Home » Big Publishing » Publishers have ‘ceded power’

Publishers have ‘ceded power’

30 May 2014

From The Bookseller:

Publishers have made a grave mistake in “ceding power” to internet giants and they must provide technology and content in equal measures to survive in the future.

. . . .

The opening keynote was delivered by technology and culture author Nicholas Carr who said that advent of the e-book thus far was “not a revolution; the business has not been transformed as dramatically as the shift to digital has changed music”. He argued that given there is no generational change in readers, with the average age of an e-book buyer (42) almost equal to that of those who preferred print (41), that e-books simply mark “a shift in [platform] preferences and market segments”.

Yet Carr said the danger was that there was a “fundamental and destructive difference between the culture of the book” and how we process and use content on the computer. He added the mistake of the trade was expediently “ceding power to digital and internet companies whose main interest is to perpetuate the culture of the computer.”

Carr urged publishers to fight the hegemony of the internet giants whose true financial interests are at odds with the book trade. “The dreams for the future of the book of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Larry Page are not dreams of the readers,” he added.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Big Publishing

88 Comments to “Publishers have ‘ceded power’”

  1. The ::head shake:: is making me dizzy today.

  2. Didn’t they first cede power to Barnes & Noble and Borders, who could kill a cover (etc) from a writer if they didn’t like it?

    And if they’d been paying attention, they’d have sorted out some ebook-retail option themselves, instead of signing contracts with Amazon and demanding Amazon use DRM.

    ADS is strong at The Bookseller.

    • Patricia Sierra

      Barnes & Noble once nixed a cover for one of my books. It was one I liked a lot — but it was replaced by something gawd-awful just because they said so.

  3. The culture of the book versus the culture of the computer. That’s a new one. I wonder what it is supposed to mean. Probably nothing – just a fancy way of saying “trad publishers” versus “Amazon/Indie publishers” and making the latter seem non-literary and not authentic.

    • Carr fetishizes the physical format called the codex, pages bound together. He attributes all sorts of mystical power to it. His shtick is claiming that the internet and ebooks will cause the fall of civilization.

      • Funny how people didn’t feel the same way about calculators replacing sliderules. I guess the slide rule wasn’t important to the continuance of civilization.

        • Ah, but the cool kids didn’t use slide rules, and probably didn’t even know what they were. Just some math stuff or something nerdy.

        • They probably did when the slide rule replaced logarithmic tables.

          • Actually, the slide rule never replaced logarithmic tables. My father was an electrical engineer; he carried a slide rule in his shirt pocket for times when a rough-and-ready calculation, precise to two or three places, was sufficient, and in his hip pocket he had a book of six-place tables for those times when more precision was required. The slide rule was quicker; the book was more accurate. And nobody raised a fuss about mathematical ‘culture’ at any point along the way, because the whole emphasis was on getting the job done.

            • I was 50 years too young to experience the log table culture, but the hand-held calculator made its appearance my junior year in engineering school. It surpassed the speed of the slide rule and the accuracy of the log table. Faster AND better. What a concept.

              • And my father, the engineer, agreed. The day he bought his first scientific calculator, he put away his log table and his slide rule, and never took them out again except to show me how things used to be done.

      • I believe some fancy-thinking Greek dude also prophesied that the codex would spell the downfall of civilization, if I remember correctly. I got virtually no sleep last night because I was baking and decorating cookies to celebrate my “retirement” with my co-workers today, but my caffeine-deprived sleep-brain thinks this is correct, and also vaguely ironical.

        • You may be thinking of Socrates, who didn’t even like the written word (or so his argument held).

          Socrates: At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

          — from Phaedrus

          • Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them “Amazon.”

            Fixed that for you.

  4. Hogwash! A couple of years ago I wanted to preorder a book from my favorite author so i went to the publisher website and … zip, nada. Pictures of the cover and no buy button. Not even “available at these fine booksellers.” You want this book? Hunt it down sucka! So I got it from Amazon.

  5. What are the dreams of the readers? Can you enlighten me Mr. Carr, and maybe help me sell some books in the process?

    Nope? Alright.

  6. Let’s not forget that Nicholas Carr is one of the great alarmists about how badly the Internet is rotting our poor little branes.

    Once you know that, then you know better than to give any credence at all to anything the man says.

