Assuaging My Fears (Smarter Analyses of the E-books Case)

As I suspected, if I waited a little while, I’d get a full array of analyses of the DOJ’s case against Apple and publishers.

Boing Boing has some links for those of you who are interested. They conclude that “traditional publishers seem set up to lose in any case, though, because they have no leverage over the distributors other than to withdraw from their marketplaces.”

Right. That’s what I thought.

Meanwhile, Slate reprinted the analysis Matt Yglesias made of the case  back when the DOJ sent its first warning to the defendants.

If there’s a case against the government’s actions it’s that the forces of disruption buffeting traditional publishing are much too large to be blocked by any cartel. The good news is that literary culture should survive either way.

Wshew! That’s a relief! Even though publishers are doomed anyway, we’ll still get our books!

Yglesias is one of the e-realm champions who thinks that the publishers are going to have to update their business models anyway. And that the e-realm can be fantastic for literary culture:

In the digital realm, an author can make a short piece available for little or no money as a loss-leader for potential future works. And digital sellers have no shortage of “shelf space” that has to be dedicated to a handful of specially favored books. The back catalog can live forever, and sales can come from the long tail of niche tastes.

Well then, problem solved!

I agree that the cheaper production/distribution model for e-books versus print can be great for reading & writing culture. And I agree that publishers are better off embracing it than getting all crotchety about it. Look at to what Apple did the record companies. Don’t be like those schmucks!

There’s something to be said for the vaunted flexible, adaptable business models of the 21st century. And for the idea that Penguin et al need to slough off their cranky old ways and ADAPT. Even though what this flexibility means, in practice, is the freedom to hire and fire massive amounts of people very quickly to adapt to constantly changing market conditions. And that the companies who want to survive must have the ability to constantly rearrange their teams and rapidly acquire the institutional expertise and wherewithal to figure out new internal processes, find the right people, and execute their new e-strategies quickly enough to keep up with Apple and Amazon. And higher pressure on workers to be fit (educated, skillful, and emotionally intelligent) enough  to survive the frequent tidal waves of change. And, um, wait! What was I saying?

Oh yeah. Amazon. I’m not sure I could warm to a world in which Amazon dominates the world of books, writers, and readers. And it’s not clear that publishing companies really can adapt as quickly as they need to to compete with Amazon in the e-realm. But I think I can believe that literary culture is strong enough to survive. And I think I can start to believe that it would be impossible for Amazon to control it all, no matter where the prices of e-books end up. We just need to come up with the right, most equitable models for it all.

What was that they said about living in exciting times?

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One thought on “Assuaging My Fears (Smarter Analyses of the E-books Case)

  1. Inder says:

    I basically agree with you, but by digging in their heels and refusing to change and adapt to new technology, the publishing industry is starting to look a lot like another doomed industry: the music industry.

    I don’t know if it’s a decent analogy, but I might have felt a little sympathy for the music industry when digital music first exploded, but years later, I just don’t anymore. In digging in their heels and refusing to budge, they have only hurt the people I actually care about supporting – musicians. Similarly, while I do care about publishers, I keep wondering – well, where are the AUTHORS in all of this?

    I’m currently listening to CD lectures (from the “Great Courses” line – my dad loaned them to me) about “Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages,” so my current favorite analogies involve the decline and fall of the Roman Empire … okay, probably time to sign off.

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