eBooks: Hot, Flat, Crowded, and Not on Amazon.com. Let the Games Begin

(Important: late-breaking news. Since this was posted earlier today, Amazon has reversed its position on this. Macmillan is back, but with its own pricing on the Kindle. This is important. Here’s a link.)

eBook wars, you say? On one hand, it’s about time. On the other, wow, this is strategy in action. And interesting spectacle too. That’s why in athletics the championship games are more interesting: two big winners squaring off.

Mashable led over the weekend with Apple vs. Amazon: The Great Ebook War Has Already Begun, a post by Ben Parr, whose work I like a lot. Posted Saturday, it’s about Amazon and Macmillan. It’s hard to tell who’s making the move on whom here, but the announcement was that Amazon.com was removing Macmillan books from its web store:

According to the New York Times, the reason the books were pulled was the iPad. Macmillan told Amazon that it wanted to change its pricing and compensation agreement, upping the price of some books from $9.99 to $15 and splitting sales 70/30, the same model Apple uses for the iPhone app store and its upcoming iBooks store. Amazon’s apparent response was to flex its muscle and pull countless Macmillan books off the virtual shelves.

Last Friday I posted how the competition is win-win for all sides. We get a choice: Kindle books, just text, for one price, or Apple iBook books (pizazz) for a higher price. You get to decide. Ah, the magic of commerce.

But with Amazon.com and Macmillan biting off each other’s noses, it’s not so clear. Ben Parr wrote:

That’s why Amazon decided to use its biggest weapon, Amazon.com itself, against Macmillan to send a message to every publisher: If you don’t play by its rules, then you can’t be in its store. While a publisher can likely survive without the Kindle, the same cannot be said for Amazon.com. Publishers simply cannot afford to leave the world’s largest online retailer.

Who wins? In this case, the losers are Amazon.com and Macmillan, and all Macmillan authors, and anybody who wants to buy their books. Amazon? Don’t we all go there because we can find all the books imaginable there? And now we don’t? Although you can still buy Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded on Amazon.com, you can’t do it directly. They list it as available from third-party sellers, even though it’s one of the most important books of the last year. And here’s some irony: Priceless, William Poundstone’s analysis of free and fair value and all, is another victim.

Remember the old days, when things like this were about giving customers what they want?

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