Don't believe all that hype about government interference that is designed to foster an Amazon monopoly of the ebook business. What the six major publishers were alleged to have done was collude in fixing prices that, if true, was a desperate act that they must have known would fall afoul of anti-trust laws.
The new ploy by book publishers is to characterize Amazon as a monopoly poised to take over and dictate terms and run rampant over those who create ebook content. That is like saying Starbucks is a monopoly because it currently dominates the coffee retail business.
As an author who introduced the SONY reader, the very first reading device at the 2007 Las Vegas Consumer Electronics show to what was then an indifferent audience, I felt certain that one day e-readers would dominate the marketplace. I thought SONY was really on to something and would one day be the imaginative leader of the ebook industry.
Soon after the SONY launch, Amazon introduced the Kindle and followed through with verve and imagination to become, as we speak, the dominant force in ebook content and sales. I was an evangelist for these devices largely because of the ease of purchase, clarity and wide variety of available content and, above all, convenience, especially for those of us to whom reading is an important part of our lives.
Barnes and Noble, a super successful big-box book chain, apparently saw the advantages of getting into the ebook business early on, created an infrastructure and then, in an act of counter-productive bean cutting, abandoned its ebook business entirely. I remember meeting Steve Riggio, Barnes and Noble's chief honcho, at the home of the late Bill Riley, one of his board members, and politely chastising him for getting out of that business.
Sure, it was light cocktail chatter, but I could tell that he was contemplating getting back into ebooks. It must have soon become apparent that in order to survive, Riggio had to get into that business, and Barnes and Noble did indeed with its excellent reader, the Nook. Unfortunately, they were late and are now playing catch-up. But to dismiss the Nook as a competitor to the Kindle is to sell Barnes and Noble short. Early on, they revolutionized the book business with their big-box stores and merchandising techniques and will undoubtedly ratchet up the ebook competition.
Then there is Kobo, a Canadian company trying to earn its bones in the business. They have to be counted as a future factor in the competition. There are others, as well, trying to crack into the coming e-reader bonanza.
The introduction of Apple's iPad gave the publishers, as they might have seen it, leverage to fix their ebook prices. You couldn't blame them since the challenges posed by ebooks are a very real threat to the profitable print publishing business. I have a feeling they believed that Apple would, like everything they touched, eventually dominate the e-book business as well, hence their alleged collusion.
Although I am an Apple guy and a great admirer and loyal user of their products, I did not think that the iPad would dominate the book business. It doesn't and, in my opinion, will not. My opinion is based on the fact that the tablet concept is too distractive for the customer, to whom reading is a centerpiece of their leisure activities.
Marketers use a cute term called "immersive reading." It is redundant. All book reading is immersive and requires from its devotees time and, above all, mental concentration.
Somewhere I read that the great Steve Jobs thought that reading, meaning the content that is defined as "books," would decline against the onslaught of other cyber activities, which he seemed to deem more important. Indeed, he must have fashioned his foray into the book business with that in mind. With a million distractions now available on the iPad, the so-called "immersive reader" is relegated to be merely one of the pack, with "book" content hardly in the same exclusive domain of a solo device.
I am well aware that Amazon is having great success with its "Fire" tablet. My sense is that it will have exceptional value to Apps Aficionados but might not to book content readers. In my view, those who are repetitive "immersive" readers of all ages will stick with the solo reading device.
What could be a worry for Amazon, Nook, and Kobo would be if Apple decides to come out with its own solo reading device.
I have not dealt with the plight of the author, the creator of the content without which the traditional publishing business would have to close its doors. What could happen is that authors might find it more advantageous to create their own self-publishing business models, which has been my choice, join together to create cooperative ventures, or throw their oar in with numerous enterprises serving authors who have the means to self-publish with all the bells and whistles of traditional publishers.
As it stands now, the publishers are busy scratching their heads and trying to come up with measures to assure their future viability. Someone, perhaps far outside the publishing box or an enterprising author might come up with a business plan that will make economic sense. We shall see.
Fear not. Readers must read. Writers must write. It has always been thus. And creative minds will prevail to eventually figure out ways to bring the two together in ways profitable to each.
Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections. His books are published in 25 languages worldwide and several have been adapted to movies, including "The War of the Roses" and "Random Hearts."
Download a free copy of Warren Adler's The Children of the Roses.
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