The Grand Old Publisher Conspiracy
by Joel Naoum - August 5th, 2010
I admit it. Sometimes what I do here on this blog is very silly. The wonderful and sick-making ebook blog drinking game devised by the bloke behind Bookavore is testament to how silly ebook blogs can get. Oh yes, readers, The Smell of Books is not the only ebook blog – heavens, no. There are hundreds, if not thousands of us. I imagine if we were all to get together in a single room, there would be an overabundance of Star Wars T-shirts, iPads and discussion of the perils of the agency model. It would be awesome.
Nonetheless, although my blog is sometimes very silly, I do try not to needlessly hype or fearmonger. But I fear that is what has happened today on Book Bee. JD’s argument seems to be based solely on a single conversation with a ‘publishing insider’, who speculated that publishers may have been dragging their heels on ebooks as a strategic decision to make more money off overpriced paper books. Snip:
But to have it spelled out to me as a strategic decision that many major publishers have taken, at the expense of the reading public (it has been demonstrated that at least some of whom, if not all, want to embrace ebooks), well that takes my breath away.
But it gets worse. JD then goes on, fist probably shaken at the heavens the whole time, to declare the entire dead tree publishing industry at an end, and that it’s just too late for traditional publishers to catch up to the ‘little guys’.
Even if the change-resistant publishers suddenly embrace ebooks tomorrow (stop laughing, please), they’re now too far behind to catch up. Their paper book cash cow is dwindling, and they haven’t got a piece of the growing new action. They’re screwed from both ends.
As much as I would like to blame a massive publisher conspiracy or strategy for the mess consumers are in with ebooks, there is no conspiracy. (There is also no cash cow – but that’s a different argument altogether.) Publishers have been given plenty of false starts with ebooks, they’ve been expecting the changeover to digital to happen since those horrible CD-ROM books back in the 90s. But the change didn’t catch on. It’s happening now, and although it’s speeding up, it’s still a slow change. Very little money is changing hands, and it’s difficult for the people on the ground in publishing houses to get massive corporations to spend millions of dollars setting up an infrastructure that will still only be about 5% of the industry in several years time (in Australia).
So let’s take a deep breath and a step back. All bloggers who write about specific topics tend towards tunnel vision. We ebook bloggers tend to project our own desire for universal ebook availability and perfection onto every other person. But hardly anyone in Australia is reading ebooks right now. Most people don’t even have the slightest interest. Publishers don’t need to concoct a vast conspiracy to slow the uptake of ebooks, they just need to tap into our nation’s most abundant resource: laziness. Publishing houses may be Luddite behemoths, they may be creakingly slow to make technological changes – but they are not evil masterminds hell-bent on stopping innocent readers from reading.