Collecting New Media

Just another iSchool Blogs site

Archive for the 'Publishing' Category

15 April
Comments Off on post Post (articles on a new online archives/museum practice forum)

post Post (articles on a new online archives/museum practice forum)


Post is a new online initiative produced by the minds behind Triple Canopy ( a great digital art/culture magazine/research/website/non-profit thing) and the Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives in a Global Age (C-MAP) research group housed at MoMA. There is a lot of vaguery even in the description of the parties involved, but suffice to say post is a website. Post is an interesting website where individuals in the field of museums and archives present ideas.

I wanted to highlight two articles that touched upon the questions raised by the variable media readings this week–perhaps these could be seen as additional case studies.

In 2009 the MoMA acquired the Silverman collection–a very large, very comprehensive collection of  posters, newspapers, editions, films, and photographs, and who-knows-what-else dedicated to Fluxus art.  An international art movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Fluxus—whose name was based on the Latin word flux, meaning constant flow or change—brought together artists working in music, poetry, film, theater, and the visual arts. The movement challenged the commodification of art and favored nontraditional modes of expression, such as collective performances, inexpensive publications, and unlimited editions of small objects. (Yoko Ono was a Fluxus collaborator)

Upon arrival at the MoMA, the Silverman collection was processed and distributed to the various medium-specific departments of the Museum. The result is that much of the collection – including printed works on paper and photographic documentation of performances found its home in the museum archive, not the art collection.  In Watch Out! All Is Not What It Seems to Be curator Jon Hendricks writes about the challenges of this treatment.  Specifically he notes that works classified as “non-art” receive very different preservation and treatment. They also tend to be displayed in vitrines in the library–not in the gallery. This small change in presentation has a huge impact on the public impression of the meaning and importance of a particular work.  The presentation and preservation of variable artworks has the potential to ghettoize these new mediums unjustly. Hendricks says, ” Throwing things into preconceived categories obscures potential experience of art — understandings of art. “Archival” and “curatorial” might be better thought of as convenient holding bins — locations that can be fluid and shifting as we gain better understanding of artists’ intent, and as we disrobe accumulated prejudgment.”

Next, a post by Uesaki Sen, an archivist designing repositories for Japanese post-war art (which can be characterized as frequently employing non-traditional mediums and performance/time-based art) captures the desire of an archivist to present his collection outside of these representational categories. In a somewhat looping essay, Sen describes producing a large poster containing images and information about every work in the collection–an attempt to show how selections fail to represent a full weight of an archive.  “our interest focuses on the difference in the degree of fictitiousness between representation that emerges from a selected list and documentation that emerges from a comprehensive list.” He goes on to discuss the inclusion of a bean-sprout seed on an invitation, which reminds readers the need to never assume that materials are comprehensive

The Sogetsu Art Center and the Matter of Printed Matter: The Sugiura Kohei / Yoko Ono Bean Sprout Invitation

21 January
Comments Off on Imagined Communities – Khalil Rabah: Pages 7,8,9

Imagined Communities – Khalil Rabah: Pages 7,8,9

Khalil Rabah, In this Issue, 2006–2012 (Act III: Molding, Neon, 120 × 400 cm). Photo by George Haddad.

Khalil Rabah, In this Issue, 2006–2012 (Act III: Molding, Neon, 120 × 400 cm). Photo by George Haddad. Courtesy e-flux

In Epistemic Infrastructure in the Rise of the Knowledge Economy, Hedstrom and King trace the development of modern collecting institutions: museums, archives, libraries.  The evolution of these institutions is tied to both technological and political developments–most notably the development of the nation-state.

Hedstrom and King offer only a cursory assessment of the relationship between national recordkeeping, museum and library collections and the construction of a national identity. The given example of  the Bibliotheque National in France demonstrates how collections, by transcending numerous regime changes, can become identified with the people of a territory (including linguistic community and shared cultural resources).

Benedict Anderson, in his book Imagined Communities, defines the nation as a socially-constructed community, imagined “as both inherently limited and sovereign.”  The nation is imagined because all members of this community cannot have face-to-face interactions. Instead the members of a nation create a mental image of their shared identity through media and, I would argue, collecting institutions.  Pre-digital collections physically manifest the knowledge resources of a nation-state.

