But the Amazon story first. On the 16th of this month, the New York Times published an article about Amazon bypassing publishers and signing authors to contracts to publish through Amazon. For some months now, Amazon has been introducing “imprints”. Several well-known authors signed exclusive publishing contracts with Amazon. There were a few ripples when that happened, but nothing like the response to the Times’ article last week. The specifics are pretty simple. This fall, Amazon will publish 122 titles. These titles will be across a variety of genres and some will be digital and some hard copy. Among the authors will be self-help guru Tim Ferrias and actor/director Penny Marshall.And the cries of foul were heard far and wide from legacy publishers.
According to the Times, “Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.”
So let’s look at that statement. While I can’t speak to whether or not Amazon is “aggressively wooing” top authors, it would be a fool not to. The same publishers who are crying foul are the ones who backed the agency pricing plan for e-books. This is the plan that lets the publishers set the price for their e-books so there is no competition across the different e-book retailers. Worse, the general reading public doesn’t understand that Amazon can’t control the prices for those books from the agency model publishers, and it is the one on the receiving end of the bad customer feelings.
Look. People still like to read. The digital transformation is changing the delivery mechanism that lets them read, but they still like to read.
The entrenched publishing structure is demonstrating that it is entirely unable to adjust to the digital transformation, and so, sooner or later, it will collapse and be swept away by new, more savvy, competitors. That’s just the nature of markets and creative destruction.
If Amazon comes up with better models, then it will prevail. It certainly seems to understand the implications of digital creation, marketing, and delivery far better than the dying dead tree houses.
I don’t think we are heading for unalloyed chaos in terms of book marketing. Just what the new structures will look like is still up in the air, but that new structures – including gatekeeping functions – will emerge is, in my opinion, inevitable. The amount of money at stake more or less guarantees it.