There is no avoiding the fact that the Big 6 publishers created their own problem in the Kindle. Amazon provided them with an easy way to start making a move into digital publishing when it was just getting off the ground and they jumped at it. That alone wasn’t the problem, though. The issue was that they were so paranoid about the medium that they managed to lock people into the first platform they purchased any significant number of books through. Let’s face it, nobody is better at successfully selling, suggesting, and just generally getting people interested in books than Amazon.
I’ve talked here before about how the Kindle deserves its place as the top selling eReader primarily because nobody else has come close to designing a store that gives customers so much of what they want. The suggestions are often eerily accurate, the categories make sense, and the search options are almost always up to a given task. Even Barnes & Noble can’t come close because of how used to the store-based practice of sponsored marketing they are. Given a choice between accurate recommendations based on personal purchase history balanced against similar customer profiles and recommendations based on what publishers decided to pour an advertising budget into, the choice is fairly simple.
We know that Apple’s price fixing scheme was not the answer in the long run. Not only did it not work particularly well to decrease Amazon’s influence, now the publishers are enjoying legal troubles for their efforts. They do have plenty of reason to want more diversified distribution, though. Looking at Amazon’s treatment of the IPG is enough to highlight some of what it means to be completely at the mercy of a single distributor.
The problem these publishers really need to address is that of their DRM. Amazon has not required publishers to participate in their DRM scheme, to the best of my knowledge. That was forced by publisher paranoia over piracy. If done away with, they are afraid that eBook profits will plummet.
Here, it seems like publisher interests are actually well served by the design of the Kindle. Without losing existing Kindle owners as customers, publishers could easily begin selling their titles without DRM and encourage wider competition. Best case scenario, this would allow publishers to open their own cooperatively stocked eBook store. It would also make possible the creation of smaller stores taking advantage of the same opportunity.
If somebody got truly ambitious, it wouldn’t even be hard to create a Kindle alternative that allowed for essentially the same experience. There are any number of Kindle clones on the market already that do the job fairly well and could probably do it better if the provider felt it was worth the investment in development. There’s no incentive if they can’t attract customers because Kindle Store purchases are locked down to Kindles.
All of this hinges on publishers looking past the possibility of piracy. How is that really so difficult, though? The DRM on eBooks is already laughably easy to get around, judging by how common stories of switching platforms through format conversion have become. If somebody really wants to pirate content, it is going to happen anyway. If these companies genuinely believe that the only thing keeping most Kindle owners from helping themselves to hundreds of free books is the DRM scheme, they’re fooling themselves and working against their own best interests.
With the announcement that the Harry Potter series will be offered in eBook for the first time through the author’s very own distribution system (via Kindle, Nook, and pretty much any other device you care to name) rather than through the normal channels or in partnership with any publishing company, J.K Rowling has almost certainly upset some people. More importantly, however, her decision to release the incredibly popular series free of DRM constraints, relying instead on digital watermarking that will identify the original purchaser should a copy be found being distributed, brings the question of Digital Rights Management back to the front of our minds.
The philosophy behind this move will make sense to many people. If you buy an eBook, why should it matter what device you decide to read it on? If you own both a Kindle and a Nook, shouldn’t it be possible to move between them as desired? Publishing companies, as well as eBook distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, have traditionally felt that to be wishful thinking. After all, if you can read the eBook on whatever you want, what is to stop you from giving a copy to your friends and family, or even throwing it onto the internet where anybody who wants to read it can get to it for free? They see the restrictions as worth the price if it means that authors and publishers will continue to get their cut for each reader who comes along.
I look at this release as an experiment. We will get a chance to see how an author fares when she takes an already established and well known collection of books and releases them digitally with very little control. Will Harry Potter fans show up in huge numbers to buy the series yet again just so that they can read it on their Kindles? Is it too late to catch the attention of most now that the series has already sold so well? Perhaps the majority will even feel entitled to pirate the series, having already spent as much as $150+ on a complete set of the hardcovers. This last point, in particular, holds certain weight for me since it gets to the heart of the DRM issue at hand.
