My latest Guardian column, Can anything curb the dominance of the internet's big guns? points out that everything governments do to tame the online giants has no effect on them -- but makes it nearly impossible for new companies to compete with them. Read the rest
Unlike some of its stablemates, the Amazon-owned comics platform is to allow authors and publishers to distribute their work without the shackles of proprietary rights-management, writes Cory Doctorow
Author Earnings has published its latest eye-popping data-analysis of ebook sales and rankings on Amazon. Read the rest
The annals of stupid, sloppy patents have a new world-beating entry: Amazon has received a patent on taking pictures of stuff on a white background. The patent's particulars specify a well-known lighting arrangement that minimizes shadows and post-production cleanup. As DIY Photography points out, there's a huge corpus of prior art on this that Amazon didn't disclose in its filing, and the USPTo appeared to have done no due diligence before giving the company a 20-year monopoly on a common studio technique. Read the rest
Hugh Howey, author of the bestselling, indie-original science fiction series Wool, has published an eye-popping, and important data-rich report on independent author earnings from ebooks sold on Amazon. Howey makes a good case that the "average" author earns more from a self published book than she would through one of the Big Five publishers, and, what's more, that this holds true for all sorts of outliers (the richest indie authors outperform the richest Big Five authors; less-prolific indies do better than less-prolific traditionals, etc).
Howey's report includes a lot of raw data and makes a lot of very important points. It certainly is an aid to authors wondering whether to do business with major publishers or go it alone. I read it with great interest.
I think that there are a couple of important points that Howey skirts, if not eliding them altogether. The most important of these is that all the authors Howey studies live and die by the largesse of one company: Amazon. This is the same company whose audiobook division, Audible, requires authors to lock their products to its store with non-optional DRM, and which has no real competitors in its space. So it is neither an angel by nature, nor is it subject to strong competitive pressures that would cause it to treat authors well when its own self-interest would cause it to treat them badly. As bad as it is to have a publishing world with only five major publishers in it -- a monoposony in which a tiny handful of companies converge on terms and practices that are ultimately more to their benefit than those of authors, it's even worse to have a world in which a single company controls the entire market. Read the rest
A very funny Amazon review for multipacks of Kleenex is allegedly "A mother's struggle," describing the travails of living with three teenage boys who've discovered the miracle of self-pleasuring ("If I don't supply absorbent paper products, I'm going to find my dish towels hidden in the basement, stiff as aluminum. The other day, I almost cut my hand on a sock"). However, the "mother" who wrote the review is called "James Otis Thatch," so, possibly, too good to be true. But funny! Read the rest
Bill sez, Last "December I bought some favorite Christmas specials for my kids with the idea they could watch them every year. Went tonight to watch one ('Disney Prep and Landing 2' if you're curious) and it was gone from our library and couldn't be found on the site at all.
Amazon has explained to me that Disney can pull their content at any time and 'at this time they've pulled that show for exclusivity on their own channel.'
In other words, Amazon sold me a Christmas special my kids can't watch during the run up to Christmas. It'll be available in July though!" Read the rest
Jeff Bezos took to 60 Minutes to announce Prime Air, a drone-based 30-minute delivery system for densely populated areas that comes with its own video design-fiction illustrating how it might work. The vision is an exciting one, but the designfic elides some important questions like the regulatory framework under which thousands (millions?) of drones might share the sky as businesses compete to do airborne delivery; whether that framework would be sufficient to actually maintain public safety (hello midair drone collision over a busy highway with attendant plummeting shrapnel into the path of speeding cars!); and what the energy and carbon footprint of drones would be, especially with comparison to conventional delivery logistics.
Read the rest
The FAA's rare display of sanity in allowing electronic devices to be used during takeoff and landing is being celebrated by Amazon in the form of a 15% discount on Kindles when you use the discount code ThnksFAA. Read the rest
There's a whole bunch of things you're allowed to do with books that you own: sell them, give them away, lend them out -- stuff you can't do with your ebooks, by and large. Why not? Because ebook sellers characterize the transaction that you undertake when you plunk down your money as a "license" and not as a sale. You don't buy an ebook, you license it -- hence all the fine-print "license agreement" you click through at regular intervals in the course of paying for and reading books.
But everyone knows that's a shuck. Buying books is what we do. Owning books is what we do. To get a sense of how ingrained the idea of buying and owning ebooks is, have a look at this screenshot from Amazon, shown after a "license" to a book: "Now that you own your Kindle book..." it begins. If you own it, rather than a limited license to it, then you should get the full suite of ownership rights. Let's label this one "Exhibit A." Read the rest
A leaked Amazon ebook contract [PDF] shows that Amazon's default terms for ebook publishers is that they must use DRM, unless they can convince Amazon to leave it off.
