The Shatzkin Files

The ebook marketplace is a long way from settled

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When we put on conferences, we sometimes book speakers because of who they are, or who their company is, but we also do our best to make sure the content of their presentation will be useful to our audience. So I had booked Matteo Berlucchi, the CEO of the British ebook startup Anobii, to speak at last January’s Digital Book World 2012 some months before the event for two reasons. For one, I had met Matteo at our Pub Launch London conference last June and he impressed me. And, in addition, his social-network-conscious ebook retailing operation has three major houses — Penguin, HarperCollins, and Random House — as investors.

A couple of weeks before DBW 2012, we got on the phone with Matteo to learn what he wanted to talk about. That’s when he told me he’d call for publishers to give up DRM because, as he saw it, their doing so was the only way he could compete for Kindle customers. As a conference organizer and promoter, I was instantly aware that he was handing us a major news break: a retailer partly owned by three Big Six publishers was calling for the end of DRM! There was some gallows humor on the call about how Matteo would bring his CV (curriculum vitae, which the Brits use more freqently than the American “resume”) along to New York.

But, of course, Matteo wouldn’t have been doing something like that without the knowledge of his owners. So it was not a stretch to draw the inference that three major publishers didn’t mind floating a trial balloon, or perhaps what they were thinking was that it would be good if Amazon knew they’d seriously consider this.

His presentation created a stir, as we knew it would.

But Pottermore created an even bigger stir when they demonstrated how to execute on the “no DRM” strategy, including how to position the big retailers in that context. As we all know now, the threat that Pottermore might be able to load Kindles with Potter books (by selling DRM-free; it would be hard if not impossible for an outside vendor to crack Kindle’s proprietary DRM to load “protected” content on it) persuaded Amazon to play ball. They send Potter ebook buyers over to Pottermore’s site to register and pay and then are willing to take the customer back to load a DRMd ebook file on their Kindle. (Meanwhile, Pottermore enables also loading a Nook file, an iBooks file, and even provides a non-DRMd epub file for more general use, all for the same single purchase.)

Back in the early days of ebooks, which was not a hundred years ago but actually about five, Brian Murray, the CEO of HarperCollins, invested in the company that became LibreDigital (now owned by Donnelley) because he had a vision that publishers should deliver their own ebook files. Murray’s concern at the time was about piracy and file control. Whatever it was, the ebook retailers (mostly Amazon back then) shot the idea down. No way were they going to trust a publisher, any publisher, to provide service at the level their consumers had been taught to expect from them. So the model we’ve lived with until Pottermore has been that each retailer has its own copy of the publishers’ ebooks, and they serve their customers and account to the publishers for what was sold.

Pottermore pointed the way back to Murray’s original vision.

A few weeks later, Macmillan announced that one segment of its company,, was going DRM-free, although not jumping into the full Pottermore model of serving the content themselves. (One Macmillan executive told me that they’ve been selling the books of anti-DRM crusader Cory Doctorow without protection for years, including through Amazon.)

Fritz Foy, the Macmillan EVP who oversees digital, is speaking about the DRM decision at our Publishers Launch BEA event on June 4.

Last Friday, the next round in this battle was fired. Berlucchi published a post calling on all the big publishers to copy the Pottermore model, and do it now.

How this will play out depends a bit on what happens with the DRM-free experiments now begun at Pottermore and about to start at Macmillan. If sales of their books collapse under the weight of ubiquitous piracy as a result, it would stop this kind of experimentation dead in its tracks.

It would also surprise a lot of people, including me.

If the net destructive impact on sales is too trivial to be measured compared with the DRMd status quo, then we are bound to see this practice spread, and quickly. And then all the biggest publishers could be compelled to return to Murray’s several-years-old vision with Pottermore’s execution template.

The question for the first publisher that wants to try this will be whether the power of a Big Six publisher to compel Amazon to play along is as great as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise. It’s a really scary thing for them to do. After all, Rowling had zero digital revenue to protect and zero responsibility to anybody else for delivering it. All the major publishers have triple digit millions of dollars of Kindle revenue at stake and thousands of authors counting on them to deliver it.

