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The Year of the Unlimited Free Ebooks Brought to You By Amazon.com
c is for cat

So let me get this straight.

Amazon would like to offer a Netflix-like subscription to unlimited ebooks for its Prime members. Business sites are all over the publishing companies to comply–after all, what’s a little monopoly between friends?

But as an author this stinks to high heaven. You know, that place where Borders is chilling on a cloud and crying into its celestial beer.

See, there’s no mention of author benefit–everyone is talking about the publishers and how they need to get with the times. But how, exactly, would we be compensated for this? Since it’s for their Prime members, who as Netflix has seen, would howl over a price hike, it’s possible this will just be lumped in, wrecking ebook sales and contributing further to the idea that the ideal cost for a book is $0.00. Not to mention the number this does on libraries.

Now, I get that ebooks are happening whether anyone likes it or not. And I get that subscriptions have worked for other media–I use my Netflix like anyone. But there’s a reason Netflix has a quite limited streaming selection, and it’s losing, not gaining, content. This is not because Netflix hates you and wants you to suffer. It’s very hard to get those licenses because it’s not a very good deal for the content creators and distributors. And it costs a lot of money to manufacture the level of quality content people expect. Now, it’s axiomatic that the middleman sucks and should be shot (except The Middleman, who is awesome) but to be quite frank, they serve a purpose, and while I’d like to see their tactics changed, I would not like to see them vanish entirely. They are also human, and in publishing they do the great good work of sifting wheat from chaff, editing and packaging the wheat and making sure the wheat can spell, while getting shit on from every side. (I would also like to see real competition for Netflix, who is a middleman, too, don’t be fooled. They’re just a very hands-off middleman. But until you can write a check to Matt Weiner for Mad Men, you are still using a middleman. However, as I’m going to say a lot, no one company should be the single portal for information of any type.)

So, let’s hear how this is anything but a grab for more rights for less money? Will Amazon be paying lump sums for licenses? Will authors see even one cent of that? Will we be paid per download? If they aren’t charging much more than Prime services already cost, who will be paying us? Anyone? Bueller? What about books already in print? Will we be paid for joining the service or just told our major problem is obscurity and we should be grateful?

But the business rags don’t care about that stuff. They’re too busy bizarrely cheerleading Amazon’s attempt to become an almost total media monopoly. And in a stroke of PR genius, Amazon has indie authors on their side, convinced Amazon is their friend, a champion of the little people, and a stand-up guy, willing to stick it to the mean old publishers. (Who sinned in not publishing literally everyone and deserve to be skewered, I guess?)

Hoggle is Hoggle’s friend. Amazon is no one’s friend. They want to control the ebook market. They’re pissed they don’t control the music and movie market to the extent they’d like to. They are nearly there with books, and having destroyed bookstores, they’re now after libraries and quite possibly just really interested in becoming the only publisher there is. Don’t think no one over there has thought of simply replacing the whole publishing apparatus with Amazon.com. And a lot of people would wave their pom-poms for that.

The fact that a company that tried to punish Macmillan simply for not kowtowing to them immediately is considered worthy of trust is laughable. These guys are thugs. It’s an awfully nice industry you got there. Shame if anything should happen to it.

I don’t actually feel like helping them to my own detriment, and don’t see why I or anyone else should be jumping at what looks like a shitty, shitty deal for content creators, libraries (I do not want libraries to die, you guys. And they let you borrow unlimited books FOR FREE. And pay for their copies. In fact, library sales are a huge part of a book’s life, particularly in the YA and children’s market. Oh and BY THE WAY. Poor people can use libraries. Not just us geekelites who can afford ereaders and subscriptions.) If I see people actually discussing what authors get out of this beyond that age-old gold standard EXPOSURE ZOMG! I’ll listen. For awhile. But here’s the rub.

To some extent this is already a thing. Libraries, yes, but also Baen Webscriptions and other services. Why not let Amazon in on that game?

It’s different because it’s Amazon. This is a company that has shown itself to be unscrupulous in its dealings with publishers time and time again. It’s being friendly to authors now, but it was friendly to publishers and bookstores for awhile too. Amazon is way more than an 800 pound gorilla. They want to be the only way you access books. That is good for no one. No one source should have that much power, or else you end up in a situation where if, say, Amazon doesn’t like queers, they can kill all their books and no one can say anything. They don’t think erotica should get ranked with “normal” books? They don’t. Amazon wants to remotely delete something you paid for? It’s deleted. This has already happened. More power to those people? I don’t think so. No single company should have the influence they want. You think it’s bad that there’s so few publishing companies? At least there are six.

