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Reuters has today announced that Amazon and Barnes & Noble have made huge concessions to Pottermore in order to offer the Harry Potter ebooks through their online stores.

Although they won’t be able to sell the books directly, they will be directing buyers to the Pottermore site and the ebooks will be compatible with their devices/apps. This is the kind of compromise that would, almost certainly, never wash with any other author. J.K Rowling and her magical universe certainly has the power to command whatever deals she wants from retailers, but I don’t expect them to be sending their traffic and sales to many other authors or publishers in the near future.

Even The Hunger Games, which has now sold 36.5 million print copies and surpassed the Twilight movie in terms of ticket sales for the first installment of the adaption, will never be able to replicate the Pottermore effect.

The only way authors of the future will be able to do this is by keeping all the digital content rights to themselves from the beginning of the publishing process. As you can imagine, not many publishers will be keen on this idea. As Neil Blair, J.K Rowling’s agent and the man behind her own digital deals, said (and I reported here):

Digital rights are the biggest sticking point in contract negotiations, but when he asks publishers what they plan to do with those rights they usually don’t have an answer.

Now matter how savvy or creative publishers, authors and agents get in terms of selling digital content over the next few years, it seems unlikely any will be able to create the industry shake-up the Rowling has today. I certainly don’t expect to see two of the biggest book retailers handing their customers to other websites without some seriously magical intervention.

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The question of what should people be paying for ebooks has been raging since the moment the first ereader hit the shelves. Google and Amazon have now become locked into a pricing standoff which has created a storm of deals for customers, but may enhance some of the other problems on the horizon for Apple.

Huffington Post Books reported that  Google Play and their bargain-basement launch offers have caused Amazon to have a bit of a moment. Is this the dawn of a shiny new competitor for the virtual retail giant?

Google Play, which seems to be remarkably similar to Amazon in their product base and selling method, have opened by offering some of their biggest name books, movies and music for just 25c. Amazon have, in response, lowered their prices to match, thus reducing the appeal of the new venture and keeping their coveted spot as the lowest of the low. (In regards to pricing, you understand.)

In a slightly related tangent, The Wall Street Journal has revealed that there is a lawsuit pending by the US Justice Department which accuses Apple and five major publishing houses (including HarperCollins Inc.) of colluding to fix ebook prices.

The case suggests that the ‘agency model’ was used in ebook contracts: publishers made deals which allowed them to set the ebook price for iBooks, of which Apple would take a 30% cut. The deals prevented the publishers from allowing any other retailer to sell those same ebooks at a lower price, which has caused the anti-trust case to be filed.

Apple has stated: ‘Nu-uh, no way, it’s all Amazon’s fault! They started it! We are just refusing to play with them’. Actually, they said:

“Before Apple entered the eBook market, one competitor, Amazon, the nation’s largest bookseller, had taken 90% of the market by pricing key eBooks below their wholesale cost”

Apple argue that they are simply using a pricing method which will be sustainable in the long-term for both their company and the publishing industry. A spokesperson pointed ut that if they continued to challenge Amazon the prices drops would harm them all.

There has certainly been support from the industry for their stance. Many retailers and publishers have spoken out saying that any action to stop or reduce the impact of the agency pricing method will give Amazon an advantage. Certainly, there is a consensus that if the stack ’em high/ sell ’em cheap model continues then there will be nothing left of the industry to sell.

Just what people will make of the Google Play Vs Amazon price smash in this arena remains to be seen. The fact that it has only pushed prices further down, even for this limited period, will certainly cause concern.

That (gratuitously sensational) headline is, of course, referring to the Amazon.com giant’s recent move into publishing with the acquisition of the Marshall Cavendish Children’s Book catalogue.

Although not their first foray into the publishing world, the catalogue, of over 450 children’s books, is Amazon’s first children’s publishing list acquisition and seems to have been driven by the upcoming Kindle Fire release. With Amazon now able to offer a colour service to eBook readers it is expected that their share in the market will increase dramatically, particularly with the kids book market.

We all know how appealing any colourful, interactive, super expensive product is to kids. You’ve probably seen this video of a toddler and her new-found magazine aversion:

A magazine is an iPad that does not work…

By acquiring the Marshall Cavendish back catalogue Amazon have not only lured yet another corner of the book market into their web (geddit?), they’ve also caught the generation of kids who grow up reading their books on a Kindle or Kindle Fire.

By becoming a publishing house Amazon are able to publish their catalogue exclusively to the Kindle through their site, and in the process they will probably secure a new generation of  Amazon users who are unable to access the books they want elsewhere.

What this means for the rest of the industry is a hot topic of debate, but we can rest assured it will have knock-on effects far and wide.

Recommended Reading:

Philip Jones on FutureBook 

Laura Hazard Owen on paidContent.org