Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Amazon pushes into publishing, and others start pushing back


Amazon, perhaps more confident than ever with Larry Kirshbaum on its team, continues to forge ahead rather aggressively in its publishing ventures. Love ’em or hate ’em, but there’s no denying the company is a serious force to be reckoned with, and you never know what sort of announcement is going to hit headlines on any given day.

The most recent surprise (well, to me, anyway) was the announcement that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will be printing Amazon’s adult titles. This move is simultaneously brilliant and terrifying.

One of the distinct advantages that publishers and booksellers held over Amazon was the physical tangibility on a store shelf. Now it looks like Amazon is trying to close that gap.

As to be expected, though, we’re seeing quite a bit of pushback against Amazon’s aggressive, and often restrictive, strategy.

For one thing, with Barnes & Noble being the only big chain left in the game, Amazon (and now HMH, too) has to decide just how much they want their books on Barnes & Noble’s shelves. Previously, Barnes & Noble was willing to stock Amazon’s titles on its shelves, but only if they were able to sell the ebook versions as well. So, that’s all still up in the air. And independent booksellers need to decide whether they will stock these titles, as well. It’s a big decision that carries a lot of weight. According to the PaidContent article cited above,

Barnes & Noble could still refuse to carry Amazon Publishing titles—as could any anti-Amazon independent bookstore. Barnes & Noble does carry the print version of The Hangman’s Daughter and other HMH-distributed Amazon titles, however. And the line from independent bookstores has tended to be that if their customers request Amazon Publishing titles, they will stock them, though they might be reluctant to do so otherwise.

It will be interesting to see how that unfolds.

Aside from that battle, however, Barnes & Noble may be pushing back even more significantly by positioning itself as “the good guy” in the eyes of publishers.

At the Digital Book World conference, Jim Hilt, VP of ebooks at Barnes & Noble, announced that the company would be sharing more data with publishers. This, I think, is a bold—and smart—move. To compete with Amazon, you have to offer what they can’t…or won’t. It is still unclear as to the extent of this data sharing, but it could be a real differentiating factor compared to its competitor:

While Hilt offered no details on how Barnes & Noble will share data, what kind of data it will share, when and with whom, he said, “the transformation and rapid growth in our digital book industry will only happen when authors, retailers and publishers will become more transparent about the data they use…we will all collectively sell more great books we love, every day, all the time.”

Although the secretive, self-contained approach makes sense for a technology company (just look at how protective Apple can be), it may not be the ticket when it comes to the book business. And this is where the biggest objection exists.

Just last week, Goodreads, the social-networking site for bibliophiles, announced that it would no longer be using Amazon’s Product Advertising API for its book information, and will instead be entering into an agreement with Ingram. The reason for the switch? Amazon’s licensing agreements are too restrictive. According to this PaidContent article:

Amazon requires sites that use its API to link that content back to the Amazon site exclusively—so a book page on Goodreads would have to link only to its product page on Amazon, and not to any other source or retailer. Goodreads links to many online retailers. “Our goal is to be an open place for all readers to discover and buy books from all retailers, both online and offline,” the company told me. Amazon also does not allow any content from its API to be used on mobile sites and apps.

Though this isn’t surprising—after all, this seems to be Amazon’s standard strategy—it is possible that their self-contained, my-way-or-the-highway approach may be its downfall. Or maybe not. But what happens if enough companies don’t want to play by Amazon’s rules? I guess we’ll see.

It’s interesting though. Not sure if you all read the Bloomberg article, but there was a Kirshbaum quote in there that really caught my attention:

 “I have a message I really believe in,” Kirshbaum says. “Which is that we’re trying to innovate in ways that can help everybody. We are trying to create a tide that will lift all boats.”

Though I appreciate the sentiment, I’d bet that Barnes & Noble, publishers to some extent, and indie bookstores don’t feel like they’re being helped.

And I think we may start to see more pushback and more alternatives emerging—and that could actually be quite healthy for the industry as a whole.

(Edit: B&N will definitely not be selling Amazon titles in its stores, as confirmed in this PW article.)

One comment on “Amazon pushes into publishing, and others start pushing back

  1. Pingback: The winter of our [dis]content « appazoogle

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This entry was posted on February 1, 2012 by in Business, Opinion and tagged , , , .

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