How Publishers & Copyright Gave Amazon The Very Power That Publishers Now Hate

from the which-was-totally-predictable dept

We've been meaning to weigh in some more on the whole Amazon/Hachette battle, because lot of misinformation has been spewed around (including by Paul Krugman). Unfortunately there have just been too many other things to cover and we haven't had the time to do a more thorough piece. However, Tim Lee, over at Vox, has a good short piece detailing how many of the publishers' problems are really because of copyright law and the stupid DRM that the publishers themselves demanded -- and which now gives Amazon its power over them in the market. The issue? The DMCA and the fact that Section 1201 makes it illegal to circumvent any DRM (even if for non-infringing purposes). End result, all those books on Amazon are stuck on Amazon.
Amazon has taken advantage of the DMCA too. Kindle books come copy-protected so that only Amazon-approved software can read it without breaking the law. Of course, software to convert it to other formats exists, but it's illegal and accordingly isn't very convenient or user-friendly.

And that creates a huge barrier to entry. People who want to create new e-reader apps or devices can't do what MP3 startups did in the 1990s and offer to automatically import your existing e-books from Kindle, iTunes, or other major platforms. Instead, they have to start from scratch, creating their own e-book store and convincing all the major publishers to sign up for it.

Even more daunting, they have to convince customers to toss their existing e-book libraries and buy new copies of their e-books on the new platform — or split their time between multiple platforms.
The thing is, none of this is even remotely surprising. Almost six years ago, we warned book publishers of this exact scenario. This wasn't hard to predict, because the same damn thing had happened in music, before Apple finally dumped its music DRM. But no one listens to us.

And yet, you can bet that if changing the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA is up for discussion during the next effort at copyright reform, the book publishers and their lobbyists will actually be among the most vocal about keeping it the way it is. They still don't seem to recognize how their own demands for DRM created the situation they're so worried about today with Amazon having more power than the publishers like.

Filed Under: anti-circumvention, copyright, dmca, dmca 1201, drm, ebooks, lock-in, publishers
Companies: amazon


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  • icon
    James Jensen (profile), 31 Oct 2014 @ 8:37am

    It's not like they weren't warned:

    "Anyway, my point is that the Big Six's pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder."

    http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2011/11/cutting-their-own-throats.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 31 Oct 2014 @ 8:45am

    Live by the sword, die by the sword.

    However it is interesting. I buy my books, download a 'pirate' electronic version and upload to my Kindle. Haven't had any issues so far. For all the DRM and copyright lawsuits there will always be a way to circumvent idiocy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2014 @ 9:31am

      Re:

      And a publisher will now subpoena Techdirt for your IP address, make a wrong claim about who it is, and make thousands off your neighbor for admitting to pirating books....
      This system works great, no?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 31 Oct 2014 @ 10:15am

        Re: Re:

        The DMCA is not valid here and, in fact, I can download stuff and circumvent DRM for personal use :)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          PRMan, 31 Oct 2014 @ 10:52am

          Re: Re: Re:

          That's what the Pirate Bay guys used to say... It wasn't the law, until they were suddenly guilty of it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2014 @ 11:28am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The does not mean the DMCA is valid on every place on the face of the plant and even if it was a comment about downloading on a news site without reference to a particular book is not a proper basis for a subpoena.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2014 @ 11:29am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              That does not mean the DMCA is valid on every place on the face of the plant and even if it was a comment about downloading on a news site without reference to a particular book is not a proper basis for a subpoena.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2014 @ 10:17am

      Re:

      It hasn't been a problem to sideload the Kindle. This one has never and will never see a connection to Amazon. By Amazon's insistence, even the manual can't be gotten to without having an Amazon account which I have no desire to make nor any intention of ever letting it out on the internet.

      There's a reason beyond them just selling books that makes them so insistent on that connection. I am as sure as I can be that the device is loaded with blabber home instructions.

      Good luck on the IP tracing. Sure ain't gonna be what they think it should be and it isn't going to lead in the direction they think it might should.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    341, 31 Oct 2014 @ 9:43am

    No all Publishers are jerk bags

    https://www.baenebooks.com/c-1-free-library.aspx

    Full disclosure I have no connection with Baen books at all, just want to give them props for not being dicks, I have bought hardcovers of several of there books.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      jupiterkansas (profile), 31 Oct 2014 @ 10:39am

      Re: No all Publishers are jerk bags

      But it's the jerk publishers that are causing the technology to be locked down to a few major players, so it doesn't matter if a few publishers play nice.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        341, 31 Oct 2014 @ 12:50pm

        Re: Re: No all Publishers are jerk bags

        Don't buy there books.

        All that it take for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          jupiterkansas (profile), 31 Oct 2014 @ 2:34pm

          Re: Re: Re: No all Publishers are jerk bags

          Apparently the masses don't care if the publishers or Amazon has the power. I doubt it even crosses their mind. All they know is they want to read a book right now.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2014 @ 11:26am

      Re: No all Publishers are jerk bags

      You can also get the Baen released CDs of books from The Fifth Imperium. Note for the maximalists, this is with Baen's permission.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Eldakka (profile), 2 Nov 2014 @ 5:10pm

      Re: No all Publishers are jerk bags

      Shameless plug for Baen.

