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Amazon the Bully

Today I was going to write a long gushing celebration of the recent LJ Movers and Shakers, but when I looked at the list it turned out I hadn’t heard of any of them before. So, it’s on to other topics.

I don’t mean to keep harping on the businessy librarians, but with all the financial doom and gloom these days they’re the ones annoying me the most.

If you ever need an exemplary lesson about the difference between businesses and libraries, look no further than the recent move by Amazon to bully publishers by threatening not to sell their books if they don’t grab their ankles and let Amazon have its way with them. On second thought, the ankle-grabbing metaphor s is a bit crude for a family blog. Let’s just say that Amazon wants the publishers to lie back and think of England, especially those cheeky bastards at Macmillan.

This article from the Times sums up the story. Amazon wants to control the price of ebooks and keep them low. Book publishers (who are still trying to sell books as if the last 15 years hadn’t happened) want to charge more for ebooks and are willing to sell their souls to Apple for the privilege. Regardless of what happens, the losers will be readers of ebooks, but that’s not my problem.

Now, as someone who loves real books, I couldn’t be happier that Amazon is trying to kill off ebooks in their infancy through shortsightedness and greed. And it’s certainly not like the publishers aren’t doing their best to kill off ebooks all by themselves, since they still seem stuck in the twentieth century.

The publishers haven’t realized that just making ebooks available for sale isn’t enough. One might have thought they’d learn from the music industry that unless digital files are made cheap and portable enough, people will just pirate them and won’t feel bad about it at all. There are people who scan print books and post them online, and others will unencrypt ebooks as long as the digital rights are such a bloody mess. Publishers are so worried about protecting their property they haven’t realized times have changed and locked warehouses don’t work these days.

Maybe some day they’ll learn how to make money with new models, but Amazon’s not going to help them do it. Amazon is interested in making money for Amazon. Between publisher clumsiness and Amazon’s shortsighted greed, the long predicted dominance of theebook is still far in the future.

We often hear how libraries should act more like businesses, as if their goal were to make a profit. Remember a few years ago when the businesses libraries were most supposed to mimic were booksellers? At the time Barnes & Noble was the exemplar, with the clever thinking that if libraries spent a lot of money putting in comfy chairs and fancy shelves they could more easily get people to come in and use stuff for free. That’s how it ended up working for Barnes & Noble, after all.

Maybe now, libraries should try to be more like Amazon! If that’s the goal, they’re failing miserably. Just compare the two when it comes to providing access to books. Amazon is trying to keep ebooks as controlled as possible, with them having the control. They don’t want a free flow of information. They don’t even want a paid flow of information unless the payments are coming to them.

Contrast the poor libraries struggling to provide access to ebooks despite all the barriers. The ebooks libraries do get to lend aren’t compatible with any of the portable ebook readers, unless netbook computers can be considered portable ebook readers. NetLibrary and ebrary books can’t be read on Kindles, Nooks, or any of the other dedicated devices as far as I know, though I guess anyone gullible enough to buy an iPad will be able to read them.

Some libraries are buying Kindles, then buying the books to lend on them. It would probably be cheaper and easier just to buy some netbooks and loan them out to people. For all I know there are radical librarians out there scanning paper books and loading the files ontobittorrent sites. That might not be legal, but information wants to be free. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard.

Regardless, the two approaches couldn’t be more different. Neither is necessarily superior. Someone has to make money selling books so they can pay taxes to fund libraries, and it might as well be Amazon. But once again it should be clear to librarians that we have nothing essential to learn from the business world because our goals and values are completely different.

Thus, while Amazon does its best to stop the flow of books it doesn’t control, librarians are still plodding along with the crazy idea that the more people read, the better it is for everyone, including booksellers and publishers.

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Comments

  1. Dumb Cluck says:

    I am just a librarian.

    I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout marketing and finances and stuff. Marketing and money and contracts and deals and budgets are hard. I lernt that from the AL last post.

    I just want to check a book out and then check a book in and tell someone how to find something.

    I iz too stoopid and not prepared for such high falutin’ talks, right AL?

  2. 1234 says:

    Dumb Fluck,

    I think you may benefit from a visit to the merry old land of Oz. There must be something in that black bag for you.

