It’s Not Amazon, It’s You

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?

20 thoughts on “It’s Not Amazon, It’s You

  1. ‘the region-based rights contracts that the big publishers love’

    I’d probably blame agents and authors for this, actually. Publishers on the whole don’t tend to say no to buying world rights in all languages if they can.

    1. sure, let’s blame the authors. Authors don’t want you to read their books, after all. Why would they? And since agents make a percentage of author’s take, they must have the same attitude.

      Why would you express an opinion when you don’t have any knowledge of how the business works? Publishers buy rights for the regions they do business in. Each region has its own copyright legislation. Publishers and authors have no power over individual country’s legal systems.

      1. That’s not a very helpful comment. You are right that many publishers only want rights to the region in which they work, but publishing is becoming increasingly international. It’s also true that authors need to make a living, and it is the agent’s job to get them as much money as possible. An author wouldn’t refuse to sell regional rights because she didn’t want people in some regions to read her books, but she might because she had hopes of selling rights in that region separately. Indeed, many of my authors friends tell me they are worse off these days because some publishers are asking for world rights.

        It is a complicated business, and authors and agents should accept some of the responsibility.

        I have no idea who you are, and unlike you I’m not going to leap to conclusions about how much you know about the business, but based on your comment alone you don’t seem to know as much about publishing as you think you do.

  2. Smashwords is another good source of DRM-free books.

    My personal pet peeve is when ebooks are only available on amazon. I have calibre set up so I can trivially strip the DRM from those and archive them to ibis, but I’d rather just buy from a better vendor in the first place.

    I’ve been burned by amazon too many times on digital content. Back in the days of Adobe Digital Editions, there was one book that I couldn’t activate on a new computer because Amazon no longer had the rights. And remember Amazon Shorts? Supposed to be available for re-download indefinitely, but they all just disappeared one day when Amazon got bored with the program. Granted, in both cases, I ultimately got Amazon to refund my purchase prices, but it was a painful process and I would much rather have had continued access to the books.

  3. When I was scouting round for a new Sony ereader Amazon was one of the places I looked. But when I searched them for a Sony, specifically narrowing my search to that brand, the first two results were Kindles. I thought that was really cheeky.

  4. Our company’s eBooks are DRM-free no matter where you buy them. We publish Indian, Pakistani & Nigerian genre fiction in translation — Urdu detective, Tamil mythological crime, Hausa romance — as well as off-beat folktales and some experimental fiction. (We also have some comics and postcard books, but those are print-only.)

  5. Well stated! I decided on the Nook for precisely those reasons. Additionally, at the time, Barnes and Noble embraced the free e-book idea;Amazon did not. In fact, the salespeople were not only mentioning Calibre but telling people that it was indispensable for the full e-book experience.

  6. Fighting against ebooks is like boycotting a printing press book in order to hurt the Catholic Church.

    No, that really does work as an analogy, if you think about it.

    It is hard, as an author, to fight against Amazon. I’ve refused point blank to enrol in Amazon Prime, in order to make my book free for a few days. I don’t give away free books. Neither do I price them at 99 cents. Neither, as you know (as you sell them) do I DRM them. But the pressure to do Amazon Prime is huge, and the rewards of having gazillion free downloads driving sales, is driving sales to some. But only to some. (Of course, those days may be about over soon anyhow, now they have split the lists into free and paid.)

    But there is also a print issue here too. Amazon is trying to choke out book printing in other areas by using its financial clout. You can load into CreateSpace for free, and have your ebook as a print book, sold by Amazon, in a few days.

    But it’s locked into Amazon. You can’t get it listed in stores, library listing is problematic as you’re forcing the library to buy from Amazon and I doubt that would work in the UK.

    But it costs money to load into places such as Lightening Source. And they are wicked cruel on uploading mistakes and you can run up a loading bill in seconds by having a couple of minor tech problems. AND you have to be a registered publisher to use them.

    BUT. Big but. You get listed everywhere. You can walk into a WH Smiths and order the book. It can be stocked on the shelves by any store (mine are stocked by my local Smugs.). And I’m in the UK library system.

