Hachette isn’t the only big publisher that Amazon is playing hardball with — across the Atlantic, the retailer is also engaged in contract negotiations with media group Bonnier over its German business. Amazon has allegedly been delaying Bonnier book shipments in Germany, and it’s believed that the company is seeking larger discounts (for itself, not for readers) on ebooks from Bonnier publishers. On Tuesday, the German Publishers and Booksellers Association (Börsenverein) announced
that it filed a complaint against Amazon with the Federal Cartel Office, asking it to investigate.
“Amazon is putting significant, coercion-like pressure on Bonnier to get the publisher to concede unjustified advantages during its ongoing negotiations,” the Association says in its 22-page complaint.* It pegs Amazon’s share of the print and ebook market at around 70 percent.
The Association notes that so far, Amazon is limiting its shipment delays to older Bonnier titles, rather than “new releases and bestsellers,” but that Amazon may be saving that step “as increased leverage for the negotiations.” The complaint cites media reports that claim Amazon’s main demand is a larger commission on ebook sales — 40 or 50 percent of an ebook’s retail price, rather than the 30 percent it receives today.
The complaint also says Amazon’s influence extends far beyond book sales, implying that if a book can’t be found on Amazon, customers may assume it doesn’t exist: “Consumers use Amazon increasingly” as a “kind of inventory catalog” to “quickly inform [them] about what books are available on specific topics. If an author or even a book by this author is not available on Amazon, the reader assumes that there are no (new) books by this author.”
On Tuesday evening, Amazon denied that it’s delaying Bonnier shipments, saying that it is actually holding fewer titles in stock. It also confirmed that it’s seeking a larger commission on Bonnier ebook sales
Stateside, meanwhile, it appears that Amazon is close to settling its contract dispute with Warner Bros.
and the Wall Street Journal
both reported Monday that Amazon is making Warner Bros. DVDs available for pre-order again.
*The quotations in this article were translated with the help of either Google Translate or our resident German speaker Janko.
Podcast discovery service Player FM
is in the process of launching a new version of its Android app
that features a completely revamped user interface as well as something that will make Google very happy: in-app indexing, which will allow the search engine to highlight Player FM’s app within its mobile search results and further blur the lines between the web and native apps.
Player FM founder Michael Mahemoff told me Monday that the launch of the new 2.0 version of the app should complete by Monday night. By that time, all upgraded users will have access to a new UI that comes with a card-like interface for podcast episodes, a full-screen mode during playback, a sleep timer and the ability to change the playback speed of a podcast, which I guess could be helpful if you’re using podcasts to learn a foreign language.
Player FMs new card-based UI.
But one of the bigger changes is under the hood: Player FM is one of a number of Android apps
that has added app indexing, which means that Google (A GOOG) is capable of crawling and indexing its in-app content as if it was a website. Google is using in-app indexing to surface app content
in its user’s mobile search results. In the case of Player FM, this means that users who already have the app installed can search for a podcast title and find a link to the specific episode within the Player FM app directly within the search results.
For Google, these kinds of in-app results are a way to remain relevant in an era where online usage increasingly moves from desktops to mobile devices, and with that from the browser to dedicated apps. Google first announced in-app search at its Google I/O developer conference a year ago, and is likely going to update us on the development of the program at this year’s Google I/O conference in San Francisco later this week.
It will likely be another three months until Netflix’s next major expansion into continental Europe, but the streaming video service is already making new friends and enemies in the targeted countries.
Netflix is in the process of striking a partnership with Deutsche Telekom, according to a report by Germany’s Manager Magazin
. Telekom apparently wants to carry Netflix on its IPTV platform, which is dubbed Entertain. This would mirror similar partnerships the streaming service has with other pay TV operators — with one notable difference: This could be the first time Netflix is available on a pay TV set-top box of a major operator that’s not based on TiVo’s DVR hardware.
But not everyone is looking to align themselves with Netflix. Austrian public broadcaster ORF has acquired a stake in the local video service Filmmit, according to Austria’s Kurier
(hat tip to Broadband TV News
). ORF wants to use Filmmit, which is currently based on a transactional model, to build a platform that could be monetized through advertising and subscriptions, but there is a chance that regulators could block those plans.
Netflix announced in May
that it will expand to Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg later this year. The company hasn’t said yet when exactly it intends to launch in those markets, but it is assumed that the launch will likely happen in early September.
Google’s Chromecast streaming stick could soon get competition from an unexpected source: Mozilla has secretly been working with a partner on a Chromecast-like streaming stick that is powered by Firefox OS. The project was supposed to be under wraps for at least a few more weeks, but Thursday, news started to leak out when a Mozilla evangelist tweeted a photo of a prototype of the device.