But with Barnes & Noble now funded (by Microsoft) for battle for the next several years and Kobo and Apple committed to the fight as well, there’s a serious question as to whether Amazon would feel as comfortable going forward without one of the Big Six’s ebooks the way they have been willing to work without those from IPG.

In January 2010, John Sargent and Macmillan had a confrontation with Amazon and the retailing giant was forced to back down. The concessions that Charlie Redmayne of Pottermore (and he was, incidentally, recruited to that job from his position as Chief Digital Officer at HarperCollins) extracted from them are nothing short of stunning, but understandable if one considers what the impact of a Harry Potter ebook launch without the titles being available through Amazon would have been. (Oh, the headlines that would have generated!!!)

It’s easy for me to say, because I have nothing at stake, but I think Berlucchi is right. The big publishers can make this happen; it would change the game. I have trouble seeing any potential fly in the ointment for them except whatever would be the dangers of DRM-free. And that should be ascertained pretty well in the next few months.

There are still plenty of twists and turns to come in the evolving ebook marketplace.

It is important to remember that DRM isn’t Amazon’s only advantage or even their principal advantage. I’m not an Amazon fanboy (have you noticed?) and I read on an iPhone, but I buy most of my ebooks from the Kindle store because they offer the best shopping experience I’ve found.

However that (the shopping experience) isn’t a permanent advantage. The Kindle format and DRM are, as long as publishers feel DRM is essential.

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  • David Nussbaum

    Hi Mike, as always, your blog is a “first read” as soon as its posed.  I only wish you had more time for more articles!  Just a quick note since there has been so much talk in the industry about “DRM-free,” that F+W Media has been DRM-free for three years.  Although we are not as big as the Big Six, we are likely in the top 10.  

    • Thanks for this, David. I should probably have mentioned that Sara Domville of F+W will be on a panel at our Pub Launch BEA event about changes in publishing houses which will take up the DRM question, among others. We’re taking it from the fact that you’ve continued the practice for some time that you aren’t seeing any serious erosion of sales as a result!


      • David Nussbaum

        Correct Mike, in fact revenues are growing.

  • Cathy Doyle

    Baen is another publisher who’s been DRM free for years that still seems to be making money.  They even enclose CD-ROMs with their big series books upon occasion which have the entire back collection for your reading pleasure.  Still seem to be making money, last I checked.

    • Baen always comes up in these discussions. You’re right. We’ve been trying to connect with them.


      • Cathy Doyle

         It would be well worth it, they’ve been doing interesting work, well, forever. 

    • Another Steve

      Hi Cathy, 

      What’s unusual about Baen Books isn’t that they provide ebooks without DRM — lots of publishers have done that.  What distinguishes Baen is that they do not make their ebooks available through online retailers.  The calculus seems to be that whatever they lose by not having a showcase at and elsewhere is more than made up by not having the retailers take a cut.  It’s a model that other publishers have moved away from.  Ellora’s Cave, for example, started out as an ebook-only publisher but later added printed editions.  For a while — as it was with Baen —  you needed to go to their website to download their ebooks but later decided to make them available at Amazon, B&N and other merchants.  
      Baen is a specialized imprint with a very narrow focus and a rather small number of titles, all but a few of which are mass market paperback originals.  They were able to build up a fan base before ebooks were even popular, a fan base who knows how to get to their website and tech-savvy enough to download from a not especially user-friendly site.  

      What they’re doing is very interesting, but it’s not at all clear what lessons they can teach other publishers.  

  • EricWelch

    Do you have any data on the relationship between DRM, piracy and price-point? I have a suspicion that the higher the price the more likely a book would be pirated if DRM were to be lifted, and I suspect that’s why Audible has been reluctant to even consider it since their prices are much higher.  For ebooks or audiobooks below $10 I doubt if piracy would have any effect at all. Then again, DRM is really, really easy to remove so anyone that wants to can do so easily and perhaps we’ve already seen the maximum effects of “piracy.”