  7. So much wrong.

    The battle of the tech giants, now and for the future, is to deliver CONTENT. Content that consumers want, not what techies in Seattle or Silicon Valley deem to be content.

    Completely unlike how NYC gatekeeprs and tastemakers have, for decades, alone decide what was reader worthy and what was not.

    Let’s take Amazon, (and someone help me out with a link) in a recent interview Bezos described a vacation on a beach where he saw every Kindle model from Vers. I up to the latest Fire.

    Bragging? No. He went on to make a point that, unlike a lot of tech manufacturers, he was never concerned with pushing his latest Kindle models unlike other companies who frequently force adoption of newer, costlier tech. Sony is renowned for this. Amazon is principally concerned with moving content. EX#2: Kindle apps exist for almost every platform capable of supporting it. Bezos would surely love for you to buy a new Kindle every year but, lacking that, he’s perfectly happy if you read Amazon e-books on whatever’s in your hand. More than anything, I believe it’s the thinking behind Zon and other tech companies that frighten Legacy world the most, because it’s proving to be beyond their grasp.

    “Carr urged publishers to fight the hegemony of the internet giants whose true financial interests are at odds with the book trade. “The dreams for the future of the book of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Larry Page are not dreams of the readers,” he added.”

    Even more wrong. The tech giants involved in e-book platforms have nothing but reader (CUSTOMER) interest at heart. What they want to do is cut out costly, inhibitive middleman.

    Like Legacy publishers.

    • I wish there was a like button for your comment. Thank you for stating so clearly. 😉 I agree completely.

    • Good memory:
      “If you’re making most of your money when you sell the device, you really care about upgrading, and what we really care about is building a device that people continue to use,” said Mr. Bezos, recounting a recent trip to Florida where he said he saw people on the beach using four different versions of the Kindle e-reader.

      “We don’t have to have our customers on the upgrade treadmill,” he said.

      Sept, 2013.
      Here’s the WSJ version.

    • More than anything, I believe it’s the thinking behind Zon and other tech companies that frighten Legacy world the most, because it’s proving to be beyond their grasp.

      This right there, mi amigo.

  8. If publishers are in the business of selling books and writers are the individuals providing these books, then all the blah blah blah of what publishers have to do is nonsense if they’re not wooing writers with great deals, money and real “nurturing” before anything else.
    Since they are not wooing writers, they’re still in the demean and dismiss mode, I would say things don’t look good for their future.

    Disclaimer: I did not go to Wharton Business School. I’m just one of the dismissed and demeaned writers who publishers are convinced they don’t need.

    • In the trad. pub model, writers are widgets just like books. If you lose one widget just replace it with another. There are no end to the writers that still want a trad pub deal.

  9. This guy is a tool. Writing was created to record and convey thoughts and ideas across distance and time. The method of delivery for the written word is moot, so long as the message is received: whether it be transmitted through handwriting, print, or electrons. Electronic delivery merely speeds the delivery of said content, and makes it less expensive so that many may learn from and enjoy the thoughts expressed, rather than the few who can afford it. Print replaced hand-written texts and allowed for greater education across the classes, and digital media will eventually (mostly) replace print.

  10. Carr urged publishers to fight the hegemony of the internet giants whose true financial interests are at odds with the book trade. “The dreams for the future of the book of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Larry Page are not dreams of the readers,” he added.

    and the dreams of the publishers are? Publishers have had generations to give readers what they want as the only game in town. The moment the internet opened up an alternative venue started taking their market share. What, exactly, does that say about how well they’ve been doing their job?

    • Obviously, the dreams of the publishers are the dreams of the readers. If the readers are having any different dreams, they are out of order and must be STOPPED.

  11. I would counter that a bigger problem is all the authors who have ceded control of their copyrights and livelihoods to giant multinationals who then hold them hostage as a negotiation ploy.

  12. “The Bookseller”? This addresses book store owners? Isn’t it what you’d expect?

  13. Don’t cede the papyrus and quills people. Fight the Internet innovators that brought us democracy, low prices and convenience. Thinking is dangerous. Let us tell you what to do.

  14. “Ceded” implies that the ceding party has taken an active (though not necessarily willing) role in the formal transfer.

    That’s not the case. The power was no longer theirs to give.

