What are we going to do about Amazon?

I was reading a summary of Amazon’s bullying of Hachette — basically, Amazon used it’s near-monopoly power to shut out an independent publisher — and that, on top of it’s labor practices, tells me I need to find a way out of the Amazon trap before they become a full monopoly.

But here’s the catch: I live out in the boondocks. The nearest bookstore is a 50 minute drive away. I am addicted to the Kindle app — I can use my iPad to click on a title and get it zapped into my hands in 30 seconds, like magic. So I went searching to see if any other bookseller has similar functionality. Barnes & Noble has an app that will let you search their inventory and find a nearby store (I looked. Two hours away.) Powell’s is even worse: it assumes you will show up at their door in Portland, Oregon, and their app provides an interactive map to help you find your way around their store.

These are not useful for me.

Does Amazon already have an effective monopoly on e-books? To rebuke Amazon, am I going to get off my e-book addiction and start reading those old-fashioned things with ink and paper again?


  1. carlie says

    The problem is that they are all proprietary with their ebooks – you can do the same zip-and-it’s-there thing from Barnes and Noble… on a Nook. But none of them will allow such easy transferring between platforms.

  2. says

    I agree with Charlie — that’s a very clear summary of the problem.

    So what’s the solution? How does somebody with no bookstores anywhere in the area support a distributor other than Amazon?

  3. Alverant says

    I got this app on my Google Nexus called Aldiko. I haven’t read many ebooks but I’m exploring the app and you can link to their website (Feedbooks) which has a section for public domain books. I saw “Art of War”, “On the Origin of Species (6th ed)”, several books by Jules Verne, “Frankenstein”, Sherlock Holmes books, a whole lot of classics for free! It does just seems to be for the android so you may have issues.

  4. kc9oq says

    Look at it this way: 25 years from now you (or, someone) will still be able to read a paper-and-ink book published today. 25 years from now will your Kindle still even operate?

    This doesn’t address the issue of how to buy paper-and-ink books if you don’t have a bookstore in your area. We’re fortunate to have a B&N outlet (though that company is circling the drain IMHO) as well as good a good second-hand bookstore.

  5. remyporter says

    Setting aside the broader issues of DRM and vendor lock in, since you have an iPad, you’ll find the iBooks app very nice (honestly, nicer for reading than the Kindle app, in my opinion). I prefer to buy my books through that.

  6. kathleenmcnamara says

    I think you can get a nook app on other devices, which I’ve heard is quite similar to the kindle app. There’s also other ebook options out there, but i don’t know if there are app versions of them.

  7. marko says

    I got the kindle pretty much exclusively for a nice reading format for the wealth of books on project Guttenberg, however, I have been caught by just how slick the kindle app is, it just works really nicely across my kindle, my phone, and computer and the purchase process for books is child’s play. However, I have really tried to discipline myself to not use Amazon at all recently, I think there is very little to redeem them as an organisation, and it is not just the book industry they are swallowing, it is just so hard to avoid them. I guess I’m lucky, spoiled for choice with the big city, but how long can they resist the might of Amazon?

  8. Ulgaa says

    You can run kindle on the Nook, best of both worlds there. The Nook app works on plenty of devices as well.

  9. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Well, there is iBooks from Apple, but is that really any better?

  10. brett says

    Hatchet isn’t an independent publisher – they’re owned by a big conglomerate themself. This is a big conglomerate in contract negotiations with an even bigger company.

    I’m not real worried. Amazon will get slapped down hard if they try to jack up e-book prices suddenly, and there’s not a lot of barriers to getting ebooks out there in one of the open formats.

  11. kevinv says

    If you have a Kindle I believe you can load DRM free ePub books but I don’t know the process.

    If you want an eInk screen there are several, including Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Not sure on selection.

    If you’re comfortable in all Apple devices then iBooks is nice (this is what I use). You can buy from Apple or mostly easily load DRM free ePub (either on device or via iTunes).

    If you wish to strip DRM from purchased ebooks to move to another device:

  12. Jason Dick says

    You can take a look at the books on Google Play. Their selection certainly isn’t as large as Amazon’s, but the transition is fairly painless as long as you have an Android device: you can use the Kindle app to read all your Kindle books in the mean time.

  13. Becca Stareyes says

    kc9oq @ 6

    Of course, the problem I have currently is that electrons on a data storage medium take up much less space than ink on paper. I’m at a point in my career where I can expect to move a few times in the next decade (and right now, I don’t have the space to use the books I have), so I have to stick to digital media at the moment. I can imagine others in similar situations.

    I can replace the books I’ll read again once I have a place to keep them.

    PZ, I know B&N sells ebooks (I have a Nook). I think there’s other (legal) sources for epub files as well, but I’d have to look around.

  14. marcus says

    Kobo is an open-source e-reader that you can purchase through your local independent bookstore and download books wirelessly. A portion of the proceeds will be distributed to the bookstore where you purchased the Kobo. Those of us who are (barely) making a living selling the real thing will appreciate you for it (more than we do already, which is a lot). Not to mention as kc9oq noted at #6, after the zombie apocalypse (if you still have your brains) you will still have something to read.

  15. says

    For e-books, I buy from Kobo. Not only are Kobo devices nice than Kindles (and the app is also very acceptable) but as far as I know Kobo has never deleted books from a user’s device.

    Best of all, Kobo books use the Adobe DRM solution Adept. There’s a simple plugin for Calibre that lets you strip this DRM to keep a copy of the book that you can port to any device (they’re in the universal ePub format).

    Stripping DRM for personal archival purposes is absolutely legal and I think everyone should do it. I keep my books in my Dropbox so I have access to them everywhere. My house could burn down tomorrow with my hundreds of paper books but my e-books would be safely protected in the cloud. Even if Kobo and Adobe went out of business tomorrow I’d still be able to read the books I bought legitimately.

  16. kevinv says

    Oh for DRM free epub I use Project Gutenberg that someone else mentioned. Baen sells it’s books DRM free and has the very nice Baen Free Library of free books (https://www.baenebooks.com/c-1-free-library.aspx). I also buy ebooks from authors sites and Humble bundles. If an author says they have an iBooks version and it doesn’t link to iBooks Store then it’s DRM free.

    Publishers have the option to sell DRM free on iBooks but no indication is given to those that are.

  17. says

    With regard to Kobo’s smaller library, it can handle sideloaded books in more formats than Nooks or Kindles, so it doesn’t really matter where you get them from.

  18. says

    I really should probably find someplace else to self-publish than Amazon’s Createspace.
    Not a clue what to do regarding ebook apps since I still use dead tree-books.
    I might have to start calling them that. Tree-books.

  19. markgisleson says

    PZ, this is a wilderness filled with shades of gray. I’m currently listing an elderly friend’s library on Amazon. Amazon not only tolerates, but encourages sellers to list books for a penny (+$3.99 shipping/handling). Their warehouse workers are treated like dogs, walking well over ten miles per shift for little more than minimum wage and with picking goals that Amazon itself admits are unrealistically high and cannot be met by any worker.

    If you buy used books, the authors get zip. But I’m also sure you don’t want to pirate books also because you want the authors to get paid. Why not pirate the books and mail the authors a buck or two?

    The system is broken, and it’s not your job to fix it. Publishers and distributors are no longer necessary, and — especially on the textbook side — drive up prices so all the superfluous suits can keep their phony baloney jobs. Everything done by Amazon could be done more efficiently for pennies per book.

  20. peterh says

    The Kindle app runs nicely on my Galaxy 8. There are many sources for free and for-fee epub files.

  21. fentex says

    I bought a Cybook Odyssey (had to have it shipped from Germany) exactly because I wanted an ebook owned more by me than any distributor.

    I like it, and it too does connect to a book store directly.

    I have no qualms about buying books from one place or another and using open source tools to convert formats to a standardised unprotected epub format. I do not care about the legal situation, any law against format shifting cannot be respected.

    I’ve had experience now with four brands of ebooks (Kindle, Nook, Cybook, Boox) and each one has had a store to buy from connected to it.

