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View Full Version : Amazon is doing the world a favor by crushing book publishers



William Haskins
10-30-2014, 06:29 AM
matt yglesias goes there.

http://www.vox.com/2014/10/22/7016827/amazon-hachette-monopoly


Here's a little real talk about the book publishing industry — it adds almost no value, it is going to be wiped off the face of the earth soon, and writers and readers will be better off for it.

The fundamental uselessness of book publishers is why I thought it was dumb of the Department of Justice to even bother prosecuting them for their flagrantly illegal cartel behavior (http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2012/03/doj_vs_book_publishers_who_cares_if_apple_and_publ ishers_are_colluding_to_raise_e_book_prices_.html) a couple of years back, and it's why I'm deaf to the argument that Amazon's ongoing efforts to crush Hachette (http://www.vox.com/2014/5/24/5746868/9-questions-about-amazon-and-hachette-you-were-embarassed-to-ask) are evidence of a public policy problem that needs remedy. Franklin Foer's recent efforts to label Amazon a monopolist are unconvincing (http://www.vox.com/2014/10/10/6954107/amazon-monopoly), and Paul Krugman's narrower argument that they have some form of monopsony power in the book industry (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/opinion/paul-krugman-amazons-monopsony-is-not-ok.html) is equally wrongheaded.

What is indisputably true is that Amazon is on track to destroy the businesses of incumbent book publishers. But the many authors and intellectuals who've been convinced that their interests — or the interests of literary culture writ large — are identical with those of the publishers are simply mistaken.

William Haskins
10-30-2014, 06:33 AM
Matt Yglesias has a little “real talk” for us at Vox. Amazon is doing us all a favor, he says, by crushing the fundamentally useless middleman between author and reader: the book publisher.

Yglesias’s piece is mostly a rehash of familiar arguments that often come from people who occupy a similar position to Yglesias’s: They are, broadly speaking, outsiders to the publishing world and more closely associated with the broader fields of business, economics, and technology. They appear to believe their outsider status allows them to see more clearly how broken publishing is; they’re not captive minds. The insiders tend to respond that the outsiders could stand to be less ignorant of the industry they’re criticizing. This fight tends to devolve quickly.

Perhaps it would help to reframe what a book publisher really is in terms that might resonate with Yglesias and his teammates in this debate, such as Josh Barro and Marc Andreessen and a long line of book-industry critics that precede them.

A publisher’s list of books is in essence a risk pool, a term most often associated with health insurance. In the insurance business, the profits from the healthy people outweigh the big losses from the sick ones because the healthy outnumber the sick. In publishing, it’s the opposite, yet the underlying concept is the same. Most books lose money, but the ones that make money earn enough to cover all those novels that didn’t sell.
http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119977/what-matt-yglesias-doesnt-understand-about-book-publishing

Kylabelle
10-30-2014, 06:33 AM
:popcorn:

ShaunHorton
10-30-2014, 06:35 AM
Que the anti-Amazon torches and pitchforks in 3...2...1...

William Haskins
10-30-2014, 06:37 AM
The battle between Amazon and the Big Five publishers is complicated by the fact that neither “side” is exactly easy for authors and readers to be on. No one who cares about a diverse and healthy literary marketplace, where new ideas and writers can reach a wide audience — and even non-blockbuster authors are paid enough for their work so that they can continue doing it — can reasonably side with Amazon.

But the publishers have botched so many opportunities in recent years, and have been so maddeningly slow to adapt to the digital marketplace, that it’s hard not to feel that they deserve some kind of comeuppance. So when Matt Yglesias writes a Vox explainer (http://www.vox.com/2014/10/22/7016827/amazon-hachette-monopoly) about how we shouldn’t feel sorry for publishers, who are “superfluous” and “terrible at marketing” and deserve to go out of business, it’s excruciating to read not because it’s so off-base — which, for the most part, it is – but because it’s not entirely wrong.

Publishers’ interests aren’t always aligned with those of authors, or readers, and a lot of their business practices don’t make, and have never made, much sense. In spite of that, though, there are a few great reasons why writers and readers need to stay on their side.
http://www.salon.com/2014/10/22/vox_on_amazon_way_off_base_not_entirely_wrong/

Drachen Jager
10-30-2014, 07:25 AM
Sounds like somebody couldn't get his novel published.

This argument gets re-hashed every time the political right wants to destroy an institution that protects it's members financial well being.

