Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Amazon/Macmillan brawl means for games

Late last week, Amazon and book publisher Macmillan got in a scrap. Macmillan demanded higher prices for it's ebooks on Kindle, and Amazon responded by pulling all books (digital and posthumous tree varieties) from it's store.

BoingBoing has a post going with updates [in which the discuss the fact that Amazon caved eventually].

A more detailed post describing one view of the battle that is really at play, can be found on (awesome) author Charles Stross's blog, here.

In it, he describes what is going on is really a more significant chess game in which Amazon and Apple (and the publishers for that matter) are trying to re-define the supply chain as it shifts to digital, and hoping to capture a bigger share of the pie as that happens:

The agency model Apple proposed -- and that publishers like Macmillan enthusiastically endorse -- collapses the supply chain in a different direction, so it looks like: author -> publisher -> fixed-price distributor -> reader. In this model Amazon is shoved back into the box labelled 'fixed-price distributor' and get to take the retail cut only. Meanwhile: fewer supply chain links mean lower overheads and, ultimately, cheaper books without cutting into the authors or publishers profits.

Amazon are going to fight this one ruthlessly because if the publishers win, it destroys the profitability of their business and pushes prices down.

The way I see it, as I commented on Stross's blog, is that Amazon is trying to use their strengths to squeeze suppliers out of a greater share of margin, while Apple is instead going to give suppliers a decent margin to get them favorable terms which they can use to deliver better end user offerings. This in turn they can use to try and win market segment share.

It will be very interesting to see how this plays out over time now that there is (real) competition in the ebook space.

What's interesting for anyone in the games business is that the same issues and tactics come into play in games, and you can see how people's positions shift over time. [e.g. MS offered 70 points to developers when they were trying to build a platform (XBLA) and win MSS (vs other consoles) but over time as the business stabilized and it was clear they had a winning platform, we saw the temptation to put the squeeze to that 70 point handover.]

It'll be worth watching what happens in the ebook space (as well that of music, movies, etc), as the same sorts of battles are being fought across all of them. Developers and publishers will do well to watch whether there are mistakes in other spaces they can perhaps avoid. For example should they make move to ensure competition, even at the expense of a more lucrative deal in exchange for exclusivity?