Trashing eBooks in one form or another seems to be all the rage in the publishing industry these days. You can't really blame publishers; it must be hard when you wake up one morning and find that POD services and eBooks have suddenly obliterated your virtual monopoly on the market. But as the debates rage, a lot of attitudes and philosophies towards the reading public that were lurking below the surface are being eagerly aired for public consumption.
Take, for example, this quote from Eric Hellman's blog, Go To Hellman, about Macmillan CEO Sargent:
"That is a very thorny problem", said Sargent. In the past, getting a book from libraries has had a tremendous amount of friction. You have to go to the library, maybe the book has been checked out and you have to come back another time. If it's a popular book, maybe it gets lent ten times, there's a lot of wear and tear, and the library will then put in a reorder. With ebooks, you sit on your couch in your living room and go to the library website, see if the library has it, maybe you check libraries in three other states. You get the book, read it, return it and get another, all without paying a thing. "It's like Netflix, but you don't pay for it. How is that a good model for us?"Eric Hellman, Go To Hellman, Mar 2010
Libraries + eBooks equal free Netflix? Well, if you ignore that libraries don't loan stuff out of state, that libraries are free lenders regardless, and a host of other problems with this comparison... well, it just shows how good the major publishers are at ignoring a lot of the realities inherent with the advancement of the digital age. The short answer to his question "How is that a good model for us?" It isn't. Unfortunately for you, however, the decision about how the future will unfold isn't up to you.
This kind of attitude towards the market is frighteningly indicative of how the producers of consumer goods (not just publishing) view the structure of the open market in our increasingly consumer-driven world. It used to be all about Supply and Demand; We demand, They supply. But these days corporations have grown accustomed to manipulating both sides of the equation. So when they suddenly find themselves unable to dictate exactly how and when we will be able to purchase what they want us to buy, things start to get a bit chaotic, a bit more crazy, and a lot less logical.
You think these major publishers are pulling their hair out over Amazon because it has successfully increased book sales by drastically increasing accessibility? No, they hate Amazon partially because they've ruined the "Buy in Bulk From Us and Bargain Bin What You Don'T Sell" business model, and mostly because they have given the public what publishers have increasingly attempted to deny you: choice.
Ever wonder why when you walk through a Borders, you see three copies of the same books always lining the shelves? Or why you can never find what you are looking for, unless it isn't the newest "Best Seller" or hot celebrity author? They have enough room to stock ten times as many titles as they do. Why don't they? Because the publishers and distributors have a say in what they order and what they stock. The fact is, over fifty percent of the titles sold by Amazon in any given year aren't even available in these borderline monopoly bookstore chains, and you can bet the big boy publishers don't fare well in that equation.
There's a lot to think about in this and other statements by Sargent in this must-read article. Like how Sargent thinks the big publishers will survive because their too unprofitable to fail, or how eBooks are bad because they don't deteriorate and force people to buy new copies (nothing spells profits like planned obsolescence). But what it really gets you thinking about is how these companies aren't concerning themselves with how to compete in a new marketplace. Instead, they are devoting their energies to trying to keep the marketplace the way it is, to somehow hobble the evolution of eCommerce and an ever-changing market so it adheres to their rapidly antiquated business model. They've realized that it has come down to either Us or Them.