Amazon’s Monopoly? Publishers’ Doing.


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Dear Publishers,

I abso-bloody-lutely hate monopolies.

Have a look at the term monopoly on Wikipedia. You will read how monopolies have screwed humanity through the ages! Take the salt monopoly in China that dates back to the year 758. Okay, okay, if that’s too prehistoric for you, take the company store that gives credit, or sells food close by. Aren’t their prices always higher than normal shops? And the selection limited?

Somewhere during the late 1800’s Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Things have not changed. Monopolies have power and everyone dealing with them gets screwed.

Don’t worry. I am not going to make a political or social rant about how powerful governments are forcing smaller, weaker and hungrier countries to dance to their tune. I’m aiming my bullets at Amazon and its near monopoly in e-books market.

When Amazon launched Kindle and e-bookstore, you were the ones on top. Amazon needed your titles to attract customers. And you, my dear Publisher, were (still are!) convinced that your e-content must be protected. In fact protecting your content was more important to you than allowing your readers to read it. So you forced Amazon to add DRM to the e-books they sold through their platform. Not just Amazon, but all other players were forced into this too.

DRM is irritating as far as customers go. The customer needs to register every book or open a third party account, and is often stuck with lousy e-readers and reading experience.

Amazon obviously came up with their own home-brew. They aren’t called Amazon for nothing. They turned this problem into an opportunity and created a smooth ecosystem around their Kindle devices, Kindle apps, and e-bookstore. So long as readers stayed in their ecosystem, DRM would not come in their way. Buying and reading in that virtually impenetrable closed loop was easy nice.

Amazon created the best experience for readers before anybody else. Amazon’s Kindle was the first e-reader that the public loved, and it is, arguably, still the best tool in the market. These days Kindle in all its variations claims about 55% of the market. Apple, which ironically does not even have a dedicated e-reader, claims second place with about 15% of the market share. Nook, Kobo and Sony’s are not real role-players at this time. In the case of some individual publishers, Amazon’s share is even more Amazonian. 78% of e-books in UK and 60% in US for (any guesses?) Hachette.

The result? Amazon has a hold over the customers. So they now have power over the same publishers, you, who dictated the terms early on.

And is there a hope of this monopoly being broken? Not anytime soon if things remain the way they are.

Why? Here is why.

Let’s say I am a Kindle and Amazon user and want to buy an e-book from Flipkart, which is a major e-commerce player in India (though still relatively unknown outside India) and has a recent-launched e-bookstore too. Despite being a small player, Flipkart cannot take the aggressive step of selling DRM-free e-books to lure readers. You wouldn’t let them sell your content otherwise, would you? So, even their books are DRMed.

I can’t read the books I buy from Flipkart on my Kindle. A parallel situation would be where I may only read a print book from XYZ-shop if I also own and sit on the especially designed reading chair, from XYZ-shop! Sounds ridiculous, right? Not in the world of e-books. I have to switch the entire ecosystem and use Flipkart’s app to read books from their e-bookstore.

I may like their store, but not their app.  What then?

I stay with the safe ecosystem: Amazon’s.

Let’s consider another situation where I like not just the store or device, but the entire ecosystem of another player. Someone who was late to the market, but is good now. Say Kobo. It has pretty good devices, apps and store. But if I move to Kobo’s ecosystem, what happens to all the Kindle e-books I got? I love books. So my collection is huge. I don’t want it scattered across different devices. I don’t want to be carrying a Kindle, and a nook, a Kobo reader, then install a Flipkart’s app on my tablet and… It reminds me of my antiquated bookshelves, the ones I was trying to get rid of in the first place?

So I stick to Amazon.

And you the publishers are to be thanked!

Since I, the reader, will continue to buy from Amazon, they will continue to have you by the uhm…. pages! They can do what they want! Hachette will give in to Amazon’s demands. Perhaps they will make a face saving gesture or two, but you will see!

And you know what is even more ridiculous about the situation? DRM is a defective solution to begin with. Anybody can google DRM-remover software or DRM removed copies of e-books. Those who want to pirate books, pirate books. The only ones who are stuck in the mess are those who do not want to pirate, who just want to read easily what they paid to read.

You got us into this mess, and you can get us out of it. You created this reading disaster with DRM. Solve it by getting rid of it. Publishers unite! Throw out DRM! Give readers the choice of getting the best of all worlds, the choice of switching devices and stores at their will. Let them get out of Amazon’s ecosystem if they like another store or device better. Even if you really never cared about reader’s choice, you should at least care about your own future and drop DRM. Otherwise, keep getting arm-twisted.

But our profits! you exclaim. Which profits might that be, I ask, thinking of Hachette? Also, do not pretend that you have not heard about the Macmillan subsidiary, TOR’s experiment. Early in 2013 they abandoned all forms of DRM on their e-books. Over a year later, they could see no increase in piracy because it was not there! Those who pirate books, would never buy it. Those who want to buy it won’t go around pirating unless you force them to, by making it difficult or expensive to read your books legally.

Come on guys! Wake up before it’s too late.

Frustrated, but sincerely yours,

A Reader


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