When it comes to ebooks, it is easy for a digital and indie author proponent to take the side of Amazon against the major publishers. After all, the former wants to sell more ebooks, while the latter did their best to kill the ebook market (and probably doomed themselves when the ebook market grew without them, but that is a story for another time).
Picking sides, however, shouldn’t stop us from criticizing Amazon when they take a position that is actually more evil than major publishers.
Consider library ebooks, for example. Everyone is upset with the major publishers over the restrictions they have placed on library ebook sales, but Amazon is actually worse. Macmillan may have imposed further restrictions on library ebooks this year and charges ridiculous fees, but Amazon doesn’t even sell ebooks to libraries.
As the ALA made clear in their testimony before Congress earlier this week, on a scale of one to Amazon, Macmillan and the other major publishers barely rate a score of five out of ten. The Big Five at least sell ebooks to libraries, after all, but Amazon does not.
From the ALA statement (PDF):
In the past decade, eBooks have grown from a niche phenomenon to become about 19% of the U.S. book market. Though consumers may acquire eBooks easily through commercial channels, libraries face major barriers because of abuse of market power by dominant firms.
The worst obstacle for libraries are marketplace bans: refusal to sell services at any price. Amazon Publishing, now a large publisher in its own right, ranks as the fifth largest publisher for eBooks by dollar sales. Among Amazon Publishing clients are high-profile authors Dean Koontz, Mindy Kaling, and Mark Sullivan.
The eBook titles from Amazon Publishing are not available to libraries for lending at any price or any terms. By contrast, consumers may purchase all of these titles directly from Amazon. This is a particularly pernicious new form of the digital divide; the Amazon Publishing books are available only to people who can afford to buy them, without the library alternative previously available to generations of Americans.
Sometimes Amazon is more evil than publishers.