In a forthcoming exhibition at e-flux, Palestinian artist (and UT Alum) Khalil Rabah takes the relationship between collecting practice and national identity as his subject and archival practice as his medium.  “Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind” (2003–ongoing) documents an elusive museum primarily communicated by newsletters.  From the e-flux press release, “In a gallery adjacent to this storage space pages 7, 8, and 9 of the twenty-four page Summer 2011 newsletter have been extracted from the Museum archives to become a series of paintings, giving them and their content prominence over the remaining twenty-one pages.”

Rabah uses the natural history museum (and the Orientalist authorial/institutional voice) as an absurdist framing device that sends up the contested identity of  the Palestinian nation[state?].   The artist takes institutional critique to the natural history museum–referencing the colonialist legacy of Western museum acquisition in the region.


15 April
Comments Off on Is Government Intervention the Solution to Rising E-Book Prices? (Part 2)

Is Government Intervention the Solution to Rising E-Book Prices? (Part 2)

I wrote before about the Justice Department investigating Apple and five major publishers for anti-trust violations relating to the Agency Model of pricing for e-books. Well, last week, as I’m sure most of you have heard by now, the Justice department officially filed suit against Apple and the publishers. Three of the publishers, Hatchette, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins, all immediately agreed to settle, but the suit is still moving forward against Apple, Penguin and MacMillan.

The interesting thing to me about this news, is that now people are arguing that the DOJ missed it’s mark. David Carr, writing for the New York Times, argues that the best thing for consumers really is for Amazon to not be able to sell e-books at the low prices that they were selling them at before the advent of agency pricing. Because Amazon at one point controlled 90% of e-book sales, and has enough cash on hand to sell e-books at a loss without hurting their business, they could effectively set prices that priced any competitors out of the market. Carr says that

Now Amazon has the Justice Department as an ally to rebuild its monopoly and wipe out other players. If the decision to charge the publishers was good for competition, why had the stock price of Barnes & Noble dropped more than 10 percent since Wednesday? Borders is long gone, and the possible loss of Barnes & Noble would be bad for consumer choice, online or off.

Carr does point out the irony of Apple, who basically did the same thing to the music industry that Amazon was trying to do with e-books, colluding to bust up a similar system. However, he says that here Apple and the publishers are in the right because lower prices will ultimately only lower author royalties, and further tighten the publishing market which will result in less competition for the best authors.

Barry C. Lynn, writing for Slate, agrees with Carr that Amazon’s ability to lower e-book prices below cost is detrimental in the long term to the publishing industry and to the public. He says that historically American anti-trust laws were applied to prevent exactly what Amazon was doing- using their enormous market share and capital to set low prices that allow them to control the market for their product, in this case e-books.  He writes that:

Lower prices enable horizontal predation; when a fatly capitalized retailer (like Amazon) wants to bankrupt its less-wealthy direct competitors, it simply undersells them day after day after day. Furthermore, lower prices can be used in vertical predation, against producers; when a powerful retailer (like Amazon) wants to extract more wealth from its now-captive suppliers, it can set prices to promote those firms who accept its terms and to punish those who resist.

He argues that lower prices in the long term result from producers being able to set higher prices for their products, because it forces them to compete with each other rather than retailers, forcing both retailers and producers to better serve the consumer. This type of economics fell out of favor in the 80’s, when the government turned it’s attention to fighting inflation rather than monopolies.  He argues that the only way to re-establish a true free market for e-books and other goods and protect consumers, is to allow producers (in this case the publishers) to set minimum prices for their products.

I’m not an economist, so I can’t actually say whether or not the long term good of the consumer or the economy relies on low prices at any cost or on producers ability to compete with each other for the best products. These arguments do make a certain amount of sense, but at the same time they seem somewhat protectionist and backward looking. Carr, for one is a book author who would like to protect his own royalties.

