Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Cat's Whiskers - The problem with exclusivity

Amazon launched their new e-readers this week. Gorgeous pieces of kit, the Fire is a serious contender to take on the iPad. And that’s when it got a bit messy in the writing world.

It started innocuously enough – there were going to be special editions of certain things bundled and only available on the Fire, in eReader format. Time Warner (DC Comics and all of the imprints), decided to offer 100 of its flagship titles exclusively on the Fire. In a reaction attempt to somehow play hardball with Amazon, Barnes and Noble are now refusing to stock those graphic novels in print. And then Books-A-Million threw a hissy fit.

I know it is not entirely obvious from the outside, but aside from writing content and games, and working as a copywriter/coder, I’m also an indie author. I don’t like the idea of being limited to my choice of book stores, simply because of where I choose to publish, and that’s where this looks like it’s all heading. Perhaps it won’t and it’ll all blow over before then, but it could come to a choice of exclusivity on the Kindle or the Nook. At this point the Nook is going to die a horrible death. The Kindle is the eReader of choice for most people, and the uptake has been incredible.

But, here’s the thing. In other areas of the industry, including gaming, having exclusive deals isn’t only a good thing for customers, it’s a good thing for companies – we don’t read about games companies boycotting one another because one got a better pre-order offer than the other. It’s competition, which is good for business. And so what if the Fire got some comics? While eReaders are huge, they’re not saturated yet. By a long shot.

So, what does it look like, from here? From the perspective of a geek with more toys than sense (iPad, Kindle, iPhone), in the UK, it barely affects me. I get my comics in person from my friendly local comic book store, so that’s not a problem, but what I don’t think B&N realised is they’re not causing a problem for Amazon doing this. In fact, they’re driving the geek contingent, already excited by the prospect of a genuine competitor to the iPad, further into the arms of their enemy.

From a writer’s perspective, this looks horrible – but not entirely unexpected. The problem I guess is going to come if Amazon decides to retaliate, because while B&N and Amazon are probably not going to feel this, it might affect the indies. And given media is all about the diversity that comes from all of the different areas, from large houses to the sole artist that hand produces content, anything that makes people take sides is a bad plan.

D Kai Wilson-Viola is fresh from a much-needed relaxing evening at the spa.

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