Geoffrey A. Fowler, writing at The Washington Post, about Amazon’s refusal to let libraries offer ebooks of the titles it publishes:
Turns out, the tech giant has also become a publishing powerhouse — and it won’t sell downloadable versions of its more than 10,000 e-books or tens of thousands of audiobooks to libraries. That’s right, for a decade, the company that killed bookstores has been starving the reading institution that cares for kids, the needy and the curious. And that’s turned into a mission-critical problem during a pandemic that cut off physical access to libraries and left a lot of people unable to afford books on their own.
Years after Apple was found guilty of colluding with publishers over ebook prices, Amazon’s stranglehold on the book market has only increased.1 With its move into publishing titles, the company controls both the product and the marketplace, and can choose to make increasingly brazen decisions, such as not selling its books to libraries. That’s not only bad for consumers—forcing them to have no option but to buy their books from Amazon—but also for authors, who miss out on the opportunities generated by having their books in libraries.
Nor is it hard to see who it’s good for: namely, Amazon.
As an author2, a former library employee, and the son of two librarians, I find this particularly egregious, for reasons that Fowler details in the article. And while this deals predominantly with Amazon’s control over its own content, it’s worth remembering that, as of 2019, was responsible for roughly 50 percent of print book sales and three-quarters of ebook sales.)—figures that have likely gone even higher in the era of COVID. That position gives it a lot of clout for negotiating distribution deals, and it’s not hard to imagine that it may try to squeeze even more favorable (and restrictive) terms that end up hurting publishers, authors, and consumers.
- To be clear, the way Apple went about its attempt to compete was wrong and illegal…but the government’s decision also had the unintended consequence of defanging Amazon’s biggest competitor, essentially leaving the field wide open for them. ↩
- In full disclosure, the audiobooks for two of my novels—The Bayern Agenda and The Aleph Extraction—were produced and sold by Amazon subsidiary Audible. And, as far as I can tell, are not available in libraries. (Definitely not digitally.) ↩