What challenges do publishers have? Not just a faltering economy and declining reading rates; their problems are legion. To name but a few:
- They are stuck in one of the few industries that maintains a prehistoric (okay, decades-old) returns system, allowing stores to send back any book at any time–for full credit.
- They rely on a few bestsellers to subsidize the rest of their publishing programs.
- The eight-hundred-pound online bookseller, Amazon, is in a position to sign authors directly, taking, say, 50 percent of sales for production and fulfillment and giving 50 percent to the authors (instead of the standard 10-20 percent). For ebooks, the author could get even more.
In fact, Amazon’s monopolistic designs are laid out in even scarier detail by Adam Penenberg in Fast Company’s recent cover story. Amazon saw how Apple gained control of electronic music distribution and has designs on doing the same for books. Once in place, Amazon can make offers to publishers that they cannot refuse–or cut out any who don’t believe resistance is futile.
What is needed is someone to compete with Amazon. Google is certainly big enough but with books they have focused on public domain content. Then who?
As it turns out, Apple may become the publisher’s best friend. If they release (as rumor suggests) a multi-use, four-color, touch-screen media tablet that handles books, video, music the web, email and more–that’s a lot more attractive than the slightly clunky, single-color Kindle . . . and laptop and a Blackberry and an iPod and an iPhone.
Apple is also focused on designing beautiful electronic devices instead of having avaricous designs on whole industries. With its iTunes digital distribution system already in place, Apple could then save the day by making sure all the power for the entire publishing enterprise is not in the hands of a single company.
So, while Amazon is waiting for the right moment to launch its full-frontal assault on the publishing industry, I’m waiting for Apple–or some other creative company with appropriately modest ambitions and deep pockets–to rain on its parade.