Thursday, July 3, 2014

So Much News, So Little Time

It seems of late that many things are happening in the world that I care about, and that attract my attention. I hear a news story and I think, "I could write a good blog post about that." But having gone to a twice a week posting schedule, how can I get it all in?

For example, in the national news is the story about the Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby, where religious freedom is said to trump certain government mandates. Or, stated another way, the government can't mandate something that compliance with will cause someone to violate their religious convictions. The full fallout from this decision isn't known. Yet, it's a prominent news story that's deserving of attention.

Then there are the scandals that are plaguing the Obama Administration. Phony scandals the president calls them. Real scandals the press calls them, at least that part of the press that is covering them. Revelations come weekly in the IRS and VA situations, revelations that make government mismanagement or misconduct seem more and more certain. What happened in Benghazi has never been fully explained. The situation on the Mexican border is pathetic. Any one of these things could justify a post with political analysis.

Closer to my own world, a couple of things about writing and publishing are making major headlines. Don't look for them on the evening news or in the New York Times. They aren't big nationally, but they are among writers. The negotiations between Amazon and Hachette continue. The very people who are upset at Amazon for driving down prices are now upset with them for failing to discount Hachette books, saying that they have lost sales as a result. And still we don't know for sure, because the negotiations are taking place with a non-disclosure agreement, exactly what the issues are. Some say Amazon is trying to strong-arm Hachette; some think Hachette is trying to force Amazon to charge higher prices. We still wait on the conclusion to and fallout from this.

And, in still other news, on July 1 the NY public library held a panel discussion/forum on Amazon and its impact on the book world. The panel included James Patterson, who has been an outspoken critic of changes that are occurring in publishing, changes he doesn't like. He said bookstores and libraries are threatened. He wants the government to take action. Mind you, he's never said what action he wants the government to take. I can only presume he wants some kind of law that either reigns in Amazon or otherwise props up book prices. How that would help libraries I don't know. It's also possible he might want e-book prices significantly raises or their distribution curtailed. Maybe the latter will help libraries.

Also on the panel is an intellectual property attorney named David Vandergriff. He runs a blog popular among self-publishers, called The Passive Voice, and he is known as the Passive Guy. I read his blog daily and comment from time to time. He posted a summary of the panel and his impressions of his fellow panelists and what they seem to think the condition of the publishing industry is. Very insightful. I commented on the thread. Comments are still being posted by PG's loyal followers, with a few drive-by, non-engagement posts by one woman who disagrees with PG.

I haven't listened to the recording of the panel discussion yet, but will do so, probably next Monday. The gist of it is: the publishing industry is in trouble; Amazon is the reason; something must be done. However, the big five publishers in the USA are making good profits, perhaps even record profits. Discounting by Amazon is driving sales to them. E-books are more profitable than print books. So what's the problem? The problem is that Amazon is such a big bookseller that the publishing industry doesn't like it.

Everyone seems to be predicting the fall of Big Publishing. I don't see it myself. Printers should be concerned, as e-book's growing share of the market will shrink their work. Booksellers should be concerned (especially Barnes & Noble), as people are discovering the ease of on-line shopping. But publishers don't look to me to be in trouble. What could hurt publishers? Only two things that I can see.

1. The fail to embrace new technology and methods.
2. Writers, including big name writers, begin abandoning them in droves in favor of self-publishing.

I don't see the latter happening in the next five years, probably not in the next ten years. The world has too many writers wanting to break into publishing that, even if more and more authors choose the self-publishing route, plenty of other writers will willingly step into their places.

However, I do see big publishing failing to embrace technology, in the form of e-books. They want e-book prices high to prop up the print book market. If e-books cost $15 and hardbacks cost $25, people will still buy hardbacks. But if e-books are $5 and hardbacks $25, fewer hardbacks will be sold. Already the print market is stagnant while the e-book market is still growing. Yet Big Publishing insists on keeping e-book prices high—even colluded with Apple to make that happen—so as to save the print book market. They don't seem to realize that their insistence on high prices are driving book buyers to the self-published market, where e-books typically sell for half (or less) of what Big Publishing charges, and where paperbacks, even at print-on-demand prices, are undercutting hardbacks enough to take market share.

This type of behavior will sink the publishing industry, eventually. When? I can't predict that, but again I doubt it will have significant impact in the next five years. Ten years? Perhaps. Quite a few more things have to happen before the decline comes.

No comments: