So the news finally broke today that the long rumored Dept of Justice anti-trust lawsuit against the Price Fix 6 really does exist, and the DOJ is indeed suing the 5 publishers and Apple for colluding to fix ebook prices in the US market.
I haven’t covered this story in much depth but I have been reading all the hand-wringing coming from the legacy industry players like Scott Turow, Joe Wikert, and others. I’ve also been watching Twitter today as the news broke and many bemoaned the coming death of publishing as Amazon is released from the restrictions of agency pricing. So many of the tweets are based on half remembered, mis-stated myths about the ebook market that I cannot take it anymore.
Many things have been said about this story, but few of them are true. In this post I will correct that oversight. Here’s the big one:
Amazon isn’t going to kill publishing; they have in fact done more to create the new publishing industry than any of the 5 legacy dinosaurs being sued today.
I will work my way up to proving that premise, but first I will start on the smaller misconceptions. For example, there is an assumption made by many people decrying the end of agency pricing that Amazon can now do whatever they want with prices. Well, many appear to have forgotten that Amazon already could do that with a lot of the ebooks they sell because:
- Agency ebooks are not the totality of ebook market.
The reality of the matter is that the only publishers who got agency pricing were the ones big enough to bully Amazon into it. These are basically the few who are big enough that they could hurt Amazon by walking away. Everyone else gave Amazon the right to price the ebooks however Amazon wanted. That includes thousands of small publishers as well as hundreds of thousands of self-published authors.
And that leads me my second point, which is:
- No one knows how many agency ebooks are currently on the market.
For the past week I have been asking around, trying to find out what percentage of the US ebook market was covered by these pricing restrictions.I did not find anyone who had been tracking this or knew of a way to find the numbers.
That means no one who has spoken out on this topic knows either the number of tittles or the dollar value of agency ebooks in the US market. No one who opposed ending the agency system has a single fact to back them up. (I really hope they don’t run their businesses in such a sloppy manner.)
- If Amazon is out to destroy publishing, then where are the corpses of their victims?
Given that Amazon can already abuse many thousands of publishers and authors, I’m sure you can find hundreds of stories of Amazon crushing the will of the innocent. What, there are only a handful of stories, which stand out because they are uncommon? I’m sure that’s not right. Amazon is evil, so clearly they must be hurting everyone.
And that brings me to my final point.
- Far from killing publishing, Amazon has created a whole new publishing industry.
Amazon has enabled literally hundreds of thousands of people to get their work to readers and get paid for it. No legacy publisher can make that claim, nor would they have even tried.
Are all the new authors good? No, but that point is irrelevant – unless you are willing to argue that everything put out by the legacy publishers is also good. I am only crediting Amazon with creating the possibility; what everyone does with their opportunity is their business.
If anything, Amazon is out to kill legacy publishing. I am ambivalent to that; I don’t own any of the companies so I don’t have a horse in this race. My view if the Amazon-legacy struggle would best be described as “root hog, or die”.
And yes, self-pub existed before Amazon. You could even have submitted your ebook to Mobipocket or other ebook distributors. But you know and I know that self-pub didn’t become socially acceptable until Amazon launched the Kindle Store. That is when everything took off.
Now, I fully agree that Amazon is going to extract as much as they can from their dominant position in the market. But I also know that Amazon won’t be dominant forever. It won’t be too long before some faster, nimbler, and better competitor dethrones Amazon. It has happened before in other industries and it will happen in this one.
Update: This is an early response from Twitter that I thought summed my post up succinctly.
If you want to see how wrong current views are on Amazon’s dominance… rewatch “You’ve Got Mail” if you can stomach it.
And that is how I feel about the topic.