  3. To the stupid chicken says:

    @ Dumb Cluck:
    You obviously missed the point in your rush to be offended. It isn’t that librarians shouldn’t or can’t learn about business, finance, etc. It’s that the goals of libraries are categorically distinct from the goals of businesses. So, when one chooses to model library policies after seemingly-successful business strategies, one must do so with heaping grains of salt, at best.

    Or, just because Amazon deals with books and libraries deal with books, that does not mean ideas that are good for one are necessarily good for the other.

  4. Dumb Cluck says:

    I am confuseled now.

    Should I worry about books or should I worry about management.

    The AL confuseled me.

    I may have to kill myself.

  5. Librarydolt says:

    Wow. There just seems to be a lot of ignorance involved here. How dare Amazon try to make money AND keep costs down! Lets how get made at Amazon for forcing those publishers to market to the kindle. Maybe I am missing the point and this is a critique of a library and not Amazon’s buisiness practices.
    But seriously, Amazon knows how to make money off of eBooks. It’s obvious that these other publishers don’t know how to.
    Go Amazon!

  6. Karl says:

    Information, by its nature is social.

    Trying to impose a capitalistic constraint on information, IS WRONG!!!!!!

    Information wants to be and needs to be free.

  7. beginning entrepreneur says:

    I thought part of the cost of something was the amount of material and labor that went into it.
    Now both a hard copy book and an e book have an equal amount of intellectual labor. But a hard copy book has a casing which costs some extra money do make.
    And a cloth bound casing is usually more expensive than a paper casing.
    So shouldn’t the ebook cost less than a hard copy since it comes in a package even less expensive than either cloth or paper?

  8. 5678 says:

    “Trying to impose a capitalistic constraint on information, IS WRONG!!!!!!”

    How old are you?

  9. Karl says:

    Old enough, junior.

  10. 5678 says:

    “Trying to impose a capitalistic constraint on information, IS WRONG!!!!!!”

    Let’s see just how divorced from reality we can get with Utopian Ideology(TM) from Hasbro; it is a fun game to play, kind of like Dungeons and Dragons.

  11. Karl says:

    “Let’s see just how divorced from reality we can get with Utopian Ideology(TM) from Hasbro; it is a fun game to play, kind of like Dungeons and Dragons.”

    Just how much are you going to pay Hasbro to get an ill conceived and corporate view of everything.

    If you have kids, I bet they sleep in Barbie jammies and watch American Idle to get their dose of culture.

    Live long and prosper.

  12. 5678 says:

    “If you have kids, I bet they sleep in Barbie jammies and watch American Idle to get their dose of culture.”

    No, everything I do I make from scratch, from the shirts I wear to work (I get the wool from the sheep in my yard and sow them on my loom), to the food I eat (which I get from the farm I tend and which I cook on an open flame), to the car I drive (which I made in my garage which has a fully equipped machine shop), to the books that read (which I wrote myself) to the medicine I take (which I made in my chem lab down in the basement).

    But, hey, a fool’s paradise is better than none! they say.

  13. Karl says:

    I was wrong about you.

    You have many talents. You should come share them down at the collective. Nobody here has near the talent you do.

    If we could only entice the AL to come on board, we would be set. We lack really good journalist snarkers.

  14. 5678 says:

    I know I have many talents! I’m not getting paid the big bucks in the public sector for nothing.

    As far as “sharing” my talents: I will for a price $$$.

  15. Librarydolt says:

    Why is there always a marxist socialist commentor on every post? Is this the new thing to be on the internet? Anarchist-> Athiest-> Socialist?
    The level of smug is overwhelming. I hate to say it but American Idol and Barbie ARE culture. Maybe not the kind you like but it is still culture. I guess since we are all obviously not as smart as yourself we should look to you to tell us what we, the foolish masses, should like?

  16. just another librarian says:

    Yikes! A lot of trolls on here!

    I agree with Librarydolt and beginning entrepeneur…why should ebooks be more expensive than they already are? They should be far, far cheaper to disperse than hard copies of books. And consumers and libraries shouldn’t have to pay more than they’re worth to compensate for other problems the publishing industry may be having. Ereaders are already an expensive investment. Raising the price of ebooks would make them pretty useless and inaccessible for a far greater number of people, in my opinion. I think the key in profitability would be having more people be able to buy cheap copies (b/c they are also relatively cheaper for the publishers to produce) than in gouging the few people who are able to buy ereaders anyway. It just builds resentment.

