C/Net News.com had a really interesting story last Tuesday. In an article entitled "Buy the Book, Get the Search Service," Randal C. Picker speculated about the new programs Amazon.com announced earlier this month (see my blog of 11/4, "Big Day in Publishing News" for details). The two new services are Amazon Pages and Amazon Upgrade.
Picker pays little attention to Amazon Pages, which is designed to unbundle books on a pay-per-page model. He is more interested in the Amazon Upgrade service by which the company sells a consumer a book and, at the same time, offers digital access to that book.
According to Picker, "This is a really clever move by Amazon. The company is changing the basic scope of the book business . . . and Amazon has come up with a structure that should put meaningful limits on the sharing of digital texts."
Of course, Amazon has not as yet described how they will provide the upgraded service. Their press release on 11/3 said, "The second program, Amazon Upgrade, will allow customers to 'upgrade' their purchase of a physical book on Amazon.com to include complete online access."
Picker speculates that "(e)verything suggests that Amazon intends to do this with the consent of copyright holders, presumably for a split of the revenues. Here the difference between service and product is substantial."
That last sentence was where I sat up and paid attention. Picker points out that a service model based on search is considerably different than one based on downloading an entire book. "Presumably, I will need to log on to Amazon as me to use the digital books that I have 'purchased.' For me to share my access with anyone else, I will have to give them full access to my Amazon account." In essence, if a consumer wants to cheat and let others read the material via the search, the account holder would have to give access to his username and password by which the newcomer could buy and ship books at will, using the account holder's assets.
Picker believes that this model will make honest citizens out of people who might otherwise give away copyrighted data in the same way consumers did with Napster.
He points out how devastating this new service will be to bookstores, which do not have the system capacity to compete. The booksellers' only hope would be to buy a similar service from a company like Google. He brings the article to a close saying, "This is the Google Print fight, and now we will need to sort through how Amazon's new services alter how we should think about Google Print."
On 9/17 in one of my earliest blogs at this location ("Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"), I talked about the plight of the independent bookstore. In the last ten years, membership in the American Booksellers Association has dropped from about 3,000 to about 1,800. These new programs will put further stress on booksellers everywhere.