Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Amazon Stanza: This Changes Nothing

There is a lot of consternation in TwitterLand regarding the news that Amazon will buy LexCycle the producer of the Stanza iPhone book application. This is the community whose collective pulse has only just returned to normal after the 'adult' content categorization issue so it might be time to get the paddles out. How the publishers will react (if at all) is less clear, but one thing is clear: As e-Books become progressively more important to publisher futures, their collective power with respect to Amazon diminishes. And while these are early days in the future of eBooks, it precisely the point that eBooks are of only minor importance to publishers that perhaps gives them the opportunity to define their future landscape.

Amazon's acquisition does warrant concern regarding concentration of retail options for e-Books: How publishers deal with that issue is unlikely to be effective, however. Here are some ideas:
  1. E-Pub - whether e-pub is the correct standard is less important than everyone adopting a common standard. It is also crucial that they adopt the common standard without bastardizing it and creating 'their version' of e-pub. At LBF last week, there were many asides such as 'they have their own version' of e-pub. Publishers need to force this issue collectively and aggressively (and this is not a collusion issue) so that the e-Book supply chain can run as smooth as possible. The industry is wimpy in its policing of a standard for e-Book content and it needs to get stronger. The gyrations publishers are going through to prepare and deliver a variety of formats is stupid and has to stop.
  2. Interoperability - An e-book purchaser has to be able to take all of this or her purchased content from one e-reader to another with no degradation in experience and no added expense. If I buy a book to read on the Kindle, I must be able to read the same book on a Sony or IRex. That is the minimum a reader should expect. In "bookland" we view our marketplace as the center of the universe; however, there is a much larger related issue around Amazon's data services that impacts a much wider segment of business. Earlier this month in The Economist, the newspaper reported on the "Open Cloud Manifesto" which attempts to set common standards for interoperability across the various cloud computing market offerings. Guess who is refusing to play: Amazon and Microsoft. This means that if I decide to use Amazon for the first three years and then strike a deal with another provider (for lower cost or better service) I am going to have a very difficult time making the switch. Publishers need to require that all retailers enable interoperability across e-readers.
  3. Archiving - As a reader, I do not want to run the risk of losing access to my e-Books because the vendor stops selling the hardware or sells the division to a competitor. There has to be a mechanism to effectively escrow my content so that I can always get to it. Is it too much to expect a replication of the practice of placing a p-book on my shelf for 50 yrs? Maybe, but why limit my expectations? This also applies when I go overseas: It is unfathomable that I would lose access to something I purchased legally.
  4. Collaboration - Trade publishers should give serious consideration to collective activity in building a trade version of CourseSmart which is a JV combining many of the top educational publishers in an effort to leverage e-content. CourseSmart is not anti-competitive, rather, it seeks to provide a level playing field for the delivery of all e-content into the educational marketplace. In the p-world, publishers combined their sales, fulfillment and distribution with other publishers (less so in the US but it is a common practice in the UK and Australia) so why not have a similar program for e-Books? If so, it can and should be done in combination with the other ideas above.
  5. Fight - Hold back e-Content from retailers that refuse to play by the rules. "Fat chance" you say? Well, think about how hard this one will be to consider as an option in 5 or 10 years. If not now then never, and it really is the only credible option. Getting a Coursesmart offering off the ground or actively helping B&N (strange bed-fellows) with their expected e-Book store could be critical here.
Admittedly, I am naive in assuming that publishers collectively could force commonality on any of these issues but this early stage in the e-Books history offers a once in a lifetime opportunity. Once e-Books become important, then the retailer holds the cards and doing it their way will have a long-term deleterious impact on the industry. Added costs, less efficiency, lessened user experience. The purchase of Lexcycle just proves that Amazon acts completely in their self-interest to protect their marketplace (and maybe they should), but it also tells me they are unafraid of any meaningful reaction from the publishing community to counter-balance their unilateral tendencies.

There are possibly more points upon which the publishing community should be more forceful, especially as they relate to Amazon; however, rather than lament the further consolidation of e-Book power around the Kindle/Amazon (which will get nowhere,) think about forcing adoption of standards, processes and terms of service that make for a more efficient market. Those are not necessarily in Amazon's interests, but they should be in the publishers'.
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1 comment:

ipod touch bluetooth said...

Stanza is great if you only want to read text from free books. But it will not allow any artwork and cannot read purchased eBooks. Most reviewers either omit these facts or simply overlook them.

Those are severe limitations if you want to read something besides Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Art of War or Robinson Crusoe. eReader is also free on the App site and has a much wider capability for accepting e-material. This includes artwork and paid eBooks.

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