I’m sure by now most everyone and their uncle has heard about the dispute between Amazon and Hatchette. You’d kind of have to be living under a rock not to. Chuck Wendig’s blogged about it a few times. John Scalzi posted about it. There’s a petition drafted in part by Hugh Howey (and check out Wendig’s post on that) that’s made several loops I belong to.
I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with Amazon. I say long because this pre-dates my first serious attempt at writing a novel. See, I kinda equate Amazon with Google. It’s made everything simpler. It’s also made things worse.
With Amazon, I can shop for books and music and gardening implements from the comfort of my own home. With Google, if I don’t know something, I just type it into the search bar. Easy.
The downside to Google is people don’t know what the address bar is any more (hint: it’s that thing at the top of your web browser that says “https”). The downside to Amazon is it’s a major reason why indie bookstores are struggling.
With the rise of Amazon and the Kindle, new and profitable ways of publishing have come up. I can honestly say if it wasn’t for the way Amazon pushed its way into the ebook world, I likely wouldn’t have a book coming out on Monday. There are a number of other authors who would say the same thing. Amazon’s success has spurred on its competitors (mainly Barnes & Noble) to up their game.
But I can’t buy an ebook that will work on my Kindle at my local independent bookseller.
Amazon’s ebook format isn’t unique. Not entirely. It’s MOBI, so really anyone who produces a MOBI book would be able to sell to people who have Kindles. They tweak the file name a little so it’s an AZW file, but under the excess (and unnecesssary) language, it’s MOBI.
Here’s where I get a little lost. Has no one realized that you can actually create an ebook in MOBI and you don’t have to sell it through Amazon? Or have they already figured it out and decided it’s too much trouble to compete against Amazon?
I have a vague recollection of a project to get ebook buying into independent bookstores, either for devices like Kobo or the Google Reader (does this even exist?). The idea was you could walk into a place like Powell’s or go to their website, purchase the book, have it sent to your device, and the payment is split between the store (as the seller) and the publisher (and then from there the payment further breaks down).
I love this idea. I love the thought of being able to log on to the Elliott Bay Book Company website, find the ebook I want, and buy it. I get the book I want and I’m supporting a local business.
When it comes to books, I don’t always want convenience. I want to dash into my local bookstore and end up spending far too much money on books I didn’t even know I needed. I want to spend hours on end wandering the aisles, looking at titles and spines and covers and thinking, ooh, that looks interesting. I want to have to use a map to navigate the store (this particular want would be solved by a trip to Powell’s, but this also requires free time).
I want competition.
I want those days when Barnes and Noble wasn’t gobbling up space just blocks from an independent bookstore that had been there for over a decade. I want choice. We have choices when it comes to actual books – I haven’t bought a physical book from Amazon since I graduated college over a decade ago. But when it comes to MOBI, we don’t have a choice. It’s Amazon or nothing. Sure, I could shuck my Kindle in the trash and buy a Kobo or a Nook. And my Kindle won’t last forever – I will have to replace it, likely sometime in the next year. When I do, though, I’ll likely end up with another Kindle, simply because at that point I’ll have hundreds of ebooks that would need to be converted from MOBI to EPUB if I chose a different device, and the hassle wouldn’t be worth it. Or it might. I might change my mind.
I love that Amazon has made it possible for communities without bookstores to keep reading. I just wish more people would pick up their saws and work on cutting the giant’s beanstalk down.