Amazon is sticking up for readers. Hachette is just trying to stick it to readers.

Lots of authors and publishers are in an uproar over Amazon’s latest dispute with Hachette where Amazon is listing books from the major publisher as “unavailable,” or offering an inconvenient 3-5 week waiting period for shipping certain books.

Some have derided Amazon’s actions as unethical and possibly illegal, but I think these hyped-up statements being slung at Amazon are absolutely ridiculous.

Angry Authors and Publishers

Some authors and publishers are ticked off at Amazon for making their books unavailable or delaying shipments.

So what if you can’t buy a small percentage of books on Amazon? Last time I checked, retailers get to decide which products they offer and which they don’t, which products they discount, and which companies they do business with.

No one accuses any other major retailer of illegal activity because they choose to not sell a certain product line or work with a certain supplier.

No one accuses a physical bookstore of illegal activity if it stops carrying books from a certain publisher, so why should anyone care that Amazon chooses not to offer books from a certain publisher?

Apple doesn’t allow any readers to buy a kindle Ebook on the iPhone Kindle app, but I don’t hear anyone accusing Apple of illegal activities because they won’t allow Amazon to sell books on Apple devices through the Kindle app. This is business as usual. When a company owns a major direct link to consumers, they can choose which products to offer, at what prices, when, where and how they please.

In my opinion, major publishers are only making a big ruckus about this situation because they have nothing to lose. The market’s changing fast, the major publishers aren’t keeping up, and they have no way to quickly grow their profits now that there have been so many mergers and acquisitions in the industry. The big publishers have nothing to lose and everything to gain from a big publicity spat right now.

Either way, the major publishers are going to have to cut back and make serious changes to their business practices to survive. But that’s not Amazon’s fault.

Ask any Ebook reader if they think an Ebook should cost more than a physical book. More than 90% will say no.

The difference between Amazon and the big publishers is that Amazon is trying to make the market better for consumers by lowering prices, whereas major publishers tried to fix prices and keep profits artificially high by price fixing. That sounds more like a rip-off than a business strategy.

Amazon Hachette Books Unavailable

Want to buy the hardcover version of J. K. Rowling’s newest book “The Silkworm” published under the pen name Robert Galbraith on Amazon? Too bad! It’s listed as “Currently Unavailable” on the site. You can pre-order the book in hardcover on Barnes & Noble’s website for $16.80.

What Amazon is doing by refusing to ship or sell a very small percentage of books pales in comparison to the whole Ebook price fixing debacle.

What Amazon is doing by not offering certain books for sale is legal as far as I know. But the court decided that Apple conspired to restrain trade in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act in the major Ebook price fixing case. Jeff Bezos looks like a saint in comparison to the heads of the big publishers that joined together with Apple to fix Ebook prices.

The major publishers must have been scared because Ebook prices have been trending down in the last few years. So they tried to fix prices. When that didn’t work, they moved on to other silly ways to try to increase profits.

They have been horribly misguided in their recent attempts to increase profits and grow their bottom lines. They still want to hold on to practices like “windowing” where they will offer a higher-priced hardcover version of the book for sale first, and only later offer a cheaper paperback and ebook version. Who could possibly agree that it’s okay for publishers to artificially hold back cheaper versions of a hot new book for several months in order to force consumers to pay higher prices, but it’s not okay for Amazon to make a book unavailable or delay shipment for a few weeks?

If the major publishers want to play dirty, it seems to me that Amazon is more than willing to beat them at their own game, and come out looking a whole lot better in the process.

In business there are winners and there are losers. Publishers are just complaining because they’re losing. And they’re losing because of their own poor business decisions. Because they would rather fix prices than give consumers a fair deal. Because they would rather use windowing instead of letting consumers have more choices. Because they would rather throw dirt at Amazon than admit that they are becoming even more irrelevant to readers every passing day.

Blaming the decline and problems of big publishers on Amazon is simply a publicity stunt. If publishers want to increase their market share and compete with Amazon, they better get back to doing the right things: helping their customers get more of what they want more conveniently.

You could say Amazon is negotiating on behalf of its customers to keep Ebook (and physical book) prices more affordable and fair for everyone. That’s not illegal or unethical. It’s business.

Are there innocent bystanders in this mess? Sure there are. Hachette authors whose books are unavailable on Amazon or have a long shipping delay are losing a lot of sales. No author wants that to happen.

But face the truth: stuff happens. No book launch ever goes as expected. No business comes without risks. And this so-called war between Amazon and the major publishers won’t last forever.

We all have to accept the facts as they are. Amazon is gaining market power. The big publishers are losing market power. That doesn’t make Amazon “bad” and the big publishers “good.” That’s just business.

Companies that operate well and actually help their customers are the ones that get more customers and gain more market power. Companies that perform poorly and fail to help their customers as well as their competitors do lose market power. That’s capitalism 101.

If publishers want more market power, they need to get it by playing fair, not fixing prices. They need to get it by helping customers, not trying to force them to pay higher prices with windowing and similar marketing gimmicks. They need to get it by offering more value, not less.

Amazon doesn’t have an unfair advantage. They just have a better model. If publishers want more profits and more market share, all they have to do is come up with a better publishing model.

It’s not rocket science. It’s just business.

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