    Of course what we ought have is the ability to hop store to store on any device utilising open apis and formats thus engendering competition to everyone’s benefit (well, everyone except corporate share holders).

    That isn’t an impossible ambition. It seems to me dedicated eink ebooks are not going to last as phablets screens improve and peoples preference in keeping utility in one device the general computing devices will become the outlet for online publishing and eventually the need to address unofficial duplication will compel publishers to abandon drm and adopt open apis so as to be able to create commanding products that compete.

    As long as they aren’t allowed to distort laws and commerce by imposing their desire for monopoly through law.

  22. says

    I use Calibre to manage my books and Marvin to read them. I was OK with ibooks until the upgrade moved all my books to a hidden directory and made it impossible to work with Calibre.

    Buying – well, that’s a mix. So far I have not avoided amazon 100%, though I have cut back. Big publishers’ books may only be available on amazon, and that Kindle daily $1 deal is quite a lure. But there are quite a few small places. I recently got a bunch from http://weightlessbooks.com/ and Baen books has a lot of their catalog available on line, some for free & some to buy. I’d say, check the publisher.

    Sometimes I torrent – I have my own ethical principles for when I do that as opposed to buying. But I prefer legit if feasible.

  23. jrfdeux, mode d'emploi says

    Another voice of support for the Kobo. I love my Kobo Aura, and when I’m without it I just fire up my (admittedly inferior but still very usable) iPhone Kobo app. And the app syncs in the cloud with the Aura so I never lose my place between devices.

    I still buy my kids Real Books, and I’ll always spend money on a beautiful physical version of a book I treasure, but the bulk of my reading these days is done via my Kobo, and I save a ton of money. And trees.

  24. says

    28: jrfdeux: I’m pathologically unable to get rid of my hard copies (and even when I tried on moving house charity shops gave them a lukewarm reception due to the massive glut of paper books at the moment) so for me buying electronic books instead is a way of preventing the need to move more than a ton of books every time I move house, plus it overcomes the storage problems that having a large library but a small apartment provides.

    I have a Kobo Aura too and it’s a fantastic device. The backlight in particular is an excellent feature.

  25. Vaemer-Riit says

    While this will not help with purchasing e books there Is a program called Calibre that has a plug in that can rip the DR off of Amazon e books and then convert them into any format you want.

    This will let you keep any e books you already own and use them with whatever new system you get.

    If anyone is interested I will post more when I get back to my computer.

  26. narciblog says


    Amazon not only tolerates, but encourages sellers to list books for a penny (+$3.99 shipping/handling).

    You know, I’ve noticed this on the used book sections and I just don’t understand it. Is it that the actual shipping is less than $3.99 and you make money on the difference? Otherwise it just doesn’t make any economic sense at all.

  27. says

    I’m torn on this issue as well. I love my Kindle and how my books are on the cloud and can be read from any web browser using the Kindle cloud reader. I love that there’s an app for my smartphone that can give me access to my digital library. I’m an Amazon Prime subscriber and find it extremely convenient to shop there for a variety of items, not just books…all with free, fast shipping. On the other hand, I detest monopolies. I’ve been fighting tooth-and-nail for net neutrality and instead we’re seeing mergers and acquisitions by major players in the service provider space. All this serves to give consumers less choices and in the end gives the companies more control over what they charge and what features they provide.

    I wish I had a good solution to offer up. Boycotting tends to not be very effective in these matters as the vast majority of consumers don’t give a crap unless their pain threshold reaches a certain level.

  28. kc9oq says

    There’s no doubt that digital media are space efficient. The big issue with digital media is how is it propagated into the future. The Museum of Radio and TV in New York has a huge collection of TV programs from the 60s, but no one can watch them. The reason: they’re recorded on a short-lived half-inch open-real videotape medium and there are only 2 working players for this medium left in the world. Once something is cast into the digital medium, it’s up to someone to carry that medium forward. Who decides what’s worth preserving? What are the criteria? When it was first in theatres, many thought “Vertigo” was a flop. Now it’s regarded as a classic.

    For a while I ran a side business I called a micro-bindery. People could send me manuscripts, journals, diaries as text or word-processing documents and I would print and bind them in limited-run, hand-sewn hardcover editions. The books I made wouldn’t last 25 years, they’d last a hundred because I used only archive-grade materials and adhesives. My customers were people who wanted their words to be preserved.

  29. J. R. says

    Google’s tablets can download books from Google Play and all the other sources mentioned above. We have one that we use when traveling just to keep the luggage weight down.

    Powells will overnight tree-books (I like that!) to you UPS if you can stand a 2 day wait for them. If you can go with slow freight I think shipping is free… they’re not just in-person.

  30. says

    Another fan of the Kobo Aura HD. It will sideload any epub or pdf file (including ones from the library). My only problem is that it won’t eject from my desktop after syncing/recharging unless I turn off my computer entirely. I think I’ll try to follow up on getting that glitch fixed/device replaced.

  31. ramirofernandez says

    Kobo nthed. I have a Kobo Aura (not the HD) and it’s a beautiful piece of kit. Smaller, lighter than the Kindle, with a better screen, faster, and a completely flat front which makes it look much more modern.
    The Kobo bookstore doesn’t have quite the selection as Amazon, but the device isn’t as locked down and supports a much wider range of formats. You can buy books from Google Play Books (which has a range comparable to Amazon I believe).

    The Kobo Aura is a bit pricey but last year’s model (the Kobo Glo) is still very good and a good price, though it has a resistive touchscreen which can be a pain, the extra money for the capacitive touchscreen is worth it. The Kobo app is also quite good on Android (can’t talk for iOS version though).

    If you need a decent physical eReader with a good store of books, you can’t go past the Kobo. If you’re happy reading on your iPad, then Google Play Books is probably your best bet.

  32. says

    I don’t have problems ejecting it from my computer, but when I look at PDFs with the Kobo Aura HD, it’s got about a half inch of dead space on the bottom that annoys me. I could be looking at a larger image without having to zoom twice.

  33. marcus says

    Thanks aziraphale @ 21 You gave a much better description. I sell Kobo but I still read hc-books. I confess I download my audio-books from Audible (Amazon). :( (But I love them so for commuting.) I just got one called “The Happy Atheist” of all things. :)

  34. says

    Ah, no. Powell’s books is owned by Michael Powell. The employees are unionized, but there us a long history of bad blood between Powell and the union, and the store is in no way an employee-owned shop.

  35. ck says


    Given that Apple was found to be engaged in price fixing on ebooks, I’m not sure buying ebooks from Apple is any more moral than buying them from Amazon. Given how indignant the management of Apple is over that ruling, I’m not sure that supporting a company that feels they ought to be entitled to break the law if they had a really good reason is a good idea.

    Mind you, I’m not suggesting going with Amazon either.

  36. says

    Another problem with Amazon is ordering from overseas. If the book is from another supplier in their chain Amazon won’t process the order. Annoying because Amazon usually also sells the book at its inflated price and will deliver overseas. I use Alibris and can often find the same book from the same supplier as Amazon but it will be delivered overseas. The other service I use is BookDepository because the cost includes postage anywhere in the world. This means you don’t arrive at the checkout and find the postage costing more than the book. It is also usually cheaper than sellers who ad the postage at the checkout. As for ebooks, I prefer to have a book in my hand to read. I only buy them if I need the book in a hurry.

  37. Kimpatsu says

    I think PZ suffered a brain fart; he misuses the apostrophe twice in this one article.

  38. richcon says

    The largest publishers themselves have the power to break Amazon’s ebook monopoly, simply by releasing their books without copy protection for sale on their own web sites and whatever partner stores they want. To Apple’s credit they’re using an open format under all that copy protection and you could easily install an unencrypted third party ebook on an iPad from any publisher’s web site. Tap “Download”, then tap “Open in iBooks”, then done.

    Sadly Amazon does not make it so easy. At least on my older Kindle you have to download the file, convert it to the proprietary Kindle format if necessary, and then copy it to the Kindle manually over USB.

