Reading Reinvented
I Want Instapaper for Newsletters

We Should Open an eBookstore

Crazy idea, right? And by "we" I mean, "publishers." Big Six. Little guys. Everyone in between. What if we all got together and created an ebookstore? Assuming the DoJ wouldn't rule it out as another misguided case of collusion, I think this would be a terrific idea.

The thinking here was partially inspired by this interesting post from Valobox's Oli Brooks. Oli talks about creating an API where customer purchase data is shared. The goal is for someone to buy once, read anywhere. I love the concept but I question whether a retailer like Amazon would ever support it by exposing their customer purchase information. Ha! That's a funny one. OK, I don't just question it...I know Amazon would never support this.

But what if publishers launched their own uber-ebookstore and owned it outright? We could all switch over to the agency distribution model, receive 70% of sales and the remaining 30% would cover all the infrastructure costs to run the business. Using the agency model means we could also limit the impact any deep-pocketed retailers would have on selling everything at a loss with an eye on killing the competition.

Retailers are becoming publishers. And in the print days it would have been ridiculous to suggest publishers could join forces and create a 1,000+ outlet chain to compete with the superstores. That's not the case in the online retailing world though. We're just talking about one central website.

Now let's make things interesting. Let's force Amazon and the others to keep using DRM while we abandon it for our own store. Can we do that? Maybe not. If we all agree to a DRM-free approach in our own store how could Amazon refuse to do the same with theirs? And when they do, the "stick" that Charlie Stross says Amazon is beating us with goes away. Meanwhile, if we can go DRM-free in our store while other retailers insist on keeping DRM, let's take advantage of tools like Amazon's Send to Kindle so our customers can quickly and easily sideload their purchases on their Amazon device.

Yes, it's silly of me to think we could get all the publishers to buy into this. And then there's the need to go DRM-free; good luck getting everyone on board with that too. But boy, wouldn't it be fun to see this happen? It could really alter the ebookstore landscape.

P.S. -- Our uber-ebookstore could start with a foundation like Goodreads. It's a great review and recommendation service but it's not an ebook retailer. As a result, I never use it for title discovery since I don't want to get sent to another site for my ultimate purchase. I wonder if we could convince Otis Chandler to convert his business into this vision...


Aaron Pressman

Joe, the rules of the Amazon Kindle store currently leave it up to publishers to choose whether or not to impose DRM. Publishers could make that stick go away right now by snapping their fingers (as music publishers eventually realized).

Bigger question (or maybe just equally big question) - if Amazon and B&N and others discount, would a non-discounting publisher run ebookstore be successful?

Joe Wikert

Aaron, you're absolutely right. In fact, I believe my employer, O'Reilly Media, was one of the first to insist our titles go DRM-free through the Kindle store. I'm just unsure over whether a publisher could say "we're going DRM-free through this channel but not that channel", thereby forcing an account like Amazon to be at a competitive disadvantage.

Regarding your discount question, there's no reason our industry bookstore couldn't offer discounts, right? Even if the ground rules are that the retailer cannot discount any more than their agency cut (i.e., 30%), all agency retailers should be able to offer the same discount to their customers, including a publisher-run ebook store.

carmen webster buxton

Actually, Goodreads IS a retailer, in a very limited way. They offer authors a tool to upload their entire book (in epub or PDF) and sell it right through Goodreads. Their limitations are rather daunting in that you have to grant a "perpetual license:"

However, I went ahead and did it with one of my books:

Note the last button on the "Get a copy" line. I don't think many authors are using this function, or many readers are buying there, as yet.

Bill Seitz

I don't think that having to go to another site to complete the transaction is that big a deal, at least with ebooks (compared to printed books, where there's shipping cost involved). As long as that transaction site supports something like PayPal or GoogleWallet so I don't have to re-enter all sorts of data.

Sol Rosenberg

That's a exactly what we are doing at Copia, Joe ....

If only we could not convince the publishers other publishers to drop DRM.....


You are advocating a socialist infrastructure? Why not, it works quite well for sports (who paid for that stadium?) and air travel (FAA, Airports are publicly funded) and Interstates etc etc. Why not build a public or non-profit co-op to publish books?

We moved from the 20th century publisher-centric model to the distributor-centric model in the last four years. We could easily move to the author-centric model. But Goodreads is a for-profit entity if I'm not mistaken. They rely on advertising from the Big 6. They're still struggling with indies.

David G. Israel

The publishers' store should be platform and device agnostic and push to eventually settle on a single open, standard platform (like HTML5)—something truly web-based. That provides for the option should to allow downloading books or storing them in the cloud (or both via syncing). The cloud/sync option truly allows for any device, anywhere, any time.

Although I think Goodreads is great (and would be a great review/recommendation platform with an exisiting large and dedicated audience, and would be even better when coupled with a really good ebook ecommerce platform), the publishers’ site should really be Goodreads on steroids—even more engagement from authors and editors and great tools to enhance or expedite that engagement. Really, the publishers’ site should strive to place the publishers back in their “traditional” role of connecting the authors with their audiences (and building those audiences!). Publishers are (or should be) much more effective at building audiences and connecting authors to those audiences than authors or distributors on their own.

Finally, if the pure agency model can’t fly, although I think it could, then there is still the option of a third party creating all of this (and Goodreads could probably do it) and then allowing the publishers to sell direct through the site, but in a more inviting, consistency of presentation, customer-centric interface. It would be a slight change from the agency model (to something that would be even more of a direct publisher sale) and the publishers could compensate this third party site through operating/service agreements, straight commissions, some combination of both, and so on.


How about we should open a browser based cross platform enhanced ebookstore using HTML5 which includes reviews of ebook originals, and enhanced ebooks. Reviews are not that well covered for enhanced ebooks or ebook originals. Just a thought.

Joe Wikert

I figured this wasn't exactly an original idea and I was just sent a link to an earlier post by the very insightful Javier Celaya who proposed the exact same thing:

If you haven't already read Javier's article I encourage you to do so now.


Ha - thanks Joe. I'm happy to have you buy me a beer and try to convince me :)

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