Wright compares Kindle Select to Michael Roberts’s MP3.com independent music distribution site, which allowed independent musicians (such as Wright) to upload mp3 tracks to catch the attention of the Internet audience.
That was, without question, the most fun I’ve ever had online. MP3.com started providing tools for musicians, including the ability to upload mp3 tracks and convert them into a CD — so you could sell your CD alongside the tracks you were giving away from free. No one had ever thought of this before. It was nuts. And the best part of it was meeting other musicians.
MP3.com set up forums and the musicians would talk, trade recording tips, talk about what kind of marketing worked and what didn’t, advertise shows, and organize meet-ups in the real world. The best part was it was completely cross-genre — I was a punk/noise musician but I was making friends with country musicians, house musicians, funk musicians, metal, hip-hop, gangsta rap… you name it. And I got exposed to music I never would have considered listening to before hand. I still carry most of those MP3′s around in my collection.
However, after the site went public, MP3.com instituted a “Payback for Playback” program, which split a pool of money among the artists whose tracks were most played—a very similar idea to the Kindle Select lending library. This program served as an apple of discord, Wright writes, effectively ending the camaraderie and leading a number of artists to try to game the system.
He also points out that giving Amazon exclusivity over works harms the publishing ecosystem as a whole. Even if Amazon is accounting for the lion’s share of income right now, keeping content off of its competitors handicaps the competitors’ ability to compete with Amazon.
In the end, whether authors go with Select or not is up to them, but it’s good to hear from all points of view on the issue. It remains to be seen whether Select is vulnerable to gaming or not. As Wright acknowledges in a postscript, the limitation to one book checkout per month for $80/yr Kindle Prime subscribers does restrict how badly the system can be abused, but he is not sure that necessarily removes the vulnerability.