    Publishers haven’t done this since they’re worried about piracy — which honestly is a big problem. But I remember Tor announcing that they stopped selling ebooks with DRM and it hasn’t affected their piracy losses.


  39. ricko says

    What’s the problem?

    I use an iMac and an iPad (as well as a Nook)… I can read the books from Nook on any one of them. I can also read them on my Google Netbook, my PC laptop and on any Linux laptop (I’ve got one of those too.)

    What is the advantage Amazon has? I go to open source, Nook Store or Apple Store. I’ve avoided Amazon.

  40. numerobis says

    Hachette and “independent” are funny words to read together. Hachette is one of the biggest francophone publishers anywhere. I hadn’t realized they had expanded into the anglo world.

  41. ricko says

    “Given that Apple was found to be engaged in price fixing on ebooks, I’m not sure buying ebooks from Apple is any more moral than buying them from Amazon. Given how indignant the management of Apple is over that ruling, I’m not sure that supporting a company that feels they ought to be entitled to break the law if they had a really good reason is a good idea.”

    Sounds like another reason to do something to Apple!

    They “broke the law”… Really? They lost the case, and I guess that’s “breaking the law”, but on the other hand we have Amazon doing what? To whom? Oh, yeah, Hatchette.

    Darn, we could have DONE something about that!

  42. jstackpo says

    Check with your local public library — ours (here in the affluent East) loans e-books (various formats, Kindle, E-books, others I think) in conjunction with an iPad app called OverDrive (strange name). All free!

    All I need is a standard library card as part of the login procedure. The number of e-copies available for loan is limited – the seem to have a rental/royalty(?) setup with your friends at Amazon and other sources which limits how many copies they can have out at one time — just like hardcover copies. So you may have to wait. I haven’t checked to see if “The Happy Atheist” is available.

    But it works just fine.

  43. ljbriar says

    Have you used Scribd? I only discovered it a few months ago, but I’m hooked. It’s a membership thing a la Netflix, but you can easily read it on your tablet or PC, and MOST of the books are covered by the membership. Some you have to purchase (which is annoying). But I’ve read a ton since signing up.

  44. Eridius says

    Like a few others here, I recommend iBooks for ebook reading. Their selection isn’t quite as large as Amazon, and they don’t do the same crazy discounts Amazon likes to do*, but overall it’s my favorite platform for reading ebooks. It’s also the best general-purpose EPUB reader, so if you find DRM-free EPUBs (some online stores will sell EPUBs) you can load them into iBooks. Apple also doesn’t treat the publishers like crap the way Amazon does.


    * To my knowledge Amazon is actually scaling back on these discounts, precisely because they’ve pretty much accomplished what they were trying to do, which is dominate the eBook market. They were discounting some books lower than they were paying the publishers for them, and that’s obviously not sustainable. Basically, they were engaging in predatory pricing, to prevent competitors from gaining any marketshare (after all, who would buy a book from a competitor when it costs less at Amazon? And what competitor would match the prices that ensure they actually take a loss on selling the book?)

  45. markgisleson says

    narciblog, the penny book racket is just sad. Mostly it’s done by bookstores that have huge numbers of books that, because of bad changes in tax law, cost them money to warehouse. Yes, they sometimes lose money by selling them for a penny ($3.99 shipping is OK if you send the book by media mail for $2.50 but labor, etc.), but they lose more by keeping the books in a warehouse. Literally their only other option is to destroy the books.

    It’s a terrible dynamic but it won’t get fixed because it doesn’t involve any billionaires.

    The real tragedy is that ebooks are efficient and virtually free. We need to rethink how we do these things. How is society harmed by the widest possible distribution of books and music? There are other ways of compensating authors and composers other than royalties, with government payments based on download volume a sound option. Tax money for writers and musicians makes more sense than wasting it all on munitions and war.

  46. ck says


    My mother used to tell me, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Apple couldn’t and didn’t want to compete with the discounts Amazon offered on their ebooks due to the wholesale model they had with the publishers. So, they conspired with the publishers to force Amazon into a fixed pricing model that suited Apple better, and also resulted in the publishers collecting more money. This resulted in ebook prices going up. It is fundamentally anti-competitive and anti-consumer, regardless of Amazon’s misdeeds.

    I honestly don’t understand why some people feel compelled to defend a company that is doing something bad…

  47. richcon says

    ck: the price fixing Apple was charged with involved letting publishers set the prices of ebooks sold through the iTunes Store, and requiring publishers to offer it through the iTunes Store at the lowest price available anywhere. I personally don’t have a problem with the first, bit I do take some issue with the second.

    But either’s better than Amazon’s regular practices, since Apple also gives publishers a full 70% of the sale price. Amazon used to keep 70% of the sale price and only changed it to match Apple’s royalty rates after Apple entered the market. But it’s still not quite the same; Amazon now pays publishers 70% of whatever Amazon decides to set the price at while still subtracting a “delivery fee” of 15¢/MB. (Apple’s delivery costs are included in their 30%.) If publishers opt out of letting Amazon dictate their wholesale pricing for them, they then have to let Amazon keep a full 65% of the book’s list price.

  48. Eridius says

    @ck A lot of people, myself included, are of the opinion that Judge Cote made an extremely serious error in ruling that Apple was guilty. There has been a lot written on the subject, including opinions from legal professionals and economists as to why the “per se” ruling was flat out wrong.

    But all you really have to do is look at what happened. As Apple stated repeatedly during the trial, they believed that what they were doing with these vertical agreements with each publisher was providing competition to Amazon. And they were right; in the wake of Apple entering the market, other competitors like Barnes & Noble started doing better. And since the ruling, Amazon has only gained more of a monopolistic position, and the competition has withered away. Basically, Judge Cote claimed that by finding Apple guilty she was allowing competition to flourish again, but instead she was just giving Amazon the green light to resume their anti-competitive practices (such as predatory pricing).

  49. Eridius says

    @ck You really take the accusation of “price fixing” seriously, don’t you? But the sort of vertical agreement Apple had with the publishers is usually considered to be a legal “corrective measure” when employed by a new entrant in a market with a dominant player. It’s generally only considered to be anti-competitive when employed by an existing player with a significant marketshare. And it definitely isn’t “price fixing” in the way that most people consider the term, which is collusion between competitors to sell at the same inflated price. This was actually pretty much the complete opposite.

    The agreements Apple had with the publishers basically said “if you sell cheaper elsewhere, you have to let us sell at the same cheap price”. The goal of this agreement was to allow Apple to compete with the other vendors, because if Amazon is selling a book at $9.99 that Apple is selling at $14.99, people will naturally buy from Amazon.

    The reason why this had the effect of stopping Amazon’s predatory pricing discounts was because Apple’s entry into the market also gave the publishers the leverage to force Amazon to switch to the Agency model. This switch was wholly independent of the Most Favored Nation clause; it would have happened without the MFN as well. Publishers also had the leverage to demand the ability to set their own prices instead of letting Amazon set it. The MFN clause helps here, because if Amazon set a low price, Apple would match it, and the publishers would get less money.

    So basically, what Apple provided was a leveling of the playing field. There was no collusion here to inflate prices, only a set of agreements that allowed Apple to fairly compete with Amazon. It also had the effect of letting the publishers dictate prices. In the short term, yes, this meant prices rose, because the only reason they were so low is Amazon was artificially depressing them. But in the long term, this would have resulted in a much healthier, much better market, for both publishers and customers. There’s no reason to believe Amazon’s discounts would have lasted any longer than necessary to establish complete dominance over the entire market, and once that happened, prices were likely to rise to whatever level Amazon wanted them at. I found an article the other day from a year ago saying there’s evidence it was already starting to happen, with quotes from authors whose books Amazon started increasing the price of and who were not happy about it.

    And in the long term, I’d much rather have the publishers set prices, then to have a single monopolistic seller like Amazon set them. With the publishers, they have to compete with each other; if one publisher raises prices, they’ll lose sales to the other publishers who have cheaper books. But with Amazon, they can set prices however they want without worrying about competition.