    • I have no data to support what you say, but it makes intuitive sense and it has long been suggested that price increases lead to piracy increases.
      But even more important, we don’t know whether “piracy” as we describe it actually reduces net sales or increases them. The default assumption by most big publishers and agents has been that piracy cannibalizes sales, but without knowing whether the pirates would ever have bought and what the stimulative effect of the pirated copies are on conversation around a book, we really don’t know that for sure.


      • Thomas P

        Eric Flint of the Baen Free Library put up some hard data on the effects of giving away free ebooks (usually the early books in a series) back in 2002 which could be called “legal” piracy. 

        In one post he showed that after posting the free ebook of a title the sales of the book (in paper since that was the dominant format at the time) went up even though the paper edition had been out for years.  He also mentioned MIT Press’s experience of the same phenomenon as reported on NPR at the time.

        In the next post, #7, he mentions that Mercedes Lackey saw the same sort of boost on titles with over a decade of steady sales from her OTHER publishers after putting a few of her Baen titles up for free.  I know I saw a post somewhere giving the actual numbers but can’t find it at this moment.

      • Sorry, but data from 2002 tells us just about nothing about what the impacts would be in 2012. There were tons of situations where giving away ebooks prompted increased sales of print books but that was because, at that time, most people didn’t want to read ebooks!


    • Another Steve

      Hi Eric, 

      You said, 

      >DRM is really, really easy to remove I think you mean the form of DRM commonly used in ebooks is easy to remove.  If it is, it’s because a decision was made to implement only a moderate level of security.   If there’s an encryption scheme that is easy to remove, it’s because some clever person with skills that most people don’t have expended some non-trivial amount of effort to figure out how to remove it, and then made the knowledge available to others.  One approach to making the encryption hard to crack would be to keep changing the encryption scheme.  When they would change the code, they could issue an update to the ereader software and at the same time overwrite any ebook files with new files using the new scheme.  You would not be able to download any new encrypted ebooks until your software was updated.  

      This higher level of security would be more expensive to implement, would sometimes inconvenience the consumer, and would result in a higher probability that something would go wrong.  

      The current way of doing things makes sense if its purpose is not to deter the truly corrupt from stealing, but to inhibit the casual copying and sharing of ebook files.  

      • EricWelch

        All true. The more basic issue, for me anyway, is the consumer’s tacit surrender to the abandonment of the first sale doctrine, a principle that worked just fine for printed books for a millennium.  The software industry has convinced us that we needn’t “buy” anything anymore, that we have no need to own anything, that their product is sold defective and is licensed only. Everyone else is now trying to jump on to that bandwagon because it eliminates the secondary market (used books would not exist should first sale disappear). I remember going to an Adobe presentation on the first ebook software years ago and their license was written in such a way that it prohibited anyone from reading the book over your shoulder. That’s a software mindset that has wormed its way into other industries, most notably publishing now. I’m a huge supporter of the first sale doctrine.  We have been conned by the software industry into a non-ownership world.  And I’m a retired IT guy who was appalled by the amount of money we had to fork over every year at my college for a product sold knowingly as defective that would require a huge maintenance contract.

      • Eric, on this point we couldn’t disagree more.

        First sale makes no sense to me for something that can be infinitely replicated at no cost.

        I suppose there could, in theory, be a rule that you can’t keep what you sell. Good luck enforcing that one!


      • EricWelch

        This seems to contradict your recent posts on getting rid of DRM, i.e. that the lack thereof doesn’t seem to increase pirating. A printed book can be sold and resold many times with no recompense to the publisher or author yet no one seems to be concerned about that.

      • You’re really conflating some things here, Eric.

        First of all, I want watermarking of ebooks. And I also want rules (licenses). I am not in favor of taking off DRM so that people can buy one ebook and then deliver it to 100 friends to read.

        It is not my practice to advocate suicidal behavior for the industry.

