“The book publishing industry is what happened to innovation in the book publishing industry. It is that simple, and rather than try to push this industry to be less conservative (what Wikert is trying to do), I think that our energies are better spent on looking for innovators changing the industry from the outside.”
A bad ‘n’ biased article about innovation in publishing industry. Besides the fact that it sings praises to Amazon as innovator (probably for taking employee exploitation to levels never imagined by Taylor), it constructs innovation as “new products”, rather than “new ideas”. This is the favored definition by Silicon Valley standards, because it is easy to mask the age of an idea. And it suits their purposes: innovation is a buzzword that sells and can attract capital, by promising new avenues for profit. But new ideas are less ordinary than one might think. The idea for a low-power paper-like display had existed since the 1970s, originally conceived by researchers at Xerox PARC, but had never been realized. Not quite new & recent. And the innovators were MIT professors and students, not upper management echelon at Amazon. As for the “all-you-can-read subscription model”, another Amazon “innovation”, has anybody heard before of libraries?
Barnes & Noble seems to have it pretty rough. But I doubt that competition from Amazon is the most salient cause of it. Let us not forget that Amazon still has to actually have a profitable year since its creation. Amazon is surely a giant to be reckoned with, but it seems that it gets all the attention every time something goes bad in the book industry. While not a fan of Bezos’s empire, I wonder how many misdeeds in the book industry and retail are covered up by claiming “Amazon did it!”.
Why are we looking just at Amazon for this situation, while ignoring the Big Five and their market strategies and politics?
All the more so when one considers that Amazon still has contracts with all the major publishing houses. They did not flinched when chains like Borders and B&N killed off most of the independent bookstores (with their backing), but now they all look concerned and wary and decry the state of the physical stores. Maybe if they thought to really do something for physical stores, they would lobby for a Publishing Act, as it existed in the UK until 1997, which specified how much discount a retailer can give, so as not to undercut others. Of course, collective action is hard, so we might as well put all the blame on Amazon.
This will put pressure on publishers to increase their media presence and pump up their marketing department, to compensate the reduced presence in bookstores. The consequence will be a greater scrutiny on the sale potential of published titles and the restraining of access for new authors (especially for small publishers). They will probably go “indie”, but the success rate there is small (until now). Academic publishing will be even more affected, forced to exist mostly in the online environment, where Amazon will squeeze every penny out of them. The prices of textbooks and academic books will get even higher and accessible to only a small minority of readers. As digital format books will be even more present, DRM will be even more hard to bypass. Suit against sites like Libgen and SCI-Hub might have foresight value. Brave new world.
For those who do not know what this is about: Apple and some of the Big Five Publishers were accused of fixing prices to counteract Amazon’s monopoly in e-book pricing. The publishers and Apple agreed to use what’s called the agency model, where publishers set the price of ebooks and Apple takes a 30 percent cut, rather than a wholesale model where the publishers sell titles at a discount and the bookstore adds their margin on top deciding the final price without input from the publishers. The agency model isn’t illegal; the accusation is one of ebook price-fixing, which Apple and the publishers deny. The court decided that antitrust laws should apply.
This is just one of the recent skirmishes caused by Amazon’s hegemony and the big publishers. Jeff Bezos’s online empire, in its annual contracts with the Big Five Publishers (HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan) increased the co-op promotional fees, seen by these as an illegal gouge by another name (in some cases, Amazon has raised promotional fees by 30 times their 2011 cost). In 2012, some of them did not sign the contracts and while the Independent Publishers Group had seen its titles removed from the site, others experienced the threat of a missing “buy” button and no promotion whatsoever.
The book trade is rarely seen as the site for big corporate clashes, but the mergings in the past 20 years or so brought very close accumulations of capital and interests that are not at all innocent and passive. The book trade is full of sharks and sharp teeth.
“The College Board recently estimated that the average student spends upwards of $1,200 per year on textbooks. (This figure is much higher for students at for-profit colleges and trade schools.) But American schools in the 19th century used the same books for all grade levels, mainly as a memorization tool. Textbooks then began to take precedence over instructors, as high school and college courses increasingly became structured around a book’s table of contents in the early 1930’s. The books were cheap and were reused for decades; publishers prided themselves on the durability and longevity of their products.
At some point during the 1970s, books started to get expensive. Publishers capitalized on professors’ willingness to adapt new editions of a book every two or three years. Textbooks became less about educating the masses and more about exclusivity and profitability. By the 1990s, the textbook market was an oligopoly, and prices skyrocketed.”
Was the touted recent growth of independent bookstores just a fluke, a spike in an otherwise clear decline of bookstores? The most recent Barnes & Nobles results appear to indicate this scenario. It seems that the fall of Borders a few years ago was not equaled in shelf space and sales by the recent growth of independent bookstores.