Friday, 9 December 2011

Competing on Content

This is probably not huge news everywhere but it is stirring the waters a bit in the publishing community.
Amazon have announced a deal for writers who want to directly publish through them. I won't bore you with the details here because you can easily find out more elsewhere.
But the thought I had about this is that Amazon is trying to compete with other stores on content. The deal includes an exclusivity clause so if you have a book you want to publish under this deal you cannot sell it elsewhere eg Apple, Barns & Noble, Sony etc. You can only sell it through Amazon. This makes a lot of sense for Amazon and I see why they want it.
There is also a more vague clause which prevents you from selling something that 'competes' with the book you put on Amazon. many people are taking a benign definition of 'competes', ie it means you can't just change the title of the work and submit it elsewhere. Again, I see their point. But it is always dangerous to assume the benign definition in an enforceable legal document. It might, for example, be interpreted to mean other works of the same genre by the same author. And Amazon may have no intention right now of it meaning anything sinister, but over time the people you deal with change around and you can find someone less benign on the other side of the transaction clutching the document you signed up to, so it is best it means what you want.
My point here is that competing on content serves no one but Amazon. If only Amazon has the book you want to buy then they can set the price and level of service they want. If it is only worth publishing your book on Amazon then the same applies. We all become deal takers.
From everyone else's point of view (both readers and writers) we want the likes of Amazon to compete with each other on price and service, but never on content.
We want them to pay authors the best royalties and charge readers the lowest price.
We want them to combine that with awesome searchability and bang on recommendations (and I have no problem with Amazon in this area).
But we want them all to be able to supply any book ever published, ideally, with those same levels of price and service.
Sometimes Amazon will be a little ahead of the others, sometimes it will be Apple, sometimes it will be B&N etc. And we will reward the ones who keep up in this game, of course. But we will only maintain high standards if there is more than one, and we must be able to make our decisions regardless of content.
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