      The only relation I have to Baen is that I've been buying Baen DRM-free ebooks since 2000, and they are still my first port of call when looking for a new book to read.

      And all the books I've ever ordered from them are still available for me to re-download (from Baen) if I ever blat my library.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2014 @ 9:46am

    You snooze you lose! the early bird gets the worm! It seems they've not learned, next up the MPAA, who's now in check.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2014 @ 9:58am

    What's weird is there's definitely the option to publish Kindle eBooks without DRM. Almost nobody takes advantage of it.

    (I did, but my book was a short mini-collection of short horror stories for Halloween that really won't make enough money to worry about it either way. Heck, I'll be really lucky if it generates enough profit to buy a pizza.)

    (Now I'm hungry.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2014 @ 1:15pm

      Re:

      Gross revenue $1 million dollars
      Operating costs $999,985
      _________________________________
      Net income $15

      YES, I CAN NOW BUY A PIZZA!!!! It was all worth it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 31 Oct 2014 @ 2:14pm

      Re:

      That's not 'weird', so much as 'annoying and stupid'.

      Add in the fact that there's no easy way to tell if a given ebook is infected with DRM or not before you purchase, and if you're like me and try and avoid DRM'd stuff at all costs, you either a) don't buy any ebooks that don't explicitly state that they're not infected, or b) don't buy any books from their marketplace period.

      Means I buy less than I otherwise would(from the Amazon ebook market anyway, I buy a ton on Smashwords, in large part to the guaranteed 'No DRM'), authors sell less than they otherwise would, and everyone loses, all because of idiot publishers and authors who can't quite grasp that DRM is not a good thing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 31 Oct 2014 @ 10:05am

    I'm reminded of the old monkey trap;

    You place seeds or berries in a stump with a hole just big enough for the monkey to stick their hand in. Once they've grabbed the seeds, they can't pull their closed fist back out through the hole and become stuck. Even when they see danger approaching, they aren't smart enough to drop the food and pull their hand out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2014 @ 10:54am

      Re:

      And the irony fairy is laughing her ass off, because those jerks BUILT the trap they're in.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Andyroo, 1 Nov 2014 @ 8:22am

      Re:

      I was actually thinking about this the other day when my daughter put her hand into a candy jar and grabbed a handful of sweets, she did have the brains though to immediately work out that if she only took a few sweets at a time she could get them out, she is only just turned 2.

      From your analogy my daughter at 2 is more intelligent not just than a monkey but also than the idiots that belive drm is in any way beneficial to anyone other than big business like Amazon.

      Hopefully the book publishers and authors realise how damaging drm is to their market and profits and they eventually decide to remove it completely.

      just imagine if we only had one format and anyone could build a website to sell ebooks at a fair price with decent profits going to the publishers, i can see some very nice websites becoming popular book stores online.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 1 Nov 2014 @ 4:29pm

        Re: Re:

        Without the DRM to muck things up, multiple formats really aren't a problem, as it's easy enough to convert an ebook from one format to another(takes all of two clicks in Calibre).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Eldakka (profile), 2 Nov 2014 @ 5:15pm

        Re: Re:

        Obviously they hadn't read the evil overlord list, specifically item 12:
        12. One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    MacCruiskeen, 31 Oct 2014 @ 11:09am

    And then Amazon will make their software natively support open epub standard formats instead of their proprietary format. No, wait, that will never happen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 31 Oct 2014 @ 11:16am

    Books and movies different to music

    There is a difference in the way books and movies are consumed to the way music is consumed. People listen to music over and over again. How many times do people read a book or watch a movie? In general, only once. Hence rentals of movies make a lot of sense. Hence Redbox.

    Yes, there are exceptions -- everyone who has kids knows that there are a few movies that their kids watch over and over again. However, the majority of movies are only watched once or perhaps twice in a household.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 31 Oct 2014 @ 2:11pm

    correction: 'Amazon has taken advantage of the DMCA too'. Not Amazon. The publishers themselves. Amazon is perfectly ok publishing books without DRM UNLESS the publishers insist on putting it on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 31 Oct 2014 @ 2:25pm

    DRM and the Big Six in a nutshell:

    'The Big Sucks (excuse me, Six), can't simply drop DRM.

    Their long insistence on inconveniencing their customers and charging hardcover prices for eBooks has done mortal (or at least near-mortal) damage to any respect book lovers and readers might have for them.

    DRM is exactly the same experience as having the manager slap each entering customer across the face and screaming "You're a goddamn thief and I'm going to stop you if I have to throw you in jail right now," and then expecting such customer to WANT to buy from such a store.

