Friday, April 26, 2013

Amazon vs. Everyone Else

As I've mentioned before on this blog, in the publishing world of the moment, the battle lines are formed: Amazon against every other publisher in the world. At least that's how it seems, to listen to noise of the writing blogosphere.

The latest salvo from Everybody Else comes from James Patterson, mega bestselling author (reportedly made $94 million last year). He took out an ad in the New York Times recently with the headline "Who will save our books? Our bookstores? Our libraries?" Now, these are three of my favorite things in the world. If I have nothing to read I want to be at a bookstore or library to find a book to read. Of course, I have tons of books to read. Still I find myself in a bookstore or a library at least once a week. It's close to an addiction.

You can see the ad at Joe Konrath's blog. He also has an interesting take on it in his text. The gist of Patterson's argument is: e-books are killing off print books, e-retailing of books (e- and print) are killing off publishers, and the death of bookstore and publishers will be the death of the book. Which will mean the death of the library. At least I think that's Patterson's argument. His solution: The government should do something about it. What exactly I don't know. Make a law banning e-books? Or banning Amazon? Or at least put that upstart e-retailer in its rightful place as a bit player in the book business?

I took logic in college, though I'm no expert at it, but it seems to me the only way Patterson's argument can make sense is that e-books aren't books. Because right now more books are being bought than ever. Print book sales have flat lined, maybe even slightly declined, but e-book sales continue to grow. As said in this discussion over at the Absolute Write forums (in which I'm taking part), Patterson seems confused and unhappy about how the world of books/publishing is changing, and he doesn't like it. So let the all-wise government figure out how to stop progress and keep his world the same.

As I said in the Absolute Write thread, Amazon has produced a better mousetrap, and the world is beating a door to it. Consumers like their prices. They like not having to spend gas to buy a book. They like that they can buy their books, running shoes, and coffee filters all at the same store without hoofing it from section to section. As far as e-books are concerned, they like having organization and wall space available to hand stuff, not to rest bookcases against.

Technology drives everything, I believe. Well, almost everything. I few things are driven by something else. If they don't embrace and exploit technology—they meaning the publishing industry and bookselling industry and the best-selling authors who have made their money using those industries for production and distribution—they will go the way of the milkman and buggy whip manufacturer.

But what he says about the book needing saving is poppycock. The book as a means of transferring information or providing entertainment is alive and well. More are being produced than ever before. Many of these lack the curation function that the publishing industry has provided, but they are available to consumers along side the curated ones. Prices are coming down. Ease of purchase is going up. Organization of personal libraries is easier than ever.

Technology marches on. Sorry, Mr. Patterson, that you don't like it. I'm kind of glad I've never provided you with any revenue.

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