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Saturday, 5 May 2012

Amazon - monopolistic monster or empowering giant

Amazon are being declared a monopolistic monster by many who see the company eventually dominating the eBook market and forcing all other competition into an early grave. It is ironic but not too long ago the likes of Waterstones, Borders and Barnes and Noble were facing the same charges and being accused of driving small booksellers out of business, and now the world has turned somewhat and Amazon are seen as the bad guy who has driven these book chains down the drain. One significant challenger to Amazon are Apple who famously launched their iBooks store and claimed they had destroyed Amazon's monopolistic grip, and yet it is Apple who are facing  a price fixing charge and not Amazon. This single event has tarnished both publishers and Apple but not Amazon who are now looking like the good guys.

"The launch of the iBookstore in 2010 fostered innovation and competition, breaking Amazon’s monopolistic grip on the publishing industry. Since then customers have benefited from eBooks that are more interactive and engaging. Just as we’ve allowed developers to set prices on the App Store, publishers set prices on the iBookstore." An Apple Spokesman

Amazon are big..very big - but what is forgotten here is that they didn't force anyone to buy their Kindle and made record sales by providing a device that is perfect at what it does and a service of providing books that is second to none. And to be honest in terms of  reading books the Kindle beats the iPad hands down. There have been some things Amazon have done along the way that reeks of control - such as deleting titles wrongly offered as public domain from users devices. But this has been a minor blip in an otherwise excellent service and it's not only eBooks but DVDs, CDs, physical books and even cat food. Order anything from Amazon and chances are you get it the next day.

Amazon have gotten where they are by offering a great service and by being easy to deal with when something goes wrong. and Amazon is today, by some margin, the largest bookseller in the world.

Amazon are not all that popular with publishers because of their aggressive marketing and their ability to set their own terms, but Amazon don't see this as a problem and with their KDP (Kindle direct publishing) program they seemed to be questioning the very need for a publisher at all. And the price fixing between Apple and a number of big publishers which is now getting a lot of publicity due to several law suits, make Amazon look like the good guys after all.

Personally I would hate to see the day when Amazon are the only bookseller and yet I buy far more books on my Kindle than I've ever bought before. My house is already overflowing with books, and although I still buy physical books the bulk of my buying are eBooks from Amazon themselves. Though not only Amazon - using free software like Calibre I can transfer any eBook of any format onto my Kindle. Amazon really do offer the best eBook shopping experience and that is why they have gotten so big. They can aggressively market as much as they want but if they don't back it up with a good service then it would come to nothing. The customer has always been king in the Amazon ethos, and the formula for keeping the king happy is straightforward.Amazon gives the customers what they want: low prices, vast selection and extreme convenience. And that's all the average customer cares about and doesn't give a thought for the book or music industry at large when making their choices.

Though Amazon do now seem to be flexing their muscles and they have  moved into publishing themselves and have several imprints offering both eBooks and print books, But it is difficult to charge Amazon with wanting to be the world's only publisher when they make it so easy for anyone to become a publisher using their KDP system. Traditional publishers need to innovate and adapt to the new digital world and rather than fight Amazon the real battle should be  to ensure they have a very real presence in the digital book world. The agency system of selling eBooks was never going to work and  has only resulted in making Amazon the good guys, the company of the people...the truth may be vastly different but it doesn't matter. What does matter is how book buyers perceive them and the service they provide.

Love them or loath them, Amazon do offer a brilliant service.

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