        Sure, printed books can be passed on and around without concern. There are two pretty big differences between printed books and ebooks, which perhaps you hadn’t noticed.

        One: when you give or sell your printed book away, *you don’t have it anymore*! Not true of an ebook.

        Two: printed books *wear out*. There is a physical limit to the number of times they can be passed along. Not so for ebooks.

        These two differences make all the commercial difference in the world.

      • EricWelch

        All very good points.  I too am in favor of watermarking which would seem to be an excellent compromise. No one wants anyone to buy a book and then deliver it to 100 friends, clearly. And yet your previous post below would seem to indicate that “the default assumption … is that piracy cannabalizes sales,” has little data to support it. My advocacy of first sale has more to do with what an individual can do with something he has purchased for his own use. I bought lots of mobi books for my Palm Pilot that I wanted to read on my Kindle.  It was only by breaking the DRM that I could eventually do so. I would hope that any watermarking scheme would give someone the facility to put the book on multiple devices, or devices that technologically may supersede what I currently have. (I buy lots of books I intend to read later – perhaps I’m unusual)- Reading off the Kindle Cloud actually works reasonably well but requires a constant Internet connection and the Cloud software is not as robust as the Kindle app on my iPhone/Android tablet/Fire, etc.  Baen might be a good example. Do we have any data that individuals are buying Baen books and delivering them to all their friends?

      • Piracy probably both adds and subtracts sales, but nobody has really measured the net effect.

        The Pottermore solution would work for you. You’d have a file you could load on any epub-reading device. Watermarked.


  • IPG now has the ability to sell non-DRM protected eBooks through its website and through the shopping cart we provide our client publishers. Many of them are horrified by the idea of us selling their eBooks naked, but IPG’s in-house publishing division, Chicago Review Press, will soon be offering its titles with no protection to prove the concept.
    I think the mess the publishing business is in can best be explained by a failure on the part of the people in charge to engage with digital technology. The leaders of our industry imagined that technology could be outsourced (I was guilty of this too), which explains why the publishing tune at the moment is being called by Amazon, Apple, Google, and now here comes Microsoft, companies that are not primarily in the book business at all.
    Fortunately some publishers big and small have begun to be less intimidated by the technology giants and are busy considering ways to regain control of their market. People who really know books should be in charge of the business of books.

    • Curt, I don’t think you should be so hard on yourself or on your counterparts in other publishing companies.

      Publishing companies cannot compete with technology companies on technology! But the good news is that they don’t know much of anything about creating content, either. Our problem, which is not our fault, is that we have one big player among the technology companies that isn’t the least big sensitive to the economics of content development, creation, and marketing but still wants to control pricing. Only one.

      We’ll watch with interest as your no-DRM experiment unfolds and add you to the list of places to look to prove or disprove that DRM matters.


      • Mike—I think publishers can compete with technology companies if what we are using is not cutting edge but old (maybe even 5 years old!) technology.
        IPG everyday does things I could not have imagined a few years ago: onyx metadata feeds to hundreds of customers every week; point-of-sale collection and analysis; eBook conversions; and just today audio and video streaming from our website, just to mention a few. Of course we use various suppliers of software and services to get these things done, but these suppliers are working for us rather than the other way around.
        And I guess I am not as comfortable with the technology giants other than Amazon as you are. I think power brings out the 800 pound guerrilla in any big company.
        But you are surely right about content. The big guys hope it will prove to be an unnecessary evil.

  •  Hi Mike —

    I’m curious about one thing you mention in your post: “A few weeks later, Macmillan announced that one segment of its company,, was going DRM-free, although not jumping into the full Pottermore model of serving the content themselves.”

    So does that mean that Tor will now skip DRM but continue to sell only through major online resellers like the Kindle and Nook stores?

