Don’t Cry for the Publishers (though you are free to shake your head)

Not that you are. The Wild Westness trampling over the publishing industry right now is kind of fun to watch. Fun in the sense that anticipation is fun. As a hockey fan, I decry the shootout as an idiotic way to win a game but watching it is the definition of fun. You have fun despite yourself. And so it is with the publishing industry.

Everyday there’s a headline or news item that makes me shake my head. Like Penguin deciding not to sell e-books to the company that sells e-books to libraries. Why? Penguin, channeling forgettable Hollywood movies, says “It’s complicated” and “difficult.” Really? More difficult than people bypassing you altogether and digitizing a book themselves?

The publishing industry had the luxury of sitting back and watching everything that happened to the music industry and they learned almost nothing. They had 10 years to watch record stores vanish, the rise and fall of Napster, the felling of empires (hello, Mr. Bronfman!), downloading, the rise of the indie artist, the uptick in touring, everything, all of it happened to a comparable industry a decade earlier and the publishing industry…dithered. They watched what happened to Hollywood and the video industry and they…dithered. A collective Nero playing the violin.

And now? Let’s see, the bookstores are in trouble if not crisis. E-books are just about equal (in sales) to print titles. Thousands of authors (too many, frankly, but the gates have fallen, the amount of content being pushed is normal) realize they can bypass the system entirely and sell directly to the public. Instead of seeing the change in technology as an opportunity, the establishment publishing industry, like the music industry before it, is seeing a lot of what is happening as a threat.

It’s all happened before.

And so the publishing industry (or, in American parlance, the “Big 6”) has gotten more conservative (if that’s possible – I’ve written about this before), and…. one of the largest publishers in the world decides they are going to plug this dike by ditching the outfit that provides libraries with e-books. It’s kind of funny. And if I weren’t a writer trying to publish a book right now, I might even laugh.


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