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Monday, February 1, 2010

Newsflash: Amazon Tries to Poke out Curly's Eyes, Misses

The title link points to Charlie Stross' blog post describing how Amazon has "surrendered" in their pissing match with Macmillan over who gets to dominate the electronic book market (Macmillan wasn't trying).  I won't get into the whole sordid story, because a number of bloggers have already said a great deal about it, much more knowledgeably and articulately than I could.  If you've been off-planet all weekend, or are not at all plugged into the publishing industry you can read all about it in posts on Charlie's blog, and in posts (and the comments to them) on Making Light. If you want the news with a twist of snark, try John Scalzi's Whatever; read Tobias Buckell on the economics of book publishing, and why Amazon's actions were an attack on him and other writers.

My take on the action is that Apple's proposal of an agency-based deal with Macmillan and five other publishers, followed by the iPad introduction that clearly positioned it as a Kindle-killer, scared the execs at Amazon into action to shore up their strategy of dominating the future of ebook distribution by platform lockin.  So they tried a tactic that has worked for them before: extortion.  And it failed to make Macmillan cave. Although despite their "surrender" whine which tried to paint Macmillan as monopolists for insisting on a monopoly of the books they've bought from writers, Amazon has yet to relist Macmillan's books.

For my part, I sent a nasty email to Amazon on Sunday, and got back a mealy-mouthed customer service droid response.

My mail:
I understand that your recent action in removing books published by Macmillan from online purchase was part of what Amazon management perceives as a conflict between the two corporations.  But it seems to me that you have responded to a proposal from Macmillan intended as part of negotiation with a bullying tactic that hurts not only Macmillan, but your customers as well.  And I cannot see it as other than an attempt on Amazon's part to increase it's monopoly and monopsony positions in the publication supply chain so as to control the pricing and delivery of books in general. In particular I think you are attempting to control the publication of ebooks in the long term by making the Kindle the majority platform, and then preventing publication on other platforms.

I object to all those attempts on Amazon's part to control what I can read and how I must read it.  The attempt to extort submission from Macmillan is particularly objectionable, and not unique in Amazon's history; the same tactic was used against Hachette in the UK a year or so ago.  Now I am a good customer of Amazon, a member of Amazon Prime, and I have purchased thousands of dollars of books and other items in the last few years.  If you do not rescind this removal of Macmillan books from online sale in the next few days, I will cancel my Amazon Prime membership and refuse to purchase through Amazon in the future.  I certainly hope that you realize that I'm by far not the only customer of yours who feels this way.

Bruce Cohen

Their response:

We are working with the publisher to make their titles available as soon as possible and at the lowest possible prices for our customers. We will e-mail you when these titles are available, which we hope will be soon.

Just click the link for "new and used" offers for this title.

We hope to see you again soon.

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Please note: this e-mail was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming e-mail.

To contact us about an unrelated issue, please visit the Help section of our web site.

Best regards,

Gopi Krishna
We're Building Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company

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