Not a day goes by without a colleague, friend or family member emailing me a link to another article about the war between Amazon and the publishing industry. It makes sense, really. After all, I am an Amazon author — among the first writers to sign with one of Amazon Publishing’s new traditional imprints, and also one of many authors to find their way to the reading public via one of the innovative publishing venues emerging in the new world. So where do I come down on all the issues over e-books? Well, pretty much wherever the reader does.
It’s the Reader That Matters
I write to be read. Naturally, earning a living along the way would be nice. And of course I am concerned about the impact the emotionally charged power plays between publishers, distributors and retailers will have on my book sales. Am I sad that B&N and some independent booksellers won’t carry my books in their stores? Sure, you bet. All I can really do about any of it is decide how to work with whatever options are left to me. But here’s the thing. When any retailer limits their customer’s options they really only hurt themselves. Readers, like all consumers, are driven by availability, price, and ease of purchase. They want what they want when they want it. Readers create demand, not booksellers or publishers or distributors. And let us not forget that in the age of the author-preneur, I have the ability to influence my own market share more than ever before. Locking me out of one sand box will only send my readers looking for somewhere else to play. The net result, no matter how you look at it, is a lost sale. What sense does that make?
Standing on Principle
That’s not to say that I don’t understand the arguments on both sides of this particular fence. I have always been and always will be an outspoken advocate of the small business, in particular the independent book store. For many, their livelihood is at stake in these very difficult economic times. But doing business in a consumer driven economy is always fickle, and change will always come. Survival doesn’t depend on leveling the field, it depends on innovation, adaptation, and the ability to respond quickly to consumer demands. In the end, it’s the forward-thinking proprietor with the ability to change it up on a dime who is left standing. No amount of boycotting will change that. Some folks have already figured out that when you can’t force an obstacle out of your way, the best thing to do is to find a way around it. And I’m happy to say there are a number of really savvy publishers and booksellers out there doing just that.
The Age of Proprietary Technology
The struggle for E-book dominance between Kindle, Nook and iPad is not a new paradigm. With every technological advancement, one or two giants muscle their way to the top and then duel to the death. Lots of little players get stomped on in the process, but this is the way capitalism works. It’s essentially a kind of consumer Darwinism – but industry tends to forget that it is the consumer that decides who survives.
Seth Godin addresses the shortsightedness of limiting the flow of content in an insightful post on the Domino Project blog . Godin points out that the marketplace — be it virtual or physical — “like your mind, works best when it’s open.” Likewise, Mathew Ingram, in his post on How the E-book landscape is Becoming a Walled Garden , argues that a platform-dependent bookstore model hurts everyone. I agree. Reminds me of the range wars between the ranchers and the land barons over water rights in the Old West — in the end, a bunch of cowboys got shot and a whole lotta cows died of thirst. That right there is a lose-lose scenario.
Which brings me to my point. Diversity is at the heart of a thriving commercial ecosystem — and that is particularly true when it comes to ideas, art, and music. No matter who wins the battle for control of e-book distribution, everyone stands to lose market share one way or another. The fact is that the publishing industry is experiencing an unavoidable, irreversible metamorphosis. Some publishers and booksellers will survive, and some won’t. But there will always be writers and readers in search of each other.
Roberta Trahan is a 30-year marketing veteran, copywriter, editor, and author of the debut fantasy novel WELL OF TEARS (47North /Amazon Publishing) — coming Sept. 2012.