Doctorow’s First Law,” I unpick the technological forces at work in
the fight between Amazon and Hachette, one of the “big five”
publishers, whose books have not been normally available through
Amazon for months now, as the publisher and the bookseller go to war
over the terms on which Amazon will sell books in the future.
The publishing world is, by and large, rooting for Hachette, but
hasn’t paid much attention to the ways in which Hachette made itself
especially vulnerable to Amazon in this fight: by insisting that all
its books be sold with Amazon’s DRM, it has permanently locked all its
customers into Amazon’s ecosystem, and if Hachette tries to convince
them to start buying ebooks elsewhere, it would mean asking their
readers to abandon their libraries in the bargain (or maintain two
separate, incompatible libraries with different apps, URLs, and even
devices to read them).
Worse still: people in publishing who are alarmed about Hachette are
*still* allowing their audiobooks to be sold by Audible, the Amazon
division that controls 90% of the audiobook market and will only sell
audiobooks in a format that can’t be legally played with anything
except Amazon-approved technology. Audible has *already* started
putting the screws to its audiobook suppliers — the publishers and
studios that make most of the audiobooks it sells — even as it has
gone into business competing with them.
It’s profoundly, heartbreakingly naive to expect that Amazon will be
any less ruthless in exploiting the advantage it is being handed over
audiobooks than it has been in its exploitation of ebooks."