  50. NDDave says

    I use a Nook for my eBooks. Like with the Kindle, I can buy and download books with a couple of clicks, either in the Nook or at Barnes & Noble’s website. DRM is not an issue as there is a handy plugin for Calibre that can remove the DRM from my books, allowing my to view them on any e-Reader.
    My Nook can handle ebooks that I buy from other sites as well, once the DRM (if any) has been removed by Calibre.

  51. Dale Brayden says

    Wow, PZ. Not very skeptical of you to take a single hit-piece in the NYT blog and base your decision to boycott / avoid Amazon just on that. It may be you weren’t paying attention four years ago when Amazon had a similar battle with McMillan. The issue, then as now, was that Amazon wanted to sell ebooks at any price they wanted; and the publishers insisted that they be sold at exactly the PDP (Publisher Demanded Price). In that case, Amazon lost, as did every customer of big-5 published ebooks.

    This time around – who knows? Maybe Amazon will prevail. And maybe we’ll get to buy discounted ebooks. Or not. We don’t really know how the negotiations are going. Since Amazon is run by adults, they haven’t felt the need to go whining to the press, so all we hear are the pitiful cries from Hachette and its top-shelf authors. We don’t get to hear about the predatory pricing and collusion between the big-5 publishers, whose author royalties and retail pricing remain in lockstep, even after their conviction for anti-competitive behavior.

    I. for one, hope that Amazon kicks serious ass. I would love to buy discounted ebooks. And if Amazon has to play hardball to get there, then so be it. If you’re really jonesing for Hachette print or ebooks, go to bn.com, or use kobos, or go to your local bookseller. Oh, wait. Despite having had years to see what’s coming, all those local bookstores haven’t yet figured out how to make money selling ebooks. Too bad they’re just not very good at adapting. But, bn.com.

    Reading the comments has been amusing: they alternate between deploring what a “monopoly” Amazon has, and recommending the multiple ways that you can get your books without Amazon. That’s quite a monopoly!

    So, sure. Boycott Amazon. Encourage everyone else to do so. If you’re really successful, you can probably get your own book sales down into the low triple digits per month. Go, PZ, Go!

  52. says

    Nice to see some people have already pointed out that the Apple verdict was pretty egregious. (And, as always, the anti-Apple crowd love to harp on it without actually having examined what was going on. Sad.)

    I have a Kobo Mini, because it was the cheapest thing available at the time which didn’t require you to permit the device to be an advertising medium. The interface is terrible compared with pretty much every alternative I’ve used (it has no apparent way to zoom illustrations, so if the editor didn’t take tiny screens into account you won’t be able to see anything other than the center part of large illustrations), and the touchscreen is absolutely pathetic (the latter is probably a function of price), but the battery charge lasts forever. (In both senses: I don’t think I have ever used the thing so much that it actually ran out of juice, and also I once left it on my desk with about a two-thirds charge for about three months, and it still had more than half a charge left when I finally needed it again and unearthed it.) The Kobo store tends to send you a lot of spam with semi-misleading offers, along the lines of “50% discount on new titles” which turns out to be short for “50% discount on a very short list of new titles which are all self-published romance and mystery novels so terrible that by rights we ought to be paying you to read them”. (The packaging on mine also promised something like “100 free books pre-loaded” and there was nothing there and no way to make any sort of claim. Not that I actually wanted those books — my first move was actually going to be to wipe them from the device, but to discover that they were not available despite the packaging gave me an uncomfortable feeling of having been a victim of bait-and-switch.)

    The iBooks app on Apple devices — now including non-iOS devices, thankfully — has a very slick interface, and as others have pointed out you can load non-DRM-ed ePubs and PDFs onto it, but Apple really doesn’t seem to like the ePub standard as-is, and occasionally generic ePubs which are loaded into iBooks have things stripped out — little things like the table of contents, for example. (They seem to be gradually getting less stupid about this, and the most recent version hasn’t done this to any of the books I’ve tried, but if full ePub compliance is more important to you than the user interface, then I suggest using something else for now.) Also, of course, if you’re on a larger Apple device — an iPad or an actual Mac laptop — then battery life will be an issue. All the slickness of the GUI and the crispness of the display comes at a price; the iPod doesn’t seem to have a problem with this, but the iPad does. (And, of course, the iPod has a much, much smaller screen.)

    (Incidentally: if you want to make your own properly-formatted ebooks — rather than just the plain ASCII text files which Project Gutenberg mostly specializes in — then stay away from Apple’s software. Pages can technically produce ePubs, but the process is ill-documented, doesn’t produce results which are particularly well-matched to the formatting of the original document, and multiple people have reported problems with the result, and iBooks Author doesn’t produce real ePubs at all — it makes files which apparently are usable only in Apple’s devices. There is a FOSS program called Sigil which is somewhat unstable and has a terrible GUI, but if you know XHTML and are willing to save frequently and put up with a lot of terrible interface decisions, it really will permit you to edit the contents of the book exactly, without compromising the format.)

  53. Craig Smith says

    This isn’t the only time Amazon’s been criticized for unethical practices. We’ve known for quite some time now that Amazon is very abusive to its workers – they set up shop in desperately poor areas, burn through all the workers that can’t meet their ridiculous quotas, and then demand special treatment from municipalities for oh-so-graciously choosing their town as their next victim. This is junk we’ve known about for years now, it’s not any one article.

    Secondly, your post was suspiciously pro-Amazon, so I Googled your name. You wouldn’t happen to be Dale Brayden, former Amazon Software Engineer, would you? Normally I wouldn’t dare to go down such a personal line of inquiry, but the way you glossed over the posts in this threat without reading any substantive arguments struck me as very…Shill-ey.

  54. Craig Smith says

    Also, thanks to all the commenters that mentioned Kobo, I’ve literally never heard the name. I’ve got a pretty good Android tablet and as they have an app for it, I’m going to go ahead and stop buying my e-books from Amazon. I’ll contact some of the smaller authors that self-publish with Amazon to see if I can buy their stuff anywhere else.

  55. abelundercity says

    My public library loans ebooks through a company called Overdrive, which distributes their app via the library website. While it’s often a lesson in artificial scarcity (the publishers’ arrangement with Overdrive dictates that only a certain number of copies of a given book can be “loaned out”), the selection is pretty good and I’m never without reading material.

  56. The Mellow Monkey says

    NDDave @ 57

    I use a Nook for my eBooks. Like with the Kindle, I can buy and download books with a couple of clicks, either in the Nook or at Barnes & Noble’s website. DRM is not an issue as there is a handy plugin for Calibre that can remove the DRM from my books, allowing my to view them on any e-Reader.
    My Nook can handle ebooks that I buy from other sites as well, once the DRM (if any) has been removed by Calibre.

    Seconding this. I’ve had a Nook since the very first Nook was available and have always been pleased with them. I believe it was here on Pharyngula where I learned about Calibre, which has been phenomenal. I can use it to format non-epub documents so that they’ll be easier/prettier to read on my Nook or convert epubs I’ve purchased to something else.

  57. says

    I’ll be looking into Kobo as well. One of the wonderful and unexpected side effects of my Nexus 5 – my first smart phone or tablet of any kind, bought less than a month ago – was the discovery that the screen is easily large enough and high-resolution enough to make a very serviceable e-reader for me. So I went to grab some EPUB files from Project Gutenberg – complete Lovecraft, Poe, AC Doyle, various early fantasists, plus a selection of Great Russian Novels that I got on some Russian sites, and a bunch of other stuff, all free.

    And, for the first time in my life, I’ve had the ability to do something with a book that the authors or the people who read their stories when published never did: read horror books in the dark. Use the night settings, white-on-black, and I don’t even need my reading glasses to do it while lying down, because i can use the damn zoom.

    I freaking LOVE the future. Also, if your phone is one with the ridiculous HDTV screen like this absurd +3 talking brick of magic of mine, consider using it as a reader. I was stunned how good it is, and I’m a serious devotee of tree-books, mind. But carrying a quite comfortably readable library in my purse is kind of a big, big bonus. Now I’m not stuck with just whatever book I happen to have dragged with me: I can pick one book on my first bus, then a different book while I wait for my connection, then a third when I get on the connection, and a fourth in the doctor’s office, and…:D

    I freaking love the future.

