Ken Auletta appeared on Charlie Rose last week in response to his feature in the New Yorker about the reaction of the publishing industry to Apple’s iPad.
I won’t summarize his article here since I’ve provided you with a link. You can watch the interview of the April 23rd show on his web site:http://www.charlierose.com/ on Hulu or Rose’s podcast. I just got around to reading Auletta’s feature and the taped interview so my comments aren’t the breaking news expected of a blog.
CNET has demonstrated the technical aspects of the iPad, and I’ve played with it at the Apple Store, but I’m not qualified to give an analysis of the device nor is that my intent. Almost a year ago I commented about E-readers, the Kindle and the Nook and the possible impact upon publishing. Auletta goes much more into detail about the strategies of publishers in trying to cope with the Internet and how some have more successfully made the transition than others.
While the World Wide Web certainly has generated a revolution in the flow of information, I see these gadgets as more of an evolution of what has been happening for the past 15 years with the use of the Internet. I recall my first experience with WWW in 1995 when the Internet became intelligible to ordinary people and you didn’t have to deal with FTP, protocols, and URL addresses in code. The issue is more than moving beyond print to a new medium. The question is how to monetize the online versions of newspapers, books, and magazines without cannibalizing their print editions. Publishers have taken various approaches to paid subscriptions in print and online, or a mixture of the two, and how to use advertising as the basis of the their business model.
The recession of 2008 threw a monkey wretch into a lot of those plans, and publishers are just starting to dig out from the loss of advertising both in print and online. Of course, in spite of E-readers, book publishers still rely primarily on bookstores as their method of distribution—Amazon not withstanding. I buy primarily from Amazon because my local independent bookstore has an archaic ordering system and can’t stock the books I want. I buy occasionally from them when an author is appearing on tour, and I regularly shop the remainder tables at Barnes & Noble. I’m less interested in what is new or the latest thing than I am in a topic that appeals to me. I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned it before, but I don’t read or write fiction so I’m blind about all of that genre that constitutes most of the best seller lists. But now, back to Auletta:
Auletta gave a history of the relationship between Amazon and the publishers, the appearance of the Kindle, and the difference with them and the development of the iPad and the iBookstore. He gave an abbreviated version in his interview with Rose. I liked his dig when he quoted Jason Epstein as saying “We didn’t need eighteen layers of executives,” which was another way of saying that the mergers and acquisitions of book publishers has led to a corporate bureaucracy similar to what occurred in other industries that became too large to be efficient. The publishing industry already had changed dramatically even before the Internet came along. He is more generous in his comments about publishers than I would be by saying that “although the system is inefficient, it supports a class of professional writers, which might not otherwise exist.” He doesn’t mention the function of literary agents or how in many cases they have replaced editors as the interface with authors leaving the editors only to function as the guide through the publishing maze rather than actually editing a manuscript or working closely with an author. The other operator in online publishing is, according to Auletta, going to open another online e-book store called Google Editions. I won’t rehash the negotiations between the publishers and these companies (Amazon, Apple, and Google), but it is obvious that the issues are broader than simply whether books will be published in print or electronic format. The bookstore chains are very involved in the mix, as witnessed by Barnes & Noble’s entry with the Nook. If “people don’t read anymore,” how can publishers continue to print thousands of different books every year? What about the huge growth in the self-publishing market where authors simply go around traditional publishers? That used to be considered strictly a vanity market, but it is growing rapidly. I’m sitting very close to one of those publishers http://www.Lulu.com that also is located in Raleigh.
Stay tuned for new developments.