How The Big Six Of Publishing Can Save Themselves

https://twitter.com/#!/mikecane/status/190415439891927040

Since no one has stepped up to accept that offer…

Robin Bradford reminded me today of something I was thinking about last night before sleep:

https://twitter.com/#!/mikecane/status/191550886814814209

https://twitter.com/#!/mikecane/status/191551050841464832

After the break, the Absolutely Only Way The Big Six Can Save Themselves.

Which I expect them to ignore.

But still.

I have hated Amazon’s entry into eBooks from the start.

Because they went with their own MobiPocket format instead of adopting ePub, which was independently-developed as a standard for eBooks.

If you don’t understand the significance of ePub being developed, let me clue you in on the history you don’t know. Sony, which was the first to market with an eInk reading device, dropped their proprietary BBeB format for ePub. Sony was not the weak, desperate company it is today when it did that. It decided to abandon customer lock-in for the good of an entire industry. That is what leadership looks like.

It wasn’t until I saw that Amazon offered far more books than anyone else — books I really wanted — that I had to admit defeat in the face of their eBook selection plus the “millions” of Kindles they have sold.

Those “millions” of Kindles, as far as I’m concerned, turned everything on its head, with Kindle format actually being the “standard” for eBooks just by popular vote alone.

But you know what?

No one forced people to buy Kindles.

And it’s not the fault of the Big Six that people own Kindles.

The Big Six have to answer some questions for themselves:

1) What is most important: Our sales today or our continued existence tomorrow?

2) Do we really care about our customers or not?

3) What is the best thing we can do both for ourselves and for our customers?

Let me answer those questions for them.

1) The hell with the money you make today if that’s leading to your inevitable death tomorrow. What kind of business runs on a suicide pact?

2) You had better love your readers — because they have the money you want!

3) The best thing for both you and your readers is diversity and standardization. These are not mutually exclusive. Diversity of sales outlets: Not allowing Amazon to just bleed you dry. Standardization: You bless one eBook format and the hell with all the others.

This is called leadership.

If I was Dictator of the Big Six, this is what I would do, in broad strokes:

1) Tell Amazon to go to hell. If it’s true none of the Big Six have renewed their annual contracts, then don’t! Let Amazon have to pull all of your eBooks, period. Amazon can no longer sell your eBooks. Oh boo-hoo for Amazon. They’ll just have to get by on selling all that other stuff that brings in even more money. Weep for poor Jeff Bezos.

2) Explain this decision very clearly and why it is in the best interest of all readers. Although Amazon has great customer service and a very convenient way of getting eBooks, that’s a camouflage for an endgame that sees Amazon as the largest publisher of eBooks itself, with no competition. Remind people how great their telephone service was when there was just one supplier: AT&T. Remind them, in fact, of today and their cellphone providers: How they’re locked into two-year contracts that falsely make phones “affordable” and make switching from rotten service just about financially impossible.

3) Get Len Riggio of Barnes & Noble on the phone and lay down the law to him too, because Barnes & Noble must cooperate or find itself in the corner with Amazon, too. And this next step is why Barnes & Noble must cooperate:

3) Effective immediately, the Big Six will support only one eBook format for the good of everyone: ePub. And for the good of everyone, only one DRM standard will be used: the “standard” Adobe DRM that was in use before Barnes & Noble fragmented it. And by the way, Barnes & Noble will agree to drop its mutant DRM and use the former “standard” DRM, for the good of everyone. Henceforth, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google, everyone selling DRMed ePub will use one DRM, so people are free to move their books from any reading device they wish, be it a Nook Touch, a Kobo eReader, a Story HD, and anything else that’s introduced down the road. Readers are no longer locked into one device as they were with Kindle. Readers are liberated.

4) Yes, some of you are already raising the Apple issue (Apple uses FairPlay, not Adobe, DRM). Apple is a side-issue I will not be dealing with in this post. Tough.

5) The Big Six will see the light and now understands just how much their customers matter. All those Big Six books people have bought in Kindle format? They can swap them for ePub for free. The Big Six needs to understand that they’ve already made their money from those books — which are the words trapped inside a file container. Swapping out Kindle for ePub for free does not cost them a damn cent at all. This is not like asking people to trade in their hardcovers for paperbacks for free. (No, I will not detail the logistics of this Kindle for ePub swap. But it can be done. Did anyone think Pottermore could sell Rowling’s eBooks the way it did before it happened? No.)

6) All of you people who have Kindles? Well, enjoy them while you can. But when you want to read all the latest books, you’re going to have to either use a tablet app that can handle “standard” Adobe DRMed ePub (Aldiko, Bluefire Reader, Nook, Kobo) or dump that Kindle and get a Nook Touch or Kobo eReader or something else that’s compatible. A Nook Touch or Kobo eReader is cheap! Just US$99. What’s $99 compared to preserving all that money you’ve mistakenly invested in Kindle format books? It’s $99 — and you get all your Big Six Kindle books swapped out to ePub for free!

