Kind of interesting that one of the best takedowns of Amazon’s statements on its dispute with Hachette comes from Bryan Chaffin writing at Mac Observer.
He talks numbers on page 2:
In a market where all ebooks are a maximum of $9.99, will book volume as a whole magically expand 74 percent? Not a bloody chance. Amazon doesn’t overtly state that it will, but its arguments are cleverly designed to let you come to that conclusion on your own.
The ebook market would certainly expand above and beyond the already-high annual increases we’ve been seeing for years. But most of that extra expansion would cannibalize print book sales. The overall book market would see a much, much smaller increase, and I can not imagine it would be enough to offset the total depreciative effect of the new, lower price points.
That’s a key point. Amazon is pitching its desired ebook price point as having only a positive impact on publisher and author revenues, and that simply isn’t the case. Most of the increased ebook revenues would come at the expense of print revenues, not be entirely new revenues.
But his most scathing comparison–and also the reason this article is at a tech website not a publishing one–comes on page 3:
Amazon is engaged in a race to the bottom with ebooks and print books alike, and that race to the bottom will take an ever-higher toll on book quality.
We saw what the race to the bottom did to the PC market in the 90s. Quality and innovation went out the window, and that happens with any race to the bottom. The only thing that arrested the decrepit decline that beset the Wintel PC industry was Steve Jobs changing the rules by which Apple competed.
Today, Macs remain high quality devices that Apple makes a healthy profit from selling. Apple uses those profits for R&D (and for the enrichment of its shareholders), and it was that R&D that led to the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iOS, iPad, and soon, something in wearables.
In the ebook market we saw the same effect on quality when Amazon was dumping best sellers below cost to gain Kindle share. There was no innovation in the ereader experience that Amazon created (to its credit) with Kindle until Apple changed the rules.
Rather than competing on price with iBooks, Apple competed on experience (and so did Barnes & Noble with the Nook). Amazon, too, was forced to increase the quality of the Kindle experience. When experience became the competitive factor, Apple gained share (as did Nook). Now we’re back to price, and Amazon is again gaining share, and I doubt we’ll see much improvement in the Kindle ebook experience.
Whether or not you’d agree with the exact comparisons (PC vs. Apple, Kindle vs. iBooks), the point here is that the monopolisation of the platform leads to an overall poorer end-user experience. Remember this is a guy writing on a tech blog talking about tech, not an author/editor/agent writing on a publishing blog talking about books.
We’ve seen effects like this over and over again in the tech industry: the PC market in the late 90s to early ’00s was woeful, until the rise of smartphones and tablets, led primarily by Apple and then Google, forced Microsoft to rethink what it was doing with its own ecosystem; Word monopolises desktop publishing1 and is a piece of shit because of it; Google and Facebook monopolise search and social respectively, and use their positions to strip-mine private data;2 and Apple is the App Store, which is starting to bring its own rumbles of discontent from developers and users that all sound mighty prescient of the situation with Amazon and Kindle.
The point is that price is not the only metric on which a company can compete. But it is the metric on which Amazon competes… and, apparently, on which it wants all its suppliers to start competing on as well.
Related: Kindle for iOS/OS X still sucks.
- Also publishing publishing. ^
- For a while it looked like Google and Facebook were shaping up to face off on each other’s turf. Then Google+ tanked, and so did Facebook’s foray into the smartphone market–whatever the hell that was called–and now that war seems to’ve gone a bit cold. More’s the pity. ^