Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Publishers hoist on their own etard

Jerry Stratton, May 2, 2012

Scriptorium monk at work

Little known fact: at the dawn of printing, monks bought printing presses but limited them to one book per year. This is why abbeys are the premier publishing houses today.

My girlfriend put an ebook on Amazon on Sunday, and was able to do it very easily. I was there to help her because she’s not very tech-savvy, but she didn’t need my help.

Monday she started panicking because she read about the publisher complaints, and began to worry that making her book part of the lending library meant that every person borrowing the book was a book that someone else couldn’t buy.

That is, that when Amazon “loaned” an ebook via the lending library, there was one less ebook for sale, and that this meant she’d be losing sales.

First I told her that it couldn’t possibly be true. It’s an ebook, there is no physical copy to disappear. But then I read the articles that had her panicking. And it turns out to be true—not for her book, but for some publishers.

As far as I can tell—and I still think I must be misunderstanding it—some publishers are so afraid of the future that they’re trying to force the physical warehouse model on ebooks. Rather than give Amazon the right to sell ebooks, they sell a limited number of ebooks to Amazon at wholesale prices. Just like they do with physical books. And then Amazon resells the ebooks that they now own, until they run out and have to go to the warehouse and buy more.

But this means that Amazon legitimately thinks they can use those ebooks they’ve already bought in other ways, such as a lending library, just as they could with physical books. So while my girlfriend had to opt-in to the lending library, some of the major publishers are in the lending library even though they don’t want to be. Because they tried to treat ebooks as physical books, Amazon thinks they own those ebooks, and Amazon is lending them out as if Amazon owns them.

I have no idea who is right there. It probably depends on how deeply the warehouse analogy goes. It’s never been illegal for warehouses or bookstores to operate lending programs. It’s just been too much work with physical books. What Amazon is showing an understanding of that the affected publishers aren’t is that ebooks open up possibilities for getting books in the hands of readers that were impossible or highly impractical with books that wear out, get lost, or gather dust if purchased in too high a quantity. The potential of ebooks is to open up new markets and find new ways of making money. New technology always has that potential, even as it destroys the artificial business model based on lack of access.

Treating ebooks as a warehouse operation of limited resources is exactly the kind of twisted logic that dying industries engage in.

  1. <- Throw Them All Out
  2. The Palace Guard ->