  58. Ichthyic says

    don’t buy kindle, or rely on amazon, or apple…

    buy yourself a tablet that runs linux and download a good ebook reader app, and go grab whatever you want.

    I was disappointed with ALL of the monopolies on offer.

    fuck them all.

  59. neverjaunty says

    Another vote for Kobo for ebooks. Especially because you can remove the DRM. As you know, you don’t really ‘own’ your Kindle books, and Amazon can and will delete them from your library if it believes you violated its TOS.

    For dead tree books, second/third/etc the recommendation for Powell’s, which also sells used books. I don’t have the greatest opinion of Michael Powell, either, partly for reasons mentioned upthread, but his business is run by angels compared to Amazon’s business model.


  60. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    Smashwords I’ve bought some ebooks from, and sometimes direct from authors. Baen has already been mentioned. I don’t bother with Nook as B&N won’t sell outside the USA last I knew.

  61. ck says

    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs) wrote:

    (And, as always, the anti-Apple crowd love to harp on it without actually having examined what was going on. Sad.)

    I’d point out that I’m not actually anti-Apple (I have and do frequently recommend Apple products since they are actually usually very good), but I don’t think it’d matter. If you want to believe Apple was a Robin Hood of the story, valiantly stealing from the evil Sheriff of Amazon and giving to the poor, I don’t think I’ll get anywhere arguing with you, but from where I’m sitting, it’s like choosing between Kang and Kodos. I won’t buy ebooks from Apple, but neither will I buy them from Amazon.

  62. jaggington says

    Ichthyic @66 (and others who seem more concerned with paying as little as possible)

    don’t buy kindle, or rely on amazon, or apple…

    buy yourself a tablet that runs linux and download a good ebook reader app, and go grab whatever you want.

    I was disappointed with ALL of the monopolies on offer.

    fuck them all.

    Perhaps take the time to consider how books are created. The publishing industry is far from perfect, but then what industry is? If you like a book so much that you would want to read it and perhaps read it more than once, then please don’t rationalise stealing it to yourself with nonsense like “it’s not really stealing if it’s a digital copy (e-book)” or “publishers/Amazon/whoever are evil and don’t deserve my money”.

    In the music industry, musicians get support from all sorts of professionals who go largely unsung (sic) by the general public – venue managers, sound engineers, promoters, A & R, producers etc.

    There is a similar framework of support in publishing – commissioning editors, proofreaders, editors etc – who (usually) love books and also like being paid a fair wage for their work.

    When you acquire a digital copy of a book/song/film without paying for it, you are not “sticking it to the man”, you are spitting in the face of some ordinary person who is trying to earn a living.

  63. says

    @70, ck:

    If you want to believe Apple was a Robin Hood of the story, valiantly stealing from the evil Sheriff of Amazon and giving to the poor, I don’t think I’ll get anywhere arguing with you, but from where I’m sitting, it’s like choosing between Kang and Kodos.

    If you bothered to actually read any of the accounts of the trial, pretty much everything that was done which was even remotely culpable was done by the publishers (who were, it’s true, acting in collusion), but the publishers were essentially given slaps on their wrists while Apple really got blasted.

    Apple was neither Robin Hood nor the Sheriff of Nottingham. Their crime consisted of requiring publishers to agree not to undercut them via other resellers. (Maybe there’s some severe economic consequence to that which I’m overlooking, but for the life of me I can’t see why this is actually such a terrible thing. If they had said “you have to charge everyone else more than us“, that would be different, but I don’t see why “you have to give us a price as good as you give anyone else” is quite so objectionable.) The judge, furthermore, has set one of her friends to be in charge of ensuring Apple’s “compliance”, and by all accounts the guy has no particular experience in the field (he has had to bring in consultants on the actual points of law) and he is abusing his authority by making demands on parts of the company which have nothing to do with ebooks at all — and he charges so much per hour that since the ruling he has probably made more money than everyone commenting on this thread, put together, made in the last year (paid, of course, by Apple, under legal compulsion; and the same judge who chose him as monitor was in charge of denying them a request to have someone else put in charge).

    (I may be misremembering, but ISTR that this was also the judge who publicly announced, before hearing the case, that Apple was “probably guilty”. That sort of behavior was what got the ruling that Microsoft was a monopoly, back in 2000 or so, dismissed. Then again, I might have that confused with the judge in the Samsung/Apple trial, who has done a few dubious things as well.)

    In a way, it’s not such a big deal — big corporations can afford this kind of thing, and Apple certainly has cash to spare. But in another way, it’s terrible: the decision was pretty much naked cronyism on the part of the judge, and even though Amazon is guilty of pretty much everything which Apple and the publishers were accused of, and much more, the government has not yet made any moves towards even investigating Amazon, let alone taking them to court. And the decision, as mentioned above, actually made the market worse for small players by cementing Amazon’s monopoly and knocking out a move to produce a second large market in competition with theirs. In effect, by choosing to pursue that case, rather than prosecuting Amazon, the government was protecting Amazon’s effectively-monopolistic power in the marketplace.

    So, in conclusion: proclaiming Apple’s legal loss on the e-book front as some kind of victory for the common man is a gross misrepresentation; it’s very much the contrary, on more than one level.

  64. jaggington says

    IIRC one of the biggest issues was Apple wanting to set specific price levels for books – 12.99 US$ or 14.99 US$ for newly released blockbusters, for example. This was higher than Amazon’s usual 9.99 US$ (and possibly in line with over-the-counter hardback editions?). The publishers saw Apple’s launch of iBooks as an opportunity to re-negotiate with Amazon – don’t forget that Amazon were charging 70% commission and could set whatever price they wanted.
    None of them – Amazon, Apple, “the publishers” – were entirely innocent but Amazon abusing its monopoly position in this way was not a part of the trial.

  65. Pen says

    I use Kobo on my IPad. I also have Kindle installed on it, so I have the choice. Kobo is typically a bit more expensive, but then again, Amazon don’t pay their taxes. Consequently, I don’t get the services their taxes would have paid for. I do use Amazon sometimes, but I would rather not.

    The other side of the coin is the author’s over-reliance on Kindle and Amazon these days. I can’t remember what your deal is PZ, I presume you have a publisher which gives you less control. In theory, on your own marketing pages, you could try to nudge people in directions other than Amazon. I expect to publish a book independently in the next six months or so. I’m going to try to rig the pricing so Amazon at least isn’t cheaper, and donate some of the money from Amazon proceeds to the kinds of things the tax should have been spent on. This is a stupid thing for an independent author to do btw, because Amazon also has a tendency to get nasty with the small fry in the face of criticism, but it’s a thought.

  66. blf says

    Another reason to not have anything to do with Amazon is they evicted Wikileaks from their cloud service due to political pressure. That is, the USAlienstani government (in the form of Senator Lieberman) told Amazon to remove Wikileaks (due the embassy cables disclosures), and 24h later, Wikileaks was removed.

    So add “authoritarian stooge” to “appalling labour relations”, “monopolistic ploys”, and other charges (probably including operating dubious tax avoidance schemes in multiple countries). Amazon is clearly trying to be The Most Evil Corporation on the Planet.

    I have never purchased anything from / via Amazon and almost certainly never will.

  67. rorschach says


    you can do the same zip-and-it’s-there thing from Barnes and Noble… on a Nook. But none of them will allow such easy transferring between platforms.

    Which is why I recently bought a Sony PRS-T3 E-reader. It does all formats including pdf/html/txt, has wifi for anytime downloading, SD expansion slot, and works DRM or no DRM.
    I already have more books on it that I can ever read in my lifetime, and none of them came from Amazon.

  68. andyo says

    Ichthyic, by “Linux” do you mean Android? Cause the former, I can’t think of one, but the latter are ubiquitous.

    Re: bookstores, I have a Kindle account, have a Nook e-ink reader, and I have iOS and Android devices. The Kindle books can be read pretty much on any tablet or PC, but the format is proprietary. You cannot upload epub books to the reader, but you can upload PDFs (basically useless as books). The Nook has apps and it’s compatible with epub, but I don’t think you can upload books to the cloud.

