Friday, February 17, 2012

Authors Guild Fires Its Own Shot at Amazon

Monopoly Man

Yesterday the Authors Guild joined in the attack on Amazon for what so many in the industry see as that company's unfair business practices.  Mincing no words, the Guild hammered home its main points at the website:
Useful innovation should of course be rewarded, but we've long had laws in place (limits on the duration and scope of patent protections, antitrust laws, stricter regulation of industries considered natural monopolies) that aim to prevent innovators and others from capturing a market or an industry. There's good reason for this: those who capture a market tend to be a bit rough on other participants in the market. They also tend to stop innovating.
Amazon's reward for developing the wireless e-reader should have been that it would become a significant vendor of e-books and earn a profit commensurate with the value it added to the publishing ecosystem. Whether it would then continue to be a significant e-book vendor should have depended on whether it continued to innovate and provide good service to its customers. Amazon's reward should not have included being able to combine its wireless e-reader, deep pockets, and an existing dominant position in a related, but separate, market -- the online market for physical books -- to prevent other vendors from entering the e-book market. 
...through creative use of its capital and ever-growing market power, by compelling publishers to participate in its free book-of-the-month club for Kindle owners, by requiring public libraries to redirect their patrons to Amazon’s commercial website to borrow books for their Kindles, by starting an imprint to compete for authors now published by the largest commercial houses, and, no doubt, by countless uses of its powerful database of consumer behavior, Amazon continues to tighten its grip on the book industry.  
...Barnes & Noble is book publishing’s sole remaining substantial firewall. Without it, browsing in a bookstore would become a thing of the past for much of the country, and we would largely lose the most important means for new literary voices to be discovered.
A truly competitive, open market has no indispensable player that can call the shots. The book publishing industry has such a player, and Amazon is poised and by all appearances eager to use its muscle to rip up the remaining physical infrastructure of book retailing and the vital book-browsing ecosystem it supports. 
In my effort to make clear the Authors Guild's position on the Amazon vs. Other Booksellers war, I have done more quoting than I like to do.   Please click on the link at the beginning of this post so that you can read the whole thing on the Authors Guild website.  This is getting serious.  If Amazon keeps growing its market share at the pace it is growing now, we will ultimately be faced with higher book prices, fewer choices, and few bookstores left to put our hands on books before they arrive in the mail - if there are still physical books to mail, that is.  I, for one, am horrified by the thought of a book world dominated by e-books.

I collect books, not bytes.


  1. I collect books, not bytes

    Very well said!

  2. Horrified is the word I would use, too.

  3. At its worst, Nan, we could be left with a book world we hardly recognize...and one that will be much poorer for the change. Surely, it won't happen but...

  4. I do not (*do not*) like the idea of the death of the bookstore or library. However, no matter how tight one holds on, the paper book is a dead letter. It destroys the environment to make and to transport, costs several times as much (which for many people means fewer books—would you endorse that?)), impedes getting the book you want becuase of "out of print" issues etc.... It will take time, but digging in one's heels will not change the result. I don't like the change in many ways, but it is inevitable. So what to do? Booksellers need to offer something besides the traditional control over supply.

    To me, electronic books will ultimately mean access to any book any time anywhere on the planet. That will mean so much to so many. We're seeing in in children's textbooks -- children's backpacks were becoming too heavy to carry. Although I will miss holding a paper book, I wish them a speedy death and a new dawn for literacy.

  5. Andrew, electronic books will never adequately replace paper books. There is no feeling of ownership when it comes to e-books. They are too easily lost to new technology and the "owner" is not even given the right to resell them, loan them to friends, or trade them among friends for other e-books. That is not ownership; that's renting.

    I won't even go into the differences I feel about reading an e-book as opposed to turning real pages other than to say that I do not enjoy the e-book experience nearly as much and would not read nearly as many books if only e-books were available. Too, I do not retain as much from electronic reading as I do from reading a physical book.

    As for the environmental argument, forests are harvested and replanted every year, all the time. The trees from which book paper are made are a renewable resource. Otherwise, the forests would have disappeared a long time ago. Have you given thought to how these "millions" of e-readers are going to be disposed of as they break down or become bricks because something better has come along? They are filled with elements that will do more harm to the environment than cutting down some trees and shipping books will cause.

    As for cost: e-books are becoming more expensive as there are more of them available, not cheaper. Eliminate the competition of real books and real bookstores, and I predict that the cost of an e-book will soon equal or exceed the cost of its physical equivalent.

    I do like the new textbooks and what they can do. I believe that e-books are perfect for schools of every level. I also believe that e-readers will encourage some kids to read that may have not otherwise learned to love reading.

    As for your wish that paper books meet a "speedy death" - that's rubbish. I think the world of publishing is ripe for some kind of business revolution, but what you wish for is certainly not the answer. Authors need a fair shake; killing off traditional publishing and sales channels is, however, foolish.