Taking Care of Books, Taking Care of Business
As new technology emerges, book publishers are caught in a business battle for market share between the dominant technology giants, but this month’s announcements from Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and then Harper about better timing their e-book editions are good steps forward.
The announcements reflect the brave hearts of book publishers in a continuing vigilance, as The Wall Street Journal reported on December 7, 2009: “The message from many print-industry executives is that they don't want to end up like the music industry, which they say lost control of the business amid the explosive growth of Apple.”
Another ground-breaking announcement came this month as well. Magazine giants News Corp., Time Warner, Condé Nast Publications Inc., Hearst Corp., and Meredith Corp. are set to “unveil a joint venture to prepare print publications for a new generation of electronic readers and other digital devices.” These media companies, all of which have book publishing entities, are teaming up not just to survive, but to free themselves from an undertow of advertising revenue losses which have dragged them down. The Wall Street Journal reports, “The aim is to create a common set of technology standards for how magazines and other publications look on e-readers and other digital devices, some of which haven't been invented yet.”
I suggest that the book publishing industry lead with a similar coalition to standardize conditions for e-books such as timing, pricing, and marketing — as opposed to letting the technology industry doing so.
The emergence of digital formats for book-intended content is a promising opportunity. I welcome e-books alongside audio books, hardcover, trade paperback, mass market, large print, and other formats to meet reader’s needs. However, it is important to recognize that those pushing a revolution in the digitalization of book content have vested interests to funnel that content to be within their distribution and thus within their profit-making enterprises. By way of their revolution, they hope to conceal that they know far less about publishing, reader preferences, and our society’s shared culture of the book.Continued on the next page