Much is being discussed about the negotiations between Amazon and Hachette on their next agreement. While this is not a debate regarding scholarly publishing the issues are relevant in terms of giving insights into the way reading and publishing is changing – particularly supply channels.
As the commentators note (including http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/05/how-the-amazon-hachette-fight-could-shape-the-future-of-ideas/371756/, http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-amazon-and-hachette-explained-20140602-story.html#page=1). Amazon now sells more than 40% of all books sold in the USA – it the single biggest book retailer in the country. I certainly buy from them, and the Book depository, and my local books shops. It sells “trade” or popular titles and scholarly works. ANU Press titles are available as are those of many scholarly presses.
Hachette is similarly a major player. Greenfield summaries the position by noting that “Hachette is the first among the world’s five largest publishers (Penguin merged with Random House last year) to sign another contract with Amazon since its court-mandated contract in 2012“.
Authors concerns are complex. One of my favourite authors is Dana Stabenow states in her blog (http://www.stabenow.com/2014/05/29/weighing-in-on-the-amazon-hachette-thing-probably-unnecessarily-and-futiliy):
I love Amazon. I love to shop there, and more to the point of this topic, I love to publish there. Bringing my 16-title backlist back into print in e has made the difference between me going down dignified in some kind of comfort and security and what I always considered a fifty-fifty chance of me ending my days as a bag lady on the street. That never, ever would have happened if I’d cleaved only unto traditional publishing.
While Malcolm Gladwell says of Amazon “I have made millions of dollars for Amazon. I would have thought I was one of their best assets” (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/30/gladwell-on-amazon-its-sort-of-heartbreaking-when-your-partner-turns-on-you/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=1)
Dana Stabenow comments “I don’t sentimentalize my relationship with Amazon. I don’t sentimentalize my relationship with traditional publishing, either. This isn’t personal. This is business. Authors forget that at their fiscal peril.”
All this is happening within an environment where reading is stronger than ever. A new report from the Australia Council has found that slightly more Australians were reading literature in 2013, up to 87 percent from 84 percent in 2009 – good news. http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/200927/Arts-in-Daily-Life-Australian-Participation-in-the-Arts.pdf. Pew research most recently (report released in January 2014) found that reading continues to be a strong activity “The typical American read five books in 2013”. They found that e-reading is increasing http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/21/overall-book-readership-stable-but-e-books-becoming-more-popular/
There are many threads her worth reflecting on:
- reading printed books remains a major activity around the world
- the number of companies in publishing and book supply has reduced significantly
- consumers may not be well represented in the discussions on the future of publishing
- authors seem to have a secondary consideration in market changes
- e reading is increasing and will change the publishing world (consider the case of newspapers), however despite the great adoption of consumer devices that enable e-reading change to book reading is slow
- the academic community has made a major change to e-reading – at ANU Library the comparison of use of e resources to print is around 12:1 for 2013.
Changes in the broader publishing landscape will have an effect on the purchasing of scholarly works, exactly what that impact will be is one that we need to watch developments in carefully.