by wjw on February 25, 2012

Our friends at Amazon have been in the news.

First off is the fallout from their quarrel with IPG, the country’s second-largest book distributor.  Amazon tried to renegotiate a better deal for IPG’s ebooks, IPG declined to budge, and now all IPG’s ebooks are no longer available for Kindle.

Because IPG’s list is long on cookbooks and textbooks, and short on super-popular fiction, this will only impact about five percent of their business.  So they’re not taking a huge hit.  Not yet anyway.

But still, this raises a number of points.  First, Amazon is beginning to use its market muscle in the ebook realm, demanding the same sorts of concessions from suppliers that they’re used to getting with print books.   Which means that IPG isn’t going to be the last distributor or publisher to feel this kind of pressure.  As contracts expire and become subject to renegotiation, will publishers find they can afford to say no to a market powerhouse that sells over 60% of ebooks, when ebooks are the part of the market that is growing the fastest?

(And as a side note: why is IPG selling ebooks anyway?  Why do publishers feel they have to go through a distributor for ebooks when they can sell their ebooks directly to Amazon and keep more of the money?  I suspect that distributors will also be renegotiating contracts with publishers in the near future.)

And more strangely, it turns out that Amazon has been invaded by bots. (Thanks to Ed for this link.)    Bots— the same kinds of automated bots that make 70% of the trades on Wall Street— are now speculating in used book prices on Amazon.

And not only are they doing the same kind of trades, they’re making the same kind of wacky mistakes:

. . . a biologist at UC-Berkeley documented a bidding fight between two bots over a “classic work in developmental biology” called The Making of a Fly. By the time they were done, copies of the book were advertised for $2,198,177.95

Can speculation in the used book market really be that profitable? Maybe, if you’re a bot capable of making zillions of small trades every day, each at a tiny profit.  But maybe it’s not books they’re actually trading in.

Bueno and his friends have speculated that perhaps the point of these bots isn’t actually to game Amazon’s markets, but to use them for other purposes, perhaps laundering money from stolen credit cards by purchasing goods from fellow conspirators at inflated prices. Some of the resellers are based internationally; perhaps they are gaming exchange rates.

Which just shows you that, if there’s a market anywhere, in anything, bots are soon going to be a part of it.  They’ll be ubiquitous. 

I’ll be looking forward to their appearance in my local online flea market.  When the price for that waffle maker hits two mil, I’ll know they’ve arrived. 

Pat Mathews February 25, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Thanks, Walter. I have now ordered my hardback (used, of course) copies of A Study of History (the Somerville abridgement) from Powell’s, and now wonder why I ever went through Amazon for some of these hard-to-find books.

Foxessa February 25, 2012 at 8:15 pm

It’s not e-books IPG distributes, it’s the digital versions for Kindle download. BIG difference.

Ours are among them, which are not cookbooks at all.

The publisher these previous books are with is very careful with its costs and its pricing. It has survived all these decades’ publishing catastrophes, paying excellent royalties to us all this time. It’s an indie, thus its distributor, IPG, which is another of its cost efficiencies.

This is part and parcel of amazon deciding arbitrarily and peremptorily to change the price at which the book is priced. This is as true now for print versions as for Kindle.

Amazon has also pulled all its Kindle titles from public libraries.

This is just the beginning of the effect of another of the Few Giant Incorporations of everything owning the entire universe of something.

Love, C.

wjw February 25, 2012 at 8:37 pm

“It’s not e-books IPG distributes, it’s the digital versions for Kindle download. BIG difference.”

I’m not sure I see the difference, actually. Isn’t a “digital version for Kindle download” an ebook? Albeit one in Kindle format?

TC/The Writer Underground February 26, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Amazon has pioneered a lot of the ebook industry and probably deserves to be on top, but I’ve always spread out my book purchases among B&N, Powells (Google) and others whenever possible, avoiding what I perceive as an industry monopoly that won’t be particularly good for writers or publishers.

That’s why I’m always so frustrated when writers and publishers only make their stuff available on the Kindle; Amazon is not anyone’s friend (as also noted by
Cat Valente
). They’re another potentially evil corporation with a fixation on the bottom line instead of a vision of what’s pure and right and good (sfx: music swells).

Which actually raises the question; have you looked into selling your ebooks right from your site (using a service like e-junkie)? With enough sales, you could become your own evil corporation and strongarm yourself into a better royalty.

[–this comment posted from my automated comment bot]

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