A Virtual Fight where the Consumer Loses

It’s getting ugly out there.

Not that publishing has ever been pretty. But as the ground trembles around the seismic shifts of e-books, e-tail and e-everything, publishers and retailers are battling one another for a share of the market with a new ferocity. And it’s brick-and-mortrar versus e-tail.

First, Amazon banned a publisher for a while over the price of e-books (Macmillan). Then Amazon and Barnes & Noble decided to offer sophisticated self-publishing options (more on self-publishing tomorrow). Next Amazon stepped up to compete directly with publishers by rolling out its own imprints, and paying big bucks to attract big-name authors . And then Amazon struck an exclusivity deal for digital rights for graphic novels, which not only alienated other publishers but also other retailers. So much so that the retailer struck back at the publisher.

That was DC Comics, by the way. Amazon will offer, for its recently launched Kindle Fire, rights to a hundred or so graphic novels, including Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the Sandman and Watchmen.

In retaliation, Barnes & Noble (which has its own Nook e-reader) and Books-a-Million, both removed the physical copies of all those DC titles from its stores – some 1,300 Barnes & Noble outlets and 230 Books-a-Million ones.

The customer isn’t benefitting here, either from Amazon’s exclusivity deal or the reprisals of the retailers not to stock books that Amazon has exclusive rights to. Someone who might have stepped into a Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million to get one of these titles was out of luck. And someone who doesn’t have a Kindle Fire or a device that supports Kindle? Tough.

And all because these two retailers want to … what, exactly?

To dominate. It’s not choice, it’s domination. It’s a kind of monopoly. It’s not free-market stuff – it’s throwing your weight around until you get your way.

Consumers like the choice of being able to download a book instantly (and at a lower price) than the same physical copy. They like the choice of being able to buy either one or the other. Or even both. Maybe Amazon thinks it’s offering something like its own version of Apple’s App store, an exclusive marketplace for applications created for its devices.

But exclusivity in books is harmful to free press, as is the decision by retailers not to carry a title based on someone else’s business decision. This at a time when brick-and-mortar stores are in danger – presenting a customer with less of a motivation to enter a store is an invitation to further store closings.

We all suffer.

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2 Responses to “A Virtual Fight where the Consumer Loses”

  1. Aldous Irving Jimenez-Echegoye October 21, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    Great post Bob!  Sometimes the consumer are caught in the midst of the big-player crossfire.  It’s just sad.


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