07 February 2010

Amazon and the pipeline

The Amazon/MacMillan stoush about e-books in which Amazon took the Russian solution and cut off supply has more twists than a plate of fusilli bucati, yet it's interesting how one-sided a mainstream news story can be ~ and when it's from a wire service, that's even curiouser. Jay Lake just responded to Amazon reshelves Macmillan titles but not e-books ("Reporting by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Eric Walsh"), a piece from Reuters that reads like an Amazon press release. Lake pointed out that "The writerly blogosphere has done a masterful job of covering this, you could easily find dozens of sources to discuss this, myself included."

There are by now many more posts, but I particularly recommend
Jay Lake's and John Scalzi's.

There are so many aspects to the situation, not the least of which are
  • Amazon trying to command the market of actual reading platforms (their very uncheap Kindle)
  • and to make us think that our lack of ownership of a book that we buy is the normalcy to which we should become accustomed.
Compare Amazon's intrusive and dictatorial attitude to e-reading with Baen's. Amazon comes off like Mad King George (an earlier mad George) while Baen is Thomas Payne. When you buy a book to read electronically from Baen, their attitude is that you own it. Unlike Amazon, they will not pull a book you already purchased off your shelf. Not only that, but Baen not only lets you, but expects you to download your purchased book in multiple formats to be read on multiple platforms, online and offline. If the world were ruled by Amazon, and it's getting to be if we keep de factoing it into our links and thought patterns, Baen is a revolutionary, though it's really only doing what should be supplier—>demand business.

Amazon's e-book "sales" on Kindle twist and break the concept of ownership, and get away with it because they are superficially cheap(er). This is like the superficial generosity of Google's destruction of copyright, while they, not we, control what they've copied (about which Ursula Le Guin has been so eloquent).

Both can cut off the supply whenever they wish.

It's always good to use and build other pipelines.

One thing that all us writers and readers can do when we talk about books is to link to a source of supply other than Amazon. I like to point to the publisher if the publisher has a good purchasing set-up on the site. In the case of books that are not published in the same country as the Amazon site, this makes the book much cheaper, too. One example is buying a book published by Blaft in India, not from Amazon.com, but from Blaft. This way, the publisher is paid a reasonable price—not Amazon's screwed-down price—and is paid in a reasonable period of time. Especially with small publishers, the Amazons of this world do what big companies generally do now with all small suppliers—pay them drips, and even at the small amounts they pay, delaying that, making suppliers into what banks are supposed to be: lenders. It doesn't make economic sense in some ways as it's destructive to the point of breaking many small suppliers—but with large companies like Amazon, there are always new suppliers eager for what they imagine will be a feast because the seller is big.

Another example of a publisher I recommend is Small Beer Press. I see they've also written an important post on this topic that lists independent booksellers, which is the other kind of linking I recommend though I haven't figured out how to properly do it. Which one(s) and how, if it's a simple link? Read their "Amazon rude? Surely not?"

The other advantage with buying from independents (and my favourite is Borderlands Books in San Francisco) is that, as an "international" customer, the good independents don't rip customers off in "postage and handling". We internationals subsidise the freebies, I guess, which makes it more of an insult to us when we get Amazon spam offering us free p&h that is only for the US (they can remember our preferences to spam us, but not where we live). Any "economy" in the "discounted" price from Amazon is wiped away by these extras.

NOTE: I would love to have to state a disclaimer here, but I have no books published by Macmillan (though in a world ruled by some readers, and I don't mean people who read between tweets, Farrar Straus and Giroux belongs on the title page of Crandolin, a novel which will probably only remain a bestseller on Asteroid *—where yes, they have no remainders). Anyway, I get no benefit from dissing Amazon, which might be the easiest place for you to buy my single-author books. But if we don't live for our principles, what is there to live for? Actually, so many things! First, catch your fusilli bucati. Next, see if there is any gas . . .

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