Printing controversy: Amazon's latest plan to harm publishers and consumers under the guise of customer satisfaction
In addition to negotiating a larger cut of ebook sales from Hachette Book Group and deflecting antitrust allegations from the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, it seems that Amazon is attempting to convince publishers in the United Kingdom that it should be allowed to print its own copies of their titles to sell to its customers whenever the publisher is low on inventory.
Amazon's attempts to negotiate those rights seem more consumer-friendly than other efforts, during which the company has turned its customers into a standing army meant to help fight companies like Hachette and Warner Bros, but beneath the surface they still demonstrate the company's apparent willingness to sacrifice customer happiness to further its own ambitions.
The BBC reports that the company would print the titles with print-on-demand equipment which can "print books more quickly than a traditional press" but are "generally thought to offer an inferior product." Publishers are rightly worried that they will be blamed for the poor quality of these quickly-printed books even though they had nothing to do with the products.
It's clear, then, that publishers won't benefit from granting Amazon print-on-demand rights to their books. Consumers will also lose out because they are being given an inferior product -- perhaps without discount or notification -- instead of whichever book they thought they were buying. Amazon is the only party that would stand to benefit from being granted these rights.
Amazon will try to make the arrangement seem like a win for consumers, of course. It could argue that allowing consumers to order a book without having to wait for the publisher to print more is better than telling them that a title is currently unavailable, and it could say that it's taking some of the burden off publishers by offering to print their books for them. The company has mastered the art of non-denials and double-speak in recent months, after all.
But that doesn't mean that Amazon is truly fighting for customer happiness. The company has made it clear over the last month or so that it is finally starting to take revenues more seriously than its customers' wishes, and has finally cast aside the facade that allowed it to gain control over the modern publishing industry despite oft-repeated warnings from many of its critics.
Maybe it's time for the company's "smiley face" logo to become something more fitting to its latest tactics. Jeff Bezos flipping the bird at publishers, consumers, and regulators should do.