How Hachette made the rope that Amazon is hanging it with



Is Faust not required reading in business school?


I discuss the petard that the French publishing giant Hachette is being hoisted upon by Amazon.

Because what is internet comments with out pedantry, one is not hoisted upon a petard. It perhaps should be “by”. A petard is/was a small explosive device. So Hoist by my own petard means thrown in to the air by my own bomb. I understand the word has the same root as ‘fart’.


(Reposting a comment I left over there, too.)

I applaud the idea, but frankly I suspect that even if Hachette did pull DRM from all its books, and the other publishers too, it probably wouldn’t help.

Dirty little secret: DRM isn’t the real Amazon customer lock-in. Oh, sure, it is in theory, but there’s a considerable difference between theory and practice. Honestly, anyone tech-savvy enough for DRM to be an impediment to their switching providers is also tech-savvy enough to crack it and back those books up.

You know what the real Amazon customer lock-in is? User-friendliness and convenience.

People buy Kindle because Kindle makes buying e-books from Amazon simple. And they keep buying e-books from Amazon because…well, Kindle makes buying e-books from Amazon simple. When my Mom wanted to sideload Project Gutenberg e-books onto her own Kindle, I had to talk her through it over the phone, and it took a half hour. And you know who most Kindle owners are? People’s Moms and Dads, Grandmas and Grandpas. I would venture to guess that the vast majority of Amazon’s customers wouldn’t know what to do with a DRM-free file if it nipped them in the arse.

Consider the case of Baen, who sold e-books DRM-free, in Kindle-compatible Mobipocket format, for well over a decade. They provided clear instructions for how to sideload them, even put a web form on their page so people could simply fill in their Kindle e-mail address and send their books directly to their reader. And yet, Baen still got complaint after complaint that their books “aren’t on Kindle,” because anything more complicated than clicking the “buy” link in Amazon’s store was too complicated for them to understand.

Finally it got to the point where Baen realized it was leaving more money on the table than it would cost them to give in, and they made sweeping changes to their e-book store (disgruntling many long-time customers) for the sake of getting their books into Amazon (and the other major stores).

Mark my words: if every major publisher stopped using DRM tomorrow, Amazon would still have a lock on the e-book market for years to come.


I agree with Cory that DRM helps Amazon more than it helps the publishers. I also think everything you wrote is correct.

Given all that, what do you think Hachette and the other publishers should do? If they have so little leverage, then I think that’s a pretty good indication that Amazon has an effective monopoly in online book sales in the same way that Microsoft had an OS monopoly in the 1990’s. Is Amazon abusing their market position?

I’m not a huge fan of Amazon (for e-books)and I don’t own a kindle. Yet, it’s rather disingenuous to suggest that the only contribution from Amazon is a script that puts drm on the books. I’m not a published author, publisher, editor or book seller, but I have bought several thousand books in my lifetime. I would never call myself a customer of Hachette, or Random House, or any other publisher. I’m a customer of Amazon (or Barnes & Nobles). So to say Amazon has only contributed DRM is wrong, they market and sell the books and in some cases provide hardware for actually reading the book. Hachette’s customer is Amazon… Amazon’s customers have hung themselves with the rope provided by Amazon (unless they want to free their books and break the law). The publishers should walk away and start selling the books directly themselves. IF that’s not something they’re willing to do they should at least due the diligence to not lock themselves into a single distribution channel.

For starters, I do think they should drop DRM. That’s not in question. I just don’t think they should expect it to solve all their woes in the short term. It probably would make things healthier in the long run just from people knowing that they could switch e-book readers in theory, even if they never want to in fact.

But as for what publishers should really do to survive, I think Hugh Howey has the right of it in this blog post. The publishers should move away from New York, slim down their operations, and reduce their overhead so they can survive at lower prices and pay authors more money to entice them away from going self-pub.

They should also bite the bullet and set up their own e-book stores. Maybe even build their own e-reader platform that consumers can buy and get one-click ease of purchase. Sure, it’ll be a long struggle, but if they gave up DRM, at least there will be nothing keeping people from buying the books there in theory.

