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Viewpoint: EBook Lawsuit? Next up is iCensorship

by Randall Craig on May 4, 2012

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Media, Viewpoint

Tagged as: , , , , ,

Consider the newest words entering our vocabulary: Kindle, eReader, Nook, iBooks, and Kobo.  Let me add one more:  iCensorship.

If the stats are to be believed, our eBook purchases on these devices are fast eclipsing traditional print books. This isn’t surprising, as eBooks are not bulky, don’t kill our forests, and they’re cheaper.

Despite these advantages, they are not perfect.  Putting aside the challenges of sharing books or battery problems, there is the problem of the walled garden. Once you have committed (say) to purchasing an ebook through Amazon, you can only read your book on a Kindle. While you can get a Kindle “App” for your iPad, this would be a different App from Apple’s built-in iBooks. Having a plethora of different readers and remembering which book is in which App is nonsensical: consumer behavior will be to choose one and stick to it.

This “App” problem is just one skirmish in a long-brewing war between the ebook distributors.  Consumers may not realize it, but ebook distributors have another weapon – a dirty little secret actually – to use in their fight:  censorship. Yes, censorship.

My latest book (Online PR and Social Media for Experts, 5th edition), was just submitted for electronic distribution, but was rejected because within the manuscript there were several links to the Amazon web site.  Not links to the Amazon store, but to two Amazon services that are important for the target audience – AuthorCentral and Askville.  I was told that if the book was to be sold on a Nook, Kobo, Apple iPad, Sony eReader or others, this content would have to go.  Guess what went.

In the olden days of traditional bookstores, this could never happen.  While you may be saddened  to see the death of so many independent bookstores (and some large ones), you should be more disturbed by the inappropriate use of the monopoly power by these new centurions.  Is what they are doing unlawful?  Not being a lawyer, I couldn’t say.  You may not care about my specific book, but what about others?  Imagine where this slippery slope might take us:  Will Amazon only agree to carry a product if the publisher adds only-for-Amazon extras?  Will Apple or Kobo only carry the product if an author changes the political angle of their manuscript?

I do support the right of ebook distributors to choose what they wish to carry.  But their behavior imposes yet another burden on a beleaguered publishing industry.  And it is an attack on the editorial freedom of writers.  Why should it fall to publishers, authors (and ultimately consumers) to be the pawns in their high-stakes world of ebook poker?  Let the competition be on an even playing field, without iCensorship.

This week’s action item:  Where are you buying your ebooks?  Before you decide to plunk down your cash, remember that you are not just deciding on a book, but an entire ebook ecosystem. 

Postscript for ebook distributors:  I am happy to update this article to note your policy of never rejecting a book because it contains a reference or link to a so-called competitor within the content of the manuscript.

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Randall Craig

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Randall has been advising on Web and Social Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released "Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business", and speaks across North America on Social Media and Web Strategy. More at randallcraig.com and 108ideaspace.com.

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