    Because to me an issue as big as DRM/no DRM is convenience of putting the book on a device.  Pottermore Shop didn’t just get Amazon and to agree to send customers offsite: they also made it reasonably simple to connect a Pottermore Shop account with a Kindle or Nook account and get the ebook sent to the device wirelessly without muss or fuss.  (I know that recent Pew Internet survey discovered that an astonishing percentage of ebooks are read on a PC — which implies direct downloading — and not on a wireless device, but I still think publishers need to make sure that customers buying DRM-free titles find getting them on their ereader as easy as they do with the DRMed titles they currently get from their walled-garden services.)

    Wireless convenience is also essential here because without it, getting a DRM-free title on a Kindle or Nook will require the same kind of sideloading you’re forced to do if you download a pirated copy from a bittorrent site.  I don’t think publishers want that kind of realization running through any ebook reader’s mind.

    • Pottermore’s Kindle books and Nook books are loaded *by* Amazon and B&N, and they do have DRM. It was the *threat* of no-DRM that got them to agree to that.

      I am not sure *exactly* how Tor is playing it, but we’ll find out when I interview Fritz Foy at our Pub Launch conference at BEA on June 4!


  • David Sucher

    “There are still plenty of twists and turns to come in the evolving ebook marketplace.

    You are so correct with exception that you describe the ebook market as 5 years old — I think it’s more like 24 months at most. It’s an infant of a market.
    Yes Amazon is in the lead — deservedly so –it does a great job in merchandizing. 

    But it is a long game. There are trillions to be made. (Yes trillions when you look out 30-40 years on a global scale.) There are a number of very well-financed and capable competitors — and maybe even competitors we hardly recognize.

    • Well, I said five years old because of Kindle. You say 2 years old for whatever reason. We could say 13 years old because I’ve been reading ebooks almost exclusively since 1999.

      Since it’s my blog, I’m sticking with five years here. I get to make the rules! Privileges of ownership.


  • Matteo Berlucchi

    Mike, great post (as ever) and thanks for the all the mentions. What I find most fascinating about this line of thinking is that the publishers would only have to control the payment stage as that’s what gives them the direct relationship with the customer. The file delivery could be done by anyone as that’s non-strategic! I am dreaming of a sort of Paypal for ebooks which could become the main payment platform for the purchase of ebooks…

    • Thanks for clarifying the value in those supply chain links. You’re right that the data and cash capture is the key, not the file serving. But, of course, it is the *threat* of file-serving without DRM that makes it possible.


    • Tarlene

      Matteo, You’re dreaming of a paypal for ebooks, we might be building it.  I’m with a tech startup in NYC called Kurrenci.  I think we should talk. [email protected]

      • Matchmaking at The Shatzkin Files and no brokerage fee is ever charged!

  • Jimnduncan

    My personal feelings (really would be interesting if piracy data could be collected) is that DRM-free can’t come soon enough. I loathe piracy of my books. It’s stealing, pure and simple, but I also have come to believe that the pirates and those who look to get pirated material are a small subset of the reading public. The vast majority of readers don’t pay attention to it, don’t want to deal with it, or just aren’t knowledgeable about it. The impact will be negligible in the long run, and publishers will certainly keep an eye out for places that get too public with their pirated content. There have been enough experiments from various people to indicate that piracy will not be a big issue, and as long as it remains a niche of the general reading public, nobody is going to see any significant repercussions from piracy. At least that’s my feeling on it.

    • Jim, your intuitive feelings and mine are in synch. Neither of us *know*, but I think both of us have pretty sound hunches on this.


      • I’m with Jim and Mike, too, and I’ll take this opportunity to reiterate my belief that the social DRM that Pottermore Shop uses is the way to go.  (I don’t know if anyone has yet figured out how to strip it from Rowling’s Harry Potter ebooks, but from what little I’ve read it sounds like the watermark is pretty heavily threaded throughout the file.)

        But more than that, I think publishers should collaborate to make ex libris watermarks a feature of the epub spec.  I think readers would enjoy being able to customize a book plate that would appear on or near the title page of their ebooks, and nothing says there couldn’t also be an invisible watermark of the kind that Pottermore Shop uses that’s utterly unique to each file and buyer.

