Whither Epublishing?

On 1 March, EU inspectors conducted raids in the offices of publishers across Europe. The EU explained the raids were motivated by concerns that ebook publishers “violate EU anti-trust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices”. Here’s how the Guardian saw it.

Last year, a stand-off occurred that pitted Amazon against publishers. Publishers were concerned that Amazon might become a monopoly retailer of ebooks online. Amazon blinked first, and the result was something that’s come to be called the agency model. In the agency model, publishers set the retail price of an ebook, whereas they only set a wholesale price for print books. The new status quo seemed to have bought publishers a stay of execution. However, the EU raids earlier this month suggests it’s a fragile truce. This New Yorker feature provides good background.

The raids are just the tip of the iceberg as far as publishers are concerned. There is mounting evidence of consumer dissatisfaction over epublishing. Some argue the discontent encourages book piracy. Others disagree, arguing piracy is unavoidable and already widespread. Some Kindle users are jailbreaking the device, which might be free by November. Common reasons for ebook customer dissatisfaction include lags in the digitisation of books and the way publishers have divvied up the online market by geographical region. The website Lost Book Sales encourages readers who have been unable to purchase the book they wanted for one reason or another to register their experience as a missed revenue opportunity.

The dissatisfaction is being felt at the other end of the market too - among authors. Authors like Seth Godin are starting their own publishing imprints. Competition is driving the price of ebooks down - here’s an article on how 99 cent books account for about a fifth of the 100 bestselling titles on Amazon. Other sites - see here and here - give authors a DIY way of self-publishing online. If you’re an independent author with a sense of adventure, there’s plenty of advice online about how to go it alone.

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