibly illegal hacking of your books) for no other reason than corporate greed. These issues apply to an increasing number of ebook readers (as of April 2012 20% of Americans had read and ebook), but not all of them are using library ebooks for a number of reasons.
Recently, I began chatting with a publishing industry executive about this. This person — who I’ll call Exec — was interested in learning how to break DRM on e-books. About a month later, Exec is a convert and was ready to talk about the experience, albeit anonymously. I don’t think Exec is the only person in the publishing industry breaking DRM on e-books they buy…and those who aren’t doing so already might want to give it a try, if only to see what readers go through. Here is Exec’s story.
Amazon is well on its way towards dominating the ebook market, but its platform has several weaknesses that not only threaten Amazon but also threaten the ebook industry should Amazon dominate.
The line of argument is as follows:
- Amazon’s Kindle platform has inherent flaws that lead to serious imbalances.
- Those imbalances threaten Amazon first and foremost and grow with the platform.
- If Amazon grows to dominate a mature ebook market, those imbalances will be big enough to both damage Amazon and threaten the ebook market.
- Amazon could end up dominating an ebook market that more resembles the modern day comic book direct market than a mass medium: a shrinking niche industry that caters to a limited number of expert readers.
Not a recent article (from 27 Nov 2011), but extremely illuminating regarding how Amazon does business in the ebook realm, especially in many English-speaking but non-U.S. locations.
But spare a thought for the rest of the world. Because the vast majority of your potential readers don’t live in the USA. And if you’re thinking, So what? Amazon is the world’s biggest book store and my book is available for 99c anywhere in the world, then think again.
Consider: The new Kindlefire is not, and for the foreseeable future will not be sold in the UK or Germany or France, despite those countries having Kindle sites. And a reminder here that the B&N nook is utterly useless outside the US as B&N do not download outside the US borders.
Two fantastic new ereaders, purpose built for ePub3, are in fact exclusively for the US market. The rest of the world is stuck with the old b&w Kindle.
But actually even that’s not true. Britain, France and Germany are stuck with the old b&w Kindle. The Kindle isn’t available anywhere else except by having it shipped over from the USA.
Despite the popularity of an e-book reader, I was never really tempted to purchase a Nook or a Kindle. I figured since I have an iPad, it would be completely pointless to own and use a e-book reader, which I understood mostly as a single-purpose device. (But to confess, I didn’t use my iPad much for reading… )
This conviction, however, was completely swept away since I had taken out a library Kindle a few days ago. I never thought that someone like me, who is a firm believer in the superiority of a multi-purpose device (like a smartphone) to a single-purpose device, would become a fan of a single-purpose e-reader.
…To my surprise, I found myself enjoying the library e-reader way more than I expected.
I agonized for weeks over which was better: digital books or “real.” At first, reading the Kindle was downright confusing. For one thing, what to do with that free hand flapping around while you hold such a slim rectangle and touch buttons to flip pages? (And why didn’t I have a Kindle while I was breastfeeding my kids?)
How do you pretend not to notice an annoying neighbor if you can’t hide your face behind an actual book? How do you loan your books to friends on a Kindle? What do you put on your bookshelves if you stop buying books? (Either wine glasses or my son’s Lego collection, in our case.) And how do you stop ordering books on Amazon once you’ve seen how easy it is to get a fix?
Gradually, though, things smoothed out. My house has become like that popular British TV series, Upstairs, Downstairs: my supposedly more refined (though not necessarily more entertaining or informative) books reside upstairs, on the table next to my bed, where I contentedly read for an hour or so every night before I go to sleep. My Kindle stays downstairs with the dogs.
For various reasons the major publishers don’t sell direct to the public themselves — they go via external retail channels. Of these channels, Amazon is the 500kg gorilla of internet sales. Amazon has ruthlessly used its near monopoly of online sales to exert monopsony buying pressure against suppliers, forcing the likes of Holtzbrinck or Penguin or Hachette to give them a deep discount on ebooks. In the past they have de-listed publishers’ paper editions during negotiations, chopping their sales off at the knees in an attempt to force them to grant favourable sales terms. When Amazon extract deeper discounts from their suppliers, they pass some of the discount on to the public — this expands their monopoly position on the retail side by undercutting their rivals. It’s good for customers in the short term, but it’s not good for anyone in the long run: they’re sweating their suppliers, all the way back down the supply chain (read: to authors like me) and sooner or later they’ll put their suppliers out of business.
