Locked Out

The new update to the Kindle app for iOS contained a surprise. For years, Apple refused to allow direct links to Amazon in iBooks, now it seems they also don’t allow those same links in Kindle books.
Trying to open an Amazon link in a book inside of the Kindle app results in an error. Note that links work to any other site, so we’re left to conclude that this is a direct attack against Amazon.

Perhaps they deserved it. After all, Amazon publicly announced that they would no longer carry streaming devices on their store that didn’t support Amazon Prime Streaming. This includes Google’s Chromecast, but more importantly it locks out Apple TV from being sold by the largest online retailer. Both companies have every right to sell and modify their own products as they see fit, however, consumers and creatives are getting caught in the crossfire.

Rather than offer us a vast collection of easy choices, the internet market is maturing into a series of walled gardens. Apple started this trend but Amazon is picking up the slack. This will result in an already tapped audience, exhausted by choice, to now choose loyalties. It’s reminiscent of the old PC versus Mac war, or if you’re a member of my generation, the Sega versus Nintendo war. Consumers lose in this battle because we only get a selection of our total want. I may think Game of Thrones is amazing but I have Netflix over HBO Go, so I settle for watching Ancient Aliens rather than new content that I really want to see.

But what does this mean for books? Well for starters it puts creatives in a bind. If you want to have multi-platform exposure you will have to pass on platform specific features, mainly Kindle Select, and the creativity of your book itself will be constrained to the lowest common denominator. Apple may offer the most advanced features for eBooks, but as long as those features are absent on the Kindle Fire line, you won’t see many books taking advantage of them. That is unless the author is exclusive to Apple. That right there is what both companies want.

Here’s the rub though, as Amazon has gotten more competitive, their sales algorithm, that nifty tool that lead to so many organic sales early on, has become less effective. So increasingly authors are reliant upon their own marketing to see any sales at all. At the same time, the red tape of KDP has locked authors into the platform, forcing them to both be loyal to Amazon and perform their own marketing- calling into question the reason for exclusivity in the first place. At least Amazon has some organic sales, Apple is either feast or famine, dependent upon being selected by their curators and having your content featured.

The feeling you’re left with is powerlessness. As a creative, you have all the work to do and only receive a portion of the rewards in return. This is effectively shifting the burden of sales onto the supplier, which is something business has dreamed of since Caesar. Many authors can’t shake the feeling that they are fighting against the company they are working with. We have no idea from day to day what pay rates will be, what reviews will be deleted, or what sweeping change will rock the market- and this has sapped the industry of enthusiasm and replaced it with dread.

As a consumer, you have to weigh your tastes versus what is offered and compromise with what you actually want. You will never be totally satisfied because the content you desire is segregated. Every platform now offers one or two stand out titles and a dirge of filler content. In this regard traditional publishers have won the digital war as their titles become marquees, leaving independents to fill the box like packing peanuts. Our content is both essential to these behemoths and also completely irrelevant. They need our hits, our cream, the rest of it doesn’t matter.

We are caught in the shadows of two fighting giants. We’re not powerless though. Our decisions on where to publish, what to publish, and how to promote will have a collective effect on the outcome of this war. No platform can stand for long with only a handful of quality offerings.

They are counting on you to give them the crown.