If you buy for one medium, be it paper or Kindle, are you paying for the specific instance of that product, or are you paying for access to the information it contains. If the former, then the DRM scheme we have now should be fine. If anything, it is fairly lenient. You would be paying for the opportunity to read a book on one specific platform and anything else is extra. If, on the other hand, we are buying the information contained in the instance, then it makes sense to be able to access it via any device we have on hand. Maybe paper books make more sense as collectables in a system like that?
Regardless of what the truth is, or how the public will choose to interpret it given this opportunity, Rowling is going to make loads of money. Kindle owners are going to show up for this one. The difference between tens and hundreds of millions of dollars could be how we have to judge the outcome of this experiment in the end. It could easily become a point in favor of the abolishment of restrictive DRM, if people are honest.
The idea that print books and the Kindle were in opposition has been around pretty much as long as there’s been a Kindle. In fact, if you go back far enough, you can find people talking about the impending end of the written word pretty much since there was the option to view words on a screen. The Kindle just made it easy and enjoyable enough for people in general to take the “threat” seriously. The transition hasn’t been perfect, nor has it always been smooth. There are always problems with innovations. For the most part, however, it is clear to everybody that eBooks are thriving.
That is, at least, the impression I was under. A recent article by Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Movement, the GNU Project, and general digital freedoms activist, seems to insist not only that this turning point has yet to come, but that we should resist it on principal. His recent article, titled “The Danger of E-books” highlight the shortcomings of digital reading media by comparing point for point across a list of freedoms that can be associated with print books. Emphasis is placed on the value of anonymous purchasing, lack of required proprietary technology or software, resale capabilities, and the differences between ownership and licensing. He makes what could be considered some good points, but that depends on your point of view and priorities.
From what I know of Stallman, anonymity is a major issue for the guy. I can understand the urge for that kind of complete privacy, but at the same time it is increasingly proving more of a daily hassle than it is worth. I’m not claiming that as a good thing, just a fact of life. His argument that a book can be purchased anonymously, where a Kindle or Kindle eBook cannot, really only applies if you are the sort of person who makes no purchases online in the first place, who doesn’t use a credit card, and who avoids all non-cash transactions. This isn’t an eBook problem, it’s a modern commerce problem.
A similar problem applies to his objections to restricted reselling. Pulling an example from another industry, look at the problems that reselling have caused video game production companies. Not only are many consumers more likely to purchase used copies than new ones, but these used copies are a continual drain on their original creators who must maintain any server-side components in spite of the fact that purchasers after the first bring no money to the originating company. A similar problem would arise for a company like Amazon if they were to offer resale Kindle books. Customers come to the platform expecting to have their books available to them on all their devices when they want them. Should Amazon be providing this service to people who work around the system and grab a “used” license that provides no profit to either author or distributor? I suppose a rights-transfer fee might be possible, but that would have its own objectors, especially on already inexpensive eBooks.
Maybe it is a bit cynical but I think that if you leave people free to do what they please, there’s a good chance that they will. Is the current DRM scheme ridiculously restrictive? Yes. No Question. Is the answer to completely do away with DRM and move to a scheme such as the one Stallman suggests, where the only money authors can expect is from pleased readers wanting to anonymously donate to them? I sincerely hope not. It’s a pleasant vision that assumes the best of everybody, but in reality it would almost certainly mean the downfall of the Kindle platform and a move away from digital publishing by pretty much everybody wanting to make a career of writing.
The eReader marketplace has reached the point where, in terms of hardware, there simply isn’t a bad option anymore. Both the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook give amazing value for the money, serve their purposes well, and generally are forced to emphasize trivial differences to keep customers aware that there are performance differences at all(1 month of battery life? 2 months? Is this really important enough to advertise?). So, how do you decide which way to go? Unless you’re a gadget collector, chances are you won’t be grabbing both. The problem is that choosing one makes it impressively difficult to move to the other later.
