Tag Archives: ipad

Amazon and the Future of Books

A recent New Yorker article about book publishing in the era of Amazon Kindles and Apple iPads indicated that Amazon is thinking about cutting book publishers out of the loop completely and striking deals directly with authors. Such deals would allow Amazon to price e-books however they wanted and to provide more generous royalties to authors. Sounds great, right? Cheaper books and richer authors.

Sure, in the short run, for certain authors. But in the long run, this is a highly destructive strategy. Destructive for the book industry, and even for Amazon itself. What Amazon will do is poach the big name authors, the ones who don’t need publishers any more. John Grisham, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, and other authors of such stature can sell books no matter who publishes them. They can move to Amazon, bump their royalty rate from 15% to 50% and make a ton of money.

But the publishing business, like much of entertainment, uses the hits to subsidize the misses. Simon and Schuster, for example, reinvests the money it makes publishing Stephen King and uses it to find authors like Susanne Dunlap, who might be the next Stephen King. If the big authors leave their publishing houses to go to Amazon, then the publishers won’t have the money to find and support emerging authors. The publishers will likely go out of business.

This will be bad. Books entertain us, they teach us, they can be a way for a culture to bond over shared values. A society without new literature is not a society I want to live in. Moreover, this will be bad for Amazon in the long run. Eventually, Stephen King and the other big authors will die, and if the publishers are out of business, who will discover the new authors, the Stephen Kings of tomorrow? Nobody. Then Amazon’s book business will also die, since there will be no new books.

You might try to analogize this to the music business, with Napster disintermediating the record labels, but that analogy is flawed. New music can be absorbed quickly: listen to 2-minute samples of three songs and you’ll have a sense for a band. This is why new music is being effectively crowd sourced. But spend 6 minutes reading a passage from a new novel and you will have no idea if you will like the novel as a whole, or any other piece by that author. The current system of literary agents and publishing houses works to discover and nurture new authors. Moreover, the current system improves authors’ works by editing them. Most authors need editors, as the recently publicity about Raymond Carver’s editor has shown. In Amazon’s world, who will play that role?

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Best Commentary Yet Regarding the iPad

From GigaOm, which notes that the iPad is cool, but does not yet have the killer app that makes it a game-changer.

iPad A Mixed Bag

I’m a little late in commenting on the iPad, but I did want to make a couple of quick points.

First, for those who call the iPad a PC-killer, think again. The iPad may be great for consuming information, but it’s not so good if you have to actually create information. In other words, if all you need is to browse the web, read things, and type a few emails, the Pad could be your everyday machine. If, in other words, you are a techie who wants a toy, or possibly a senior executive who reads documents but doesn’t create them. But if you actually have to produce work – documents, presentations, spreadsheets, accounting reports – then you are still going to want a device with a full-sized screen and keyboard, and the ability to easily cut and paste among the various applications. In other words, you want a real computer.

Second, the population of people who only need to consume information is probably pretty high, and the Pad pricing is low enough to appeal fairly broadly, so it could be a successful product. Could. But the tech business is littered with the carcasses of products that had feet in two different markets, but weren’t entirely comfortable with either. Too big to fit in a pocket but too small to be really useful can be an unpleasant place to be, as my friends at OQO can attest. And if the Pad is an incremental gadget, rather than a replacement, as my first paragraph indicates, that too will cause problems, since it limits the market to those willing and able to acquire a new device. Finally, using a custom chip designed in-house certainly can improve performance, especially because of hardware/software integration, but as countless companies have learned, the in-house approach leaves you falling further and further behind the cost curves of your competitors. Just ask Jonathan Schwartz of Sun, who lost his job when Oracle saved Sun from oblivion.

That being said, if anybody can defeat the tweener curse, it’s Apple.