Traditional Book Publishing: Doomsday Scenario?

Writers, if you hate book publishers for ignoring your efforts, your revenge may be in the offing.

Amazon.com founder and industry visionary Jeff Bezos likens the current publishing industry to the Cambrian period some 550 million years ago, when more species evolved and more became extinct than at other time. The most dangerous course in a time like that, Bezos recently told Fast Company magazine, is "not to evolve."

Bezos is now betting that e-books and the Kindle reader are going to have a massively disruptive impact on the book publishing business. And writers could be among the key beneficiaries of the new order.

Book distributing is extremely inefficient. Publishers have to take back any books that the book sellers don't sell, and they experience return rates of 40 to 60 percent. Most retail businesses don't--and couldn't--operate that way. The book publishers also loose money on most titles, relying on the occasional "hit" to subsidize the rest.

The star authors get 15 percent of hardcover sales from the publishers. But imagine if they were selling their work directly to Amazon.com, for publication as an e-book. Amazon.com could take, say, 20% for distributing the work, and the author could keep the rest. If the top authors were lured away like this, the book publishers would be left with nothing but a money-losing operation.

There is a similar doomsday scenario looming in hard-copy publishing. Amazon.com already has a BookSurge Press service that small publishers use for on-demand publishing. Distribution of best-selling books from the big publishers would be a lot more efficient if, instead of ordering and warehousing 500,000 copies of a new book, Amazon.com simply got an electronic file of the book from the publisher and printed up the book on demand, as orders came in. Once that is happening, it doesn't take much more to cut the publishers out altogether.

Bezos could be wrong. He admits he missed the shift to digital downloads of music. But it would be nice for most writers if he is right. In these new publishing economics, there is less overhead and less risk in publishing a work from an unknown author.

See the whole story, "Amazon Taps Its Inner Apple," at Fast Company.

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Comment by Erika on September 9, 2009 at 3:40pm
could this be understood as good news, given the last blog re:the dissemination of libraries and google's monopolizing of the e-book? hmm...food for thought

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