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James Bond a la Amazon: Double standard for 007?

Amazon's imprint Thomas & Mercer will be publishing hard copies and Kindle versions of Ian Fleming's James Bond books, but don't expect an iBooks version to surface.

Amazon's Kindles.
Amazon's Kindles.
Danny Sullivan/CNET

Amazon is now the proud owner of North America licensing rights to Ian Fleming's James Bond series.

The online company announced yesterday that it now has a 10-year license to sell all 14 of Fleming's classic James Bond titles, including "Casino Royale," "Dr. No," and "The Spy Who Loved Me." The company will start publishing the titles this summer under its mysteries and thrillers imprint, Thomas & Mercer. In addition, Amazon says that it will offer the books in digital form in its Kindle Store.

"We are excited to be using the opportunity of this re-license to introduce Ian Fleming's books to a broader audience in the USA, and we believe that Amazon Publishing has the ability to place the books back at the heart of the Bond brand, balancing traditional publishing routes with new technologies and new ways of reaching our readers," Corinne Turner, Managing Director of Ian Fleming Publications, said in a statement.

But there's far more to this story than meets the eye. According to an Amazon spokeswoman who spoke to the Wall Street Journal yesterday, the paperback versions of the titles will be available both in the company's online store and at other book retailers.

However, on the digital side, Amazon currently only has plans to offer the books in its Kindle Store, with the spokeswoman telling the Journal that the company is still "making a determination" about other digital sales strategies.

It's a rather odd move. Barnes & Noble, which will ostensibly be able to sell the hard copies, might not have access to the e-books. Apple's iBooks might also be left out. Amazon is seemingly just fine sharing revenue on the traditional publishing side, but in digital form, it's not so quick to follow suit.

An Amazon spokeswoman didn't necessarily deny that in an e-mailed statement to CNET today. The spokeswoman said that her company's "first goal is to make a great a customer experience across the Kindle platform, including our devices and free reading apps." The spokeswoman did not say if Amazon makes it a policy to not sell e-books from its imprints in other digital bookstores.

That said, it appears that Amazon doesn't like to play nice with other digital stores, even though it does so with brick-and-mortar competitors. Back in June, for example, Amazon announced that it would be publishing 32 books in the late summer and early fall under many of its imprints. As with the Bond books, the titles would be made available to brick-and-mortar retailers, but not on other digital platforms.

"The Amazon Publishing editions of these titles will be available in print format at Amazon.com and national and independent booksellers, and as wireless digital downloads in less than 60 seconds from the Kindle Store," the company said in a statement at the time.

Earlier today, I spent considerable time sifting through books from Amazon's imprints and tried to find them in Apple's iBookstore. Every search for the titles yielded no results. I came across one book that Amazon has under one of its imprints, but it was originally published over 200 years ago, and was brought to Apple's store by Project Gutenberg.

Amazon's decision to keep its books close to the vest seems to underscore the reality of today's book-shopping experience. When buying hard copies, just about every bookseller sells the same titles, and for the most part, customers should be able to buy any book in any store. But silos are seemingly developing in the e-book market where some stores might have titles customers are after, and others might not.

Luckily for today's consumers, however, that might not be such a big deal. Amazon's Kindle Store is available on a host of platforms, including iOS and Android, meaning those who want the James Bond titles can still read them on their iPads or iPhones. But more choice is always preferred to less choice. And by the look of things, we have less choice in the e-book market right now.