    Nowadays I’m using and buying books on Google Play Books, which has apps for Android and iOS. Most, if not all, non-Amazon e-readers and apps accept epub, and at least the big-name ones support Adobe’s DRM, which makes the ebooks you buy readable on any other such reader (for instance, I can use Adobe’s program to read my Play Books books on a computer). With Kindle books, you have to strip the DRM and convert to epub with Calibre, and even then the conversion is not 1:1. Some appls claim to read (DRM-stripped) Kindle’s mobi, but from what I tried, there’s only text, with minimal or no formatting.

    Android devices are more open, meaning that you can just download books from any website (e.g. Project Gutenberg), and upload them to the cloud via Google Play Books, and have them readily available on any other device with GP Books (iOS or Android). iOS can’t do that, and that’s understandable given other advantages the more closed system has, but what really pissed me off and made me swear off iBooks is when Apple decided that only iBooks could link to its own store from its app. The others can’t let you buy books for them directly, you need to open a separate browser, log in and buy from there.

  69. knowknot says

    When the means of comfort are owned by unsupportable entities, the only real option is a little less comfort.

  70. Ichthyic says

    The publishing industry is far from perfect, but then what industry is?

    dumbest argument you could have possibly made.

    from this persepective, why bother trying to create change in ANY industry? After all, none of them are perfect.

    the only ways to change industry is either to remove profitability from them for bad business models, or directly regulate those models.

    on the latter… just how seriously do you think the world takes anit-trust laws any more? laughable.

    on the former… got a better idea for removing profitability from the broken Amazon/Apple model?

    no, you don’t.

  71. Ichthyic says

    Ichthyic, by “Linux” do you mean Android?

    well, android is based on linux, but yeah.

    aslo, the newer tablets actually can run linux. I’m running Ubuntu on mine (you need to hack your tablet to do it), and Ubuntu has big plans for tablets in the near future as well:


  72. says

    Yep, I threw in my two cents about the whole debacle with Hachette here, and I’ve stopped offering Amazon links at my site. Monopolistic, extortionate thuggishness is good for no industry.

  73. sandworm102 says

    There is a large regional (mostly in the South and East) chain called BooksAMillion whose ebook app is compatible with iPhone and iPad. bamm.com

  74. Katie Anderson says

    Have you tried seeing what your local library offers? Many have some sort of system for borrowing e-books. I don’t know if Amazon is involved or not, but it is worth looking into.

  75. jstackpo says

    I checked on the Overdrive web page and the good old Morris MN Public Library is included in their list of available libraries.

    Go for it, PZ!

  76. jaggington says


    dumbest argument you could have possibly made.

    from this persepective, why bother trying to create change in ANY industry? After all, none of them are perfect.

    on the former… got a better idea for removing profitability from the broken Amazon/Apple model?

    no, you don’t.

    I wasn’t advocating a change to the publishing industry and I don’t think the Apple/publisher agency model is particularly broken, imperfect yes. Some people want to pay less for books – and substantially less for e-books editions because the marginal cost of duplicating and distributing them is nigh on insignificant. I was pointing out that just because you think you should pay less (or even nothing) doesn’t mean that you are entitled to do so. What exactly are the “bad business models” in publishing that you would want to remove profitability from to change the industry for the better?

    From the linked article:
    Physical bookstores sell books at a huge markup, which necessarily reduces the number of books that people can afford to buy. Amazon sells printed books, e-books and audiobooks for much, much less. Anyone who has used Amazon’s services has noticed how that fact changes one’s attitude toward books. Through its Prime program, through the Kindle, and through its audiobook subsidiary Audible, Amazon has made it possible to buy books on impulse.

    It has always been possible to buy or access cheap books on impulse – just go to a library or charity shop or second-hand bookshop. The physical bookshops *had* to sell at a markup because they had bills to pay – rent, utilities, salaries, local and national taxes, all things that contribute to creating a community.

  77. hillaryrettig says

    Here are some alternative views from reputable sources:



    And I’m an alternative view – and an Amazon success story. This merits a longer discussion, but Amazon is behaving differently (smarter, actually) but no worse than Hachette and the traditional publishers have done *for decades.* Those companies monopolized distribution (with the assistance of the bookstores) whenever they could, shutting out many people – like me. And they have done basically a terrible job.

    Amazon has been terrific for me as an independent writer / publisher who couldn’t even get traditional publishers to return her emails. It’s enabled me to leave my day job, and create literally a global business (books in English, Spanish, Japanese, and soon Hindi and Russian). They provide not just distribution but fantastic support.

    And I’m far from the only one. There are many like me, in all different fields.

    Amazon has also been good for the culture, by allowing these diverse voices a platform.

    Might Amazon turn on me and the other indies one day? Absolutely. And I’m aware of the risk and won’t whine about it when it happens. It will be partly my fault for overrelying on one distribution mechanism (a classic business mistake). My only hope is that I can leverage Amazon right now to build my global brand to the point where I can carry on without them. (I do sell on Kobo, iTunes, and some others.)

    There is absolutely no excuse for Amazon’s labor abuses, and I abhor those and hope for change. And I do feel sorry for writers who are like drive-by victims. But part of their problem is that they’ve hitched their star to a wagon that was obviously faltering. Other writers – some famous, some obscure – could easily see there were better business plans to follow even if they involved some short-term inconvenience.

    I have almost no sympathy for senior executives in traditional publishing / bookselling industry itself – in my view they are like banksters hoping for someone else to clean up after a mess of their own making. (Add a whiff of incompetence and elitism.)

  78. jonathanray says

    All the observed phenomena are (to me, at least) obviously consistent with being caused by an automated feedback mechanisms for dealing with low inventory. Many sites automatically raise prices and demote ranking of items that have low or no inventory. Many sites state shipping times according to when they expect to receive inventory. Amazon limits preorders according to the expectation of available inventory. The most likely explanation is that the dispute with the publisher is drying up the supply of inventory and thereby causing these phenomena through automated feedback mechanisms. Assume good faith until proven otherwise.

  79. Travis Odom says

    Sure, Nook is DRM’ed and proprietary, but so is Kindle. They’re essentially equivalent if you’re not interested in cracking the DRM. Nook is a drop-in replacement for Kindle. I’ve used both on all of my Android devices.

  80. ck says

    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    …but the publishers were essentially given slaps on their wrists while Apple really got blasted.

    The publishers all settled, while Apple fought to the bitter end. There is no way that Apple will ever end up paying the judgement against them, but it wouldn’t make sense for the DoJ to seek the same penalty for Apple as the settling publishers got.

    Their crime consisted of requiring publishers to agree not to undercut them via other resellers.

    They were basically the ones who ‘encouraged’ the publishers to collude like they did. I believe the intention was to treat them like the ringleader behind the action.

    Maybe there’s some severe economic consequence to that which I’m overlooking, but for the life of me I can’t see why this is actually such a terrible thing.

    The end result of this backroom deal is that ebooks did get more expensive. Besides, the real reason Apple negotiated this was about their own platform — the iPad. No one is permitted to sell stuff in their apps without giving Apple its fixed 30% cut and using Apple’s payment service. So long as people could save a significant amount of money by going through the trouble of going to Amazon’s website every time they wanted to buy an ebook, Apple (who does not compete on price on anything) could not really compete. If Amazon (and Kobo and…) was suddenly forced to sell at the same price Apple was being offered, there would be no reason for customers to jump through the additional hoops of buying through Amazon from their iPads.

    So, in conclusion: proclaiming Apple’s legal loss on the e-book front as some kind of victory for the common man is a gross misrepresentation; it’s very much the contrary, on more than one level.

    Amazon is almost certainly guilty of a laundry list of antitrust crimes that they ought to be investigated for. However, taking the ill-gotten power away from Amazon, and merely handing it directly to the publishers is hardly an improvement.

  81. frog says

    I am probably repeating people, but:

    I have a Nook. I also have an iPad.

