e-book insanity

Charles Stross on what he thinks Amazon's e-book strategy is. Essentially a combination of monopoly on the consumer side and monopsony on the publisher side, all having to do with using the Kindle as a bottleneck. Frak that, I will consume landfill paperbacks for my few remaining years on earth but the statistic is chilling that e-books have gone from 1% to 40% of the market in five years. So here's Stross' prognostication on what the big six publishers are going to have to accept:

DRM on ebooks is dead. (Or if not dead, it's on death row awaiting a date with the executioner.)

It doesn't matter whether Macmillan wins the price-fixing lawsuit bought by the Department of Justice. The point is, the big six publishers' Plan B for fighting the emerging Amazon monopsony has failed (insofar as it has been painted as a price-fixing ring, whether or not it was one in fact). This means that they need a Plan C. And the only viable Plan C, for breaking Amazon's death-grip on the consumers, is to break DRM.

If the major publishers switch to selling ebooks without DRM, then they can enable customers to buy books from a variety of outlets and move away from the walled garden of the Kindle store. They see DRM as a defense against piracy, but piracy is a much less immediate threat than a gigantic multinational with revenue of $48 Billion in 2011 (more than the entire global publishing industry) that has expressed its intention to "disrupt" them, and whose chief executive said recently "even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation" (where "innovation" is code-speak for "opportunities for me to turn a profit").

And so they will deep-six their existing commitment to DRM and use the terms of the DoJ-imposed settlement to wiggle out of the most-favoured-nation terms imposed by Amazon, in order to sell their wares as widely as possible.

If they don't, they're doomed. And all of us who like to read (or write) fiction get to live in the Amazon company town.

I like Stross' characterization of Bezos:

...I do want to note that he came out of a hedge fund and he's ostensibly a libertarian; these aspects of his background make me uneasy, because in my experience they tend to be found in conjunction with a social-darwinist ideology that has no time for social justice, compassion, or charity. (When you hear a libertarian talking about "disruption" and "innovation" what they usually mean is "opportunities to make a quick buck, however damaging the long-term side effects may be." Watch for the self-serving cant and the shout-outs to abstractions framed in terms of market ideology.)