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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Will Publishing End Up With Just 2 Houses: Amazon and B&N?

Well hell, the word is ending somewhere, for someone, every single day.

I just read articles in the NY Times, Bloomberg News, Harper's and The Author's Guild that tend to support the notion that This Is It For Publishing. The wolf is at the door and it's hungry. Those are death rattles you here, etc. Here's the link for Businessweek/Bloomberg:

There's blame to go around, but Harper's traces it back to 1981 and Milton Friedman's Chicago School of Economics that gave us our free market/job destruction model, including trickle-down and privatization of basic things like water and transport. (So, thanks, Milton. Why didn't you just go run Chile with Pinochet?)

Okay, the takeaway: like newspapers. Yeah, look at the carnage. Feels familiar to where we were 10 years ago and the loss of classifieds to the internet hit the news industry like Dutch Elm disease.

Flash forward 10 years. Most papers are gone. Only one I read that's any good without a paywall is the LA Times and we know that won't last. But... Now the NYT paywall is working, sez NPR yesterday, hooray. The numbers are mingy, but at last the executives realize you can't give it away. The readers who will go elsewhere now have nowhere to go, unless it's to free cheap delights, which means they're not NYT people anyway.

Key observation: know your audience.

I can only find 7 things to read on the web--the NYT (restricted by paywall), WSJ (ditto), LA Times, Slate, The Atlantic and The New Republic (both thin online reads, but daily refreshed), and Tyler Cowen's economic aggregator blog, Marginal Revolution (he finds or gets great stuff). There's more out there, but I don't search for it or track it. The Guardian, Salon, etc. I do get an email blast from The Rumpus. He's got staying power, even if I need to take a shower afterwards.

Then there's my professional, ha, researches in the literary field. Not much going on in a daily basis at McSweeney's and its adjuncts. I keep forgetting the others, not a good sign. So where does this leave us?

And that was my last thought: B&N is now the distributor of traditional publishing, Amazon the rising Mafia that's snapping up all the channels and throwing nets of legal language around authors. Both B&N and Amazon are also publishers--but Amazon is going into it bigtime.

I think publishing is about to converge if the FCC will let it (who knows?). We will have two publishers left standing: B&N and Amazon. Just as the Big Six ate 40 imprints by 1983, we're heading to the Big Two. That will mean fewer authors-with-advances-and-marketing support, fewer new authors breaking out, and factories like James Patterson churning out more schlock with the help of hired elves.

Those of us who read the more literary stuff will be left on the outside looking in. To which the answer may be best borrowed from Billie Holliday:

God Bless the child that's got his own.


  1. AND THIS JUST IN from Goodreads, note they're dropping Amazon as a link/info source for books because of "restrictive language"--


    Barnes & Noble goes to war. It's 1914 for book publishing.