    As for the whole thing about libraries being run like businesses…the goals of libraries are distinct from businesses in many ways, but there are some useful commonalities. Through taxes, patrons are paying for our services. We have to make ourselves seem valuable to them and give them what they want, to a certain extent. If that means comfy chairs and a coffee shop, so be it. I don’t think it’s in our best interests to tell our users what they should want or need, we need to be responsive. And, yes, I think marketing has it’s place. Especially in an economy when most places are cutting library budgets we need to work hard and prove why we are such a valuable resource. And isn’t that what marketing is all about? I don’t think you need to be a specialist in marketing to market your library. I think you need to be a good librarian and use common sense.

  17. Lidrarybolt says:

    There are marxist socialist comments on every post because libraries, especially public and academic, and librarians, especially public and academic, are the last bastions of pure, unbridled smug socialists that you will find this side of the pond.

    They think they know everything and how everything should be done.

    With the exception of how to innovate and keep your library up-to-date and modern.

    Keep on truckin’ folks. Say hey to them at the unemployment office.

  18. Dumb Cluck says:

    So Mr. just another librarian, to succeed, I have to go to school and gets a MBA?

    Who will read the hungary caterpillar to the kids while I go off and learns about queing theory and stuff?

    I just wants to be around books and not have to worry about all that other stuffs.

  19. 5678 says:

    Out of the thousands of librarians employed in both academic and public libraries as compared to the significantly low percentage of which comment on blogs, of which an even lower percentage makes comments supporting socialism, your overwrought generalization, librarybolt, is pretty silly.

  20. Lidrarybolt says:

    That is Mister LiDrarybolt to you.

    Learn to cut and paste.

    There is money in it, that should keep you happy seeing as how you get not gratification of any kind without it.

  21. 5034 says:

    “Learn to cut and paste.”

    This criticism is so lame, laughable.

    Why does everything have to be either/or with people like you? If you’re not “socialist” then you are “capitalist.” Us and them thinking; sweeping generalizations; gross over-simplifications and so on. Is this the best you can do, Mr. LiBrarybolt?

  22. just another librarian says:

    a). What makes you think I’m a man?

    b). If you had read my post you would have seen where I wrote all you need to market your library is to be a good librarian (read: do your job well) and use common sense.

  23. Dumb Cluck says:

    You write clear easy to understand sentences, so I figured you had to be a man.

    So, I don’t have to do anything but read books, check books out, answer questions and everyone will come to my library?

    wowser

    wait until I tell my boss.

    With the money we save we can cut out budget and save the taxpayers.

  24. 8930 says:

    Dear Ms/r Dumb Motherflucker

    Ah, hell, I just had to say it! I really have nothing of great import to add, unlike everyone else on here.

  25. an inquiring mind says:

    RE: “Trying to impose a capitalistic constraint on information, IS WRONG!!!!!!”

    I wonder whether Marx published his books at his own expense and then distributed them free of charge, or whether he had them published and received royalties from them?
    Anybody know that? How about you, AL? You mentioned once that Marx never set foot in a factory, so maybe you can speak to this as well?

  26. Miss Prim, Librarian says:

    Please watch the language.

    There are children’s librarians here and we do not appreciate the obscene, socialist language.

    Thank you.

  27. Gruel says:

    I think books should be free!

    … oh wait. That’s part of my job, isn’t it? Damn the system!

  28. The Gruel Shoes says:

    Your books are free?

    Great!

    How did you do that? I want to be able to go to my boss with your plan. He is always complaining about how our tax income and grant money is always going down, so we cannot afford more resources.

    If I go to him with this free book thing, I will be a hero.

    Let us all know, soon!!!!!

    Thanks!!!!!

  29. 4902 says:

    a) All books are free.

    b) Nothing free has worth.

    c) Therefore, books are worthless.