Like most DRM vendors -- Apple and Google, for example -- Amazon spends a lot of time implying and flat-out stating that it only uses DRM because the big dumb media companies require it of them. The reality is that DRM's primary beneficiary is the DRM vendor. Once your book is sold with Amazon's DRM on it, only Amazon can give your readers permission to move them out of the Kindle jail and onto another device of your choosing. Of course Amazon wants to force copyright holders and creators to use its DRM -- it's a one-stop way of converting the writer's customer into Amazon's customer. Forever.
Remember: Any time someone puts a lock on something of yours and won't give you the key, that lock is not there for your benefit. Read the rest
The number of members of the American Booksellers' Association is slowly creeping up, a welcome sign after a steep decline from 5500 members in 1995 to 2191 in 2002. ABA is comprised of indie booksellers, and though the dominant narrative has it that the indies were slaughtered by Amazon, the numbers suggest that the decline had more to do with the rise of the big-box chain-stores (ironically, these are dead [Borders] or dying [B&N] and were almost certainly killed by Amazon).
More interesting is why the number of indie bookstores is growing: Read the rest
If you thought Google deleting your ebooks when you cross a border is unreasonable, check this out: Amazon's textbook rental service comes with fine-print that allows the company to bill your credit card for the full amount if they think you've crossed a state line with it. It's not clear exactly what's going on here, but all signs point to this being part of Amazon's strategy for avoiding having to pay state sales-tax. Read the rest
With the announcement that Jeff Bezos is acquiring the Washington Post, Bezos has published an open letter to WashPo employees explaining what he plans on doing with the paper. It starts with, "The values of The Post do not need changing." Nevertheless, "There will, of course, be change at The Post over the coming years" -- mostly related (obviously) to the Internet. Read the rest
Susan Crawford is an eminent telcoms scholar, former government official (who resigned because of corruption in telcoms policy) and the author, recently, of an important book on telcoms corruption and net neutrality called Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. This book has scared the pants off of big telcos.
Their anti-Net-Neutrality front groups like NetCompetition, Broadband For America, and Media Freedom have been smearing Crawford and her book since it was published, and now, at least 31 people have posted highly similar one-star reviews of her book to Amazon, quoting talking points from these organizations. Most of these reviewers are not in Amazon's "real name" program, and the ones that are work for big telcos and the think-tanks they fund. Mike Masnick investigated the reviews in detail and it's pretty clear that nearly all the five-star reviews are from legit, named, disinterested parties (albeit with a few people who have a dog in the fight, like activists and scholars, and a couple more who say they are trying to balance out the one-star smears); meanwhile, nearly all the one-star reviews are from shills or telco people.
America has some of the worst Internet infrastructure in the developed world, and it's getting worse year by year. It's thanks to the crooked phone companies and their corrupt pals in Congress, the state houses, and the regulators. These titans have the country by its nervous system, and they're so afraid of criticism that they engage in petty, corrupt astroturfing to attack books that call them out. Read the rest
Texas Sen. Wendy Davis did something amazing when she filibustered for 13 hours solid to kill the state's omnibus abortion bill: standing, without help, food, water, or bathroom breaks, for 13 straight hours. In a pair of Mizuno Women's Wave Rider 16 Running Shoes. Fans of Ms Davis have taken to Amazon to show their support in the reviews, a strange form of public commentary with some precedent: "Guaranteed to outrun patriarchy on race day," and "I tried on a pair at the local mall and suddenly Texas Republicans started telling me what to do with my genitals." Read the rest
Andrew Albanese, my editor at Publishers Weekly, has been tracking the antitrust action the DoJ brought against the big six publishers and Apple over price-fixing very carefully, and he's written a great-looking, DRM-free ebook about it called "The Battle of $9.99: How Apple, Amazon, and the Big Six Publishers Changed the E-Book Business Overnight." Here's what he had to say about it:
Read the rest
It is mostly about the backstory of the case, how publishers' antipathy to $9.99 led them to what turned out to be a pretty fateful decision. It is also available in all the major e-book stores, Sony, B&N, Apple, and Amazon. Amazingly, Amazon is featuring it on their Singles home page here in the U.S.
So one note that might be of interest to you, I was surprised to learn in writing this essay how little the publishers negotiated their initial e-book retail terms back when the e-book market was just beginning. And, more to the point, that the thought they did put into e-books was all related to the negative aspects of digital: how to stop piracy, DRM, controlling unauthorized use. This is kind of where this whole legal saga begins. When Amazon came to launch the Kindle in 2007, the publishers were so focused on the bad things that digital might bring that they never really considered, hey, what if this e-book thing really works? What if this Kindle thing takes off?
Remember, at the time Amazon launched the Kindle, the publishers were stumping for the Google Settlement, so their attention was focused more on stopping the digitization and indexing of long out-of-print books that were making money for no one.