Two weeks ago when it became clear that Amazon really was going to push their proprietary POD publishing press BookSurge down the throats of the small publishers and e-publishers, I wrote Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media, asking him to intervene.
Regular readers of this blog know that I have enormous respect for Tim O'Reilly. My first post about him was in November, 2005, here, and it was followed by several more posts over the last few years.
In case you didn't know it, O'Reilly is credited with coining the term "Web 2.0." He has been involved in many of the major trends on the Internet, including the open source and free software movements.
I didn't just pull Tim's name out of a hat when I wrote him that email. I had a good reason for thinking he might be the right person to address Amazon.com's latest move.
In September, 1997, Amazon.com submitted a patent application for what later became known as Amazon's One-Click technology. Two years later, in September, 1999, Amazon was awarded U.S. Patent #5,960,411.
One month later, Amazon filed suit against Barnes and Noble, arguing that www.BN.com had copied the one-click technology.
On January 5, 2000, Tim wrote Jeff Bezos of Amazon a private email, urging him not to keep filing for patents on technology that was originally open source. He later made his letter to Bezos public on his website. It included the following:
"I think that you are reaping a harvest of ill-will with the technical community. While I know you are setting your sights on a wider consumer audience, the serious technical community represents the core of your early adopters and many of your best customers, especially in the book market . . . And I can tell you that those customers are solidly against software patents."
When Bezos responded on January 27, his email made it clear he had no intention of changing course.
In February, 2000, Amazon was awarded a patent for its affiliate program, the technology that permitted it to link to other websites, "affiliates," who were paid a commission for linking to Amazon.com.
That second patent in six months created a backlash against Amazon on the Internet. On February 28, Tim O'Reilly wrote an open letter here on his site to Jeff Bezos. O'Reilly invited readers to join him in urging Amazon to "clarify your intentions with regard to software patents, and avoid any attempts to limit the further development of internet commerce on the basis of the patents you have already been awarded."
Over 10,000 signatures were collected before O'Reilly shut down the letter.
Jeff Bezos did respond with his own open letter here. Bezos' letter included this:
". . . the more I thought about it, the more important I came to realize this issue is. I now believe it's possible that the current rules governing business method and software patents could end up harming all of us -- including Amazon.com and its many shareholders, the folks to whom I have a strong responsibility, not only ethical, but legal and fiduciary as well."
Tim and Jeff Bezos ended up going together to Washington, D.C. to lobby the Congress for patent reform.
So, no, I didn't just pull Tim's name out of a hat.
This morning when I opened my Publishers Lunch email, I was thrilled to find the following:
One persistent topic at the London Book Fair was Amazon's aggression towards publishers selling books directly from their own web sites at modest discounts. In a blog post, Tim O'Reilly expresses his own larger concern: "As Amazon's market power increases, it needs to be mindful of whether its moves, even those that may be good for the company in the short term, are ultimately destructive of the ecosystem on which they depend. I believe that they are heading in that direction, and if they succeed with some of their initiatives, they will wake up one day to discover that they've sown the seeds of their own destruction, just as Microsoft did in the 1990s."
Go here to read Tim's post titled "Publishers Beware: Amazon Has You In Their Sights."