At BookExpo America last week, the buzz at the show wasn’t about any new titles, or even any new apps, but about the bare-knuckle brawl between Amazon and Hachette over e-book pricing. The debate raises sharp, difficult questions about what lies ahead for publishers and authors.
Is Amazon really fighting for their customers’ sake, or is the e-retailer giant looking to disable or destroy publishers? Does Amazon help authors and independent publishers more than it can ever harm them? Is Hachette (and by extension the other leading houses) looking to engineer a return of “agency pricing” – something lost when the Dept. of Justice accused many of them of colluding with Apple to achieve the same goal in 2010? Is the New York Times right that strong-arm tactics may backfire on Amazon?
“What bemuses me most about the media coverage of the Amazon/Hachette fight, is the way so many have cast Amazon’s market power as ‘evil,’ and questioned the impact on the future of ideas,” notes Andrew Albanese, Publishers Weekly senior writer. “But we’ve been having this same conversation in publishing for decades. Since the 1980s, we’ve watched the publishing industry consolidate to the point where five companies now control 90% of the bestseller list. And last year, the industry collectively yawned when the two biggest companies merged and now control as much as 50% of bestsellers. And over the last few decades, big publishing enabled big retailing to devastate the vibrant patchwork of independent bookstores in this country.”
Every Friday, CCC’s “Beyond the Book” speaks with the editors and reporters of “Publishers Weekly” for an early look at the news that publishers, editors, authors, agents and librarians will be talking about when they return to work on Monday.