Audible’s Technical Issues Aren’t a Curse of Amazon’s Monopoly, But an Opportunity

28 July 2015

From The Digital Reader:

While it’s customary to gripe about the terrible service offered by a monopoly, some forget that a monopoly, especially a digital monopoly, is not nearly the sinecure that they assume.

Dr Joshua Kim has been blogging over at Inside Higher Ed, where he’s been using his podium to rail against Amazon. Kim is a Kindle and Audible customer, and over the past couple months he’s complained about Audible’s technical issues, the lack of Whispersync enabled ebook/audiobook pairs, and, just yesterday, how Amazon’s monopoly on ebooks/audiobooks is harming consumers (more Audible technical issues again).

This time around he’s having trouble buying audiobooks. While he did get his money back, he’s annoyed because he would rather have the book.

While I would normally support and work to amplify a consumer’s complaints so they will get fixed faster, Kim’s screed took a turn for the myopic:

Before I dive into the problem (which you really won’t care about anyway), a word on why it is important to pick on Audible whenever possible.

The reason: Amazon. Or more precisely, Amazon’s dominance of the digital book ecosystem.

Amazon owns Audible. Between the Kindle e-readers / books and the Audible audiobooks – Amazon owns a de facto monopoly on the digital book market. Mostly, the consumer seems to have benefited from this digital book monopoly. New books can be had cheaper than ever before. The number of audiobook titles is growing quickly. Whispersync, the name for the Amazon technology that seamlessly syncs up Kindle and Audible books, is just wonderful. (Although far too few titles are Whispersync enabled).

Amazon may dominate the digital book market, but that is because all of the other options are terrible. Apple and Google don’t care to offer a competitive service, B&N has given up, and Kobo, well, the best thing you can say about Kobo’s ebook service is that they make decent hardware.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Why Amazon monopoly accusations deserve a closer look

25 July 2015

From Fortune:

It must be a sign of success—Amazon is being accused of monopoly behavior by its industry partners, in this case groups representing authors, agents and booksellers.

As with other one-time high-tech leaders (IBM, Microsoft, Google) Amazon’s dominant market share suddenly seems too much. In letters to the Justice Department, the authors’ and retailers’ groups claim that Amazon is squeezing publishers, punishing writers, driving bookstores out of business—and violating antitrust laws. They want Justice to investigate. Is there anything to their arguments?

. . . .

Isn’t that what business is supposed to do—compete to lower prices? Not necessarily, according to the Authors Guild, the American Booksellers Association, and several other groups. In multiple letters, the complainants contend that Amazon is “generating fear among many authors,” and that it has used its marketplace clout to “harm the interests of America’s readers, impoverish the book industry as a whole, and impede the free flow of ideas in our society.”

We’ll let the last bit pass; the fear that media concentration would shackle free expression was rife when the nightly news was controlled by the three television networks (remember them?) and it has been hurled at every big information distributor since. Digital communications, of which Amazon is a subset, may be accused of many things, but impeding the flow of ideas isn’t one of them.

As for sowing fear among authors, this is palpably true. I earn my living primarily from selling books, and I much preferred the landscape as it existed earlier in my career, when bookstores were (or seemed to be) healthier and more numerous. Although the casual impression that bookstores are disappearing en masse is incorrect – there are 2,227 bookstores in the U.S., more than at the end of the 2009 recession, and their share of the printed book market has held steady, according to the American Booksellers Association – the total is down from the 1990s. And Amazon, which sells more than a third of new physical books and an estimated two-thirds of e-books, dominates the market.

. . . .

Also, I would prefer that not so many people shopped at Walmart; come to think of it, I would prefer that the Internet shut down for two hours every evening during which interlude people’s only diversion would be listening to Mozart and reading books. Popular tastes, we’ll admit, are gauche. James Patterson will sell more volumes than James Baldwin. That said, publication of traditional books is close to an all-time high, and an awful lot of good ones find their way to readers.

We can argue about Amazon’s merits, but antitrust is not intended to protect some people’s cultural preferences, much less the lifestyles and professional habits of publishers and writers. Culture may be created in the loft, but it is underwritten in the marketplace. Antitrust answers to the welfare of consumers in that marketplace.