And the 1% takes a bigger slice of the pie while everyone else gets squeezed further in the name of lower prices. Why do we need lower prices? Well because 99% of us don't have any f&^$ing money!

RightHoJeeves
10-30-2014, 08:38 AM
The guy says publishers are superfluous, but then doesn't actually say why? Sure, you don't actually need a publisher to print your book out because you can put it online, but surely the real value they provide is (for lack of a better word) quality control?

Let's not get into the whole traditional/self published thing, but (most) consumers place value in publishers for that reason. Therefore, they aren't superfluous.

rugcat
10-30-2014, 08:51 AM
One of the things he fails to address (among many) is what happens when Amazon takes over completely. When writers have nowhere else to go I'm sure Amazon will adjust their pricing policies to make sure that authors do even better – because after all, they are well known for their selfless business practices and deep concern for the welfare of writers.

Hapax Legomenon
10-30-2014, 08:53 AM
Publishers are generally accepted as gatekeepers and quality control. They prevent(ed) a lot of things from getting 'out there'. On one hand, this is good. It gets books professionally edited and covered and published and (sometimes) advertised and you can usually trust that you're getting a quality product (as compared to many self-published novels that you might pick up that, let's just say, require a ton of editing.)

On the other hand, as the "gatekeepers," they may publish to trends and strictly publish what they view as "safe" books, and therefore systematically keep certain unpopular themes/groups from having a voice in the market.

This is from the perspective of a reader, of course.

The idea that publishers add no value to a book is absurd. There are certainly problems with traditional publishing, but they're not ones that being crushed by Amazon will fix.

blacbird
10-30-2014, 10:49 AM
Amazon is doing the publishing world a favor by squashing publishers in the same way that WalMart is doing the retail world a favor by squashing local retailers.

I very much doubt that Jeff Bezos reads books, aside from those his accountants may present to him.

caw

aliceshortcake
10-30-2014, 01:11 PM
Somewhere in the region of 99% of the self/vanity-pubbed books that didn't have the benefit of quality control, editing and distribution are sitting on Amazon's virtual shelves, unread and unknown to everyone except the author's friends and family.

Wilde_at_heart
10-30-2014, 04:02 PM
One of the things he fails to address (among many) is what happens when Amazon takes over completely. When writers have nowhere else to go I'm sure Amazon will adjust their pricing policies to make sure that authors do even better – because after all, they are well known for their selfless business practices and deep concern for the welfare of writers.

Precisely. Anyone who calls arguments against monopoly 'wrongheaded' is wrongheaded ...

Also, some people like a degree of pre-assured quality control.


Amazon is doing the publishing world a favor by squashing publishers in the same way that WalMart is doing the retail world a favor by squashing local retailers.

I very much doubt that Jeff Bezos reads books, aside from those his accountants may present to him.

caw

Or his PR people: http://www.businessinsider.com/jeff-bezos-favorite-books-2014-10?op=1

Parametric
10-30-2014, 04:07 PM
One of the things he fails to address (among many) is what happens when Amazon takes over completely. When writers have nowhere else to go I'm sure Amazon will adjust their pricing policies to make sure that authors do even better – because after all, they are well known for their selfless business practices and deep concern for the welfare of writers.

In all fairness, I'm not sure that publishers are well known for their selfless business practices and deep concern for the welfare of writers either.

RikWriter
10-30-2014, 04:26 PM
Sounds like somebody couldn't get his novel published.

This argument gets re-hashed every time the political right wants to destroy an institution that protects it's members financial well being.


:rolleyes

Uhhh...what the heck does this argument have to do with the political right?
How is the usefulness or uselessness of book publishing companies a political argument?
Why would you bring politics into it at all?

RikWriter
10-30-2014, 04:30 PM
One of the things he fails to address (among many) is what happens when Amazon takes over completely. When writers have nowhere else to go I'm sure Amazon will adjust their pricing policies to make sure that authors do even better – because after all, they are well known for their selfless business practices and deep concern for the welfare of writers.

Why do you assume that another company wouldn't rise up to challenge Amazon and try to beat it at its own game? If traditional publishing companies do go under, it's likely that any number of competitors would come around to try to get a slice of Amazon's pie, and if they offered more profits for authors or cheaper prices for consumers, they'd succeed.

Barbara R.
10-30-2014, 05:40 PM
In all fairness, I'm not sure that publishers are well known for their selfless business practices and deep concern for the welfare of writers either.

