Tuesday, June 07, 2016

A "State of the Union" on e-books

by Rick Blechta

I've been meaning to write this post for a few weeks, but unfortunately, family issues have kept that from happening. Sorry about the missing/poor posts of the past few weeks, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

But I'm back today and have something really interesting in the print versus e-book world. First, you have a reading assignment (and if you're interested in this sort of topic, then I guarantee it won't be onerous!): How-apple-and-big-publishers-pushed-e-books-toward-failure.

Who would have thunk it? For a few years now, everyone in the book industry has been trumpeting or mourning the death of paper books – depending on whose side of the fence you're on – and now it seems that paper and e are finding their natural levels in the marketplace. It's not as if everyone was letting this happen naturally. Publishers and retailers were all trying to manipulate how book commerce was going to proceed. The courts certainly had a lot of do with what has been shaking down, but I'm willing to bet that if left alone, purchasers of books would have done a fine job by themselves in sorting out how these two ways of consuming reading would operate and what market share they would have as things went forward.

As for price, that's a different matter and the way this all has come to a head. Retailers and producers have always worked – both separately and in concert – to set the price of what the public buys. It's only natural that both these entities would want to control prices absolutely. Amazon is certainly within its writes to set whatever retail price it wants, just as publishers should be allowed to set their price. The rub comes when the retailer (in this case Amazon) tries to unilaterally dictate the wholesale price to producer (in this case publishers) in a take-it-or-leave-it scenario. That's where the whole thing breaks down. I find it almost astounding that Amazon decided to back down, considering the stranglehold they have on book sales of any kind. I'm sure it's all driven by dollars and cents as it always is.

The fact that Apple decided to carry on the fight even as the Big 5 publishers settled with Amazon and the Supreme Court forced the issue by declining to hear the case as much as would have been the case had they decided to hear it and render a decision.

So, as is always the case, prices will continue to go up (which is the normal order of commerce) and you can be sure at the end of the day that the consumer and the author (the real producers in publishing) will be getting the short end of the stick. But no matter what...

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