  15. “…the business has not been transformed as dramatically as the shift to digital has changed music”

    Had to pretty much stop reading right there. If anyone doesn’t see the mirror of music and books hitting the digital age, they are absolutely, positively, 10000% blind as a $%@#^@ rock with gouged-out eyes.

    Without the digital/internet age, publishers would still be sitting on their golden thrones, the same as music execs.

    • Absolutely. Mirror all the way, even the SAME mistakes a few years later, and even with people pointing the mistakes, explaining them. But no, books are different. Publishers are way better than music producers and studios…

      • Hah, it is funny (in a tragic, ugly way) that book pubs couldn’t learn from music pubs. One of those ‘definition of insanity’ things. But usually, it stems from idiots convincing themselves (and each other) that “we’re going to do it different” or “it can’t possibly happen to us.”

        I hate to call persons “Luddites” but that’s really what a lot of executives are. Which is funny as well, since these execs rely on Blackberries, tablets, the internet, GPS, all of the tech we take for granted… yet they somehow are blind to how such things actually work and affect the world.

        • Chris Armstrong

          It’s a cycle I’ve seen in tech in any big company.

          They have a big plan to change. Then they repeatedly adjust the planned change until it’s the same as how things were before.

          Then they’re done!

  16. The real danger we face is this giant tsunami of tears.

  17. Lately, while reading all these articles from trade-publishers’ advocates and publishing insiders, I can’t help to remember the articles where CEOs of big pub, talks about the future of publishing and something in the line how they have to change dialogue and how the people should be looking forward to the message that they are going to deliver. I couldn’t find the ‘deliver’ article, but I did found the ‘change the conversation’ article.
    In it the CEO of S&S says:

    We must also give life to a new type of discussion about publishing. What we do; the value we add; our role in perpetuating the marketplace of ideas; our investment in content, in enabling authors to create great works


    The AAP cannot change the conversation by itself. Each of us, for our companies and our industry, must be more forceful in communicating the value of our work.
    To publicly establish the enduring significance of our industry in this rapidly changing world we will need a long campaign, and it is one that we must begin if we are to assure a favorable outcome many years hence.

    I guess since they are quite bad in showing all the advantages of trade-publishing, especially since in the light that writers with extensive backlists (20+ books) have their livelihood threatened because of the absence of pre-order button (I’m going to repeat this every chance I get), so they focused on telling, on lots and lots of telling us why they are awesome and why self-publishing is bad for the culture, etc.

    • To publicly establish the enduring significance of our industry in this rapidly changing world we will need a long campaign…

      So is the current outburst of lauding Hachette and condemning Amazon the beginning of their “long campaign”? Somehow I’m not impressed.

      • The parts of Hachette’s meme certainly sound like a campaign:

        Authors, with whom we at Hachette have been partners for nearly two centuries, engage in a complex and difficult mission to communicate with readers. In addition to royalties, they are concerned with audience, career, culture, education, art, entertainment, and connection….
        We will spare no effort to resume normal business relations with Amazon—which has been a great partner for years—but under terms that value appropriately for the years ahead the author’s unique role in creating books, and the publisher’s role in editing, marketing, and distributing them,

        But I don’t think that the long campaign started with current outburst of lauding Hachette and condemning Amazon, but that it started with the above linked article.

        • What “complex and difficult mission to communicate with readers”?

          Every time I see that my mind boggles. Mysterious? Maybe. Unpredictable, sure. Complex and difficult? I don’t think so. Amazon literally removes the complexity and difficulty of reaching readers and Hachette is doing its damnedest to re-inject all of it.

          • And not just re-inject itself in it, but complicate it. I understand that publishers need to earn a living (which they will continue as long as they have their hands on authors’ blacklists and have bestselling authors in their fist), but I wish they wouldn’t be so stupid about it.

    • As a general rule, if you have to keep *explaining* to people the value of what you do…you probably aren’t really all that valuable.

  18. So far BEA seems like a “feel good” clinic. These guys are like Karl Rove, convinced there was no way Romney could lose the election…

  19. that’s rather ‘head’desk’ that an ‘expert’ would claim there is or there is not ‘x’ in ebook publishing at this point, without science based evidence. Where are the studies? Where are the competing facts?

    I have to go muck the stalls.

