Any good and successful company knows that it probably shouldn't go out of its way to promote its competition. I mean, you don't see Microsoft putting out ads that talk about how awesome Google Docs is. But in the realm of content, should stores limit the presence or even reject items that promote a competitor?
Apparently, that's what is happening to Seth Godin. The Squidoo founder, entrepreneur, and prolific author submitted his new book "Stop Stealing Dreams" the Apple store, only to have it rejected. What reason did Apple give for rejecting Godin's new manifesto? According to a post on paidContent, Godin says that Apple's note cited “Multiple links to Amazon store. IE page 35, David Weinberger link.”
In short, Apple rejected Godin's book because it links to Amazon.
The link is to the page to buy the hardcover version of the book. Godin thinks that this move starts us down a slippery slope to censorship:
That’s amazing to me. It must be a mistake, right? First, because the web, like your mind, works best when it’s open. Second, because once bookstores start to censor the books they carry (business reasons, personal taste, etc.) then the door is open for any interest group to work hard to block books with which they disagree. Where does the line get drawn?
Godin uses the concept of a brick & mortar bookstore as a reference point for the argument. He mentions that we expect a bookstore to sell everything, and that online bookstores should play by that rule even more because there's no consideration for shelf space.
The thing with B&M bookstores is that the reason for refusing to stock a certain book would most of the time simply involve the whims of the owner. Let's say Bob the bookstore owner really hated a certain author - he thought he was garbage. Or let's say he simply hated the political viewpoints expressed in a certain commentator's new bestseller. In either case, he could chose not to carry the book in his store. And that's his right.
But from a business standpoint, it would be a terrible decision. If there's a market for the book, it's simple: you want to carry it. If not, the customer will go somewhere else to buy it.
That's similar, but not exactly akin to what's going on here. Apple is choosing not to "stock" Godin's book because it links to a competitor. In a B&M bookstore, the only true analogy to his would be a book that promotes a competitor. For instance, The Bookworm's Corner refusing to carry a book about how awesome Miller's Bookstore is, because it might send traffic that way.
But on the surface, Apple's decision to reject Godin's book because of a couple of links to Amazon does seem rather ridiculous.
Here's more of Godin's feelings on the issue:
I think that Amazon and Apple and B&N need to take a deep breath and make a decision on principle: what’s inside the book shouldn’t be of concern to a bookstore with a substantial choke on the marketplace. If it’s legal, they ought to let people read it if they choose to. A small bookstore doesn’t have that obligation, but if they’re seeking to be the one and only, if they have a big share of the market, then they do, particularly if they’re integrating the device into the store. I also think that if any of these companies publish a book, they ought to think really hard before they refuse to let the others sell it.
The Barnes & Noble reference is most likely due to their recent decision to bar Amazon Publishing titles from their stores. Back in January, B&N gave this statement about it:
Barnes & Noble has made a decision not to stock Amazon published titles in our store showrooms. Our decision is based on Amazon’s continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents and the authors they represent. These exclusives have prohibited us from offering certain e-books to our customers. Their actions have undermined the industry as a whole and have prevented millions of customers from having access to content. It’s clear to us that Amazon has proven they would not be a good publishing partner to Barnes & Noble as they continue to pull content off the market for their own self interest.
The discussion about companies' responsibilities regarding the free flow on information isn't just about e-books. For instance, what would people say if YouTube removed a video that promotes another video service? Fly off the handle I presume. While it's true that Apple has the right to reject anything they want - apps, e-books, whatever (and they do, as we well know) - do you think they have a right to serve the internet's best interests, and that means availability of information?
Plus, this just looks terrible, Apple.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.