Amazon drops IPG's Kindle titles. How ebooks' second storm will be the real test.

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Summary: Amazon drops IPG's Kindle titles over a contract lapse. IPG says the new terms are unacceptable. What does that mean? Don't know, but it's pretty clear that the eTether storm will make the eBabel one look like a minor excursion into madness.

BLOT: (22 Feb 2012 - 03:54:01 PM)

Amazon drops IPG's Kindle titles. How ebooks' second storm will be the real test.

Amazon Removes Kindle Versions of IPG Books After Distributor Declines to Change Selling Terms. Hat tip to Nick Mamatas.

The gist? IPG books are no longer on Amazon's Kindle marketplace. Or, well, more precisely: Amazon is no longer selling Kindle versions of books distributed digitally by IPG. Or, um, distributed by IPG from various publishers to Amazon who distr...anyhow. The digital marketplace is a madness about which I could spend entirely too long trying to be precise, here.

I'm curious, though, about what is actually going on. Is Amazon requiring publishers to charge more? Are they taking more of a cut? Or they demanding control over content? A combination? What would be the limits of madness here, what would be too much? 30% cut? 40%? A requirement to sell books for at least $4.99. Additional fees for services that were once free? An extra fee for a lack of DRM. An extra fee for DRM? A clause that adds new terms to the Kindle books and what customers can do with them after purchase? An Apple-esque forbiddance to have the books for sell anywhere else? Some of these seem unlikely, but these are dark times, as it were.

I wonder1 if articles like this are tapping into the general unease about Amazon, purposefully being vague so readers assume the worst . Right now, people of a certain mindset are ready and more-than-willing to hate Amazon - the new Walmart as it were - and saying things like, "I'm not sure what has changed at Amazon over the last few months that they now find it unacceptable to buy from IPG at terms that are acceptable to our other customers," is dripping in exactly the right sort of poisons to convince another 100 {500 | 1000 | 2000 |etc} customers that something is rotten in the State of Bezos. In cases like this, when it might simply be that Amazon wants a flat 30% and they want Amazon to take a flat 27%, vagueness can definitely work in the publisher's favor, implying a degree of enormity. Or maybe it is something more complicated than that.

For those that dislike complexity, the explanation at the core seems to be: (1) contract expired, (2) Amazon sent new contract, IPG did not like the terms [for whichever reason], (3) Amazon no longer has a contract [i.e. no longer the legal right] to sell IPG's Kindle editions. Amazon has stopped selling books without the right to sell them, and now IPG is trying to turn "bring back our books" into something of a backdoor "hurry up and take up the [old and/or newer with things more in IPGs favor] contract". The two go hand in hand, now, step-siblings with a nasty codependence. First Sale doctrines are out the window. You now need a special permission to sell books and generally special permissions to buy books. That "send now to Doug's Kindle" button means that both I and IPG have reached mutual terms with Amazon about what the button means for both of us.

The eBabel storm has been replaced by the eLicense, or maybe an eTether, one. In the last decade, ebooks, largely starting with Utopian ideas in mind about the freedom of distribution through the likes of Project Gutenberg, have wandered through a surprising number of trials. And this latter one may break it. I like the phrase eTether because it means both "the strings holding something down" and "the limit something can reach" and both are being tested in the same way: licenses, contracts, complicated multi-party deals, and backdoor non-specifics in which customers mostly just sit around and suffer. Though Amazon's infamous 1984 case has probably provided us-as-consumers a degree of protection [even when books stop being for sell nowadays, they are often left for those who already bought them], we still see relatively large shifts in policy as stuff like Penguin joining the ranks of others who refuse to support Overdrive happens.

In this case, Amazon is not cited, except by analysts, though people being able to check out books from a library, at home, without even a trip to the building is almost exactly what the publishers don't want. Eventually, those lucky enough to have a library card + eReader could suddenly be able to read anything they want, when they want, with the only consideration being that only a certain number of copies will be available at a time. In other words, the only scarcity will be what scarcity can be faked. Sounds wondrous, right? As a publisher, I can get why that sounds crappy, though. We are talking about the sort of people who print expensive versions first, then half-priced [lower quality?] versions, and then half-priced [and even lower quality, for sure this time] versions of those, in that order, to try and channel true-fans into a particular purchasing path. Even when thousands of books are discarded every year because this model has tons of flaws, publishers tell us that without this, that if they screwed up and let a mass market get published before a trade before a hardcover, that they would die in no time at all. They know this because they know nothing else and that seems the most threatening to their long term readers: accept our crappy business model or we might die, and then what will you read? huh? surely not the thousands and thousands of high quality books that already exist! you wouldn't dare!

My general message to publishers, distributors, and everyone else: now is not the time to put additional limitations on the technology. ebooks are not the de facto, yet, and much of this seems to be crippling a horse before it ever got the chance to run because the horse's owner made the mistake of assuming the first good gallop was a guarantee of a race-winner. Everyday, I'm more convinced I'm just going to stick to Project Gutenberg's titles. Thousands of the world classics designed to be freely shared. Keep your over-licensed potboilers, you know?

1: By wonder, I mean that I know that articles like this, with phrases about the need for independence are very much tapping into that, but I'm trying to get you to wonder about how far down this rabbit hole goes.



Written by Doug Bolden

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