The impulse about Amazon is to think that they’re a monolithic corporate entity that may be up to no good. This is the root of a lot of the criticism of the Kindle, which people criticize as possibly monopolizing the ebook market: consumers will be forced to buy books from only the Amazon outlet. This is what happens when a retailer enters the world of technology. Given that Amazon allows Kindle books to be read on the iPhone, they are at least not forcing people into buying their own device.
On the whole, Amazon’s Kindle venture is positive. Though there’s the possibility of a monopoly, it is also inspiring competition: Sony is looking to release a wireless e-reader, a hybrid of their current reader and the Kindle. Apple may be getting into the ebook business as well, which would break everything open. Amazon’s obsession with the Kindle is inspiring competition – the very opposite of a monopoly – and is speeding along the ebook revolution.
Still, people are distrustful of Amazon because they’ve got so much power. And now that Amazon is entering the world of publishing, people are wondering about the implications. From my point of view, it’s a good thing, and certainly a good thing for self-publishing, as it calls attention to the fact that popular books are self-published. I got a criticism (in email) about the IndieReader post – stating how it might be taking money from writers for a service that may not have great promotional reach. My feeling is that an enterprise where traditional publishers are looking to self-publishing as a source of valuable writing is a good development. The people at IndieReader are not just hawks looking to make money, but publishing pros who understand the necessity for self-publishing in today’s environment.
And the same goes for Amazon’s new AmazonEncore program. Certainly there’s a profit motive, and certainly there’s a strangeness about a retailer producing its own product. If – in some demented universe – Amazon was in control of both all retail and all publishing then that’s seriously dangerous. But that’s not going to happen.
Right now, Amazon’s Encore program is a good development for self-publishing: it shows that self-publishing is a place where good books can be discovered – with increasing regularity. Of course, Amazon’s always mysterious, which causes a lot of speculation – but that may be smart because it also leads to a lot of viral discussion:
Jeff Belle, v-p of books at Amazon, said the new publishing program, while focused on self-published books with promise, could also target out-of-print titles from major houses. Belle was vague about both the criteria used in the selection of Legacy and the terms of the deal with Kluver. (Kluver does have an agent, but Belle would not disclose any details about the nature of the deal Amazon struck with her.)
In terms of the criteria used to select Kulver’s title, and future AmazonEncore titles, Belle said the company is relying on a combination of sales data and customer feedback. When asked what feedback was used, in addition to the customer reviews on the site, Belle said “customers have many ways of interacting with us” and would not elaborate.
There’s a lot of talk about the paradigm shifting without the necessary evidence that the shift is happening. Here’s an example of publishing changing in a serious way. It does raise some questions, like the Kindle, but on balance it could help to further self-publishers’ path towards legitimacy.