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The Dark Side of the E-book

March 2, 2012

I recently caved and purchased an Amazon Kindle. It is an incredible device. The screen is made of electronic paper, which instead of emitting light like a typical electronic screen, reflects it as paper does. This means that an e-reader using electronic paper is far easier on the reader’s eyes. What’s more, you can use a Kindle to read PDFs and Word documents (good-bye to the eye-strain and distraction of reading documents on your computer screen!). Books can be downloaded directly from Amazon onto the device; all you need is a wireless connection. In sum, it’s incredible.

But there’s a catch.

In the past, I’ve criticized the publishing industry for its outdated business model and its stubborn refusal to embrace new technology. I still stand by those statements. However, what Amazon is doing to small-market publishers is shameful. Amazon isn’t asking publishers to lower their e-book prices, it’s telling them. What happens if the publisher doesn’t comply with Amazon’s ultimatum? Amazon pulls that publisher’s books from the Kindle store.

No longer available for my Kindle. Guess I won't be learning.

Amazon is strangling companies that don’t comply with its pricing policy, and this should worry you. I can hear the chorus of detractors already. “If Amazon wins, we [the consumers] win. Tell me, how is this a bad thing?” I’ll spare you a hand-wringing defense of traditional publishing. However, with one move, Amazon is telling its customers: “Our business model is more important than your access to the books that you want to read.” Amazon should be making more books available to its Kindle users, not fewer.

What truly worries me about all this, and the impending dominance of just three publishers (Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Apple), is that no one e-reader will give you access to the entire digital library. Some books will only be available on the Nook, others on the iPad, and still others only on the Kindle. If that sounds incredibly frustrating get used to the feeling; it’s the dark future of the e-book.

I want to credit Matthew Ingram’s article “How the e-book landscape is becoming a walled garden” for inspiring this post.

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