In this corner, we have Mobipocket, a wiry French fighter. He’s got a lot of experience but it takes a whole team of folks to get him into the ring.

In the other corner, we have PayPal, a brawny little up and coming American pugilist.  He’s well financed but the set of his jaw speaks to a hidden agenda. 

But wait, sports fans, if we want to get a real handle on this battle, we can’t look at the boxers in the ring.  We’ve got to check out the training rooms in the back.  Wait a minute, they look a lot alike.  Full of skinny businessmen in dark suits with fire and dollar signs in their eyes.  Who are these guys? 

It’s not Mobi vs PayPal at all.  Why, it’s, it’s …………Amazon against Ebay!!

We don’t know whose gonna win, but we know whose most likely to lose – the writers who carry as much weight in this battle as the bait at the end of a fishing lure. 

Mobi has been having some trouble for a while.  Allegedly, it has a long, long list of e-tailers that carry the e-books of authors who offer them for sale through Mobi.  But in recent months, sales of writers have been drying up until they disappear altogether.  A read of Mobi’s chat boards features posts of a number of authors, including yours truly, saying that their sales had been going gangbusters until presto, chango, they came to a dead stop.  At that point, some enterprising authors – not me, but I wish it had been – commenced looking for a way to get their royalty money out of Mobi’s accounts and into their own.  See, Mobi has a policy.  It pays no royalties to writers until they total $150.00.  Funny, sales seems to stop about the time many writers would reach that threshold. 

Anyway, at least one enterprising chap figured out that if he canceled his Mobi account, that Mobi would have to pay him all accumulated royalties, whatever they totaled.  Great.  Since nobody seems to be selling enough to reach the magic number, why not pull out and wait for Mobi to suffer enough losses that it fixes the royalty structure.  Well, there’s just one problem with that.  It’s the little matter of getting the money to the writer.

Mobi has stated on its forum site that PayPal is not processing payments to writers from Mobi.  Other comments, from e-tailers, say that PayPal is also not processing payments to Mobi.  Why?  Mobi says PayPal objects to some of the content carried on Mobi. The Mobi site does carry a large erotic section that goes a lot further than sensual romance description in more mainstream books.  Mobi carries erotic tales that are more like a literary version of porn movies.  Essentially, Mobi carries what people post and leaves the filtering to the e-tailers and to the public’s power of the mouse.

From PayPal, the financial site, that seems like a rather prudish response.  Prudish, but not totally out of line if one thinks of PayPal as accountants or the mortgage loan department of a bank.  From PayPal, the wholly owned subsidiary of Ebay, that comes across like Hugh Hefner calling content too racy.  Ebay carries things like pins showing lap dancers, a sale of a XXX domain name for an adult website, porn DVD’s about the beauty of blowjobs, anal plugs and ben wa balls, and yes, adult fiction books.  Essentially, Ebay seems to do what Mobi does – if you own it,  you can sell it on their site.  

Having ruled out the possibility that Ebay is actually upset by the content on Mobi, we can now leap to the more interesting questions.  Why is Ebay taking on Amazon and doing it “undercover”?  This could be the first shot of a new all out war between the E-Giants.  It could be the first convoluted steps of a courtship ritual whereby Ebay buys Mobi.  It could be chest-beating by the Goliaths who think nobody important (only writers) are getting hurt.  Any way you look at it,  the covert war can only lead to mass civilian-buyer casualties. 

In the long run, the squeeze on Mobi means less choice for the reading public.  Content on Mobi that is adult only is plainly labeled that way, just as it is on Ebay.  If Ebay is going to play morality cop it should recall that line from the Bible about not casting stones unless you don’t sin.  By that wise criteria, informed choice is the only sane option. 

I also find it interesting that Amazon seems to be rolling over and playing dead.   Amazon is acting like a punching bag that exists only for Ebay to pummel.  It hasn’t stood up for its subsidiary at all.  Then again, Amazon seems to have simply bought Mobi and then ignored it.  Amazon keeps sales of indie writers who post on Kindle scrupulously clean.  If you post on Kindle and earn like $10.00 a month, you get paid.  Why hasn’t Amazon taken charge of Mobi?  Why hasn’t Amazon at least cleaned its subsidiaries’ closets?  At a minimum, Amazon should do a full examination of its sub, change the royalty structure, make sure that author’s books are actually available to e-tailers and make sure that e-tailers get treated like the valuable business partners that they certainly are.  Instead, as it stands, Amazon’s Kindle is the star protege and Mobi is the hungry orphan with an empty bowl begging for more.

Writers are beginning to have more choices of sites.  Scribd is the new kid on the block.  Its stores need to more organized, categorized and the work needs to be easier to find.   I think the site that may benefit from all this is Smashwords.  You can post on Smashwords and the site will change your work into just about every format on the planet.  So if a reader is looking for  an e-book for their PC, their cell phone, their Palm Pilot, or their Kindle and yes, if they’re even looking for an e-book in Mobipocket format, every book on Smashwords will be available to them.  Smashwords has a new affiliate program that is in its infancy, but shows promise of becoming a strong player.  Since Smashwords actually pays its authors every month and does it straight out, no strings attached, I suspect it treats affiliates the same. 

Right now Amazon is the doormat Ebay is trouncing.  It’s easy enough for Ebay to win when Amazon doesn’t play.  If Amazon walked into Mobi, cleaned it up and dusted it off,  made nice with the writers and the e-tailers, it would have the premier e-book distribution site on the internet.  That means Amazon would have a big market that’s getting bigger with every tick of the clock. 

At a minimum, Amazon needs to honestly inform writers about its intentions with Mobi.  Ebay needs to shed its pathetic disguise and openly challenge Amazon for e-book supremacy, or openly make a buy out offer for Mobi.  If Ebay does acquire Mobi, hopefully it will get the distribution service back on the straight and narrow. 

Amazon and Ebay have made millions from the writers and sellers who use their services.  Behaving like Mafia Godfathers trying to act through minions doesn’t keep their hands clean and it won’t earn them any respect. 

If Goliath and Gigantor are going to throw down, pretending it’s David verses the Munchkins won’t fool the American public.  And treating writers like bait won’t do their shareholders any service down the road. 

The bait will leave their hooks and swim off to ponds named Smashwords and Scribd where bait gets treated like the main course.  Then, when the e-book market explodes, as it’s poised to do, management will turn a bunch of executives at Amazon and Ebay into chum to toss to the shareholder sharks.

Above all else, neither giant should engage in corporate greed and call it moral outrage.

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