The Fall of Giants

It is a curious and oft-repeated consideration that man has a knack for hastening his own destruction.

So it is with the publishing industry. Honestly, there’s no reason for it, no need for it, but still publishers convince themselves down roads no sensible man would walk. It’s been a long-time discussion in the literary field: Amazon vs. Traditional Publishers, e-books vs. print, the question of whether the big publishers could honestly self-destruct, plunging the literary world into further uncertainty. Until recently, as much pain and stupidity as they might reap (and really, they’re skilled at it), I never thought the publishers could actually die. Not entirely, as some shout.

But if you hadn’t heard, publishers have committed a blunder of monumental proportions. Five of the Big Six (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon and Schuster; only Random House escaping) recently conspired with Apple to price set the e-book market, in an effort to stab at Amazon, and also to, as many see it, gouge the e-book market out altogether. Atrocious as that is, they also managed to get themselves caught through acts of blatant stupidity.

Whoops.

A Justice Department lawsuit has followed. While the news reports they are trying (desperately, almost, as some articles seem to paint the tone)  to settle this out of court, either way the publishers are screwed, and I’ll tell you why. Their price manipulation broken, all they have succeeded in doing at the end of the day is to appear (by which I mean, showing rather nicely) desperate, galvanize the elephant in the room—Amazon, and consequently give Amazon exactly what it wanted all along: the ability to determine market pricing.

 

Sir Salman Rushdie

Author Salman Rushdie, public domain image care of Wikimedia Commons.

According to author Salman Rushdie, of course, the US Justice Department “wants to destroy the world of books.” I think that’s taking it a little far, but there’s many that feel that way–livelihoods, as well as an already threatened industry, are about to take some major hits. It doesn’t change the fact of illegality in these publishers’ actions.

What’s more, if this thing actually goes to court, well, let’s just say the publishers can’t really afford a drawn-out lawsuit right now, nor the bad press it would bring. Or, I suppose I should say, the additional bad press it would bring. Apple would survive without trouble, of course, because they’re Apple–this is probably little more than a roadbump for them.

Now, I’ve heard some sources debate whether this anti-competitive behavior could actually be pro-competitive. It’s not, but unfortunately, things have devolved to a point now where we have but one of two choices—and both of them end in monopoly.

The publishers and their anti-competitive mindsets would have given all the powers of a monopoly to Apple and anyone aligned with them.  Unfortunately, in failing, they manage to achieve the same exact effect, but without any of them reaping the benefits. Instead, they eliminate competition on the market because Amazon will, in the power vacuum , spring forth, and become the monopoly in turn, reestablishing a firm and commanding hold on the e-book market.

Makes for good news, of course, but a pretty rotten situation.

What’s still worse, at least, for publishers? Even if they weather the Justice Department lawsuit, they already face a class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of all e-book customers, that could run them damaged into the billions—a crippling prospect at such a critical juncture.

But the people at Amazon are probably doing a little dance right now. What about you?