Anyway, my point is that the Big Six’s pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder.
A perspective on ebook borrowing that compares the Kindle experience with Overdrive (I think you can guess which is easier for the library user…).
Why is the e-book borrowing experience with OverDrive so atrocious? How is it that Amazon is able to make the “Kindle Books from Your Local Library” so easy, while OverDrive makes the process so painful?
Maybe I’m just not using OverDrive well. I know I’m confused at how OverDrive and Adobe’s EPUB eBook work together. And I wonder if my frustrating experience with Adobe Digital Editions and the OverDrive iPhone app is caused by me just not getting something?
As Barbara notes in the comments:
…The main reason that these lending options are clunky is that publishers really don’t want communities to share books. They dislike the idea of libraries, even though there is solid evidence that libraries are a major driver in creating a market for books. They can’t legally stop us sharing printed books, but they can disable sharing going forward. And most of them are doing exactly that. (By the way, that Overdrive system that is tricky? It costs libraries a large upfront investment. And the books libraries loan through Overdrive cost more per title than the print analogue.)
A second major publisher has altered the deal by which libraries can lend ebooks via libraryland über-vendor Overdrive. In February, the first publisher, Harper Collins, restricted the number of checkouts of its ebooks. Yesterday, word came down that Penguin Group USA is suspending libraries’ lending of the publishers’ new ebook titles. Given that with Kindle format ebooks, both new and backlist titles are affected, Penguin’s move essentially eliminates Kindle support from a subset of Overdrive’s collections.
Of course, I can’t help but think, “here we go again,” because this latest situation reinforces what we learned during HCOD about the weaknesses in the agreements through which libraries can lend ebooks. Libraries get handed restrictions major restrictions on content from publishers, without evidence of legitimate threats to their content; and yet libraries have no voice: Overdrive negotiates ostensibly on behalf of libraries; but when Penguin advised Overdrive to suspend lending of some of its ebooks last week, libraries were not advised. As Overdrive says it is “working with Penguin on this issue”, libraries are not part of that process: we cannot state our case and advocate for our patrons. Because libraries have given so much control to Overdrive, our relationships with publishers have been compromised. Libraries are not partners, we’re customers. So, Amazon can build ads into Overdrive, but we can’t build our values into Adobe Digital Editions.
The decision by Penguin Group (USA) to suspend library lending of its new ebook titles and to suspend Kindle accessibility for all Penguin titles has left librarians once again facing patron gripes and drawn condemnation from the president-elect of the American Library Association.
The change in policy, which Penguin justified because of “security concerns” in a statement released Monday, may also hinge, at least in part, on a glitch that temporarily leaves books on a patron’s Kindle even though the loan period has ended.
Maureen Sullivan, the president-elect of ALA, said that Penguin’s decision is a loss for readers.
“If Penguin has an issue with Amazon, we ask that they deal with Amazon directly and not hold libraries hostage to a conflict of business models.
» via Library Journal
My first experience at “borrowing a Kindle book from the library” has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. It did not feel like borrowing a book from a library. It felt like a salesperson had sold me a book with a “no-risk free home trial” and was pestering me to buy it at the end of the trial period.
I feel that Amazon’s commercial promotion is excessive, and imposes inappropriately on public library patrons. Would you allow distributor’s rep to stand in the hall, grabbing people on their way to the return slot, saying “Stop! Why RETURN it when you can BUY it instantly for just $12.95?”
Yes, some of the irritations can be sidestepped, and as a savvy user I now know how. But Amazon took advantage of my innocence.
Amazon attracts more customers to e-books, readers get free content, and publishers get paid. Everyone’s happy, right?
Wrong. The Authors Guild, which represents the interests of writers, blasted the program yesterday, saying that the lending library program is built on “nonsense” and a “tortured reading” of Amazon’s contracts with publishers.
“Amazon, in other words, appears to be boldly breaching its contracts with these publishers,” wrote the Guild. “This is an exercise of brute economic power.”
» via ars technica
Short answer: your library! :)
While the Kindle Lending Library is a great addition to Amazon’s lineup of services for Amazon Prime members, it is a bit limited in that you only have access to about 5,000 books right now, and you can only check out a few books per Prime account, no matter how many Kindles, users, or even devices running the Kindle app there happen to be in your household. If you own a different ereader, use a Kindle app for your phone or desktop, or just want more options, thousands of libraries around the country are home to large libraries of ebooks, ready and waiting for you to check them out.
I suppose this means PETA will come out against ebooks….