This post, by Brett Sandusky, originally appeared on his blog on 1/15/13.
It’s a new year, and time to purge ourselves of the old and bring in the new. For years now, long before I was even involved in publishing, the industry has latched onto the “New Year, New You” marketing motto as each new calendar begins, in the hopes of selling books to customers who have decided to make a change in their lives. This year, it is time for a “new you,” but for ourselves. It’s time we stopped beating around the bush and dealt with our issues head-on and with realistic expectations. This morning, I saw two articles juxtapositioned, the (paraphrased) headline of the first read: “Ebook retail prices continue to plummet,” the second, “Independent bookstores can increase revenue by selling ebooks.” This second article implied that indies could be saved by the enormous revenue opportunity to be had in selling ebooks … whose retail prices have been steadily declining and continue to do so.
Are we even having the same conversation anymore?
Needless to say, these think pieces lead me to converse with a few friends, some publicly, and other privately, about what is going on here, and I have compiled a short list of elephants. These issues are those that we as an industry must address, not shy away from, and talk about in the open to come to a resolution. We continue to spiral into a complicated mess of “WTH IS GOING ON HERE? WHO’S IN CHARGE?” rather than a rational, business-oriented industry. I refuse any longer to play into the notion that publishing is dead or dying. It’s been changing over many years, and continues to do so. Now is the time to address our changes; now is the time for, in corporate parlance, change management, something we’ve all known but too little of.
The Amazon Issue. If we are talking about elephants, Amazon is the woolly mammoth of the lot. It’s time we dealt with the Amazon issue that everyone refuses to talk about. Yes, Amazon is single handedly responsible for moving a (digital) metric ton of digital materials through to customers, and many users have Kindles or use a Kindle app to read digitally. Yes, the Amazon digital catalog is the largest, and thus offers the most opportunity both to us and to our customers.
However, we must acknowledge that Amazon’s practices have also contributed to the (imminent-seeming) depletion of physical bookstores. They have forced our retail prices down so low that only a company of their, ahem, girth, is able to bear the burden of really taking on major losses. Publishers simply do not have the financial fortitude to emulate Amazon in terms of financial practice.