Amazon's Kindle could annoy the publishing trade

AT last, Amazon&rsquo;s much-hyped Kindle is upon us, with a Europe-wide release date scheduled for 19 October. For anyone who doubts just how big e-books are going to be, consider this: the Kindle version of Dan Brown&rsquo;s latest book, The Lost Symbol, is outselling the hardcover edition on Amazon.<br /><br />Earlier this week, Forrester Research upped its projection for US sales of e-readers like the Kindle by 50 per cent to 3m in 2009, with 30 per cent of those expected to sell in the run up to Christmas. Falling prices, good retail distribution and a deafening media buzz all mean it is selling far faster than expected.<br /><br />Sales of e-books are also increasing. According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales since June have jumped 149 per cent year-on-year, netting the publishing industry some $14m in revenues every month.<br /><br /><strong>WALLED GARDEN</strong><br />The Kindle&rsquo;s whole business model is predicated on what is known as a &ldquo;walled garden&rdquo;; to buy e-books from its website, you need a Kindle and to read e-books on the Kindle, you need to buy them from its site. It has taken the iTunes/iPod tie-up that worked so-well for Apple and made it even more monopolistic.<br /><br />But Sony, which will next year bring out an updated version of its own e-reader, is doing away with its proprietary model and adopting the more common ePub format. Consumers that opt for one of its devices will be able to buy e-books from anywhere they like.<br /><br />Publishers prefer the ePub option, because it means they have to convert books into one, universal electronic format, instead of kowtowing to the demands of individual booksellers. It also means that sales are likely to be higher, while giving publishers more control over pricing.<br /><br />If Amazon doesn&rsquo;t open its own platform in a similar way, it could be left behind.<br /><br />Both options use Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection, which makes it virtually impossible to copy e-books across devices. This is a huge mistake. For centuries, we have we have been able to borrow, buy, re-sell and swap books; e-books are meant to be evolution, but they&rsquo;re actually less versatile than the original article.<br /><br />Book industry executives have no excuse for this kind of short sightedness. Their peers in the beleaguered music business serve as a textbook case for what happens when you restrict consumer choice in this manner. If they continue down this path, a huge trade in pirated e-books is certain to emerge.