Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Gazing at the Powerful

Amazon is once again punishing  publishers for not bending to their nefarious will. According to this story, “Amazon has turned off the buy button on nearly 5,000 Kindle titles from distributor Independent Publishers Group after IPG refused to capitulate to Amazon’s demand for better terms.”

Ahh, better terms, isn’t that what we all want? I’m sure all Amazon wants to do is buy ebooks from IPG for peanuts and sell them for slightly less than peanuts. The more Kindle books, the more need for a Kindle!

Despite this wonderful deal, they refused, at the cost of not having their ebook titles listed on Amazon.

This is pretty much what happened to Macmillan a while back when they told Amazon they wanted to charge whatever price they wanted for their ebooks and Amazon threw a hissy fit. You can always count on Amazon to act like a bully when they don’t get their way, just like you can always count on their excellent customer service. Maybe those two are connected.

They eventually caved to Macmillan and the others of the Big Six publishers. I don’t know if you can tell a lot of difference in the prices, since I don’t shop for Kindle ebooks. I still like to own books if I’ve paid for them, but that’s just me.

There might be less reason to cave to IPG, since they’re a distributor representing lots of small publishers. If it’s one thing that has less say in the ebook market than libraries, it’s small publishers.  Amazon possibly figures that anything less than a major corporation better knuckle under to the man.

It’s no secret that Amazon has reached borderline monopoly status with ebooks. Sure, there’s Barnes and Noble with their Nook books, and Apple and Google both want in on the game, but those are only for the unpopular kids.

They’re also the ones that can be borrowed through libraries, at least sort of. People might be able to read their epub books on their Nooks, but Barnes and Noble hasn’t branded library ebook catalogs the way Amazon has, and no one links straight from a library website to the Barnes and Noble website.

A lot of librarians were so excited that Big Brother Amazon was willing to deal with libraries at all that they were willing to overlook this bit of advertising, though a few librarians ranted about it.

Instead of trying to persuade publishers to rent ebooks to libraries, maybe libraries should go begging to Amazon. Maybe Amazon would force ebooks into libraries for a price.

It’s true that libraries can’t offer that much in the way of money, but they could certainly turn over most of their book budgets to Amazon. It’s the thought that counts, that and the willingness to be a supplicating sycophant for Amazon.

Libraries could also brand everything in sight with the Amazon logo. That’s a lot of free advertising for a company that really doesn’t need any free advertising, but again, it’s the thought that counts.

If publishers don’t play along, Amazon could just turn off access to their ebooks. Completely turning off access wouldn’t be the best idea. Turning off the access between the time someone has clicked on the link for the book and the time they try to buy it would be much better. Then they could be directed to buy the book via the Amazon channel at their local library. Or something like that.

None of this could happen, of course. I was just fantasizing about what it might be like if libraries had any leverage at all over ebook publishers. Instead, librarians can gaze on the glory that is Amazon and wish they had even a fraction of its power.

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Comments

  1. gatoloco says:

    The Standard Oil of the industry? Eventually such hubris catches up to even the largest of monopolistic enterprises. Hopefully Amazon can be convinced that a more egalitarian approach makes better business sense. I also sometimes wonder if those at the top of companies like Amazon, love reading in the way that I do. I would like to think so, but I know that is not realistic. If they really understood the mindset of voracious readers, perhaps they would realize what great partners libraries can be. That data certainly seems to be there.

    • Andrew says:

      “Eventually such hubris catches up to even the largest of monopolistic enterprises.”

      The problem is that monopolies like Standard Oil, Microsoft, etc. were providing essential goods and people tended to get ticked off if they used their monopoly to fix prices.

      Amazon, by comparison, is providing a luxury good to people that they can still get elsewhere if they don’t like Amazon’s practices. And when they do stretch their supposed monopolistic muscle from time to time it’s usually in the name of providing lower prices to the consumer so far.

      I don’t see anyone but publishers and authors getting upset about Amazon’s practices in the near future. The power and the PR is on their side for now.

  2. Al N says:

    Wow, how quick one is to pounce on this story and blame Amazon.

    Allow me to give you the truth.

    IPG had a contract with Amazon that paid IPG wholesale prices for ebooks. Basically, this is what the BIG 6 publishers had before the agency model.

    Because IPG’s clients were fine with the wholesale model, they allowed IPG to distribute ebooks for them, and IPG would take a cut of the profits. IPG was happy because it got paid. IPG’s clients were happy because they received near-agency model percentages for doing nothing.

    So that contract runs out. Amazon says to IPG, “We’re placing you on the agency model.” (Which is what EVERYONE is now on).

    IPG doesn’t want this. Since IPG is a distributor, it knows that after it takes its cut of the sales, its clients will not be happy with what is left. In other words, client is asking, “Why should I lose that much of a percentage when I can distribute this myself?”

    Basically, IPG knows it is not worth what it charges in fees for ebook distribution. Those small publishers can do this themselves and keep the full 70% (agency model take). This is why you see IPG asking for its colleagues to support it.

    In summary: IPG had a good deal that ran out. Amazon placed them on the SAME terms as everyone else. IPG doesn’t like this because it makes their services look like a ripoff. Basically a middleman is whining because it got marginalized.

  3. Al N says:

    I knew I left something out.

    The removal of the buy button on the Kindle books: Amazon says to IPG, “Set your prices for your ebooks.” (Which is what the uploader must do under the agency model).

    IPG says, “No.” (Because agreeing to set those prices means it agrees to the agency model).

    Now we are at an impasse. Amazon cannot set the price for IPG titles, because that would be saying that Amazon agrees to continue the wholesale model. IPG won’t agree because it doesn’t want the agency model.

    Amazon has no choice but to remove the buy buttons, simply because those titles are no longer priced. IPG can simply go in and set their prices and the buy buttons would reappear.

  4. Overworked Librarian says:

    I like Amazon… love my Kindle Fire. Sorry Al your whole rant was lost on me. LOL.

  5. gatoloco says:

    Good point Andrew. I just worry, at baseline, about an ecosystem becoming less diverse. Sometimes all of the ramifications are not immediately apparent. Just like the practice of monoculture, there may be many varieties of potatoes, however to keep disease away from the one dominant variety, genetic engineering and pesticides are used.

  6. Houston Librarian says:

    I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what point AL is trying to make here.

    Do you approve?

    Do you disapprove?

    Are you simply reporting?

    If I read it literally, it seems to say one thing. But the language is so hyperbolic in places that I can’t help but think you are trying for irony.

    I read and reread the article and basically it sounds like you are saying ‘Huh . . look at that. Doesn’t really affect me, but you know, whatever . . . . ”

    Is that the point?

  7. Duffy says:

    The publishers, at least the big ones, aren’t much better as they refuse to sell ebooks to libraries. It’s all big business. My hope is that some of the smaller companies like IPG, might be willing to deal with libraries. We can be the home of the “indy” ebooks.