    I can download Nook books to my iPad via B&Ns Nook app–available for free at the App store.

    My iPand and Nook automatically sync with each other! That is, if I’m reading a book on one and then switch to the other, the other asks if I want to open the book where I left off on the other device. (This is limited by whether the other device was actually hooked up to the internet at some point in there.)

    I also download my Nook books to my desktop computer for local storage. In theory, they’re also on B&N.com for me for as long as B&N exists, but whatever, I bought ’em, I’m taking ’em. I will not comment on whether deDRM is a thing.

    B&N also delivers physical books to me as fast as Amazon. I live in a state where Amazon collects sales tax, so there’s no financial incentive other than the straight-up price of the book, but for a few bucks I’m willing to stick with a business whose practices I prefer (or at least detest less).

    I wish I could find an alternative to Amazon for non-book things. There is something to be said for them being “the Everything store”; I don’t have to put my credit card information into multiple sites, increasing my risk that one of them could be breached.

    Unfortunately, the main competitor is Wal-Mart–not an improvement.

  82. frog says

    Also: Nook is not proprietary! It’s in the epub format, which is the format of everyone except Amazon. Sure, it’s easier to read via a Nook app, but in theory it should be easier to read on a different device.

    Kindle books are in Amazon’s proprietary mobipocket format. They’ve done a good job with making their app available for other devices (as well they should). But in terms of raw “who’s got a proprietary format” calculation, it’s Amazon. Which they can afford, what with their market share.

  83. frog says

    I should also note: those saying that bookstores sell books at a huge markup? STFU, you know nothing, Jon Snow.

    The typical discount for a bookstore is 50% (between 49 and 51%, actually). That is right in line with any retailer. The standard in retail–from books to clothing to pots and pans–is the retailer’s price is double the wholesale price. Sometimes it’s less than that, but the suggested price is always double. Standard business practice.

    Books are different from other products in one respect: the returns system. That is, if a bookseller doesn’t sell all of their copies of a book, they get to return them to the publisher for a refund (the price the bookseller paid to the publisher). In this regard bookstores are better off than other retailers, but books are also a significantly bigger risk than other items. You can be pretty sure a plain black T-shirt is going to sell, and you know what sizes are most common. Every now and then Macy’s might overstock on something that surprisingly no one wants.

    But books…are entirely unpredictable. There are brand-name authors (Patterson, King, Rowling, Roberts, etc.) who you can be pretty sure of selling out on. But new authors need to be tried in the market, and the returns system was how publishers were able to convince bookseller to take risks.

    That’s why the big sellers might be discounted at the bookstore: The bookseller doesn’t have to worry about getting stuck with them. They know how many they’ll sell, and what price they need to set to make enough money to pay the employees and keep the lights on.

    To those who say that publishers were/are somehow keeping them out of the marketplace: Please stop reading epublishing propaganda and Publish America’s nonsense. That’s delicious Kool-Aid, but it’s bullshit.

    You were always free to self-publish. You were always free to hire editors and designers, to pay printers, to hire publicity people, to pay for advertising, and to develop a distribution system. All you needed was the capital. Oh, too expensive for you? HELLO, McFLY, THERE YOU GO. That’s why publishers don’t publish everyone. They pick and choose and hope they’re picking things that will sell well. Sometimes (often) they’re wrong. But that’s what the business is.

    Amazon did one thing that made it easier for self-publishers: they eliminated the cost of distribution. Ebooks in general eliminated some of the other costs (e.g., typesetting–the author has to learn how to format files, but most e-distributors help the author figure that out; and obviously no printing necessary for ebooks). Everything else is a sliding scale of how much the author feels like risking. Don’t want to hire an editor? Then don’t. Want to plaster your book’s cover and sales copy on a zillion websites? Spend the cash and have at it.

    If you are a successful self-publisher, I say Hooray! I’m thrilled for your success. More power to you, and may you sell many more books. But your way is no more the One True Way than going through a traditional publisher, and the thousands of authors who prefer to let their publisher and agent take a piece of the profit have valid reasons for doing so. Many of them are “hybrid authors”–with some books self-published and some through traditional publishers. They have the data to choose their approach, and if they’re sticking with traditional publishers for certain things, there’s a reason for it.

    But to paint Amazon as the champion of self-publishers everywhere… No. How naive. Amazon is the champion of Amazon. They’re happy with this symbiotic relationship, and it is a good thing for many writers. But they didn’t do it for you. They did it for them. And when you are no longer useful to them, you will know it.

  84. hackerguitar says

    Another Nook/Calibre/Sigil user, quite happy with it. In general, I don’t purchase from Amazon if I have another choice – I’ll buy the same book from B&N or other .epub sources In general, I can get the same selection – and while B&N is far from perfect, they’re far better than Amazon.

    ….and having rooted Nook Simple Touch e-readers, the Kindle app runs just nicely, so when Amazon is unavoidable, I’ll read the book on a nook, and so avoid the Kindle hardware monopoly.

  85. frog says

    Also, technical term time:

    Amazon are not a monopoly. They are a monopsony, which means they are the only [for practical purposes] place that producers of a product can sell their wares.

    (Yes, there are other places that sell books, but Amazon’s market share is what makes them a monopsony.)

    Publishers aren’t a monopoly. When you have a Big Five, that means you have at least five publishers with nearly-equal purchasing power. (In practice, Random/Putnam is largest, and has more power. And I’m not thrilled with the agglomeration of separate publishers into ever larger entities.) If Stephen King were displeased with his publisher, there are at least four others who could offer him the same money he’s getting with his current publisher, and would be thrilled to do so.

    If a publisher is displeased with Amazon they can…go bankrupt. Don’t kid yourself that B&N (whose board seems determined to run the company into the ground), Books-a-Million, and the many independent booksellers have even close to Amazon’s market share. Aside from ebooks, Amazon sells lots and lots of print books, far more than any of those other outlets. (This data is hard to cite, since it’s proprietary. But I work in the industry. For spot-check, ask any of your writer friends where their greatest volume of sales come from on click-throughs from their website.)

    Publisher colluding on pricing is not awesome. But why the DOJ hasn’t gone after Amazon for the other half of the Sherman Anti-Trust act is anyone’s guess.

  86. frog says

    Quoth Eridius @56:

    So basically, what Apple provided was a leveling of the playing field. There was no collusion here to inflate prices, only a set of agreements that allowed Apple to fairly compete with Amazon. It also had the effect of letting the publishers dictate prices. In the short term, yes, this meant prices rose, because the only reason they were so low is Amazon was artificially depressing them. But in the long term, this would have resulted in a much healthier, much better market, for both publishers and customers. There’s no reason to believe Amazon’s discounts would have lasted any longer than necessary to establish complete dominance over the entire market, and once that happened, prices were likely to rise to whatever level Amazon wanted them at. I found an article the other day from a year ago saying there’s evidence it was already starting to happen, with quotes from authors whose books Amazon started increasing the price of and who were not happy about it.

    Yes, yes, and yes.

    What’s the cost of a Prime subscription these days?

    I will also note that linking the price of one purchaser/payer to another is standard in the publishing industry. There are big bestselling authors whose contracts say, essentially, that they will get X% royalty, but if another author is offered >X% royalty, the first author’s royalty must increase to match.

    Yes, that is a real thing. When you’re an enormous bestseller, your publisher will do what they can to keep you. If you insist you get paid at least as much as everyone else, that is what you will get. If you’re selling better than everyone else, seems to me you deserve to be paid accordingly.

  87. The Mellow Monkey says

    hillaryrettig @ 88

    Amazon has been terrific for me as an independent writer / publisher who couldn’t even get traditional publishers to return her emails. It’s enabled me to leave my day job, and create literally a global business (books in English, Spanish, Japanese, and soon Hindi and Russian). They provide not just distribution but fantastic support.