. . . .

The more intriguing case against Amazon concerns its behavior not as a seller but as a buyer, specifically in the e-book market. Amazon has driven very hard bargains with e-book publishers, mainly with the aim of depressing prices. During a long-running battle with Hachette, Amazon made it difficult for consumers to buy Hachette books. E-books of other publishers (including, for a while, mine) have also been blocked from Amazon’s site. The books were available on other venues, of course. Amazon’s position, in effect, is that just as a big retailer (say, a supermarket) is entitled to bargain hard with suppliers, so is Amazon. And just as the supermarket doesn’t have to carry goods it considers over-priced (or unappealing for any reason), Amazon is free to offer, or not, products as it chooses.

Link to the rest at Fortune and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG notes how many people who are connected to the traditional book business have become experts on antitrust law lately.

Most are prime examples of the logical fallacy that expertise in one area does not automatically confer expertise in another. Understanding the book business does not mean that one understands the application of antitrust law to the book business.

PG suggests this is a legal veneer for I’m afraid and I want the government to protect me.

And people who hadn’t the slightest idea what monopsony meant a couple of years ago are suddenly certain it’s a horrible thing and the government should keep Amazon from committing monopsony or being monopsonious. Or something.

Is Amazon Liable For IP Violations By Its Marketplace Vendors?

24 July 2015

From Forbes Blogs:

Animal-shaped pillows are cute and fluffy, except when they spur litigation. Recently, the Milo & Gabby brand sued Amazon for IP infringement because merchants allegedly sold knockoffs of its “Cozy Companion Pillowcases.” Amazon has successfully avoided IP liability for its marketplace, and a recent ruling rejected most of Milo & Gabby’s claims. However, a key piece of Milo & Gabby’s claim survived Amazon’s dismissal attempt, leaving the possibility that Amazon could be liable for merchants’ IP violations.

. . . .

In 2013, Milo & Gabby sued Amazon in 2013 alleging a variety of intellectual property claims. In 2014, the judge dismissed several of those claims and narrowed the lawsuit to three claims:

* copyright infringement. Merchants allegedly used Milo & Gabby’s copyrighted marketing photos to advertise their knockoff goods. Even if true, the court says this isn’t Amazon’s direct responsibility because “the content of the detail pages and advertisements was supplied by third parties via an automated file upload system, and did not originate from Amazon.” In addition, Amazon qualified for the online safe harbor for user-caused copyright infringement (17 USC 512(c)) that Congress created in 1998 as part of the DMCA. On the key question of Amazon’s ability to control merchants’ infringing behavior, the court concluded that Amazon lacked “practical” control because it can’t “analyze every image it receives from third party sellers, compare the submitted image to all other copyrighted images that exist in the world, and determine whether each submitted image infringes someone’s copyright interest.”

* trademark infringement. Among other things, the court says Amazon wasn’t the seller of the allegedly infringing items because its “third-party sellers retain full title to and ownership of the inventory sold by the third party.” Thus, Amazon didn’t commit trademark infringement.

* design patents. Design patents protect non-functional “ornamental” product designs. In contrast to utility patents, which get lots of attention, most academics and practitioners routinely ignored design patents–until Apple scored a huge damage award in its fight against Samsung based on design patents. Now, lots of folks are keenly interested in design patents.

A design patentholder has an exclusive right to offer the patented item for sale. The court says a factfinder could conclude that Amazon offered the knock-offs for sale, even though the merchants posted the listings. The court explains:

While Amazon notes that the item is “sold” by a third-party vendor and “fulfilled” by Amazon, the fact that the item is displayed on the website and can be purchased through the same website, could be regarded as an offer for sale….Likewise, looking at the website, a potential purchaser may understand that his or her assent is all that is required to conclude the deal. Indeed, the website notes the price, allows the buyer to choose a quantity, and allows the buyer to then conclude the purchase.

As a result, the court sends the design patent issues to trial.