  20. The dreams for the future of the book of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, [etc.] … are not dreams of the readers…

    Um. I’m a reader. I like ebooks and being able to get them with a click just fine. I dream of ereading that just gets smoother and more comfortable as the tech evolves. If that’s what Bezos is thinking, he’s in sync with me.

    :: shrugging ::

    • Shhh. He’s trying to convince himself that it’s Bezos that is out of touch with readers. Don’t interfere with his fantasy, J.M.

    • My dreams were something like “I wish I always had something new to read.”, “It sure would be great to not have to wait a week for a special order or ILL when I run across a book I want.”, and “I wish I could get something other than the dreck in the the airport spinner rack when I’ve already read everything I brought with me.”

      So, yeah, Bezos understood my dreams well. Unsurprising, since from what I’ve heard those were also his dreams.

      • That was my dream too, especially pre-ebooks. Especially the ‘I wish I could fit more books in my suitcase, but I do need clothes.’

    • And once again… As book prices rose while author earnings stagnated and midlist writers were dropped by publishers and squeezed out of the biz, publishers kept telling us what that the whole problem was that, paper, printing, warehousing, shipping, etc. were all getting more and more expensive, while meanwhile unit sales weren’t increasing enough to compensate for those higher costs, and retailers were meanwhile facing the problem of rents and other costs rising (so that, in essence, shelf space also become more expensive).

      So…. along come ebooks, a format that completely eliminates the factors that publisher kept telling us WERE THE PROBLEM…

      And traditional publishing has responded by clinging to print and trying to protect that format, as well as completely missing the boat on the new format that solves so many problems. And as they (quite predictably) lose ground, they demonizing everyone (in particular Amazon, but, generally, everyone) who, by contrast, caught the ball and ran with it–and continues running with it now.

      • Laura, you do know, that even when it was partly true (the increase of the costs), it was always an excuse. The same kind of excuse that management used before recession, the excuses in the lines: “We are not doing well, so even though you got more work, we can’t give you a raise,” etc. I believed that crap until I got into the accounting department, where you see where the money goes and see what kind of rewards they are paying themselves because they are doing such a good job by lowering cost with squeezing their workers. (They were doing that through recession and they are still doing it, at least in our company.)
        I think that with ebooks, not only that they lose all those excuses, but they also lose the control what gets published and what not.
        One of the reasons, I think, why they are so dead set against self-publishers, is because they are losing their influence on bestsellers lists; they can still get books on the bestsellers list, but that costs much more than it used to be and there’s no guarantee that self-publishers won’t knock them out of their heavily paid spot on a bestsellers list.

  21. Through the Internet I was able to access and read (well, read part of them so far):
    – all of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s works
    – all of Thomas Carlyle’s works
    – all of Thomas Babington Macaulay’s works
    – the letters of Cicero
    – all of Martin Luther’s works
    – all of John Calvin’s works
    – all of John Wesley’s works (almost all)
    – a lot of Robert Frost works
    – etc. etc.

    Help. I’m drowning in culture because of the Internet.

  22. I have a proclamation to make. I don’t do much proclaiming, usually sticking to haranguing and declaiming.

    Henceforth, I shall no longer use the term “Big 5” to refer to the largest legacy publishers. They shall be known as the “Confederacy of Dunces” to remind everyone of the sheer brilliance of their price-fixing conspiracy AND the impact of their power they would have us all forget.

  23. “The dreams for the future of the book of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Larry Page are not dreams of the readers…”

    Neither are the dreams of the shareholders and leaders of the corporate conglomerates that own the publishers.

  24. So is the last week in May National Face Palm Week? I mean the stupid seems extra thick this week. I mean really thick.

  25. It looks like he’s confusing two separate developments: the rise of e-books and the decoupling of distribution from Big Publishing. The two evolved in tandem, but either one could have happened without the other.

    What really seems to tick him off is the popularity of ebooks. How dare all those READERS insist on buying electronic books? Don’t they know they’re killing the paper book? Except that they aren’t. 80% of all books sold are still dead tree editions. The big difference is that now they are sold on that evil Internet. So he, like many others reacting in blind panic, equates ebooks and online retailing. So dumb.

    • No, no, no. 80% of all books sold are not dead tree editions. That is just bs stats that somebody made up. The only way you can get that number is to count only books from legacy publishing, count by dollars instead of units, and use figures from two years ago.

  26. Two words. Game on.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.