For some time there has been a funny dichotomy in the publishing industry worldwide.

On the one hand publishers have decried the growing influence of powerful tech companies from outside the industry. Google, Amazon, Apple all fall into that category (Amazon aside from being an impressive online retailer is also an amazing tech company). They are feared and despised both as huge outside firms with enormous capabilities and cash compared with publishers and also as companies driving the industry in a direction it wasn’t keen on going.

On the other hand, various parts of the industry have gushed about the latest moves by these companies, Apple’s launch of the iPad as a media’s saviour, Google EBooks as a game changer or now, Google’s One Pass as a way to beat Apple’s new and restrictive trading terms for content bought in App by consumers.

Perhaps the only exception to this has been Amazon who, despite being one of the most innovative and reader friendly companies in the business, has been routinely lambasted. Even it’s clever and effective popularization of ebooks and ereading was seen as a BAD thing. Amazon, it seems, can do no right!

Well I’m sick of it. I tired of hearing the industry complain and point one minute then jump up and down in happiness at the anticipation of NEW things SAVING content the next. I’m tired of bad strategy decisions prompted by poorly thought out positions. I’m really bored with people arguing about why this or that needs protection and honestly I don’t care what Apple does next.

Lots of sensible people have been talking about what publishers should be doing to make their OWN way towards a sustainable future. Mike Shatzkin has written about it, so has Brian O’Leary, Don Linn and Kassia Krozser, many, many others have too. But none of it seems to impact the mainstream discussion.

  • Here’s a simple truth: the web (in particular digital distribution of content) is undermining the existing economic model for publishing
  • A second: the author is gaining power vis-a-vis the publisher
  • A third: the existing system cannot persist, the parts of the industry that don’t change, will fail
  • And a last one: YOU are responsible for your own future and it’s time you stopped waiting for someone else to make it happen

Digital content WILL dominate the future*. You don’t have to like that, but you DO have to accept it. When you accept that you’ll begin to see that the systems behind publishing need to change rapidly or else you need to create a new organisation to work within the new rules (and economic realities).

It’s time for the industry to stop worrying about Apple, Amazon and Google. It is time for the industry to just forget about all of them and to decide how it is going to bring stories to readers in a way that keeps it relevant, interesting and hopefully profitable or else to decide that it is going to grow old and die gracefully. In either case, I’m pretty sure it’s time to shut up and do it.

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*By that I don’t mean print will go away, it won’t, but just as letters have been superseded by email, phone calls and text messages, it will become less important. It will though, have a fascinating and interesting future and it may well be that it’s where your future lies if you decide to pursue certain strategies, but that is YOUR decision.

Via Eoin Purcell’s blog


  1. All that would be lovely if publishers thought about their readers first. Or at all.

    Everything you’ve cited is publishers not knowing who their customer is–or knowing and not caring, or knowing and dismissing them as irrelevant.

    Here’s your own money quote:

    […]Amazon who, despite being one of the most innovative and reader friendly companies in the business, has been routinely lambasted. Even it’s clever and effective popularization of ebooks and ereading was seen as a BAD thing. Amazon, it seems, can do no right!

    It’s become increasingly clear over the course of this shakeout that publishers have no interest in readers. They only have an interest in maintaining the status quo of… Publishing. And its culture.

    Readers? Who needs ’em?

  2. Eoin, it is not that Amazon can’t do anything right — it’s that every time Amazon does something right, it tries to figure out a way to prevent any competition. If Amazon were one-fifth the influence in the marketplace (somewhat like Sony), this would not be a problem. But the larger and more monopolistic Amazon becomes, the more it tries to create a stranglehold, which is why it is perceived as not doing anything right.

    As you know, I’m not an Amazon fan. Sure I’d like to pay less for my purchases; sure I wish its competitors would at least try to duplicate its vaunted customer service — who wouldn’t, as a consumer, want these things? But my fear is that all these things that Amazon does that customers want will disappear once the only choice is Amazon. So I pay a little more and put up with less-friendly customer service because experience shows that once a company is near-monopolistic in a marketplace, the consumer suffers. Do we need to look any further than Adobe and InDesign or Microsoft and Office?

  3. Disintermediation is the end result of the changeover to digital. In the future supply chain there is no space for both publisher and retailer.

    Are publishers truly needed? If not then ‘grow old and die gracefully’ is indeed the best they can hope for. Amazon is disliked mainly because it most clearly foreshadows a future without publishers.

  4. I think it’s natural that businesses be concerned when they see their traditional business model crumbling. Those who read the Borders bankruptcy articles will have seen that publishers were among the major unsecured creditors (unsecured means their chances of getting their money back are low). At least some of us have been pushing eBooks for a decade or longer, so I think it’s incorrect to say we resist technology, but we (from large to small) are concerned about the possibility that any one distribution channel will become dominant. We don’t want to be dependent on Amazon, so of course we welcome strong entrants to the eBook distribution process, whether these be Apple, Google, or anyone else.

    For those who believe publishers add no value, disintermediation is an option. I wouldn’t be in the business I am if I didn’t believe that publishers add considerable value. From my perspective, every book I’ve added has been significantly altered and improved by the editing we provide. From the consumer standpoint, knowing that a respectable publisher stands behind a book gives a certain amount of comfort. Although we all know that some bad books have been published, anyone who’s ever confronted a slush pile knows that a mountain of truly bad books wait out there, ready to overwhelm the leisure reader and turn pleasure reading into something painful.

    The publishing model will continue to evolve. I like to think my own model, of aggressive pricing, high royalty rates, and close workings with authors, is a step in the right direction. Maybe not, of course. That most of my authors submit additional books and want to continue with me seems like a sign that they, at least, believe that I’m adding value to the process.

    Rob Preece

  5. “But my fear is that all these things that Amazon does that customers want will disappear once the only choice is Amazon.”

    So you expect people to continue to buy from Amazon once Amazon stops doing all the things that made them customer friendly and therefore successful. Hmmm, somehow I think there is a problem with your logic. If Amazon stops being a company I want to buy from, I will stop buying things from Amazon. They will never be the only game in town, there is just too much money to be made by being the #2 or #3 retailer.

  6. An excellent article and right on the money, Eoin.

    The big Publishers have had a century of big fat lazy profits as they sat back and watched the money flow in and enjoyed their big fat cigars in their rosewood board rooms with a myriad of over paid and over employed managers on expense accounts.

    It is a lazy industry that became inefficient and slack and indifferent to readers. The fixed prices they engineered told you everything you needed to know about their attitude.

    Even now in 2011 it is holding conferences with lectures and seminars on issues that it has been forewarned about 5 or 10 years ago and ignored! It’s comical.

    Amazon has done for the publishing industry what it totally failed to do itself. As it circled the wagons around it’s ageing business model, others stepped up and moved the business into the 21st century. I have no time whatsoever for Amazon knockers. It is they who have delivered the Kindle. It is they who have delivered phenomenal catalogues for delivery in a couple of days at reasonable prices. If they have grown to hold a huge slice of the market then that is because no one else has done it ! It is idiotic and narrow minded to attack amazon for being successful and customer centric. Amazon didn’t insist on Agency Pricing. Amazon didn’t insist on DRM. Amazon didn’t insist on Geo restrictions. Amazon hasn’t tried to monopolise any parts of the industry.

    The truth, in case Richard panics, is that there is plenty of competition bubbling up, as Rob correctly points out above. The eBook market is castrating the Big Publishers and it’s not a day too soon. They could have made the cut short and quick, and deftly moved to adapt. But they chose to go head down in the sand and squeal.

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