Link to the rest at Forbes Blogs and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Portlander Ursula K. Le Guin is Breathing Fire to Save American Literature

24 July 2015

From Portland Monthly:

Midway through The Word for World Is Forest, Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1972 Vietnam allegory, war looms over the planet Athshe.

On one side stand the native Athsheans, diminutive, green-furred humanoids who spend their days dreaming, traipsing peaceably through the woods, and generally just being super mellow. On the other are the militant Earth colonists, come to strip the planet’s forests bare, exploit its inhabitants, and all but elect Richard Nixon as overlord. The Earthlings are the clear antagonists here, but to the forward-thinking colonist Raj Lyubov, the humans’ heartless imperialism isn’t the only factor pushing Athshe into conflict. It’s also this: “We haven’t got any old women.” The “nubile fertile high-breasted young women” the Earth government sent along are nice, Lyubov thinks, but they’d never speak up to restore sanity. “But old women are different from everybody else,” he muses, “they say what they think.”

At age 85—five decades into an almost comically illustrious writing career that has seen her reinvent entire genres, sell millions of books, and win the outright worship of literary peers from Margaret Atwood to Zadie Smith—Le Guin is unquestionably old now, with fogged olive eyes and a stooped (if still bustling) gait. She has also said what she thinks with unusual relish of late. Thus, it came as something of a surprise that Le Guin initially scorned her character’s words when I reminded her of them 43 years later.

“Well, that’s kind of a truism,” she told me, in the snug upstairs den of her longtime Northwest Portland home. Just behind her, two great bookshelves contained row upon row of her 50-plus books in their various editions and translations. Le Guin’s irrepressible cat, Pard, kept up a steady multipaw assault on the closed door. The author seemed to roll the phrase around again in her mind, and the corners of her mouth turned down in distaste at a hint of cliché in her own work. “I’m ashamed of myself for that. Most people think that old women say what they think. Most men are quite convinced of it.”

. . . .

Le Guin . . . stepped up to the podium in her shiny paisley blazer, pulled the microphone down to accommodate her stature, and coolly proceeded to torch her own publishers, the “profiteer” Amazon, and the overcommercialized state of literature in general.

“We need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art,” she said. “Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit … is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.”

At first, the publishers and writers in the audience reacted with shell-shocked silence, as if they had been slapped by their own grandmother. Yet by the end, when she proclaimed that she didn’t want to “watch American literature get sold down the river,” they were roaring. To Le Guin, who told me she’d never been as nervous in her life as she was before her talk, this response was gratifying enough; as the Los Angeles Times (among others) reported, her performance “stole the show.” What she never expected, however, was that the video of her short speech would garner hundreds of thousands of views online, making her, as she likes to put it, “as popular as Maru the cat” for a brief while.

“It seemed like what I said was something a surprising number of people wanted to hear said,” she told me, still pleased.

. . . .

“I think she’s gotten more daring, more feminist, more political,” says the Portland novelist Molly Gloss, a onetime student of Le Guin’s who has been her friend since the 1980s. “She’s more willing to rattle cages. At the National Book Awards, there’s a whole table full of Amazon folks, and she looks right at them and tells them what she thinks of how they’re trying to take over publishing. And then she looks right at her own publishing house and says their policies are making it impossible for libraries to lend e-books. These aren’t the kinds of things you imagine other writers being willing to say out loud.”

Link to the rest at Portland Monthly and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Amazon Opens Huge Photo Studio In London To Feed Its Fashion Ambition

24 July 2015

From TechCrunch:

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once famously said that in order to be a $200 billion company, Amazon had to learn how to sell clothes and food. And while the company has been steadily growing the latter business with initiatives like Amazon Fresh, today it took a step down the catwalk to build up the former.

Amazon has opened up a new photography studio in Shoreditch, London — a 46,000 square-foot venue with 22 photography bays that Amazon says is one of the largest of its kind in Europe and will help it create and add more than 500,000 images of clothes to its sites every year.

. . . .

The site was derelict before Amazon got a hold of it. It has been home to a glass factory and a steam train workshop, both of which seem kind of apt when you consider the fragile and fickle nature of the fashion industry, as well as the machine-like force of Amazon’s growth and ambitions.

