This editorial, by author Barry Eisler, originally appeared on the Guardian UK site on 4/24/12.
Scaremongers who warn of a potential Amazon monopoly conveniently forget that one already exists in shape of legacy publishers
As the author of nine novels (the most recent, The Detachment, published by Amazon) and four self-published works, I’ve long been curious about why so many people are frightened of a potential future Amazon monopoly while simultaneously so sanguine about the real existing monopoly run by New York’s so-called Big Six.
And it’s been interesting for me to see people try to explain away the evidence of collusion between the CEOs of the major publishers as set forth in the US Justice Department’s suit against these publishers and in the equivalent suit brought by 16 states. Have a look yourself, if you haven’t already, and imagine the reaction if these sorts of meetings and discussions were happening instead among, say, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, and Larry Page, or among the heads of Bank of America, CitiGroup, and Morgan Stanley.
Of course, we shouldn’t rely on Justice Department allegations alone to form the opinion that legacy publishing is a cartel (after all, this is the same Justice Department that hasn’t prosecuted a single high-level US official for torture or a single banking executive for fraud, and that argues President Obama has the power to execute American citizens without recognisable due process).
We can also look to the results of the legacy model: high book prices, most recently enforced via the so-called "agency" model; "windowing", whereby consumers who want cheaper paperback or digital versions are forced to wait until long after the release of the high-margin hardback; digital rights management regimes that annoy consumers and do little to inhibit piracy; increasingly draconian rights lock-ups in publishing contracts; lockstep digital royalties of only 17.5% for authors.
If you ask legacy publishing’s defenders, "Which is the monopoly: the entity that charges high prices and pays low royalties, or the entity that charges low prices and pays high royalties?", you’ll be told by those defenders (tortured logic to follow) that of course it’s the latter.