  30. librarEwoman says:

    I find the statement “information wants to be free” to be very interesting, especially in relation to libraries. Everyone seems to toss around the word “information” in reference to what libraries distribute to our patrons. We do, sometimes, help patrons find information (factual sources) they want for research projects, etc. But much more often, in a public library, the patrons are looking for something that I would not call “information.” Patrons reading fictional works aren’t reading for the informational content. They are reading for the artistic value, the entertainment, and the stimulation of their imaginations. In these cases, writers are a lot like artists. Should artists get paid for their work? I think they should be compensated fairly. The real issue in this whole thing is where all the money is going to go from these high ebook prices. The writers probably won’t see any of it. That’s a shame.

  31. librarEman says:

    TRUE artists have an in born need and desire to create.

    They will do it whether they are compensated or not. I kind of lean to the not camp.

  32. Lyle Blake Smythers says:

    librarEwoman, thank you for taking the words out of my mouth. “Information wants to be free” always riles me.

    (1) Information is not a sentient entity, has no brain, and thus does not “want” anything.

    (2) Information is the distance from the earth to the moon. Information is Shakespeare’s birth and death dates. Information is the capital of Ohio. A novel is not information. A song is not information. These things are not and should not be free.

    As Robert A. Heinlein would remind us if he were still here, TANSTAAFL!

    (Hey, look it up. It’s information)

  33. Shame on You says:

    Shame on you Library Journal for giving the Branch Manager of Shaw Library an award for movers and shakers; it must be really easy to be a mover and shaker when everything is brand new. I remember not too long ago when the staff didn’t even have a public restroom to use in the temporary facility.

  34. Running Dog says:

    You are all capitalistic pigs. Any time money changes hands, it makes the process dirty, tainted, and vile.

    You all love money, and the love of money is the root of evil.

    You evil, evil, evil librarians.

  35. Raynor says:

    “But seriously, Amazon knows how to make money off of eBooks.”

    They do? Then why are they losing money?

  36. 4:51pm EST says:

    You socialist people, don’t you know that friendship with the AL is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the AL becomes an enemy of God.

    Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the silly capitalists he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace by means of Amazon.com That is why this blog says:

    “God opposes the socialists but gives grace to the capitalist pigs.”

  37. sdlibrarian says:

    Thanks for another good blog post. Always insightful.

  38. Hero says:

    From scanning the comments, I’m pretty sure no one has answered a simple factual question that came up in the post. Only Kindle is proprietary about the ebooks that can be read on it. The nook and Sony ereader are compatible with epub and other formats used by libraries.

    So remember–only Amazon truly hates libraries.

  39. Zero says:

    No No No Hero

    EVERYONE hates libraries and librarians.

    Just wanted to clear that up.

  40. me too says:

    Hero, you think iPad is gonna want to play in the same ePub and PDF format as Sony and Nook? Have they ever shared? NO. So both iPad and Kindle want to rule the ebook world. Screw em.

    BTW, all boobs should be free, too.

  41. me too says:

    There Ain’t NO Such Thing As A Free Lunch — and i didn’t have to look it up. That’s why I’m a librarian. My mind is full of little bits of information. Don’t want to play Trivial Pursuit with me.

  42. BonjourDuck says:

    Stewart Brand, 1984:

    “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”

    Please keep that context as the quote lives on.

  43. vv.richard6 says:

    sangambayard-c-m.com

  44. Another librarian says:

    $9.99 is far, far too much for an electronic file, new or not. There are no printing, packaging, shipping, and return costs associated with them, like there are with print books.

    No matter what Amazon or the publishers do, this format will find it’s own magic price point. For music, it was $1.00 or less per song. There is already piracy of ebooks – the “pirate or buy” game will follow the same path as it did with music.

    The publishers will eventually find a price that people will pay without feeling they are being ripped off, and things will settle down. In the meantime, though, they will spend hundreds of millions on legal fees, DRM tricks, and other nonsense that will virtually erase any real profit they could be making.

  45. Scrooge says:

    “$9.99 is far, far too much for an electronic file, new or not. There are no printing, packaging, shipping, and return costs associated with them, like there are with print books.”

    Amen.

    There is no intellectual value at all here.

    Books are valuable for their paper, ink, cardboard, and glue content.

    Go climb under a rock, idiot.