Amazon doesn’t have a monopoly, at least by the legal definition. Most books or e-books it sells, you can buy elsewhere if you choose. You might not be able to put them on the Kindle given it has DRM, but nothing keeps you from reading them on your computer, or tablet app, or even buying another e-reader.

On the other hand, Hachette does have a monopoly over its own titles, because there’s nowhere else Amazon can go to get them. Funny how that works.


The solution needs to be similar to Microsoft vs. Netscape. Book-reading vendors should be not be allowed to lock-in customers to a particular book store. Or lock books to a particular device. Literature is too important to be monopolized.

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You’re thinking of the liberal arts,which are a waste of money.

My friend, you hit the nail on the head.

I genuinely don’t think DRM is much of an issue really.

Partly because the DRM argument doesn’t apply to anyone who can understand it (and they don’t want it to) and partly because the DRM stuff only matters when it’s bad, particularly in areas like games where it can break games,

It’s a complete non-issue to most people because most people want a good, reliable and pretty cheap service, even the tech savvy (who know how to get around DRM anyway).

If amazon stops being that then things will change and the kindle will die and something better will come along. DRM doesn’t matter a good platform matters.

If DRM mattered Steam wouldn’t be probably the biggest gaming platform in the world. It’s a service used by pc gamers who are so much more likely to know about DRM issues and not use it if they had a problem yet Steam is not only used, but popular loved and reduces piracy (which in many cases seemed to be caused by bad DRM not DRM in general).

DRM isn’t the issue, large platform holders are and even then they aren’t the problem. If someone comes up with a better system people will move.

Hiya :smile:

Replying to the pedantry with pedantry a’la Shakespeare.

That’s the source of the colloquial phrase “to be hoisted by one’s own petard”. It refers to Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4 where Hamlet is talking about Polonius being destroyed by his own potting. So the phrase is referring to getting blown up by your own bomb. (It could just as easily refer in a nasty joke to lifting yourself out of your seat by your own gas power.)

But the ebook, even totally dominated by Amazon because of it’s inherently democratic nature of anyone being able to publish on it.

The real monopolies are the 5 big publishers who like the major labels and have all the same inherent problems. That they haven’t died yet and been replaced by a much more numerous and better series of indie publishers is really disappointing.

Also bookselling till the 90s in the UK was a literal government supported cartel, that monopolised books, set prices etc.

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Note benum: McMillan has dropped DRM. Maybe it’s to show Amazon the finger, maybe not. But they have and they’re selling e-books through other channels now (though not their own that I can tell, and their search totally blows.)

I can get McMillan e-books from both Baen and Google now. And at least Google makes it pretty damned simple (and cheap – go figure.)

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Several points here:

1: Not everyone is confident with computers. Being able to click on the Amazon link to buy the book, and then use a Kindle, is some way short of the process of removing DRM.

2: Amazon exploits several feature of tax systems. If a publisher sold sold to me direct, from a site in North America, there would be a 20% tax for an ebook. Amazon runs a sales operation in the EU set up to take advantage of the same set of rules, and pays only 3%. There’s nothing to stop a publisher doing the same, but it makes the set-up harder to implement.

3: Amazon appears to own the politicians. We only vote for them.

Also, most people probably want to read a book once and perhaps reread it next summer or so. Yes, I hear you “I do that all the time” and “I lend my book weekly”, but that’s not what I see in daily life. Even though I reread all of the time.

People who just want to read a book and be done with it are not at all inconvenienced with the DRM.

Thank you for pointing it out; the misuse of that figure of speech was making me twitch.

While the title’s “made the rope that Amazon is hanging it with” is descriptive enough of the situation, “the petard that the French publishing giant Hachette is being hoisted upon by Amazon” manages to completely mangle the phrase’s intended sense of blowing oneself up unassisted. Someone really ought to have caught that before it was published.

Wow. Really. Wow.

Does the truth hurt,Miss PhD candidate in history?

You honestly think I care what you think? It’s just a ridiculous point of view is all. If you don’t care about history, culture, music, and in understanding how human beings make lives together or apart, then that’s fine. No big loss to me - you’re not on my committee. Honestly, it’s your loss, not mine. I kind of feel sorry for you that you don’t seem to care about those things.