Late yesterday afternoon, news broke that three independent bookstores filed a class action suit against Amazon and the "big six" publishers, claiming that they had created a monopoly on ebook sales.
The stores, Fiction Addiction of Greenville, S.C., Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, N.Y., and Posman Books (with three locations in New York City) claim that Simon and Schuster, Penguin, Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Macmillan have, through "secret agreements," given Amazon a market advantage over independent booksellers because of the DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology Amazon uses on its Kindle devices that prohibits the transfer of an ebook to another ereading device/tablet. In other words, if you buy a book on your Kindle, you can only read it there or on the Kindle App.
The three aforementioned bookstores, who are representing the "hundreds" of independent bookstores who sell ebooks, further claim that none of the publishers named in the suit have ever "entered into any agreements" with said bookstores to sell ebooks. The complaint states that because of this, "the vast majority of readers who wish to read an ebook published by the Big Six will purchase the ebook from Amazon." Are you still with me? Good.
While I am not a fan of DRM (I find it to be antiquated, but that is another column), I am a fan of people buying books. And there is the point that is missing from most of the coverage I've read about the suit that was filed: no matter what kind of agreements publishers may or may not have with retailers, the consumer will always choose how and where they will purchase books. Amazon staked their claim on the ebook market a long time ago, and the majority of consumers have never looked back. Admittedly, I am one of those consumers. When I want a book, printed or electronic, I order it from Amazon most of the time. Why? Convenience. Price. Convenience.
I understand why the independent bookstores feel like they have to fight the good fight, but I think they are punching in the wrong direction. Publishers WANT to sell books -- they do not set out for books to fail in the marketplace -- and will sell them regardless of whether or not DRM is in place on ebooks. Granted, ebook sales are climbing, but there is still a market for printed books, and spending time swimming against the tide is not going to help independent booksellers (or any other retailer for that matter) make sure that real, not virtual, bookshelves are filled with the titles we want.