I’ve been tracking this project for some time. I’ve talked to sources directly involved, and actually was able to get my hands on one of the prototype devices that are currently being shared with a very small circle of developers. There are still lots of unanswered questions about this project; the device doesn’t have a name yet, it’s not exactly clear when it will go on sale, for how much, or in which markets, and I don’t know the name of the company that will eventually make or sell the hardware.
What I do know is that it is an ambitious project that aims to combine Mozilla’s commitment to openness with a Chromecast-like media streaming device. And here’s the biggest surprise: The prototype I had access to not only works like Chromecast, it actually is capable of running some Chromecast apps. Check it out:
Mozilla has been working for some time on adding casting and multiscreen capabilities to Firefox. Firefox developers have experimented with casting content to Roku streaming boxes
, and recent developer notes hinted at the possibility
that Firefox may also one day support Chromecast as well as an ominous “Netcast” device.
It now looks like this Netcast device is this Firefox OS-powered streaming stick, even though Netcast is likely just another code name. The plan is apparently to add casting to Firefox as well as offer developers a casting device that is more open and hackable than Google’s Chromecast.
Google opened up its Google Cast SDK earlier this year
, and Google executives have said that they want to bring casting capabilities to countless of apps. However, there are some restrictions Google Cast developers are bound to. Certain types of content aren’t allowed
, and the Google Cast SDK is thus far limited to Android and iOS apps as well as web apps.
Mozilla’s device won’t come with these kinds of restrictions, which could enable developers to add cast capabilities to Windows Phone or Fire phone apps. Moreover, developers could also add casting to desktop apps, and may even be able to build their own cast-enabled hardware with little interference from Mozilla. It’s also possible that the hardware could be used to run other software, as it will apparently come with an open boot loader.
Speaking of which: While Google closely controlled the development and manufacturing of its Chromecast adapter, it seems like Mozilla is far less involved in the actual manufacturing of this product, which mirrors the hands-off approach it has had when partnering with manufacturers for Firefox OS phones. That sentiment was echoed by a Mozilla spokesperson, who sent me the following statement in response to an inquiry about the device:
“Firefox OS is an open platform freely available for any company to build on top of without restriction. This means companies can experiment with different form factors that run Firefox OS.”
And with that, it’s unclear when exactly we are going to see this as an actual product. But judging on the leak and the sources I have talked to, we may not have to wait that much longer.
This post was updated at 1:18pm with a statement from Mozilla.
Let me start with the obligatory assurance that I’m no fan of DRM technologies. That’s why I use (illegal) tools to break it if I want to buy an ebook from another retailer and read it on my Kindle. Yet I disagree with author and BoingBoing co-editor Cory Doctorow’s argument that DRM plays a big role in the ongoing dispute between Amazon and book publisher Hachette
In a column in the Guardian Friday, Doctorow wrote that
“because Hachette has been such a staunch advocate of DRM,” it hasn’t been able to take advantage of “a whole range of tactics” that would be available to it if it dropped DRM:
“Amazon’s ebook major competitors – especially Apple and Google – have lots of market clout, and their customers are already carrying around ebook readers (tablets and phones). Hachette could easily play hardball with Amazon by taking out an ad campaign whose message was, ‘Amazon won’t sell you our books – so we’re holding a 50% sale for anyone who wants to switch to buying ebooks from Apple, Google, Kobo or Nook.’”
To avoid Hachette’s fate, Doctorow wrote, it should emulate small imprints — namely Macmillan science fiction imprint Tor — that have dropped DRM: “Push out the entire catalogue without DRM, now, and arm yourself with an ‘Amazon Refugee’ app that can convert all your Kindle books to run on anyone else’s platform, ready to release the very instant Amazon tries this trick again.”
But Tor’s removal of DRM in 2012 wasn’t the watershed moment that Doctorow hoped it would be – partly because Tor is a niche imprint with a devoted fan base. Hachette is a big company that consists of many imprints aimed at many different kinds of readers. That makes it very hard for it to sway readers in the way that Doctorow would like it to.
Doctorow is famously against DRM, in any venue, on any type of media. But his focus on it in this instance overlooks larger issues at play. He assumes readers value direct relationships with large publishers much more than they actually do. Yes, publishers would like to have these relationships with readers, and yes, dropping DRM might help to enable those relationships by making it easier for publishers to sell ebooks directly through their own websites. But his post doesn’t take the reader’s priorities into account.
