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Self-publishing News: Will Europe’s Digital Markets Act Make Amazon More Open Or More Closed?

Self-publishing News: Will Europe’s Digital Markets Act make Amazon more Open or more Closed?

In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway looks at a big week for Twitter, and the possible consequences for Amazon of new European laws.

Dan Holloway head and shoulders

ALLi's News Editor Dan Holloway

This week's #indieauthorchat is back to the usual time. It will happen on Wednesday at 8pm UK time, 3pm Central and midday Pacific. This week we'll be getting to grips with a question that has become more pertinent to me as I passed my 50th birthday recently: can you be too young or too old to publish?

Europe’s New Digital Markets Act: the End for Digital Closed Shops?

It’s been a week where lawmakers have been in the news. In Europe, the Digital Markets Act took the next step towards becoming law in European Union countries. That final step of being enacted is expected by the end of the year. 

While I’ve written quite a lot about the companion piece of legislation, the Digital Services Act (which holds platforms responsible for content they link to and ensures that content creators get paid when their work is aggregated), I’ve not said so much about. But its implications are really important. The legislation is designed to stop large tech companies using their user share to exclusively push their own products.

Interoperability

The key word legislators have in mind is “interoperability.” Interoperability is essentially the principle the internet works on. And some of the software we all use, like PDFs. Not to mention hardware like the USB connection port or the screws used on our lightbulbs. It means that it shouldn't matter where you get something essential from. You should be able to use it on any device. Any web browser, for example, will let you read an ePub file.

Much of the tech world is really bad when it comes to interoperability. An alarming example from the news this week was Internet of Things provider Insteon. The company shut down its cloud servers and disappeared without a trace. And that left thousands of smart homes, erm, not so smart. Because the devices they contained were tied to Insteon's servers. In terms of software, the example most cited in this respect is messaging. The aim is that Whatsapp, for example, will now have to let you communicate people who use a different messaging service, like Telegram.

Will Amazon's Influence Shrink or Expand?

But messaging apps are far from the only arena in which tech giants have massive customer bases and use that market share to force others to join in order to be in on the party. The one most relevant to us is the file format used in digital reading. I've already mentioned that the ePub will work on any web browser. That's because the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) works to ensure it. One of the deliberate consequences of the Act is to force previously closed shops like the App Store to offer products from third parties. It's not clear what this will mean in practice for Amazon. But the implication seems clear. Amazon might have to start letting us sell ePub files that you don't need a Kindle or Kindle app to read.

The legislation intends to stop large tech firms like Amazon exploiting their position. But some are already worried it could have the opposite effect. If the largest platforms are forced to open their doors to smaller ones, won't that, in practice, make their platforms larger? Suppose Amazon starts having to offer other formats of ebook, for example. Won't that make it even harder for platforms like Kobo Writing Life, when we can just sell our books for Kobo through Amazon?

Twitter: Elon and Editing

Social media has been high in the news this week in several ways that affect us as writers. But there is one story that stands out. And that’s Twitter. It’s finally getting an edit button, and no one will be more pleased than our own Tim Lewis. I only half jest. Twitter is getting an edit button. Tim will be very pleased indeed. Though the rest of us will lament the loss of his squirrels from our timelines. 

The big news of course is that Elon Musk wants to buy Twitter. For a cool $43bn. There’s no deal done. Indeed, Twitter has responded with a “poison pill” strategy – effectively making it really easy for people who have a few shares in the company to buy more, at a discount. And making it really hard for people who have a lot of shares to buy more. In essence, it’s a move to try and stop Musk taking over.

But what does this mean for us? Twitter is one of the big places where writers get together. It’s where we have our chats, where we meet fellow writers from across the world, and possibly where some of us meet readers. For indie writers, Twitter is a key part of life. Musk has made it clear that he wants a platform that is fully committed to free speech. Of course that worthy-sounding ambition has become a somewhat loaded statement recently. So we can expect certain aspects of Twitter culture to shift. But the other thing about Musk is that he loves crypto. He has famously pumped Bitcoin, not to mention the joke cryptocurrency Dogecoin. Twitter is already starting to move towards NFTs. If Musk takes over, expect that to be the start of a very large wave.

Print: Still Suffering Supply Chain Woes Even as Sales Steady

Print has had a rollercoaster ride through the last couple of years. And two stories this week exemplify that perfectly. Print sales have fluctuated quite a lot. But they have stayed fairly resilient. And that trend has continued. Sales in the US are 16% up on 2020 for the first quarter of the year. And the past week has seen healthy sales with a little help from Easter shopping.

But print has also been under fire. In part, this has been a result of the frankly woeful state of the industry’s carbon footprint. But there have also been difficulties with the supply chain. Indeed, these two issues stem from a similar place – the fact that many publishers rely on large print runs (including many copies that will probably be pulped) printed on the other side of the world. Thanks to Nate Hofelder's excellent Monday morning newsletter for pointing me to a story that shows shipping woes are still beleaguering the industry. It seems the entire 10,000 copy print run of Jordan Crane's graphic novel Keeping Two is stranded. And not just that. The books languish on board the ironically-named Ever Forward, sister ship of the infamous Ever Given.

Lawmakers Give up on Ebook Lending Legislation

Maryland’s lawmakers have also been in the news. The state hit the headlines with its proposed ebook lending legislation. This would have required publishers not to simply pluck a large sum of money and a small amount of time  out of the air when they sold licenses for their ebooks to libraries. Instead, publishers would have had to offer libraries reasonable terms. The Association of American Publishers appealed. And the courts ruled that the law would force publishers’ hands in an unjustified way. Maryland’s legislature is not bringing new evidence against that appeal. Which means that the act will never make it into law.

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Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40

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