When you buy an eBook from either Amazon or Barnes & Noble, it generally comes with DRM locking you in to their system. You can’t just swap your books back and forth. Sure, there are ways to remove this protection, but it’s probably best to just choose a long term favorite rather than going through the effort or moral ambiguity of illegally removing it. On the plus side, this isn’t nearly as restrictive as it sounds on a day to day basis no matter which option you choose. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble will let you read your books on pretty much anything with a screen these days. Even if you find, several years down the line, that your eReader has broken and the product has been discontinued, you will still be able to load your entire library on your computer, cell phone, tablet, etc.
What should really be driving choice for consumers right now is the library that a particular platform brings to the table. Really, in an ideal world, this would always have been what drove choices but I’m being realistic. Thanks to the publishing industry’s Agency Model pricing, how much you spend on professionally published eBooks is going to be pretty universal. The same is true, though for different reasons, of most self-publishers. There’s just no real incentive in place to favor one system over another and risk ostracizing a potential set of customers.
In most situations, the selection isn’t even particularly different. While I’ve found several eBooks in the Kindle Store that I could not find in its B&N counterpart, this is a fairly rare event and will almost never come up in normal use. I would say that Amazon has a slight advantage in terms of selection right now simply by virtue of running several of their own publishing imprints to push, but it is a minor point.
What I think you have to weigh is the permanence of the system you are buying into. Your purchases will always be yours. That is pretty much a given. No matter what you buy from whom these days, you’re fine with regard to long term accessibility. Do you really want to have to switch platforms, and in doing so maintain two libraries because who wants to lose all of their old book purchases? This is why things like iBooks are out. If Apple gives up and folds on eBooks or gets so restrictive that their selection suffers even more, the idea of being stuck with them for new purchases is unpleasant.
Both the Kindle and the Nook platforms give their customers the kind of functionality and long term commitment that they need to, I think. In one form or another, they’re going to stick around for the foreseeable future. I’m not saying that it’s a plus to be locked into a single platform, or that it’s fair, or that life wouldn’t be better without DRM, I’m just pointing out the current equivalencies in the marketplace. Maybe at some point we’ll reach a place where it isn’t in a company’s interest to keep their customers shopping specifically in their stores, but for now we might as well make the best of it. There isn’t too much real ground for complaints from what I can tell.
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has announced its intention to enter eBook market in June, 2009. Then there were some preliminary announcements of deals with publishers. But as Sony (NYSE:SNE), B&N (NYSE:BKS) kept releasing their own products everyone seemed to forget about the search engine company. With Amazon Kindle vs. Nook, Sony vs. Kindle and iPad vs. everyone and their dog nobody seemed to take Google eBook initiatives seriously. One year ago I believed and I still do that if someone were to dethrone Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) as eBook leader, it would be Google and not other eInk reader manufacturers and definitely not Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).
Recently Google has announced that Google Editions will go live and start selling books in the Cloud as early as June, 2010. Although Google is not known for generating excessive hype for their products through extreme secrecy and controlled leaks little is known about the upcoming service so far:
- There will be a reader application that will run on any modern browser. iPad users will definitely be able to accesses it. eInk -based devices with browser capabilities like Kindle and Nook are a big “if”.
- You would be able to download books in some “open” format and read them on inexpensive “independent” eInk readers that support it. Although it wasn’t officially announced what that format might be my bets are on ePub. Whether it will have some form of DRM or not remains to be seem. Most likely it will. Otherwise it wouldn’t make sense for Google to keep Kindle out as they could easily attract millions of current Kindle owners who already buy and appreciate eBooks by supporting DRM-free Mobipocket format.
- Publishers will be able to set their own price. Does it mean that there will be no “$9.99” books? Hard to say. It’s true that Amazon put a lot of effort in trying to keep the prices low however even apart from Amazon efforts there is also free market that will prevail eventually. Should the service become popular, after some time prices there would be representative of true market pricing. I believe that Amazon prices are currently below market because Amazon is pushing the book prices down to promote the Kindle reader and lock-in customers.