The move comes as Amazon is hoping to ramp up significantly in fashion sales both on and other properties that it owns in the UK, France, Italy and Spain. The company says it has added 100 new fashion brands to its platform in 2014, with brands including Hugo Boss, Gucci watches, Emporio Armani, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, 7ForAllMankind, American Retro, Petite Bateau, Levi’s and Lacoste.

Online fashion is very big business in Europe already, with companies like Rocket Internet making large investments alongside the likes of luxury conglomerates like LVMH. Startups like Net a Porter and ASOS have been big breakthroughs, and others like Farfetch now also coming up steadily as rivals. In other words, Amazon is moving into a very busy market.

Opening a studio to shoot items would help Amazon boost its inventory in two ways: by selling more items itself and also helping third parties sell more on its marketplace. The company says between April and June it sold over 30 million fashion products in Europe — although, as is often the case with Amazon, it does not say how that translates into dollars.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to C. for the tip.

Another wake-up call from Amazon as they serve author interests better than publishers have

24 July 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Although those fighting Amazon can and will point to what they consider to be situations where Amazon takes unfair advantage of its marketplace position, there are two aspects of what has transpired over the past 20 years that the critics who plead for government intervention will almost certainly ignore.

Most of Amazon’s success is due to their own stellar performance: innovating, investing, executing, and having a vision of what could happen as they grew.

Most of what Amazon has done to build their business — almost all of what they’ve done until the past few years of Kindle dominance — benefited most publishers and helped them grow their sales and their profitability. (In fact, book publishing uniquely among media businesses didn’t fall off a cliff in the decade surrounding the millenium and a strong case could be made that Amazon actually saved them.)

This has not stopped. The most recent example was announced yesterday. Amazon is now enabling readers to sign up on their favorite authors’ pages for notification of forthcoming books. This once again demonstratesAmazon’s willingness to innovate. And by doing this they also will deliver benefits to the publishers — an increase in out-of-the-box sales of new books to the authors’ sign-up lists. But the chances are that authors will be more appreciative than publishers will. That aspect of this initiative then feeds into the meme that “Amazon is taking over!”

. . . .

When we talk about author websites, we stress the importance of building the fan base in size and intensity. Among the big literary agencies investing in helping authors with their digital presence (and many are), we helped one figure out the techniques to teach to help their authors gather mailing list names.

. . . .

Now Amazon has, in their typical way (simple and self-serving) made this incredibly easy. We’ve met publishers who wonder why an author would need a website of their own rather than just a page on the publisher’s site. There are a lot of reasons that might be true, including many publishers’ apparent reluctance to “promote” the books an author has done with a prior publisher. But now publishers might hear authors asking the question a different way. Why do they need any author page on the Web besides the one they get from Amazon?

. . . .

But the single most important thing an author would want to tell his/her fans is “I’ve got a new book coming” and Amazon has handled that.

And in so doing, they have increased the control they have of the book marketplace and highlighted once again that part of the ground they take is ground the publishers simply cede to them. Any publisher that is not helping authors engage with their readers and actively create their own email lists to alert the interested to new books is put on notice now that they are quite late. But one thing is still true: better late than never.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin and thanks to Chris for the tip.

Amazon surprises with quarterly profit, stock rallies

23 July 2015

From Reuters: Inc  swung to an unexpected quarterly profit on higher sales in North America, its popular Prime subscription service and growing demand for its Web services, sending the online retailer’s shares up more than 17 percent.

Amazon also forecast third-quarter revenue above estimates.

Sales in North America, the company’s biggest market, rose 25.5 percent to $13.8 billion in the second quarter from a year earlier, helped by strong demand for electronics and general merchandise.

Cloud-computing revenue soared 81.5 percent to $1.82 billion, accounting for nearly 8 percent of the quarter’s revenue, Amazon said on Thursday.

“Growth has been fueled in large part by Prime growth and also (item) selection growth so it’s been a huge driver both in North America and international segments,” Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said on a conference call with reporters.

. . . .

“It looks like they beat across every major revenue line,” said Colin Sebastian, analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co. “That, along with the surprise profit beat, is icing on the cake, so to speak.”

