Editor's Note: Gorillas, Elephants and the Dark Arts
Since December when we launched Publishing Business Today, the daily headline-roundup e-mail newsletter we produce with our sister magazine, Publishing Executive (subscribe at bookbusinessmag.com/newsletter), we've noticed that the only thing that produces a bigger spike in open and click-through rates than putting news about Amazon in the subject line is putting bad news about Amazon in the subject line.
While not universal, there's definite animosity toward the Seattle-based e-tailer in the biz. To wit: During VP of Kindle Content Russ Grandinetti's address to the Digital Book World conference in January, the trade show chatter on Twitter took a decided turn for the snarky.
To some in the book publishing biz, Amazon's name may as well be Voldemort. But whether you call it the elephant in the room, the 800-pound gorilla or he who must not be named, the fact of the matter is, where books, e-books and, increasingly, e-readers are concerned, the e-tail behemoth seems to do whatever it damn well pleases—to the clamorous chagrin of an industry that, well, had been quite happy doing things the way it pleased for a good long time.
While there's little doubt about how many in the industry feel about Amazon, what's less clear is why. Is it sour grapes? Displeasure over having one's cheese moved? Righteous indignation over a bully leveraging an unethical advantage—and using an entire industry as its plaything? Or is it something a little more nuanced than any of that?
We had veteran business reporter Mark Henricks (p. 12) talk up industry insiders and observers—a consultant, an analyst and a publisher—and ask about five key areas where Amazon is putting pressure on book publishers: e-book pricing, the Kindle Direct Publishing program, Amazon's own book-publishing aspirations, a vice-like grip on the e-book supply chain, and dabblings (alleged and otherwise) in the world of bricks and mortar. While Amazon declined to comment for this story—as did many other industry folks—Henricks discovered that, among the people we polled, some of Amazon's tactics are reviled, some are respected … and some fall somewhere in between. Most of all, he found that while the company is indeed the No. 1 driver of change in the industry, opportunity still abounds for publishers of all sizes to captivate and entice readers with great products, digital, physical or both.
While the e-book wars get all the attention in the mainstream media, most news outlets (even those doing good business in print) neglect that there's still a massive market for printed products. As a companion piece to last issue's Publishers' Outlook (Book Business, January/February 2012), we present our annual Printers' Outlook (p. 17). We had longtime Book Business contributor Peter Beisser interview five printers about their outlooks for their businesses in this time of great change. They are unsurprisingly bullish, because smart printers realized early that producing content for publishers need not only involve ink on paper—the same workflows involved in prepping a manuscript for the presses can be adapted to create e-books, mobile apps and other means of output.