Most readers will happily remain within the Kindle ecosystem — not because it does or doesn’t include DRM, but because it is freaking seamless. Kindle is the dominant e-reading platform in part because there’s a Kindle app available for pretty much every tablet and smartphone out there. That may be a “walled garden,” but it’s essentially a vast expanse that encompasses almost all devices. It’s tough to argue to convince readers that they are locked in if they don’t feel limited. They are likely to feel more limited, in fact, by switching over to apps from Amazon’s competitors that actually work on fewer devices. For Doctorow to describe Google as a “major competitor” to Amazon in ebooks is silly: Google may have digitized a lot of books, but it hasn’t put near the amount of focus or effort into the e-reading experience that Amazon has. Apple’s done better, but iBooks is available only on iOS and Macs running OS X Mavericks.
Those ebook readers who care enough about DRM to have a problem with it will, like me and (presumably) like Cory Doctorow, download easy illegal tools and break it. Those who don’t care about DRM also, presumably, don’t care about their relationship with Hachette (or any given publisher) enough to download a separate, special publisher-made “Amazon Refugee” app that would almost definitely work much worse than any Kindle app because guess what: Amazon is way better at building consumer technology than general trade publishers are.
Is it a problem that Hachette depends on Amazon for so much of its revenue? Clearly, yes, because Amazon knows that and is thus able to use all of the negotiating tactics it’s currently using, such as cutting off pre-orders and delaying shipments of print books for weeks. Those tactics really hurt Hachette and individual authors, but the jury is still out on how much everyday readers are noticing. Ultimately, that might be Hachette’s biggest problem: For every reader who cares, many more readers won’t. For Hachette to be on an even playing field with Amazon, it would have to be a completely different kind of company with power and influence to match Amazon’s. The problem is that it’s a book publisher instead.
YouTube officially confirmed Tuesday that it is going to launch a paid music subscription tier to its service. However, the service may come with some collateral damage: YouTube is going to start blocking music videos from five percent of its label partners. Affected are indie labels that haven’t agreed to YouTube’s licensing terms, according to a Financial Times report.
The paper quoted YouTube content head Robert Kyncl saying that official music videos from labels that haven’t reached an agreement with YouTube will disappear from the service “in a matter of days.” YouTube already has agreements with all the major labels and some indies in place, but could take down videos from artists like Adele and the Arctic Monkeys, according to the Times.
However, it seems like these take-downs wouldn’t affect all of these artist’s videos. Vevo told Techcrunch
that its Adele music videos will remain available, and the same will presumably be true for the Arctic Monkeys as well. Adding to the confusion are regional licensing disparities. A band may be on an indie label in the U.K., but distribute its music through a major label abroad, in which case U.S. users would continue to have access to these videos.
Also not affected are the countless lip dubs, parodies and vacation videos that have been borrowing music from indie and major label artists alike. User-generated content will continue to be available on the site, and musicians will continue to be able to monetize these videos through ads, regardless of whether they have signed on for YouTube’s music service or not.
Asked about the service and this dispute, a YouTube spokesperson sent me the following statement:
“Our goal is to continue making YouTube an amazing music experience, both as a global platform for fans and artists to connect, and as a revenue source for the music industry. We’re adding subscription-based features for music on YouTube with this in mind — to bring our music partners new revenue streams in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars YouTube already generates for them each year. We are excited that hundreds of major and independent labels are already partnering with us.”
Is YouTube evil — or just diligent?
Still, the takedowns won’t exactly help YouTube with its image, even if they only affect a small number of songs in a few countries. Which makes you wonder: why is the music service doing this? One could obviously make the case that YouTube is trying to strong-arm labels that are holding out for a better deal, threatening to cut them off from ad revenue if they don’t agree to be part of the paid service.
However, there’s also a flip side to this: One could also argue that YouTube just wants to avoid becoming Hulu. The TV catch-up service offers both free, ad-supported and subscription-only content, and subscribers to its paid Hulu Plus tier regularly run into confusing situations where a TV show episode may be available for free on the web, but not through the Hulu Plus app on mobile and connected devices.
The same could happen if YouTube was going to launch a paid service that coexists with free music videos with differing rights. YouTube hasn’t said yet exactly what its service is going to look like, but one of the features likely included is offline playback. Paying subscribers may run into an issue where they’re able to download one song, but not another, or bypass ads on one video, but not another. By blocking these disputed songs altogether, YouTube may be able to provide a more consistent experience for its paying users — albeit at a notable cost for everyone else.