    Do you use CreateSpace/KDP Select? For those not familiar with them, CreateSpace is an Amazon service for print-on-demand deadtree books. They’re decent quality books (assuming the submitted design itself is good), available in most standard paperback sizes. They do run a bit more expensive than mass printings, which is to be expected. KDP Select is different from their standard ebook publishing, because it requires the ebook only be available on Amazon. In exchange, the author/publisher can run sales and make a title free for five days out of every 90 days. If the ebook is priced between $2.99 – $9.99 the royalties outside the USA go up to 70%, from the 35% that they are in many territories. If your ebook is not enrolled in the KDP Select program but is in that price range, it will still get a 70% royalty in some territories, including most of the USA sales. The 70% rate is about on par now with what most ebook distributors offer indie authors/publishers.

    As far as just standard ebook distribution, I’ve found Amazon to be reliable when it comes to the indie author experience but perhaps not necessarily terrific. B&N has been good for the most part and has a slick interface for indie publishing, but it can only distribute to the USA and the UK and there are frequent problems with the Nook publishing page. Apple is a pain in the ass to get through, but has far better distribution than B&N and there’s massive potential there for sales. Kobo is the most promising of all, IMO, but they have a lot of bugs to work out. Many smaller outlets are great, but lack the widespread distribution or popularity. Smashwords is valuable because it can be a single interface for distributing to many different outlets.

    I feel like Apple and Kobo have the greatest potential for longterm global distribution as things stand now. If Kobo can iron things out better, I think it could be a real powerhouse in ebooks for small publishers and indie authors.

  88. Rococo Gecko says

    If you haven’t given up on dead-tree books yet, I’ve found https://www.bookdepository.com/ to work very well for me.

    For Android devices, Moon+ Reader is simply the best ebook reader I’ve come across. Customizable fonts, line spacing and margins, ability to sync reading positions to Dropbox or Google Drive (so you can read on multiple devices), decent text-to-speech and compatibility with most ebook formats. There’s a free version available, but I liked it so much I bought it.

  89. says

    Actually, I have given up on dead tree books. Why? Because they bloody publishers won’t keep things “in print”, and even if they wanted to, they recycle their ISBN numbers, so trying to track a book in any sort of sane way, assuming it never did go out of print has the same problem that led to a new IP version coming out – not enough damn numbers of uniquely identify them. And, that, frankly, is probably one bloody reason that the “don’t” stay in print.

    The sad thing is, since that ID is being used by Amazon, and everyone else, internally, as a tracking system anyway, they will still go out of print, even in digital form, which is blindingly stupid. If there is one single thing that e-books can do is end this cycle, permanently. Instead, its perpetuating it, and you are lucky as hell to find a “dead tree” version of some book you once had, ever, never mind an e-book version, if its something that wasn’t trending enough to keep publishing. In the long run, the issue of if your e-book will keep working, and you can still read them, is important, but, there is at least some plausibility that it **will still exist**. There are books I have on my shelf, which I can’t find the companions to, that are only maybe 10-20 years old. They just “do not exist” any more, unless its in some dusty hole some place, or some publisher’s basement, and that is assuming the publisher is still in business, and there is a basement to find them in. The same issue existed for film, prior to a way to mass produce “home” versions. There are still things rotting in people’s basement in that media, because the companies owning the basement don’t give a damn, until you want them, and then they want money for them, and very few people, especially *with* enough money, time, or resources to do anything about any but a fraction of them, are out there trying to recover it.

    I know that, as long as I *have* a copy of some sort, and there remains *some* method of pulling the DRM, or otherwise viewing a copy, that, short of some BS decision by the device owner to kill the copy (which they can’t do with one not on the device, or in there DRM format), the thing can go “out of print” tomorrow, and, in principle at least, I could still read it 50 years from now, and so can thousands of other people who managed to keep a copy. The dead tree version? Maybe a few dozen, a hundred, one guy with an obsessive collection? Who knows, in reality, how many, if any, copies will survive…

    But, yeah, otherwise, the nonsense the companies keep going through, because they, in fact, don’t give a damn unless it make them money, just like those people with dying movie reels, pisses me off. But, I am taking the long view here, after a fashion, having already been burned by “traditional” book sellers, who, as of now, literally look at you and go, “According to our computers, that book never ever existed! Are you sure you once owned a copy, the ISBN says its a cook book, and a different name, and the name you gave just doesn’t exist, at all?” Yeah, F that noise.

  90. Ursula Powers says

    I switched to a KOBO account and e-reader as well as the app about two years ago. One of the things I like about it is you can pick your favorite Indie bookstore to get a small portion of the profit from each book you buy:

  91. says

    Don’t throw away your Kindle just yet. Hatchette isn’t a helpless victim in this and isn’t being bullied. They are in a negotiation with another large business and their PR department is cranking full bore. Both companies are in business to make money and are maximizing their profits. For a good response to the Stross article: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/

    Now, I must add that I’m biased. I’m an indie author. Hatchette pays its authors around 17% royalties and they require an agent who will take 15% of your 17%. Amazon pays 35-70%. The only requirement is a way to upload a file. Hatchette treats authors like disposable and cheaply replaceable cogs. Amazon treats authors like customers, complete with a responsive customer service department. Hatchette? Not so much unless you’re some kind of millionaire rock star. Even so, I don’t think Amazon is my buddy, nor do I think Hatchette is Satan. They are just businesses and one of them is better at it than the other.

  92. frog says

    Indie authors might want to read this:


    Yes, it has a self-serving element, but the logic of its predictions is hard to dismiss.

    mrscogan: Hachette, like all the large publishers, has a standard 25% royalty on ebooks. I agree that’s insufficient, but it’s better than 17%. If anyone is getting less than 25%, they should fire their agent.

    Note: bestselling authors often get more than 25% on ebooks. Because they can leverage their success with their publisher.

    Kagehi: What publishers are recycling ISBNs? I know of no publishers who do this. Are you in a country other than the USA?

    Unique ISBNs are incredibly useful to the publisher. There was a bit of madness at the beginning of the ebook explosion when some publishers were trying to assign a different ISBN to every e-format, but that seems to have stopped. Typically it’s now one ISBN for e-book, regardless of whether it’s mobi (Kindle) or ePub (everyone else) or PDF (yes, some people like those).

    As for books going out of print: Keeping a book in print is expensive. There has to be sufficient demand to justfy printing it. POD has helped a great deal in this–my current employer puts most of our ancient backlist into POD. But we can do this because our prices are quite high (academic publishing). In addition, most authors’ contracts specify that if a book falls below a certain sales threshold, it will go OP and the rights will revert to them.

    Publishers put a book OP for three reasons:

    1. It’s simply not selling enough copies to justify keeping it in print. If it’s selling so few the POD is the only option, then they will have to price very high. If it’s a novel, that will significantly impede sales, so it’s not cost effective to pay staff to deal with that.

    (Note: there are small presses that run almost entirely on the long tail of such sales. They are usually small outfits of one or two people doing this as a more-than-full-time job, and their books’ prices are higher than average. They provide a valuable service, but it’s a lot of work. I assume they are like most self-employed people, willing to work long hours because at least it’s for themselves.)

    2. The book’s rights revert to the author (or other entity) for any of a variety of reasons. These might be sales thresholds or time limits or other creative clauses in the contract.

    3. There is a new edition or format of the book available. When a book goes to paperback, the hardcover is usually declared out of print. If a series of books are published in omnibus editions, the individual editions are often taken OP.

    Sometimes an OP book will have the potential for sales, but it remains OP. This is usually because of rights issues. A book with several authors may need unanimous agreement, but can’t get it. Heirs of the original author(s) are fussing. It’s unclear exactly who holds the rights.

    In exactly zero cases does a publisher say, “Well, we could be making money from the book, but let’s just let it go OP.”

  93. random says

    I’ve been very happy with my Sony eReader. It will display just about any format of book you care to read, and anything it won’t display directly is easily converted with Calibre (free download). There are a plethora of sources to download books, many of them free (gutenberg project has already been mentioned, and is one of the largest), and many more that offer pay-for-download. Many publishers will sell downloads in a variety of formats. Additionally, there are tons of online sites that publish books or stories to the web – hard to recommend specifics since I don’t know what you like to read. If you want, I can post a list of the sites I download from.