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Amazon Apologizes to Michael Lewis Over Kindle Flap
Posted By Barry Ritholtz On March 20, 2010 @ 11:30 am In Really, really bad calls,Web/Tech | Comments Disabled
I was surprised to hear from a number of literary agents who wrote to thank me for that. They have apparently been having all manner of issues with Amazon reviewers over the years, and the kindle kooks have ignited a small firestorm. I even heard from someone who works with Lewis who informed me that Amazon called him (Lewis) to apologize over the fanboy rage against the book.
That, however, does not address the underlying conflicts between the three distinct roles Amazon.com plays. They are:
1) Book seller;
2) Publisher of book reviews;
3) Designer/manufacturer of a new book reading technology.
It is in this last capacity that Amazon has the greatest conflict (let’s hold the debate as to whether they as a bookseller have a bias towards better, pro-book reviews for another time).
The delay in selling the kindle version is a situation of Amazon’s own making.
Why? The mandatory kindle book pricing scheme.
If you want to know why the kindle version is not available immediately, it is because the publisher wants to charge full boat for their newest hardcover books. They consider that their “theatrical release,” with the kindle being the equivalent of the HBO version and the paperback the DVD. This is their decision, and while I may not necessarily agree with it, it is the publishers’, and not my choice.
The rampant 1 star fan boy reviews are nothing more than collective bullying. Give me your lunch money (kindle version), or I will beat you up during recess (give you one star reviews).
These release dates are a function of the mandatory Amazon price point. Bezos has foisted upon the publishers a price scheme which they don’t care for. The wounded publishing industry needs to max out their revs, and they believe selling kindle versions during the first few months of the hard cover hurts sales. Again, you and I may not agree with that belief system, but it is not our place — or Amazon’s — to dictate release terms and prices to publishers.
Two other factors worth considering:
1) Amazon’s super useful crowd sourced reviews were a great innovation. From their own selfish perspective, AMZN should be more protective of that. They should carefully consider how Yahoo allowed their comment streams (for just about every property) to become polluted with touts and spam and trolls and haters to the point where it is no longer useful. Then Bezos might want to notice the long slider in YHOO’s stock price over the same period. Coincidence? I doubt it.
If Amazon is going to allow a major asset of theirs to become devalued, it could hurt the actual value of the company.
2) I have no plans for getting the Apple iPad, but Apple’s willingness to let publishers set their own price is a very interesting development. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Apple iPad version of books released BEFORE the kindle version due to this pricing scheme. (note: this is my own wild speculation, and I haven’t heard anything from my Apple contacts).
Amazon.com, you have been warned!
Bottom line: This is a problem that is more or less of Amazon’s own making. Their allowance of this book review abuse has the appearance of impropriety. It looks especially self-serving. I have been a huge Amazon fan over the years, and I expect better from Bezos & Co. I was hoping they wouldn’t turn out to be just another collection of corporate douche bags intent on profit regardless of how they have to screw over their suppliers and consumers.
There is still time for them to avoid this fate — but its their call. Take a page from Google’s While”Don’t Be Evil” mantra and do the right thing.
Hey Bezos! Fix Your eejit Pro-kindle Anti-Author Book Reviews! 
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