        Of course, it should be easier to share ebooks with friends, too … and that idea may be just as unsettling to publishers as stripping off the DRM.

      • To your last point: yes, it is unsettling. More unsettling is the idea that a book club with 10 friends in it will now get by with one copy.

        Perhaps the watermarking and ownership tagging will even curtail some of that.


      • Of course, once an ebook file is DRM-free there’s nothing to stop a book club member with some basic computing skills from sharing the file with every other club member.

        The solution might be volume discounts — though it would require some sophisticated backend programming to allow someone who runs an ebook club to have copies distributed electronically and wirelessly to all other club members.  (That kind of convenience would be essential to prevent the tedious alternative of duplicating a DRM-free file 10 times to sideload it onto 10 different ereaders.)

        As for sharing, I know B&N’s sharing feature on the Nook makes the file unreadable on your own Nook once you’ve loaned it to someone else’s Nook.  Which seems fair.  But I would guess we needn’t hold our breath in a DRM-free world waiting for Amazon, B&N, Sony, and Kobo from collaborating on tech that would permit readers to do this kind of sharing between otherwise competing devices/platforms.

      • In a non-DRMd world, we don’t *need* that collaboration among the retailers. Remember that the Pottermore solution was to give you a non-DRMd file *in addition* to the device-specific files you might get from Kindle or Nook.

        Pottermore loads, I believe, on 8 different devices.

        But, having said all that, how many people really need that capability? Damn few.


      • Pottermore Shop allows 5 different downloads: to the Sony Reader (first on the site’s list of choices after you buy a Potter ebook since Sony helped build Pottermore), Kindle, Nook, and the Google Books platform plus a direct download that lets you read the ebook DRM-free on a PC or on an iPad or iPhone running iBooks (or any other software capable of reading epub files).

        As far as capability, you’re right, Mike: almost no one needs to be able to download to all those different platforms. But that’s beside the point.

        Pottermore Shop needs to cover all these bases to give its customers maximum convenience in getting any one Potter ebook on their device or platform of choice.

        Your reply suggests you think DRM-free alone solves the issue of maximum convenience. But if you’re talking about allowing ebook customers to copy a DRM-free ebook to any or all preferred platforms or devices—and leaving the related technical sleight-of-hand to them—I’d have to disagree.

        Pottermore Shop offers help for putting a Potter ebook on an iPad. Their 10 step-by-step instructions begin with purchasing the file, then go on to to explain direct downloading it
        to the PC, launching iTunes, locating the book on your computer and dragging it to iTunes’ ‘Books’ section, downloading the free iBooks app, and connecting the iPad to your computer and syncing it with iTunes ‘Books’.

        We’re talking about a DRM-free file, but this solution isn’t very convenient. (And the real
        convenience won’t materialize for iPad owners until Pottermore Shop establishes the same relationship with Apple that it already has with Amazon, B&N, Sony, and Google Books.)

        So if and when the Big Six go DRM-free, someone, somewhere is going to have to address this kind of convenience and what it means. Otherwise much of the ebook reading public will be underwhelmed by the prospect of buying unencrypted files. And the rest (like that putative book club leader) will suddenly have an economic incentive to master the tedious technical sleight-of-hand behind file sharing because of the prospective savings—even if it does mean breaking the law.

      • No DRM: necessary but not sufficent…


  • I am not for stealing ebooks. But.
    But — and I am speaking from my own perspective as an author — it would be wonderful for me if a million copies of my book had been stolen by a million individuals and they all read it!There is no way that the vast majority of those people will ever buy the book — so what is my loss?And my gain is that my “mindshare” has increased enormously and the ancillary benefits — invited to consult and speak, asked for my opinion by the press, sales by people who liked it so much that they feel that they should buy it, ideas for a new book etc etc.

    So while I agree that stealing is bad, in my particular circumstance, having people read my book for free is probably ok with me. No? What’s wrong with that picture? Serious opinions.