Ha! That's true, though over the decades writers and agents have achieved some gains for writers. Advances, for example, are a thing of beauty. The question isn't who loves writers more (answer: Writers) but rather where writers' best interests lie; and that is certainly not with a monolithic Amazon controlling the entire industry. Their first attempt to squeeze out publishers failed when very few best-selling writers heeded their siren call. (They hired an actual publisher to run that business, Larry Kirshenbaum, who left when it failed to achieve lift-off.) But they haven't given up, they just got smarter and started creating their own best-selling stable and a list of Amazon "exclusives."

As a consumer, I'm as addicted to Amazon as the next guy. I own two Kindles and use them constantly. Funny thing is, even the publishers battling Amazon use Kindles to read submissions. The reader in me loves Amazon; the writer in me, not so much.

Hapax Legomenon
10-30-2014, 07:31 PM
Do they? I would think that any ereader would do...

I currently have a nook simple, but am thinking of getting a kobo when it inevitably goes kaput. BN has done some things that annoy me.

I suppose it would be a good time to note that the ebook market is not monopolized yet, though Amazon tries and tries.

Amadan
10-30-2014, 07:55 PM
Uhhh...what the heck does this argument have to do with the political right?
How is the usefulness or uselessness of book publishing companies a political argument?
Why would you bring politics into it at all?


Well, there is a very vocal contingent of more or less right-wing writers who've been loudly defending Amazon and celebrating the impending demise of the Big Five, presumably because publishers are a bunch of liberals who try to keep conservatives from being published. Also, self-publishing appears at first glance (especially to the unpublished) to be more of a libertarian DIY enterprise, if you don't look at it too closely and ignore the big hulking Amazon ecosystem in which you're swimming.

That said, I'm in the middle ground myself - I tried to avoid Amazon and buy my books from other places, but I've mostly given up. Borders died, Kobo is now making it hard for me to download my ebooks except to my Kobo app, B&N's e-storefront sucks almost as bad as Borders' did, while Amazon makes everything (except DRM-less reading) cheap, easy, and convenient.

I realize the long-term consequences of Amazon remaining dominant in publishing and eating everyone else's lunch, but the fact is that they just do things better, and consumers are going to respond to that.

J.S.F.
10-31-2014, 06:44 AM
Where dat popcorn?

Oh, here it is... :popcorn:

This gonna be gooooooood!

Or not.

Thing is--and it's sorta sad--the ones who'll suffer most will be the writers. Some publishers, large, medium and small, as has been noted previously, are not all that concerned with writers making a livelihood unless they're big earners for the company. The publisher's job is to ostensibly put out the best written work the writer has and do their best to sell it. The rest is up to the author and of course, public opinion.

Should Amazon eventually rule the roost, they may find it harder to stay as the only game in town. There will still be upstart companies which, ultimately, is a good thing. There will still be competition, and Amazon may find themselves on the losing end. Not at first, but down the road, maybe...if the readers decide it just ain't worth it to buy what they got.

We shall see, and in the meantime, pass the :popcorn: !

amergina
10-31-2014, 06:54 AM
This thread makes me think of this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8t4pmlHRokg

kuwisdelu
10-31-2014, 07:04 AM
Why do you assume that another company wouldn't rise up to challenge Amazon and try to beat it at its own game?

Because you need an enormous amount of capital to compete with Amazon at their own game.

Apple had to break the law to even make a dent.

juniper
10-31-2014, 07:35 AM
Why do you assume that another company wouldn't rise up to challenge Amazon and try to beat it at its own game?

I'd like to see that but doubt it will happen. Amazon's most brilliant move was in making people dependent on their Kindles, which I've heard are sold at below cost, just to get people hooked on Amazon. They've got a headstart of what, 15 years?

I don't know if another company could successfully emulate Amazon, just as other companies - including the almighty Google - have tried to do another Facebook and haven't succeeded.



I currently have a nook simple, but am thinking of getting a kobo when it inevitably goes kaput. BN has done some things that annoy me.


Derail ahead:

I started with a Kobo mini and liked the e-book experience. Didn't like the Kobo store or lack of communication with them. Was going to buy another Kobo - their Kobo Glo - because I wanted a bigger one with lighting so I could read in the dark.

Went with the Nook Glowlight instead, mostly because Kobo has sucky customer service. Only way to contact them (if you're in the USA) is via email on their site. No phone calls or online chatting. And they don't return the emails for several weeks - if at all.

I posted a question on their FB page that went unanswered for about 2 weeks. By that time, I'd bought the new Nook.

Kobo software and designs are better, I think, but I didn't want to deal with a company that doesn't care about communicating with its customers.

