So, recently, the federal court in New York ruled that Apple played a “central role” in fixing eBook prices with publishers. The goal was to keep the cost of an eBook at $12.99, instead of $9.99.
This has ushered in a wave of speculation about the future of both pricing and print books and eBooks. One Wired article by Marcus Wohlsen even speculates that this could be the “end of the book as we know it.”
His argument is that, without competition, Amazon is going to be free to set prices for books, especially when bookstores fade away. The publishing industry is going through the painful throes faced by the music industry years ago and it looks like Amazon is going to clamber on top.
But the thing about technology is that the top is a slippery place, and it’s important to keep in mind that Amazon’s true power lies in the fickle decisions of the consumer.
Why No One Controls Book Pricing
The truth is that book pricing has been out of control ever since people got used to the idea that they can read books on a screen. Sites like BookBub.com have over one million subscribers, people who are eager to get “deep discounts” on “acclaimed eBooks.” Others, like Free-Ebooks.net, offer the best discount of all.
Amazon’s KDP Select program, meanwhile, allows authors to give away their books for free for five days in a row. It works… if you like letting people download your work without paying.
Thanks to the massive influx of self-published authors, book prices are totally adjustable and customizable. Amazon can’t possibly “fix” those prices, because there are so many other platforms out there to which authors can migrate.
And this is all overlooking something else:
No One Sits at the Top for Long
Amazon got to the eBook phenomenon first, in a big way, but start-ups are already chugging away inside the new reality of reading and they can easily leave Amazon behind by being nimble, innovative and adaptive.
The definition of a “book” is going to broken down and put back together a hundred times over and different consumers are going to like different things.
What we’re really going to see is a fragmentation of readers: people who like print, people who like genre eBooks, people who like electronic magazines with words and videos and photos and all sorts of other stuff in them. Then there will be platforms that stream chapters or email them directly, online libraries, enhanced eBooks… here are six publishing start-ups, just for a few examples.
So if you, like so many others, enjoy pointing at the great shadow cast by Amazon’s cloud, just remember that the weather changes every day.