Are Books Commodities? Are They Speech?

Books, as well as magazines, newspapers, newsletters in all of their various formats: paper, digital, smoke signals, whatever, are not commodities. They are speech.

There is no hard and fast rule that books should be priced at $9.99 either.

Source: IPDA News Digest, 04/17/15
Source: IPDA News Digest, 04/17/15

Books are not widgets. They are not plastic tzotchkes made by low wage labor in China and packaged by low wage temp workers in overheated warehouses in exurbia USA.

Many readers consider books they love to be works of art (at least the really well written ones).

They are the result of hard work, hard effort, hard labor by the authors who often seek represenation by book publishers. Sometimes it’s Hachette. Sometimes it’s Penguin. Sometimes it’s  Amazon.

So as wonderful as Amazon is, at least to their consumers, they do come in between the reader and the author. In other words, despite what the fanboys and the trade press thinks, they’re middlemen. Just like wholesalers. Or publishers.

So, I’m sorry to point out all of the fans, apologists and futurists, but Amazon and many other e-tailers, are simply the latest thing that is “disrupting” a traditional economy. Just like the big chain booksellers disrupted the indy bookstore and newsstand economy in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Just like Pay-On-Scan has disrupted the traditional magazine distribution economy in the last decade. Just like Tesla is disrupting, to a certain extent, the car sales franchise market.

But to Amazon’s credit, they’ve taken advantage of a deregulated economy, and found a great entre into middle and upper class pocketbooks – reading.

I’ve never bought the argument that “books cost too much”. They don’t.  They are priced according to the market.

Is it fair that some writers never got published under the old regime? No. The world is not fair.

Is it fair that some visionaries (and not a few hucksters) got into the digital book market first and made a ton of money while some true craftsmen now find themselves self publishing books and making slave wages because they were late to the party?

No. The world is not fair.

Books (and magazines) are not widgets. We’d probably all make more money if we stopped trying to market and sell them like that.

Link to the article mentioned above is here.

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Caution: Technology May Not Work As Advertised

There’s a rimshot line in one of my favorite movies, “Master And Comander” where Russell Crowe’s Captain Aubrey stares at a model of the warship he’s chasing into the Pacific and marvels at the wonders of “modern technology”. It’s a throwaway line, designed to get the knowing 21st century audience to chuckle. And it works, too. Every time I see the movie, I laugh at that same moment.

Some days I sit at my work desk and marvel at how far technology has driven my industry. It used to take many weeks and many hours of compiling to get an idea of where and how a title is selling in specific markets. Now that information is at my fingertips waiting for me to access it (If I’m willing to pay the price, of course. This is the 21st century, after all.) and I can then use my very powerful “personal” computer to interpret the data in ways I never would have even considered twenty years ago.

And it is all pretty wonderful. I find the line between people from my parents generation, and my children’s generation very telling. My parents, and their peers ask the question: Why do you want to do that? Tweet, Facebook, text, watch a movie on an iPod Touch? My kids say, because we can. I usually ask, “That’s interesting, and cool. But will it really work?”

For the last few weeks, in between marveling at modern technology, I’ve been dealing with a series of small, highly time consuming and frustrating glitches in all of my wonderful machines and thinking: Wouldn’t it be nice if on these commercials, and on the boxes of wonder that we open, if there weren’t a large warning tag that said:

OK, so there’s no way a company would really put a warning label on a box that said that. But ask yourself, wouldn’t that be nice?

I’ve been engaging in a series of conversations with a client about digital formats for their magazines. What will work? What won’t work? What do you really want to do? Why are we having this conversation? There were some fascinating articles in today’s “BoSacks” e-reading list discussing cloud based storage and Bo finally offered us some insight into his new publishing model, consortium publishing. Interesting. And it was all there. In my in box.

Now if I could only get my mail out of my “out” box. If only one of those two hundred helpful suggestions on Google would actually work. If I could only get my iPod to re-boot, jut like the manual says. If I could only get that piece of social media technology to do what it’s advertised to do. If only the website where all of that data I need for this morning’s report would stop crashing ever time I press “Process”!

I have to ask, “Do I really need to change my password every four weeks? Really?” I want to know, “You keep telling me that your back office support for this website is not designed for this browser. But the browser it is designed for always crashes. Can you give me an answer I can understand?”

This riff could go on for quite awhile. But it’s something for all of us in the publishing industry to keep in mind as we make the transition to more digital media. The technology has to work. Every time. Let’s let our readers marvel at the wonders of “modern technology”. We want them to read. Not chase their tails.