YMMV.

Hapax Legomenon
10-31-2014, 08:00 AM
Derail ahead:

I started with a Kobo mini and liked the e-book experience. Didn't like the Kobo store or lack of communication with them. Was going to buy another Kobo - their Kobo Glo - because I wanted a bigger one with lighting so I could read in the dark.

Went with the Nook Glowlight instead, mostly because Kobo has sucky customer service. Only way to contact them (if you're in the USA) is via email on their site. No phone calls or online chatting. And they don't return the emails for several weeks - if at all.

I posted a question on their FB page that went unanswered for about 2 weeks. By that time, I'd bought the new Nook.

Kobo software and designs are better, I think, but I didn't want to deal with a company that doesn't care about communicating with its customers.

YMMV.


I've heard that too, but the vast majority of my reading now is from stuff not sold through any of the big ebook stores. As long as it can reliably side-load adobe DRM and DRM-less standard ePubs, I don't think I'd really have a problem.

CrastersBabies
10-31-2014, 10:27 AM
Reads like a person who is bitter to me. But, I could be reading into it.

Arpeggio
11-09-2014, 05:00 PM
He makes a point here:

"But consumers who prefer to buy a digital book from a non-Amazon outlet have several easy options available, and thus a book publisher who chooses to eschew Amazon will not actually be unable to reach customers."

However I would advise from experience, that at the very least, you might want to put your book on kindle because if you don't, someone else might. That happened to me a while ago but since Kindle Unlimited I have noticed an increase in copyright infringed material being sold on Amazon, and with healthy sales ranks making good money.

At least with my distribution channels being the same as the big publishers I get more clout against this sort of thing. In other ways I also see "large scale not so immediately visible interests" represented in the large publishers. If you think Amazon vs Giants is bad, do you think that Amazon vs Self-publishers would be better?

Kylabelle
11-09-2014, 07:47 PM
If you think Amazon vs Giants is bad, do you think that Amazon vs Self-publishers would be better?

That's sigline material.

Filigree
11-09-2014, 08:22 PM
And worthy of consideration several times over.

Most of my sales are through Amazon. Many of my e-book purchases, too. I know authors who are doing well at self-publishing there. But I don't for a moment ascribe completely benevolent intentions to Amazon. They're out to make money and bury the competition.

Books are probably still a loss-leader compared to other consumer goods sales. Right now, the company has incentive to drive down book prices. When they have more control over the market that will probably change. But how many of us honestly think Amazon would give back the same proportion of royalties, in that case? Absent strong competition, they'd have no reason to do so. Be assured, they'll try to couch such changes in the best possible light, too.

If I self-pub via Kindle, that won't be my only digital platform. And I'll go into it with a healthy skepticism toward Amazon's services-marketing arm.

Arpeggio
11-09-2014, 10:47 PM
That's sigline material.

lol thanks, I made it my sig.


And worthy of consideration several times over.

Most of my sales are through Amazon. Many of my e-book purchases, too. I know authors who are doing well at self-publishing there.

Thankyou. It’s good but I don’t think it’s future proof.


But I don't for a moment ascribe completely benevolent intentions to Amazon. They're out to make money and bury the competition.

Yes, although they’re out to bury the competition by not making money, having not turned a profit in 20 years. Here’s a chart of turnover compared to net profit (or revenue compared to net income as they put it)…

http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-a-long-view-of-amazons-profits-2013-8

If money were the “oxygen” of business you could say that competing against Amazon on price is like having an underwater breath-holding competition with a dead body, which is the equivalent of what Amazon is by normal business standards. No other company has been given such leeway by wall-street, ever since Amazon was “floated” (pardon the pun).


Books are probably still a loss-leader compared to other consumer goods sales.

Amazon loses money on its prime service and its entire retail business.

http://seekingalpha.com/article/1336931-amazon-loses-money-on-both-prime-and-its-entire-direct-retail-business

The only places its makes any money are 3rd Party sales (3P) and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Its accounting is never very transparent either.


Right now, the company has incentive to drive down book prices. When they have more control over the market that will probably change. But how many of us honestly think Amazon would give back the same proportion of royalties, in that case? Absent strong competition, they'd have no reason to do so. Be assured, they'll try to couch such changes in the best possible light, too.

Amazon has the patent on selling second hand eBooks.

http://motherboard.vice.com/en_uk/blog/used-ebooks-is-a-ridiculous-idea-that-could-ruin-authors-publishers