Well, not all of you, obviously. Some of you are very clued up on ebook issues. But the various Amazon fails that have happened over the past few weeks have brought home to me how many people who profess to be opposed to Amazon have in fact bought into the narrative that Amazon = ebooks and There Is No Alternative. Which is, of course, just what Amazon wants us all to think. Let me explain.
Some of the people yelling at Amazon are opposed to the whole idea of ebooks. That’s their right. I love paper too, and still buy lots of paper books. But, until such time as our electronics-based civilization collapses, ebooks are here to stay. If you don’t believe that, let me tell you a story about a man called Cnut.
A more reasonable complaint is that ebooks have Digital Rights Management (DRM), and people want to buy their books, not rent them. I’m very supportive of that position. But not all ebooks have DRM. Indeed, not all ebooks sold by Amazon have DRM. It is an option that you can select when you upload your book the store. None of the books published by Wizard’s Tower have DRM, no matter where you buy then. None of the books sold in the Wizard’s Tower bookstore have DRM. You can also buy DRM-free books from stores such as Weightless Books, Baen, The Robot Trading Company and Book View Café.
Then there’s the question of formats and readers. Amazon’s business plan is heavily based on trying to lock you in to their hardware platform. They want people to think that you can only buy ebooks from them, and you can only read them on a Kindle. That’s by no means true. If you have DRM-free mobi files then there are other ways you can read them, and the whole point of the epub format is that it is portable. An epub file should be readable on a wide range of different readers, including the iPad, Nook, Kobo and various Android-based tablets.
One of my favorite reading platforms right now is using the Kindle app on my Google Nexus tablet. The Nexus is nice and light, and the Kindle app is a better e-reader than any of the other Android apps I’ve tried. You need a little bit of technical skill to use that platform, and the (free) Calibre format converter, but it shouldn’t be beyond anyone reading this.
You don’t actually need an e-reader device at all, because there are cloud-based systems such as Ibis that allow you to read your books on any device that has a web browser. And sometime next year, if you have a smart phone, you’ll be able to get a Beagle e-reader for a ridiculously low price.
How about region restrictions? They are a real pain on Amazon, mainly because of the region-based rights contracts that the big publishers love. None of the books I sell in my store have region restrictions, and I’m proud of that. You can buy them anywhere in the world. But when I released Colinthology through my store I had people complaining that it was “unavailable” in the USA. I had to put it on Amazon before they would believe that they could buy it. I’m guessing that’s because my store prices in pounds, not dollars, but that doesn’t stop you from buying the books. Europeans do it, Australians and New Zealanders do it, and they don’t use pounds. PayPal will levy a small currency conversion fee, but it will only be a few cents per book.
Finally there’s the whole self-publishing scene. Some people have been saying that because Amazon is bad you should only ever buy ebooks direct from the author, or direct from the publisher. “Cut out the middleman!” is the battle cry. Folks, middlemen exist for a reason. Some authors are very good at selling their books, but others are bad at it, hate having to do it, and are very grateful to have someone else do it for them. Equally some publishers are good at selling books direct, while others don’t have a clue and end up either outsourcing to Amazon or being very corporate about the whole thing. Look, if Barnes & Noble do something bad people don’t yell ,”boycott independent bookstores!” So don’t do it when Amazon misbehaves either.
I get as angry about Amazon as the next person. But I don’t think you can fight them by trying to fight the whole idea of ebooks, or by buying into the meme that ebooks and Amazon are one and the same thing. The only way Amazon’s hold on the ebook market can be broken is if there are viable alternatives that people who want to buy ebooks can use. And that means that we have to recognize that alternatives do exist, and that those alternatives and often much better to deal with. The best way to strike back at Amazon is to encourage people to buy from their competition.
Update: Book View Café added to the list of sources of DRM-free ebooks. Any more?