Selling a book, print or digital, turns out to be far from the only way to generate revenue from all the remarkable cultural activity that goes into the creation and dissemination of literature and ideas. Recall again all the schmoozing, learning, practice, hustling, reading upon reading upon reading that goes into the various editorial components of publishing; the pattern recognition; the storytelling that editors do, that sales reps do, that publicists do, that the bookstore staff does. Recall the average feted poet who makes more money at a weekend visiting-writer gig than her royalties are likely to earn her in an entire year. You begin to realize that the business of literature is the business of making culture, not just the business of manufacturing bound books. This, in turn, means that the increased difficulty of selling bound books in a traditional manner (and the lower price point in selling digital books) is not going to be a significant challenge over the long run, except to free the business of literature from the limitations imposed when one is producing things rather than ideas and stories. Book culture is not print fetishism; it is the swirl and gurgle of idea and style in the expression of stories and concepts—the conversation, polemic, narrative force that goes on within and between texts, within and between people as they write, revise, discover, and respond to those texts. That swirl and gurgle does happen to have a home for print fetishism, as it has a home for digital fetishism. This is what literature has always been. Being yoked to the Industrial Revolution’s machines for analog reproduction, accompanied by an arbitrary process for selecting what should be reproduced, will prove to be an anomaly in the history of literature, useful as that phase was for the democratization of access to reading. The publisher is an orchestrator in the world of book culture, not a machine for sorting manuscripts and supplying a small number of those manuscripts in improved and bound form to a large number of people via a retailer-based supply chain best suited for the distribution of cornflakes, not ideas.As for as the rest, this week's maybe The Economist edition...
The idea that Amazon could open retail stores may not be so crazy as The Economist reports on other examples of web retailers getting physical:
Pure online retailers do not pay rent but their variable costs eat up much of that advantage, says Sophie Albizua of eNova Partnership, a consultancy. Without storefronts to lure in customers they shell out to buy ads linked to Google search results. Delivery, especially of bulky goods, is a headache. Couriers show up at empty houses, and fees often fail to cover the full cost. Shoppers return a quarter or more of clothing they buy, another big expense.Taking a look at the right of first sale ruling by SCOTUS last week (Economist):
All this looks easier if you have real shops. With “click and collect” customers can order with, say, a smartphone but pick up the item at a convenient outlet. Often, they linger to shop more. Britons pick up something extra about 40% of the time, says Ms Albizua.
Happily hybrid John Lewis, an upmarket department-store chain, says that on- and offline shopping spur each other on. When a new shop opens, online sales in the vicinity can jump by 20-40% “overnight”, says Noel Saunders, the manager of the branch near London’s Olympic Stadium. New products can be tested online and stocked in store if they do well. Nearly a third of customers who order online pick up their wares in stores. Britons are among the world’s most avid online shoppers, but 65% still prefer buying in-store, according to a survey by Hitachi Consulting.
Publishers, record labels, film studios and other content-owners are shocked. They have often sold the same product in poorer countries for less, knowing that it would not hurt their pricing power at home. Now it will. Big online retailers such as Amazon and eBay could start exploiting these pricing differences on a large scale. Ian Whittaker of Liberum Capital, a broker, thinks this ruling will really hurt academic publishers, such as Pearson (a part-owner of The Economist). They tend to sell identical books for eye-watering prices in America and much less in countries where people cannot afford those prices.Publishers have already warned that they may have to turn the page on the old system of letting students in poor countries buy textbooks cheaply. “Some people are predicting a world where price discrimination will no longer be possible,” says Arti Rae, a professor of law at Duke University. Media companies could choose to stagger the release of films or books across countries, delaying the launch of titles in countries where they cannot fetch high prices. However, that may simply encourage piracy. Congress could intervene and rejig the Copyright Act of 1976, which established the first-sale doctrine. But that would require Washington to get its act together—a plotline so implausible that it would make J.K. Rowling blush.No one likes to be belittled or disrespected (especially in public) but that may be how libraries perceive publisher behavior towards them. On eBook lending (Economist):
E-lending may reduce publishers’ control of their books, but it also takes power away from libraries. Relying on outsiders’ servers to host e-collections can mean legal hassles (it can be hard or impossible to switch providers) and worries about privacy. Alan Inouye of the American Library Association notes that libraries jealously guard data about users’ borrowing habits. But e-lending leaves new, digital traces that publishers could exploit.From my twitter feed:
An even bigger worry for both libraries and publishers is competition. In 2011 Amazon launched an e-lending programme in America. It has since expanded it to Britain, France and Germany. Customers who sign up for Amazon’s “prime” bundle of services, which offers free delivery and streamed movies for an annual fee, can also borrow a book each month on their Kindles, Amazon’s e-reading device. So far no works from big publishers are available. Librarians are irked by this, but not yet anxious. Laura Lent, the chief of collections at the San Francisco Public Library, notes that lending from her shelves, unlike Amazon’s, is free of charge.
Librarians and the book industry have different interests. But without getting future generations into the book-reading habit, both will perish, says Stuart Hamilton of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. Library lending plays a big if unquantifiable role in nurturing a love of reading.
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