- Publishers will keep 63% of the book price, Google will pocket remaining 37%.
- It would be possible for online book retailers to use Google Edition platform to sell eBooks. Essentially these are going to be the same books. Retailer will get 55% of revenues and pay a small fee to Google, publisher will get the remaining 45%.
- Publishers would also be able to act as a retailer in which case they keep all the revenue minus small Google fee.
- Google Editions is expected to launch with 500,000 titles. I expect that many if not most of these will be public domain books.
Will Google Editions succeed? Hard to tell. If it will, it would not be because of “open format” but because of ease of use and book selection. After all, people don’t want to buy eReader (be it eInk or not), people don’t care about whether format is open or not (although 1984 argument may scare some people, in reality eBooks are little different from paper books in this regard for all practical purposes) . What people do want is to read books that they find interesting. Whoever would make it the easiest would win.
So far Google seems to have following advantages:
- Google Editions will work in browser. Every computer be it Mac, PC or linux based DIY desktop has a browser. Phones have browsers too (though I find it hard to believe that the app would be usable on a small screen). This means that you don’t have to install any software – just type in the URL and you are ready to go. This is a big plus as people don’t like/don’t know how/are afraid to install stuff on their computers.
- Since Google Editions runs in a browser it’s very convenient for Google that they actually own most of what is displayed in a browser. Many people set Google.com as their homepage. And when they want to buy something (including books) they “google” it. Google can rank their book store 1st, 2nd and 3rd for popular queries like “Twilight Eclipse” with a flick of a switch. Of course doing something this brutal and straightforward would get them in a lot of antitrust trouble. But there are many more subtle options.
- Because publishers can control the price they may be more likely to sign up for the program.
- Wide range of supported devices may be a plus.
There are some things that are stacked against Google:
- It was clearly announced that Amazon Kindle device is not supported. So Google will have hard time attracting existing Kindle customers who already purchased the device and books. These people wouldn’t want to forfeit their existing collections. It would be really hard to convert these people.
- Having many devices to chose from can be a problem. Some people are confused by choice. When you buy Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader, you can be sure that these companies will stand behind their devices, support them and you would be able to buy books for years to come. With “independent” readers there is always a chance of device becoming incompatible with Google store since Google doesn’t own the device, doesn’t support it and has no control over it. And of course “independent” readers are locked out of closed leading book stores like Amazon, Sony and B&N.
All in all it’s a coin toss about who will come out on top (if anyone). My money is 50/50 on Amazon and Google.
The Lost Symbol Bestseller
The Kindle edition of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol seems to be outselling the Hardcover edition of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol as was first discovered by Kindle Nation Daily. At the time I’m writing this, the Kindle version is still ahead on Amazon’s sales charts.
The main thing to take away from this is the growing power of the Kindle and other eReaders. Having the Kindle sales best the physical sales is the latest step in publishing’s gradual move towards digital media. If more books follow suit, and the gap between digital and hardcover sales widen, digital versions will slowly begin to take precedence over printed ones. I’m going to guess that hardcovers will be the first victims of eBooks, eventually being limited to small, collector-oriented runs.
Of course, the Kindle edition’s success needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Amazon sales charts are updated frequently, so whoever hasn’t necessarily sold more copies overall. In this case, preorders for the hardcover started earlier than preorders for the eBook, somewhat skewing the results. I’m not saying that this means the Kindle version didn’t sell more, but it is something to consider. Also, hardcovers never sell anything close to paperback numbers, which may be much higher than the Kindle sales once they become widely available.
But, at least for now, the Kindle is dominating in the Amazon book store.
Another interesting thing about The Lost Symbol is that it has been made widely available by pirates in ePub and PDF forms. But this didn’t stop the eBook version from outselling the hardcover. This proves my point that people would follow the path of the least resistance. In the case of Kindle buying is easier than stealing so they buy. Back in the time of Audiogalaxy.com it was far easier to download the newly released album (without leaving your home) several days before it hit the stores (that you have to visit in person or wait for several more days before it’s delivered) so people pirated like crazy. Therefore the ease of purchase that is central to Amazon Kindle is the strongest form of DRM.