    A well-know author much less a star like Robert Caro might well see it differently. But an unknown? Why not?

    • Absolutely right. And that’s another truth that the one-size-fits-all approach of big publishers tends to elide. For some books with fledgling authors, piracy might actually be *desirable*! Nuanced perspectives like that are not really an instinctive feature of most large organizations, corporate or governmental!


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  •  I’m guessing you’re in England, but here in America it’s pretty common to say CV…I’m in Texas and I hear both pretty equally.

    • Actually, I’m in NY. Most Americans say “rez-zoom-may”, in my experience. But perhaps spelling out what CV means was unnecessary.


  • William Ockham

    I really don’t understand everybody’s focus on DRM (and file formats). I think DRM is a pretty dumb idea for e-books, but it is absolutely not the key to breaking Amazon’s hold on the market. DRM doesn’t change the license to the content that the reader purchased. Either the license is what locks you into the Kindle or nothing does. DRM and file format issues are a distraction. Let’s say you have a new ereader, the Shatzkin 5000. You want me to switch to it from the Kindle. We’ll further stipulate that you have the right to distribute all the e-books I have on my Kindle. You take my Kindle as a trade-in, read the titles of the e-books, and download the Shatzkin 5000 format of those e-books to my new reader. DRM and file formats have nothing to do with it. The big publishing companies have lawyers who should know whether that is legal or not.

    • So simple, and yet so complicated!!!

      First of all, if I’m getting rid of the Kindle, maybe it’s broken and * nobody* can read it anymore. But if it isn’t, I want to keep it and give it to my kid or spouse or friend. But then, if you did get it and read all the book titles on it and in my library, you’d need some sort of arrangement with each and every publisher to get another copy for the new reader.

      I think many of the big publishers would be delighted to give you another copy for your new reader if you were swearing off Kindle and I don’t think there’d be any legal question. But the logistical challenges are not trivial. This “solution” is not anywhere close, even though I actually know about somebody working on the very concept.


      • William Ockham

        My post was a bit of set up. You can’t really take away my ability to read the e-books I purchased without Amazon’s help because they are linked to my Amazon account and I still can use the Kindle Reader app. Once you accept that, you realize that there’s no point to the trade-in concept at all, except as a ritual which is nothing to sneeze at.

        The reality is that if you want to get customers off the Kindle, you are going to have to make deals with all the major publishers (not just the Big Six) to let you give your customers copies of anything they have bought from Amazon. And that realization should lead to the obvious position that the publishing industry should take. If they want to paint Amazon as the bad guy, they need to come out in favor of the principle that once you bought an e-book, you should have the right to read it in any format. Readers would love that. DRM and file formats become a non-issue. And it is absolutely trivial to implement. For publishers who agreed to to it, I could implement the solution in a couple of months. And I would do it on Amazon’s cloud, just for the irony of it…

        Of course, I don’t expect publishers to agree to this, because they are slow-moving, hidebound, unimaginative corporations who have too much invested in the old ways of doing things.  

      • Well, William, there *is* somebody going to publishers with exactly that proposition and publishers are quite interested. There are enormous investments taking place in all the big houses in new ways of doing things.
        And the need to replace old books to get somebody off the platform is not universal. Some people will care a lot. Some won’t care at all. Lots of us have apps for many different retailers on our reading device (iPhone in my case) and many of us routinely read in multiple apps and have our books divided among retailer repositories already.


      • William Ockham

        The enormous investments are the problem. You are absolutely right that the e-book marketplace is a long way from settled. The e-book marketplace is a tech battlefield. If the last 20 years have proven anything, they’ve proven that you win in tech by being agile and experimenting. Putting a lot of money behind an unproven idea (and all of the industry’s ideas in this area are unproven) is foolish. Enormous investment almost always means long lead time. Long lead time means you are more or less guaranteed to fail because the market will be different and you will have solved the wrong problem.  

      • And a lot of money right now is still being put behind the unproven ideas like social reading, enhanced ebooks, and making digital versions of illustrated books.


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