Why Amazon Wins

Remember not so long ago I complained about Amazon's ebook download links disappearing? Well, they're back; I can download my Kindle books form the website again, just in time for my employer to be purchased by that etailing monolith. Soon, I will be an Amazon employee, a curious turn of events considering how we've occasionally pilloried them on this site. Granted, the most vocal pillorer (pillorizer? pilliorian?) has been Quackenbush, but I'm hardly innocent.

Here's the thing: My first ebook reader was a Palm Pilot in the late 90's, and I loved it. Later, when Palm sank, I bought a Sony Reader, the first real dedicated e-reader. When the first Kindle was released, I joined the choruses laughing at its hideous design and fearing Amazon's fomenting reach and power.

However, it wasn't long before it became clear that Sony wasn't really going to compete in hardware or software. Reluctantly, I switched to the Nook. And I was happy for a while. But now Barnes and Noble has fired its hardware engineering staff and looks to be eager to offload the whole platform as a money-loser and a failure. Meanwhile, on hardware and features, the Kindle is constantly improving, and is now better by every possible measure to any of its competitors.

My fears about Sony have been realized: Sony has shut down its ebook store and all those books I purchased from them are being transferred to Kobo (once I link my Kobo account, of course). That is, except for two books that aren't available on Kobo, one of which I don't even seem to be able to download from Sony anymore in the window we're given before they shut everything down. This book joins the many pdb DRM encrypted ebooks I bought from Palm back in the day. I went through a similar situation when ebook retailer Books-on-Board shut down and sent (most) of the books I bought to Nook. And when Nook shuts down— will my library also go to Kobo? And if Kobo shuts down?

Yes, I could download all these books to my hard drive and strip off the DRM. I've occasionally done that, though ironically this method of preservation violates the books' terms of service. But the fact is, before I'd ever heard about comiXology being purchased by Amazon I'd already started buying from Amazon and trying to load the books on my Nook, which is where that post about downloading Amazon ebooks came from in the first place. Because I didn't have faith the Nook library was going to last, and I realized that everything else being equal I'd rather buy my books from somewhere I believed was going to stick around so I'd have the option of the backup in the cloud and the ease of access that afforded. Soon enough, I gave up on the Nook entirely; it was not only more convenient to read the Kindle books on my phone, but the software was just so much better.

In the end, trying to prop up a failing business on principle is not going to make that business better than the competition. It just breaks our hearts. I wish Nook or Kobo were really giving Amazon a run for the money in products and service. But they're not. And that's why we worry and fret about them at the same time we make our one-click purchases.

I still like and frequent independent bookstores and value the personal interaction and curation of those places. But I've always liked ebooks, and they appeal to me for so many reasons.

Is Amazon invincible? No, I can easily imagine another company rising up and seriously disrupting their business, just as they interrupted the monolithic hold Barnes and Noble and Borders once had on the print book business in the US. But that's what it would take, someone really improving on their business in a way that made people's reading experience better, and at this point it's Amazon's game to lose. So for now at least, I'll be purchasing my ebooks and lots of other things from my new employers at Amazon.