Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Will Amazon.com Conquer the Ebook Industry?

Amazon with a bicycle poster

With great power comes great responsibility. Amazon.com has been making headlines lately, and not only for its ebook reading devices.

In February, Amazon.com was cautioned by Tim O'Reilly, who writes in a Forbes essay, Why Kindle Should be an Open Book:

Yet I have a bold prediction: Unless Amazon embraces open e-book standards like epub, which allow readers to read books on a variety of devices, the Kindle will be gone within two or three years.

At Teleread, one of the Internet's leading sources for ebook information, author Steve Weber writes about his concerns for his financial future with Amazon. The comments to this post are equally interesting. Here we can see that, like all large companies, Amazon has its fanboys who blindly forgive everything, its fans who are reasonably critical, and its unrelenting critics who search for every wrinkle and every flaw.

Today in ZDNet, Jason Perlow has written a brilliant article about the problems we face — we lovers of all things "open source" — when dealing with Amazon.com. Perlow's article, Mr. Bezos, Tear Down This Wall, is an excellent summary of the current situation, and an indispensable starting point for future discussions.

Perlow writes:

Amazon is not-so-quietly building a wall between itself, its competitors, and open e-book formats. It’s time to show them that those of us who seek e-book readers without boundaries will not stand for their market monopolization and Soviet-style platform containment.

Will Amazon.com dominate the ebook industry? ... I agree with Tim O'Reilly: If Amazon.com wants to survive at all, they must change.

Amazon needs to change their entire approach to selling ebooks. Or else there will be format wars that devastate the already-struggling publishing industry, keep prices high, and harm consumers by offering ebooks with sub-par functionality.

Amazon could offer the world an olive branch by getting rid of their DRM; changing from a proprietary format to an open format' and reducing the chunk (now 65%) that they take from publishers on every ebook sale.

If Amazon fails to listen to its tech-smart critics, and fails to re-invent itself, then formidable opponents will step up to meet the need for a more open approach to ebook publishing. Apple or Google (or both) will challenge Amazon.com by offering smarter and better deals to ebook publishers and ebook buyers.

Michael Pastore
50 Benefits of Ebooks

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