Link to the rest at Reuters and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.

Here’s a link to Amazon’s earnings press release

LitChat: Is Amazon Guilty of Antitrust?

22 July 2015

As mentioned previously, @LitChat held a Twitter chat session inviting Authors United, the Authors Guild, the Association of Authors Representatives, the American Booksellers Association, and Amazon to participate in a discussion about whether Amazon is guilty of antitrust [violations].

Nobody from AU, AG, AAR, ABA or Amazon showed. A lot of TPV regulars did.

Here’s a link to the entire conversation.

PG had previously promised Mrs. PG a late lunch in the mountains, so he missed the whole thing.

He did see the following and kicked himself for only having his iPhone camera with him.

Stream-Oil Paint 2

Wednesday Special: Authors United Against Monopolistic Bookselling

22 July 2015

From LitCh@t:

Representatives from Authors United, the Authors Guild, the Association of Authors Representatives, the American Booksellers Association, and Amazon have been invited to participate in a Wednesday Special #LitChat. To ensure a friendly and fruitful dialog, the chat will be guest moderated by Judah Freed (@judahfreed), an author and journalist with two decades of experience covering the media industry for national and international trade magazines.

. . . .

Join #Litchat on Twitter at 4 PM ET this Wednesday, July 22, to discuss antitrust concerns about Amazon’s place in the global book market. Follow #LitChat on Twitter, or login to our dedicated channel at

Link to the rest at LitCh@t and thanks to Joe for the tip.

PG says it might be interesting for a few indie authors to join in the chat.

Is It Possible That Amazon Is Not ‘All’ Bad News For Publishers?

22 July 2015

From Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue:

For the past 20 years Amazon has disrupted the publishing industry from stem to stern. Could it be that much of the resulting adaptation and metamorphosis has actually been good news for publishers?

Depends on what you consider. What kind of publisher? What kind of book? Book audience location. Book platform. Book distribution system access. Digital technology, etc., etc.

Hell, many of these considerations weren’t even in existence 20 years ago! And while Amazon didn’t create or discover all of the above mentioned ingredients, they were the first to mix them in a masterful menu – creating a smorgasbord of possibilities – the understanding of which is still being deciphered today.

. . . .

Key excerpts from tonight’s research/resource article:

“It has been presented as a David and Goliath battle. This is despite the underdog status of the largest publishing houses in the world. As Amazon has become the primary destination for books online, it has been able to lower book prices through their influence over the book trade. Many have argued that this has reduced the book to “a thing of minimal value”.”

“Despite this pervasive narrative of the evil overlord milking its underlings for all their worth, Amazon has actually offered some positive changes in the publishing industry over the last 20 years. Most notably, the website has increased the visibility of books as a form of entertainment in a competitive media environment. This is an achievement that should not be diminished in our increasingly digital world.”

. . . .

This promise of a large selection of books required a large database of available books for customers to search. Prior to Amazon’s launch, this data was available to those who needed it from Bowker’s Books in Print, an expensive data source run by the people who controlled the International Standardised Book Number (ISBN) standard in the USA.

ISBN was the principle way in which people discovered books, and Bowker controlled this by documenting the availability of published and forthcoming titles. This made them one of the most powerful companies in the publishing industry and also created a division between traditional and self-published books.

Bowker allowed third parties to re-use their information, so Amazon linked this data to their website. Users could now see any book Bowker reported as available. This led to Amazon’s boasts that they had the largest bookstore in the world, despite their lack of inventory in their early years. But many other book retailers had exactly the same potential inventory through access to the same suppliers and Bowker’s Books in Print.

Amazon’s decision to open up the data in Bowker’s Books in Print to customers democratised the ability to discover of books that had previously been locked in to the sales system of physical book stores. And as Amazon’s reputation improved, they soon collected more data than Bowker.

For the first time, users could access data about what publishers had recently released and basic information about forthcoming titles. Even if customers did not buy books from Amazon, they could still access the information. This change benefited publishers as readers who can quickly find information about new books are more likely to buy new books.

Link to the rest at Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue and thanks to Chris for the tip.

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