Swinging between Amazon and Apple with the ebook publishers

You’ve got to give Jeff Bezos credit for cojones, if not business savvy. The guy still hasn’t learned to stay off the trapeze without a net.

Motoko Rich of the NY Times and Christina Warren of Mashable both report this week that Amazon is back to swinging wildly from the highwire with a club, demanding a three-year contract from publishers and a guarantee no other bookseller gets better prices. For “other bookseller” you can, of course, read “Apple.” And Bezos isn’t asking nicely—he’s on the offensive.

Well, Apple has the same sentiments about pricing. Nobody wants to be underbid.

But Bezos appears oblivious to the bad fall he took only a few months ago pulling a high-profile stunt like this. Has he forgotten. . .um, he LOST?

And whether or not Amazon and Apple get the Mexican Standoff they want, guaranteeing neither wins the pricing game, that time-lock contract is one spangly costume blowing in the wind. A three-year lockdown? In this technological climate? Is Bezos joking?

Even in Silicon Valley, they don’t know where they’re going to be in three years. There’s Super-Top-Secret Classified stuff going on everywhere, NDAs popping buttons in all directions, deadly competition for marketshare with very real, very heavy millions of dollars hanging in the balance. Lock into three years of emerging technology with one company? I wouldn’t sign a that kind of contract locking me into a high-paying job.

Steve Jobs has five of the six big publishers onboard with him—Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin—and he’ll have Random House before he’s done. They’ve got the money, he’s got the time. He’s a wheeler-dealer. That’s what he does.

It’s not about bullying, Jeff. It’s about making someone an offer they can’t refuse. (Although it’d be nice if someone could teach Steve to pull his legs in and stop blocking the sidewalk in front of Palo Alto cafes, where he likes to do business on his cell phone.)

BUT. There is the possibility Bezos will succeed in splitting the market into Big Pubbers and Small Pubbers if he can offer small publishers deals Jobs isn’t interested in offering. Bezos is already courting the small pubs/self-pubs people. And, I have to say, that would be a fascinating development, reconfiguring Amazon’s rather tarnished persona as the “indie friend.” (Writers are indies, too, and they don’t necessarily appreciate seeing their already laughably-minimal profits chiseled even further just to promote Bezos’ stock.)

But are there enough nickels and dimes out there to balance the Ben Franklins? (See this article about The Long Tail by Chris Anderson in Wired in 2004—oddly retro for only five and a half years ago.)

And what about the reputation of a lot of what’s being self-published right now? Would Amazon come out looking like the champion of mom-&-pop businesses against the big box stores? Or just a franchise of cheap dimestore head shops?

4 thoughts on “Swinging between Amazon and Apple with the ebook publishers

  1. Kathryn says:

    My tenth grade son has a friend who has made twenty thousand a year for the past two years creating flash games which sell for a buck a piece. It’s shocking because these games are very simple when compared to major platform games. But obviously, there’s a market for them.

    Convenience (availability) matters to some people, even at the expense of quality. An indie friendly Amazon would be a very smart move for Amazon because those nickels and dimes do add up

    I don’t know if all these advances are making it any easier for writers though. It isn’t enough to just write, they also need to understand publishing.


  2. Victoria says:

    This is all publishing business, Kathryn, not writing craft at all. It’s a messy situation, because writers are constantly exhorted these days to understand publishing so they can do all their own marketing—now that traditional publishers have soiled their nests so badly they don’t have the money for it—which means writers don’t have the time or brainpower to learn about writing itself. It’s going from bad to worse, and there’ll be a point in the not-too-distant future when the lines cross and you’ll no longer be able to distinguish between crap and quality by whether it’s been traditionally- or self-published. When only marketers get published, the only thing to read will be books by marketers.

    As far as the kid with forty grand, can I have his phone number? I know a 12-year-old whose parents could use a leg up.

  3. Kathryn says:

    Tell me about it. The kid’s name is Chris. He started a Flash Club at school. I told Erik, “Whatever you do, do not miss a single meeting!” Coincidentally, Chris is going back to homeschooling next year so he can devote more time to his budding empire! I think I should hire him to make a flash game out of my book! How’s that for marketing? Get the video game first, then finish the novel!


  4. Victoria says:

    That’s not a bad idea, Kathryn. If the games are marketed to kids, you’re pipelining Mirren right into their living rooms.

    When I interviewed teachers 14 years ago for my first book, CHILDREN & THE INTERNET, one made the point that she was using the Internet in the classroom to introduce her kids to literature. She said they’d see the book online and go straight to the library to check it out.

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