The monopolists: You need to worry about Amazon too

Not content* with the audacious moves Kindle suggested, Amazon have made a big move in POD. James over at booktwo has some good words on it:

This is a pretty big deal. Amazon has around 15%-20% of the total book market (in the UK), but the vast majority of the online book market, which is growing all the time. Meanwhile, POD has been turning from a vanity publisher’s niche into a mainstream printing option – Cambridge University Press recently passed the 10,000 title mark (pdf news release) with Lightning Source. Big publishers are increasingly turning to POD to support backlist titles, while new publishers use the technology to bypass the industry’s traditional (and traditionally expensive) high print run, warehousing and return mechanisms (and yes, this is personal: an upcoming project of mine uses POD extensively – and not BookSurge).

You might say, “well so what”, it’s Amazon’s platform and they can tell people the rules, and to a degree you’d be right. But, and it’s a big but, Amamzon is using its selling muscle to grab market share in another area (a little like Microsoft using its windows monopoly to promote IE and here’s how that went down). Over at Personanodata, Michael Cairns has a nice piece on why it’s a concern:

Amazon hasn’t been merely a book retailer for some time. While many in the industry – PND included – can’t help but have admiration for this company they have amassed a level of market influence across the publishing value chain that should concern everyone. Today, the issue is focused on a small (ardent and vocal) minority of POD publishers who’s entire livelihood in many cases is dependent on the Amazon retail expanse. The WSJ should know better. Without being too dramatic, the release of Windows 3.1 heralded a period of intense exclusion at Microsoft: If you didn’t play ball with them you essentially had no marketplace. Perhaps at first blush the publishing industry doesn’t appear to have any correlation to the software world but with the migration to ‘platform’ based publishing (a publishing version of iTunes for example) we are seeing the germination of a world where there are only one or two legitimate channels to the consumer. If their actions in the POD world over these past two months are anything to go by then Amazon definitely has monopolistic tendencies.

It is worth worrying about, and keeping an eye on developments.

Tired after London and packing for our office move tomorrow,
Eoin

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5 comments

  1. A good case can be made that what Amazon is attempting to do violates anti-trust laws. Waiting for federal anti-trust action would take many years–years to get the Justice Department to act, years of trials, years of fussing over what the court decision means. Notice how long it took to deal with Microsoft’s tactics, despite the fact that the corporations they were bullying were large and powerful. None of us can afford that long a wait.

    Action at the state level, however, could move much faster, particularly if it involves off-the-record contact and a somber warning from those who can make trouble for Amazon. Amazon is headquartered in Seattle about a ten minute drive from the office of the Antitrust division of the Washington state attorney general. Here’s the contact information:

    Office of the Attorney General

    Antitrust Division

    800 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2000

    Seattle, WA 98104-3188

    http://www.atg.wa.gov/Antitrust/default.aspx

    Telephone: 206-587-5510

    Fax: 206-464-6338

    Note the remark on that web page that “The Antitrust Division only processes complaints that involve either Washington State residents or businesses located in Washington State.” Amazon is in Washington state, so it matters not where you are. You might also want to raise the issue with your state attorney general’s antitrust office, asking them to get in touch with their colleagues in Seattle. If you’re a publisher, encourage your authors to write. If you’re an author, encourage other writers to contact them.

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