The Grand Old Publisher Conspiracy

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.

Published by

Joel Naoum

Joel Naoum is a Sydney-based book editor, publisher, blogger and writer. He is passionate about the possibilities of social media and digital publishing opens up for authors, publishers, booksellers and the whole book industry.

10 thoughts on “The Grand Old Publisher Conspiracy”

  1. I have posted my response on my blog:

    I am of two minds on the issue. I tend to favour incompetence over conspiracy

  2. I have posted my response on my blog:

    I am of two minds on the issue. I tend to favour incompetence over conspiracy

  3. Joel, I guess you don’t know who my source is, but when a theory is confirmed by someone who is in a position to know, I think it ceases to be a conspiracy theory.
    Yes, a cash cow. That would be the $A34.95 paperbacks we buy that are sold overseas for $US8-12. Funny that suddenly Borders AU now reckon they can make money with their “we’ll beat Amazon’s price (incl shipping) guarantee. How did paper books suddenly get $A18 cheaper to produce?
    You’re right about the ebook market in this country being a tiny fraction of the publishing industry. Could have something to do with the first major local ebook store opening here two months ago. I’d also love to know how many Aussie dollars are flying into Amazon’s coffers.
    Australians are well known as early tech adopters – computers, flat screens, iPhone, iPad, digital TV … I’m positive that if ebooks had been generally available for as long as they have overseas, we’d already be at 10% of all books being digital.
    CD ROM? Yes, they were horrible. Maybe they’re still smarting from that, but it was 20 years ago. They’ve done nothing since, until this year.
    Massive corporations to spend millions of dollars? Wonder were those ebook micro-publishers springing up everywhere are getting their millions of dollars setting up “infrastructure”. It’s just a website.
    Look I don’t really think it’s a conspiracy. It’s just laziness, and profiteering. Pretty common in business. Why ruin a good thing.
    But it’s pretty obvious that the push to ebooks has to come from the industry, as happened in the US. They deserve their market share. They virtually created the market. No local industry, no consumers consuming.
    Unfortunately, trying to wall off australian publishing (we recall the local industry lobbying the government to maintain Parallel Import Restrictions last year) doesn’t quite work with electronic files and the web.

  4. Joel, I guess you don’t know who my source is, but when a theory is confirmed by someone who is in a position to know, I think it ceases to be a conspiracy theory.
    Yes, a cash cow. That would be the $A34.95 paperbacks we buy that are sold overseas for $US8-12. Funny that suddenly Borders AU now reckon they can make money with their “we’ll beat Amazon’s price (incl shipping) guarantee. How did paper books suddenly get $A18 cheaper to produce?
    You’re right about the ebook market in this country being a tiny fraction of the publishing industry. Could have something to do with the first major local ebook store opening here two months ago. I’d also love to know how many Aussie dollars are flying into Amazon’s coffers.
    Australians are well known as early tech adopters – computers, flat screens, iPhone, iPad, digital TV … I’m positive that if ebooks had been generally available for as long as they have overseas, we’d already be at 10% of all books being digital.
    CD ROM? Yes, they were horrible. Maybe they’re still smarting from that, but it was 20 years ago. They’ve done nothing since, until this year.
    Massive corporations to spend millions of dollars? Wonder were those ebook micro-publishers springing up everywhere are getting their millions of dollars setting up “infrastructure”. It’s just a website.
    Look I don’t really think it’s a conspiracy. It’s just laziness, and profiteering. Pretty common in business. Why ruin a good thing.
    But it’s pretty obvious that the push to ebooks has to come from the industry, as happened in the US. They deserve their market share. They virtually created the market. No local industry, no consumers consuming.
    Unfortunately, trying to wall off australian publishing (we recall the local industry lobbying the government to maintain Parallel Import Restrictions last year) doesn’t quite work with electronic files and the web.

  5. Pingback: The Smell of Books » Closing Arguments: Or How We Will Never Agree
  6. Pingback: The Smell of Books » Closing Arguments: Or How We Will Never Agree
  7. Well I, for one, would much prefer to hold an ACTUAL BOOK in my hand rather than a little screen. Feeling the paper, and yes, the smell of books is all part of the enjoyment. I know about the number of books you can store on a Kindle, but what’s the point of having hundreds of books to carry around with you when you can only sensibly be reading two or three at once. Unfortunately I think the increase in e-books will simply encourage people to just dip in and browse a few pages rather than read a whole book.

    The news that Amazon have sold 180 e-books to 100 hardback books is misleading – how many softcover books did they sell in that time? Books are far from dead, if nothing else I’ll be continuing to read the real thing.

  8. Well I, for one, would much prefer to hold an ACTUAL BOOK in my hand rather than a little screen. Feeling the paper, and yes, the smell of books is all part of the enjoyment. I know about the number of books you can store on a Kindle, but what’s the point of having hundreds of books to carry around with you when you can only sensibly be reading two or three at once. Unfortunately I think the increase in e-books will simply encourage people to just dip in and browse a few pages rather than read a whole book.

    The news that Amazon have sold 180 e-books to 100 hardback books is misleading – how many softcover books did they sell in that time? Books are far from dead, if nothing else I’ll be continuing to read the real thing.

Comments are closed.