    I sell considerably more paperbacks than ebooks: horror is like that. I can get crates of books out of Lightening Source and sell them myself at a much better rate that I get from selling them on Amazon (which is what I do, most of my sales are by me, which doesn’t do much for Amazon rankings but is good for solid word of mouth reader base building) but fewer and fewer authors are going outside Amazon. It’s cheap and fast to sell yourself into the slave machine.

    I don’t mind selling on Amazon. Buy I like having sales coming in from all the other places. Sarah, from Osier, my publisher, is sorting out the kinks in Google+ so we can sell there too.

    But people shouldn’t think the book selling issue with books at Amazon is just ebooks. It’s paperbacks too. And it’s much harder to resist when it’s so expensive and you need clout to use Lightening Source, and CreateSpace is using all it’s clout to lock all the indie paperbacks into Amazon too.

    It’s hard to keep the options open, when they cost a lot and Amazon are not so much offering you a carrot, as meeting you at the door with a bag of oats. Choosing to lock yourself into Amazon, or not, on ebooks, is about juggling projected sales. Choosing to lock yourself into Amazon, or not, on paperbacks, is about actual set-up costs versus no costs and then sales via Amazon/CreateSpace are all profit. Ethics means, for many, you’ll never clear your costs. It’s a rock and a hard place I’m in right now as I have to choose where to print Bedlam Maternity. It’s hard to stick to principle when it’s a shed load of money you may not get back!

    Like you say, if people do want to oppose Amazon, buy your books elsewhere – but if you’re being super sharp, you should also check the printing info on your indie paperback.

    It’s always going to be difficult ‘tho, when people feel it’s not a real book unless they buy it from Amazon. I price match both paperback and ebook, and the paperback comes signed. But people tend to trust Amazon, and so they buy from Amazon.

    And the wyrm doth continue to eat its own tale! (Pun intended.) 🙂

    I suppose the real problem is we have a long standing emotional attachment to Amazon. They were the little guys we once rooted for and they brought us our books to the door. It’s hard to keep in mind they are now the monolith crushing all in their path.

  7. Morgan – First love never lasts. Our attachment to Amazon CAN be broken.

    Calibre is not difficult to download and install. Djibril from Future Fire had me do it so that sometimes I can take E-books to review.

    The prospect of getting the Beagle reader with my next phone up-grade has me giddy with glee – and I don’t mean the TV program.

    Everything you say here, Cheryl, is spot -on!

  8. I had downloaded a kindle app for my backlevel ipad, but it was buggy – it would suddenly close the book randomly when flipping a page. It was a good thing almost all my books at that point were from Baen; I just downloaded a different reader app, then redownloaded all of my Baen purchases to it.

  9. Wow, I didn’t know that Amazon offered some books DRM-free. Personally, I reflexively strip the DRM from every book that I buy from them, for the same reason that Andrew Hatchell mentioned: sooner or later, the company is going to deprive you of your books (whether it’s due to a platform change or you just losing the password or whatever, it’s gonna happen in the long run).

  10. Subterranean Press, PS Publishing and Tor are all DRM-free publishers. I buy their books from Kobo (although you can buy from PS Publishing directly from their own site too). The search function on Kobo is a bit of a nightmare, so you can’t search for “any DRM-free ebooks”, but you can search for a specific publisher by typing it into the search box within quotes – like “Subterranean Press”. You have to already know that the publisher is a DRM-free one for that to be useful, of course :-/

    Oh, and a handy trick that some people mightn’t know: on if a Kindle book has “Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited” in the Product Details section, that means the ebook is DRM-free! Unfortunately this isn’t written on other Amazon sites like or .de etc 🙁

  11. Oh, and of course any ebooks available in Multiformat at . That’s site has been around so long I forgot about it! Not as good as it was, but still a great place to pick up magazines like Analog or Asimov’s, and older works and/or short stories by George RR Martin, Robert Silverburg, Ursula K. Le Guin etc.

      1. Saw that email in my inbox today. And what is today’s lesson? That I will still be able to access all of my downloaded purchases forever because they are DRM-free 😉
        Farewell, Fictionwise, I will think of you whenever I read an ebook with those hideous blue covers 🙁

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