    Adding insult by charging the same cost (even discounted) as the hardcover (or paperback), simply adds pepper-spraying to the mix.'

    -A comment from the link posted by James Jensen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2014 @ 4:38pm

    strange how when something is working in someones favor it's the best thing since meat came in boxes but when it turns on the same someones, it's the next hillside strangler!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    J.R., 1 Nov 2014 @ 9:11am

    What goes around comes around...

    Usually because people push it back around on themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    A.F., 3 Nov 2014 @ 6:22am

    I am honestly astounded by this article and it shows nothing but an utter lack of proper research and a total misunderstanding of the publishing business.

    1) You say copyright laws are the source of all evil (the vile DRM settings), well this is to protect the content and the publisher. The copyright office exists to protect material and to allow end-users to have the right to abuse content. The copyright office does not care about how publishers make their money- they only care about protecting content. Enjoy your pirated books for now, because the winds of change are coming in a few years time since copyright law is currently under revision and we are expected this to be completed in 2 years or so.

    2) You talk about the Amazon Kindle format as if publishers had a say in how their content was to be manipulated. When Amazon started, they were the first of their kind, everyone was eager to jump on board, especially because they offered free conversion from print to digital (of course, publishers were not given those files). What business would not jump at a new revenue stream with no start-up cost? Did we know what kind of market controlling monster it would turn into today? No. Amazon controls the final file type that they distribute. Why would a company who makes their own e-reader sell content in any other format? They would want to drive their e-reader sales. Amazon's fault. Not publishers.

    3)The above is slowly dying away as we speak. With the new versions of the Kindle, users are allowed more flexibility and you can view multiple ebook formats on the reader. And there is a handy Amazon Kindle app that lets you know access your books from almost any electronic device. The trends that I am seeing, speaking with new and old vendors, is a breaking down of this compatibility barrier. It is taking time, but mark my words, it is on its way to breaking down almost completely. (Ugh, I just shivered. I defended one of the most souless vendors in all of existence...).

    4)The reason the business model for selling ebooks (and how "difficult" it can be to create a new delivery method and content - which I disagree with), is exactly because of what happened with the music industry. Give the masses the ability to steal thousands of dollars worth of music and they will... Why would books be any different? Publishers learned from the past and we did not want to repeat it. In case you have not noticed, the publishing industry is not as large as the music industry. People read less then they ever did. We did not have the room to make the same mistakes. DRM settings have proven crucial to many, if not most or all publisher's survival through the economic recession.

    5) Amazon has the "power" that it has, due to the fact that it developed its own device (not the publisher's fault again), but also because Amazon does not sell e-books. Amazon sells a LICENSE for an end user to read a book. You never actually purchase a copy of the book, just the right to read it. Hence the lower than normal price discount. Hence the protection. You can pirate and share content, but to pirate and share a LICENSE that is logical nonsense. You cannot share a right. It is either given, earned or paid for.

    So next time, before you go about the internet writing ignorant slop in which you are so obviously devoid of the larger picture of the industry, do some research and get the story straight. I know how hard it is to develop content nowadays with all the pressure to produce traffic to your website preventing you from doing some honest, thorough reporting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 3 Nov 2014 @ 7:00am

      Re:

      "You say copyright laws are the source of all evil (the vile DRM settings)"

      Copyright laws and DRM are two different things. To criticize one is not necessarily to criticize the other.

      "Enjoy your pirated books for now"

      When you assume the that criticism of DRM can only come from pirates, you undermine your own credibility.

      "You talk about the Amazon Kindle format as if publishers had a say in how their content was to be manipulated."

      It was the publishers who demanded the DRM, so yes, publishers had a say in this matter. It was their call. In addition, publishers give permission to Amazon to publish the books and can set the terms of that agreement.

      "And there is a handy Amazon Kindle app that lets you know access your books from almost any electronic device."

      Not true. The app is only available on the most popular types of devices, and this will always be the case. Readers are locked into using the app as well, which is a bad thing for compatibility and choice. Also, I have a few issues with calling the app "handy".

      "The reason the business model for selling ebooks (and how "difficult" it can be to create a new delivery method and content - which I disagree with), is exactly because of what happened with the music industry."

      And yet, publishers are failing to learn the lessons the music industry learned a while ago: that DRM is harmful for everybody.

      "You never actually purchase a copy of the book, just the right to read it."

      That's correct, and is often discussed here. It is, in itself, a terrible thing -- but it's also a different (although related) issue.

      "before you go about the internet writing ignorant slop in which you are so obviously devoid of the larger picture of the industry, do some research and get the story straight."

      You have not managed tocome up with a single example of this story being inaccurate or ignorant.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2014 @ 7:40am

      Re:

      You can take off the DRM, and people might not buy your work. After this display of sheer ignorance and dislike for your consumer base, people won't buy your work. Hell, by conveniently hiding your credentials I have no idea who you are, but I don't regularly read books so I have even less reason to buy or pirate your works. I have other activities that better deserve my time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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