What? Collusion? Conspiracy? Where? All we’re doing, Department of Justice, is refusing to sell to one outlet — and for the good of our customers. And look at what we’re doing, Department of Justice — letting them swap out their Kindle books for ePub books. For free! How are we taking advantage of anybody? Plus, we’re bringing harmony to a marketplace that’s been fragmented and chaotic and liberating our customers from device lock-in! How can you sue us for any of that?

Yeah, so that’s how I’d do it.

I wouldn’t go so far as to expect people to dump their Kindles because that’s not going to happen for a while. Because Amazon still has thousands of self-publishing writers who are going to have to jump ship to ePub sellers. Until that happens, the war is not over. (And you self-pub writers who bet your life on Kindle? Too bad for you. Some bets lose. That’s why they’re called bets. And how are you going to please your readers when they switch to ePub? Better think about that!)

By exercising the damn leadership and vision I’ve outlined above, the terms of the war against Amazon will have been changed and the Amazon Enemy will have been fatally wounded as far as eBooks are concerned.

Sure, people are going to scream. Especially Kindle customers. But what are they realistically going to do? Stop reading books? Don’t be silly. A proper marketing campaign that beats home the points I’ve outlined above — educating people — will eventually make people understand how it’s all in their best interest.

And, no, I don’t expect it to go smoothly or without error. What human endeavor ever really goes smoothly or without error? Better to risk and make mistakes than not risk and lose everything.

Life doesn’t reward cowards. Life spits on those who only follow.

So, Big Six, have some courage and lead, dammit.

Now just damn well do it. All of it. This week.

And, hey, Sargent of Macmillan! You’re the guy who thinks he has a backbone. Settle with DoJ and lead. If you do it, the others will fall like dominoes. And you don’t need your stupid exercise bike to think this one through. Just do it.

And one other thing: Don’t be surprised that after making all these moves, Amazon adopts ePub.

But that wouldn’t really be your problem. Because it’d mean you’ve won and Amazon would have to accept what you let them have.

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12 Comments

Filed under Digital Overthrow, eBooks: General

12 responses to “How The Big Six Of Publishing Can Save Themselves

  1. gimsieke

    Agree, except for the Adobe DRM part. I think the big six should lead even more boldly, just like Steve Jobs when he disrupted the music distribution business: reasonable pricing & no DRM. But that may be asking for too much at once.

  2. jmurphy

    Q2) Do we really care about our customers or not?
    A2) You had better love your readers…

    Mike, from the publishers’ POV, these are two very different things.
    Which, of couse, is a large part of the problem.

  3. That is a well thought out plan. I’d love to be able to get books without being linked to a device. However to get six companies to implement it would require a General Eisenhower IMHO.

  4. Glyn

    I’m fairly sure I read somewhere that the next generation of kindles *will* be able to read e-pub. Of course you’ll still probably have to upload them to your Amazon account as you do for PDFs at the moment, but that’s just the shitness of Kindle for you – far from the best e-ink device, but the most heavily marketed.

    • mikecane

      That was the nonsensical rumor circulating last year. OTOH, in some Kindle books an ePub file is embedded within the Kindle file. So it seems to me Bezos has a Plan B if Amazon is ever forced by the Big Six to adopt ePub.

  5. As an alternative to the big six limiting the file formats of their books to epub only, why not follow the Smashwords model, either by listing through them or through the copyright owner’s chosen ebook store. eBook buyers should be able to pay once and access all popular formats of the book. When you buy from smashwords you pay once for a book that you can download in many formats. I don’t know what the consensus is about Smashwords, but I like choice, and having multiple formats lessens the issue of files becoming inaccessible. ePub is the open ebook standard now, but in 10, 20, 50 years? At least .txt files may still be readable then.

    • mikecane

      You do have a point there. I’d like to see more PDF files now for sale since the iPad makes that a viable format now. Thing is, the Big Six are playing just two cards right now: ePub vs Kindle.

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  7. Darlene

    Admittedly, I am completely ignorant to this whole process, so I appologize if this is a dumb question, but how hard is it to publish ebooks in multiple formats? Books are already often printed in a variety of formats that appeal to different customers. It has to be easier to manipulate data than to physically print. Wouldn’t encouraging diversity also make it harder for people to loan ebooks and thereby increase the possibility for additional sales? Why can’t publishers make partnerships that make it easier for authors to sell across multiple platforms?

    • mikecane

      Multiple formats depends on the ability and willingness of the publisher in question. Some only go as far as generating a PDF file internally and then that is sent to an eBookstore for them to convert into ePub or Kindle format or whatever. Aside from PDF — which can be a Just Push The Button operation — ePub and Kindle formats are not as simple as they seem, although, for example, Pages on the iPad makes creating an ePub file simpler.

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