- Posted by Johanna on May 26, 2014 at 9:26 pm
- Category: Digital and Webcomics
Assume you own a bookstore. You’d want to decide what titles you sell, right? What you stock and which books to promote? If one publisher is willing to give you a good deal, and if you think those books will sell, you’d want to invest more in that supplier, and if another didn’t, you might decide to cut back on your stock of their titles. Heck, if the discrepancy was big enough, you might even choose not to carry a publisher’s line.
That might be true even if you were operating on reasons other than economics. You might decide to avoid a publisher just because you didn’t like the way their rep spoke to you, for example. That’s the benefit of having your own business, right?
However, when you’re the “world’s largest bookstore” and you start making these kinds of choices, people get angry. Amazon has been playing hardball in negotiating with Hachette, a publisher whose works include manga imprint Yen Press and Marvel (on the distribution level). Amazon isn’t commenting, but when it comes to that publisher, the online retailer is
* Delaying delivery of their books to customers a number of weeks (instead of the usual couple of days)
* Not discounting the titles, so customers are being charged list price
* Not restocking titles
* Displaying messages suggesting books from other publishers
* Not taking preorders for titles due this summer and fall
Again, this is capitalism at its finest. Nothing says Amazon has to carry their books, or offer them for less. (Heck, weren’t publishers just complaining about Amazon discounting too much, particularly when it came to ebooks?) Customers can easily find Hachette books elsewhere, although perhaps at higher cost than they’re used to, and without the convenience of one-stop shopping.
Affected authors, particularly, are complaining about the tactics, accusing Amazon of abusing their market position. Yes, Amazon is a very large vendor with a lot of customers (estimated to be a third to a half of the book business), but they’re not a monopoly. Not in this field, anyway.
That’s not so much the case when it comes to digital comics. Amazon bought ComiXology last month, and it didn’t take long before they removed a key feature: being able to buy* issues through the digital apps. (*Well, rent, since it’s all DRMed and you don’t own anything.)
You see, if you opened ComiXology on your iPad and liked what you were reading, you used to be able to get more issues without having to leave the app. Except… if you did that, Apple took a 30% cut. Now, you have to buy through the ComiXology website. You can still read on the app, but there’s a huge speed bump put in the way of impulse purchasing, just so Amazon gets more of the money. Again, capitalism!
I am very curious how, in this case, customers will react long-term. There aren’t many public sales figures released, but ComiXology used to be one of the top ten moneymakers on the iPad app store. Now, all that’s gone. More significantly, how much will comic sales drop for publishers? Particularly since the browsing and finding experience is worse on the website than the app used to be? How many impulse buys will be thwarted?
Amazon seems to acknowledge that this was a blow to the customer experience, since they bought everyone off with a $5 credit when they made the change, although the “egift card” was only good for a month. (They expired yesterday.) The Android app wasn’t affected as drastically, although they stopped taking Google Play credit, which annoyed people who liked that gift card form of payment. Again, eliminating anyone else who got a cut.
Perhaps Amazon throwing its weight around will be good in the long run, as publishers will have more incentive to develop alternatives to what had quickly become the de facto monopoly digital distributor. Perhaps we might even finally get a comic reading app that allows you to organize all your digital comics, no matter what the source.
Previously, Amazon put the customer first, and everyone liked that, even Wall Street, which didn’t expect the company to turn a profit. Now, their free ride on the market seems to be over, and analysts are looking for some money-making to justify the high stock valuation. Perhaps that’s why the bottom line matters so much.
There is one positive to cutting Apple out of the equation: no more need to pay attention to their content guidelines, which prevented some popular adult-oriented titles (like Saga) from being sold through the app. And maybe now that they are making more money on the same purchases, they can finally figure out how to add “delete” functionality to your comic list.