Competition to the Rescue

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.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

3 thoughts on “Competition to the Rescue”

  1. While reading your previous posts on e-readers, I’ve thought, If Apple came out with a e-reader, I would seriously consider it. Whenever I use an Apple product, I think, These people know how to meet customer needs in design. Conversely, other company’s products are so poorly planned that I have a hard time not quickly concluding that the decision-makers and designers are lazy and/or arrogant. Have you seen “Objectified?” About product design, this documentary has a relatively lengthy interview with Apple’s design leader.

  2. I am on the verge of publishing myself. I am certain I am not alone in this. I think that is another problem for publishers.

    Apple has definitely done a great job with iTunes and its share of downloaded music. But that seems to me an aberration for Apple. Usually Apple seems to find a way to fail to take advantage of its opportunities and resources. I guess hope does spring eternal.

    There are others who can compete with Amazon but will they? Google really hasn’t competed so much as improvise and improve or so it seems to me. Microsoft might as they definitely have shown ability to compete. Barnes and Noble doesn’t seem too agile. Maybe someone else from a totally different industry, too.

    Amazon is still for me the superlative customer sensitive vendor. They promise a lot and deliver more in every case. Really cannot say that about very many vendors I use.

    For me there is still nothing that approaches the Kinle 2. That’s for my reading. Others undoubtedly differ. Even the DX is not something I want but many other readers do. A competitor is going to have to offer something considerably better to me for my reading preferences in order to even make me consider an alternative. I’ve seen nothing so far that even delivers the same much less more.

    It really is difficult sometimes to observe the transformation of entire industries. That’s especially true now as it seems the pace is accelerating and there are more segments than ever involved.

    Excellent post.

  3. No, I haven’t seen “Objectified” yet but have heard a good deal about it. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll be sure to check it out.


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