Why It’s Crazy for Authors to Keep Their Books Off the Kindle
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Amazon’s approach to digital rights management (DRM). Following Apple’s lead with the iPod, Amazon has chosen to use a proprietary file format for the Kindle, meaning that Kindle editions can’t be read on other devices—the exception being the iPhone, for which Amazon has released a Kindle app. Nor can e-books formatted using popular open standards like epub be read on the Kindle without tortuous manual preparation. Also like Apple, Amazon makes sure that it is the sole conduit to the device: you can only buy Kindle editions through Amazon, and while it’s possible to transfer your own Word, PDF, or HTML files to the Kindle, you have to do so by e-mailing them to Amazon’s servers, which encode them for the Kindle and transmit them back to you via e-mail or directly to the device over Whispernet for $0.15 per megabyte.
Then there’s the pricing issue. Most Kindle books cost $9.99, which is often $3 to $8 below Amazon’s already heavily discounted prices. Vaidhyanathan is correct that Amazon doesn’t share information about how e-books are priced or how many are sold—so it’s actually hard to tell how much of the Kindle discount is coming out of the pockets of authors and publishers, and how much is being absorbed by Amazon in the form of lower profits (or even losses) on Kindle editions.
But I have a hard time buying Vaidhyanathan’s contention that publishers are “scared not to bow to Amazon’s strong-arm tactics.” When authors and publishers demanded that Amazon give them the option to turn off the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle 2, Amazon folded virtually overnight. (Don’t even get me started about the monumental foolishness of the Authors Guild’s contention that readers should not be allowed to hear their books read aloud by a computer voice unless authors get a cut. The inanity of this idea has almost caused me to part company with the otherwise entertaining Roy Blount Jr., president of the guild.)
If Vaidhyanathan and I were having our little Twitter debate now, instead of early July, he would probably also mention the now-famous 1984 incident, in which Amazon remotely deleted copies of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 from customers’ Kindles after it discovered that the publisher did not have the rights to the titles. I don’t think the episode is worth harping on, given that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has apologized profusely for what he called the company’s “stupid” and “thoughtless” decision to handle the problem by meddling with books people had already purchased. But that hasn’t stopped the Free Software Foundation from adding Amazon to its Defective By Design campaign, which targets media companies that use DRM, and calling for Bezos’s “impeachment.”
Authors and publishers are free to take a stand on any of the issues above by excluding their books from the Kindle platform. What I’m saying is, doing so can solidly be classified as cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Sure, you can quibble with … Next Page »