Amazon knows they have the market share and presence to make competition basically a grassroots joke. They do not care. They do not care about you and they do not care about your (or my) indie cred and to be quite frank they could give a shit about books. That’s your dream. They’re happy to sell anything, it doesn’t matter what it is. (Clearly. I just bought a chicken nesting box from them. They just want to be where you shop, and by and large they are succeeding. Awesome?) This is about control of information and money. And I may have to knuckle under when my contracts come due but I do not have to be their cheerleader in the meantime.

I’m not saying they’re evil–well, maybe a little, but no more than any company. They simply want to grow. You know, like any organism. Without heed for the survival of any other organism. They will probably get this because no one, not least our rusty-ass anti-trust laws, stands up to them with any conviction. But to be honest, I am puzzled at people’s desire to be fish flakes for the Sarlaac. I am continually horrified at the rush to love and defend Amazon because of their current stance on self-publishing. Emphasis on the current. Yay! My book is on Amazon and I get 70%! Fuck everyone else! No, literally fuck them. Let us take to our blogs and cheer, just squeal with delight, for every job lost in a library or publishing company, large or small, every janitor at Random House and editor at Harper Collins, every librarian who gets kids to read, because Amazon loves us with its big fuzzy heart and will always, always treat us with dignity and fairness. Just show me where to sign that exclusive contract. And if I need an agent, why, Amazon can be my agent! They’re sure to give themselves a good deal. (Again, already happened.)

And the publishers had better just sign where they’re told to. After all, those dinosaurs had better get with the times. And the times, it seems, are called by Amazon. It’s the Year of the Unlimited Free Ebooks Brought to you by Amazon.com, as our late great David Foster Wallace would say. Enjoy it.

And as far as self-publishing, which can be and is laudable and valuable, well, give it time. It’s early yet on that beachhead, kids. If the last 15 years of the internet taught you anything, it should be that nothing open and good lasts forever, and corporations trend ugly over time. (I’m looking at you, Google.)  It has not been enough to consume bookstores, libraries, publishing companies, and any author not selling direct to Amazon are next. Amazon was a friend to all of these once. Trust me, you don’t want to live in the world Amazon wants to build.

Mirrored from cmv.com. Also appearing on @LJ and @DW. Read anywhere, comment anywhere.

Ugh. This is awful. I hate the devaluing of writing that is going on.

Not very eloquent but oh, this makes me sad.

What is this...I don't even... A year of free ebooks?! That is horrifying. Authors deserve to be paid well for their work.

Well-written entry, Cat. It's given me things to think upon.

I didn't literally mean it's a year--it would be perpetual, like Netflix. The year thing is a David Foster Wallace reference.

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In this, the age of Groupon and all that, the benefits are being given to the consumer not the content producers. When content becomes either total shit then maybe people will pick up and notice that the distribution needs to be fairly between content creators and providers.

You note Groupon is losing money fast.

IMO they ARE in fact being evil. They want a monopoly on EVERYTHING. Their plan to fork off a proprietary branch of Android for their Kindle tablets, which they plan to sell at a loss so more people will buy them and get locked into them, is Evil.

Say what you will about Apple, it doesn't want to own the material you use on its devices; it "only" wants, in the words of the immortal Trek episode, "A Piece of the Action." Amazon's out to assimilate the entire infosphere. When you buy Apple, you *know* you're locking yourself into them to a certain degree; however, you do have a choice as to that degree. Amazon is stealthily trying to infiltrate everything from the ground up so folks don't notice until one day they wake up and realize that they're trapped in Bezos's Black Iron Prison.

And then there's Google, who wants a monopoly over a different set of the infosphere. Sigh.

I wish I had answers to any of these complaints. However, we're reliving the Robber-Baron days, and the contemporary Oligarchy consists largely of IT companies, not of industrialists.

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This is not democratizing. It is centralizing. There is a huge difference.

And yes, easy for people with money to get knowledge and education. What you're going to get is lost jobs AND lost knowledge. You always see the sunniest side, but a lot of the stuff i'm talking about has already happened.