In the wake of the controversy surrounding Amazon’s deletion of George Orwell books the Free Software Foundation is readying a petition against remote deletion and DRM. This news is somewhat significant, as the Free Software Foundation is an organization that has some weight in the world of software activism. Most famous for the GNU Project(and the related GPL license), the foundation can be thought of as the de facto head of the open source and free software movements.
The Free Software Foundation has acknowledged Bezos’ apology, but feel that it isn’t enough. The petition will ask that Amazon completely relinquish the ability to make changes to users’ Kindle libraries. One interesting point up is how the technology could provide a tool for censorship, especially as the Kindle enters new markets. This argument is likely inspired by other companies. For example, Google has taken criticism in the past for how it has assisted China’s government in censoring the internet.
For good measure, the petition will also ask Amazon to reevaluate the use of DRM. I have to say that this seems unlikely. Amazon’s view towards DRM is completely irrelevant: if the Kindle didn’t have DRM, the major publishers would stop supporting it. While DRM has its downsides, Amazon doesn’t really have a choice in the matter.
Still, the petition has gotten some notice. Once signatures have been assembled and the Free Software Foundation presents the petition, it will be interesting to see how Amazon responds. So far, Amazon has been pretty good about responding to their customers, so it is possible that they will try to listen to the petition (except of course the DRM). Then again, Microsoft has ignored the Free Software Foundation for decades and it hasn’t really been that difficult for them.
Engadget reports that undisclosed law firm on behalf of Amazon.com sent cease and desist letter to MobileRead.com admins demanding pages that host instructions on how to use Python script that allows you to read legally purchased DRM protected eBooks in MobiPocket format on Kindle and Kindle 2.
My personal opinion is that it’s not as simple as Engadget and TechDirt would like to portray it. For one, Engadget’s statement that the script “script, which can’t actually be used to break Kindle DRM” is misleading. I will not elaborate why. If you research the matter yourself, you may find out what I mean. I don’t want to take sides on this particular issue, I just want to point out that there’s more to it than meets the eye or what’s written in mainstream news.
While I am personally a big supporter of open information market where content creators and distributors are fairly compensated for their work and law-abiding users are not limited by crippling DRM systems that bind them to specific hardware. But before this can happen market should get big enough. Otherwise it may collapse because of extreme competition. Amazon is currently the biggest driver or eBook market growth. Cut their profits, their eBook business may collapse and there will be no market at all. Recent release of Kindle application for iPhone and iPodTouch is a step in the right direction towards more open information market. Because it allows usage of purchased digital content to be freely used across two different software and hardware platforms. Hopefully soon more steps like this will follow.
Kindle only allows you to read DRM protected eBooks, so how would you can you read other eBooks on the Kindle? one way would be to add the Kindle DRM to your eBook!
Hacker Igor Skochinsky who hacked open the Sony e-reader has done it again, this time he has hacked open the Kindle to allow you to read mobipocket eBooks on the Kindle, its a novel solution, by using a couple of Python scripts, you can convert an eBook into Amazon’s AZW format, the scripts add a serial number DRM, unique to an individuals Kindle, which allows you to read them on the Kindle device.
Now there is a chance that it Amazon can ‘fix’ the hack, since Amazon owns Mobipocket, however I don’t think this is the path that Amazon will take. Aarjav Trivedi over at Kindle Hacks has blogged today about how the ‘Director of Kindle’ over at Amazon has no problem with the Kindle being hacked.
CAUTION: USE THESE SCRIPTS AT YOUR OWN RISK! WE CAN NOT ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY DAMAGE CAUSED AS A RESULT OF THEIR USE.
Source: Igor Skochinsky
Python Script Download: Kindle Mobipocket tools 0.1
Python Script Download: Mirror
Source: Kindle Hacks