We've disagreed on this before--I think you're being naive about what's being angled for here. And though I'm reasonably sure I will be able to make a living, it doesn't mean I shouldn't call shenanigans--and this is shenanigans by any measure.

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It’s the Year of the Unlimited Free Ebooks Brought to you by Amazon.com, as our late great David Foster Wallace would say.

This gave me chills. I was nodding along with the entire essay but this was a punch to the gut. Nothing gets me quite like a well-employed DFW reference because when it's on point, it's terrifying. And this was on point.


With regards to libraries you've missed the real problem. The REAL problem is our bullshit DRM laws. Libraries WILL have to come into the digital age, it's a question of "when" not "if". But, current DRM laws make combined with publishers greed / fear make it so that a library simply can't buy a an ebook that it can legally share, because few are available without DRM and you can't break it without breaking the law (even for personal use). So, they can't buy something they can share with library members.

Amazon is not the problem here. Libraries could exist just fine in the digital age if the DRM issue could be eliminated, and those are not Amazon's fault. Media companies just haven't grasped that selling items at a reasonable price without DRM removes the need to worry about serious amounts of piracy.

If you wanna bitch, bitch at the publishers, bitch at the politicians. Amazon offering unlimited books for a fee won't kill libraries. The legal inability to share media in the digital age will.

Want proof? Neither Spotify, Pandora, Napster, nor any of the others has even remotely begun to kill sales of mp3s, which means that Amazon Prime won't kill the sale of books.... but DRM laws have already killed the ability of libraries to do their job with digital media.

I think you forget how draconian Amazon's DRM was--it's where a lot of publishers got the idea.

This is also more complicated than you think--there must be some DRM or else it's not lending, it's a sale, and a sale for no money, because the file must go away at some point. That's necessary. I do agree that a revamp of the rules here is needed though.

Amazon, however, is still a problem.

I generally love you and your writing but I have a pretty strong personal rule that nobody who is not literally being tortured and murdered by the government should lift from Martin Niemoeller like that. Just strikes me as trivialisation.

I felt wonky about it, but it is what's happening, each layer of books and literature--that very thing that let MN say such words--being stripped away while everyone cheers. I beg his forgiveness.

Your Name Here (Anonymous) Expand
I’m not saying they’re evil–well, maybe a little

well I do.. and I do not buy from them. If actions speak louder than words, and Amazon's actions are to control all the words as it were, its becoming a Literary Reich. And they are the ones who want to be in charge.

You ended this entry about Amazon wanting to lend e-books with a modification of a poem about the rise of the Nazi party to power and the rounding up of Jews to take to the concentration camps.

It's been removed with apologies.

Where did you find out about this? I've googled and the only hit I get about this specific thing is your blog posts.


ETA: Ah. The "year of" was what confused google. I found the link: at PCWorld

Edited at 2011-09-13 04:46 pm (UTC)

Incidentally, if I had to guess, I'd forecast that the publishers still maintain control over digital distribution rights.

Amazon has e-lending NOW -- you can lend a book you own on Kindle to someone else with a Kindle, as long as the publisher has okayed it. Check your own books to see if they are "lending enabled."

This is not really person to person lending. It's a massive rights-grab. I want to see what's on offer--and I'll bet dollars to donuts it's not much for the author.

I'm aware of this, and quite frankly opposed to what Amazon is doing on many levels.

I also believe that the publishers have helped bring this on themselves. The over pricing of Ebooks the last few years, sometimes as expensive as buying it on paper or even more expensive in the case of back catalog, has made a lot of folks angry with them.

And authors are definitely going to be the ones who suffer for it.

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" - Yeats

Is there actually an announced plan? I've seen rumors galore, but nothing announcing what Amazon actually plans to do (or that the publishers have agreed to anything).

I doubt it, not from what John Scalzi said on his blog either which in the short bit he wrote he seemed to think it was a trial balloon sort of thing to see what the opinion was and he also said he didn't like it and he doubted that publishers actually owned any of the rental rights which puts this back in the authors' courts and as it didn't look like he had anything to earn from it, then he wouldn't be agreeing to it.

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JKR can do it because she sold the series before anyone cared about erights. Most of us cannot sell a book unless erights are bundled. I don't know the way out of this, but I wish there was one.