Even discounting personal biases, there are legitimate arguments to be made that the public no longer supports the economic policies that these authors are arguing for. Pretty much everyone I know likes being able to pay $0.99 for songs on iTunes. The music industry has had to adjust to this model, and so far they’ve done so. The publishing industry might have more trouble doing this, but to survive they will probably have to make similar adjustments.  One could argue that the quality of music has gone down, and so will the quality of books, but that is an extremely subjective judgment. Also, most people don’t understand why they should have to pay as much for a digital copy of a book as they would for a physical copy, since the production costs appear to be so much lower for digital items. This perception might be flawed, but part of the blame for that lies with publishing companies who don’t do a good job of explaining why digital objects cost money to produce. Until recently, their argument has been that they are an old industry, and that this is the way things have always been done, and therefore things should go forward as they always have. They are starting to explain their business practices more now, but I wonder if it is too little too late. The way things are looking now, they are going to have to adjust to the new way of doing business, just like the music industry did.


09 April
Comments Off on Creative Suites

Creative Suites

I saw the following request on my Tumblr dashboard yesterday and thought it might merit sharing:

Somebody make this:
A browser-based book design tool. Like InDesign, but less “pro.” Sign in to work on your projects. Images and text are saved and versioned. Make prints available for order. Publish as PDFs and/or uniformly constrained webpages.

Brian Lucid commented that Adobe’s short-lived, experimental Project Rome fulfilled some of these functions. Rome appears to be a Flash app throughout which may be indicative of why it’s been abandoned. I can’t help but feel, however, that there remains a viable market for such a product outside of iBooks Author.

Can anyone point me to something similar?

Somewhat relatedly, I got a chuckle from Jason Snell’s photo, shared here. This sort of laziness in the production of ebooks seems commonplace. Moreover, it often feels like a frustrating reminder from publishers that the digital is a secondary endeavor where reduced quality goods can go relatively unnoticed while still accruing sales. Shortcuts can be taken in formatting, readability, and editing because the physical book business is still where they want to be; perhaps rightly so if that  is where the money is made. This slow-to-react attitude is something of a institutional backlash to those who would claim the book is dead. (Spoiler: It’s not.) In effect, though, it’s a disservice to the reader and to the book’s audience writ large, not to mention an embarrassment.

My question is why not take advantage of the form and correct the error? What prevents us from thinking of ebooks as an iterative medium like Wikipedia as discussed in Maria Bustillo’s piece from this week’s readings? Surely we’re not so enamored with the concept of the authority of a published work, even one with gross oversights and probably just automatically converted, that we can’t stomach the thought of the books on our kindles as open to change?


06 April
Comments Off on Digital Magazines Paving the Way

Digital Magazines Paving the Way

So far this semester, we’ve talked about e-books and the various issues surrounding their pricing and about online news and the problems/benefits of the paywall, so an article this week about digital magazine subscriptions caught my eye.

Gizmodo reported the news under the headline “Major Publishing Consortium Ready to Launch ‘Hulu for Magazines.'” On Wednesday, leading magazine publishers Conde Nast, Time Inc, Hearst, Meredith, and News Corp launched the Next Issue Media subscription service and app for Android tablets. Subscribers pay $10-15 per month for access to as many of the 35 supported magazines as they want (the higher price includes weeklies, such as The New Yorker). According to Gizmodo, the digital magazines still look and read like print magazines, including ads.

We’ve discussed the possibilities of a subscription service for e-books, and it seemed like a popular option. It sounds even better for magazines, which are more or less designed to be browsed and discarded. There are at least six magazines on the list that I would read so $15 sounds like a pretty good deal.

Image from ReadWriteWeb

Magazines as a medium seem particularly suited to a digital environment—they are design-oriented and tend to include both long-form articles and graphic chunks of information. I found an article from a few years ago that compares the static digital edition of PC Magazine and the “flashy” Avantoure (it doesn’t seem to exist anymore, but go with it), which featured “rich media such as animations, interactive content, music, audio interviews, movie clips and TV commercials.” Ideally, digital magazines could have all the fancy bells and whistles that may one day end up in e-books, but somehow it seems more appropriate there. A great example is National Geographic. They advertise their custom-built iPad edition as fully interactive, with photography, graphics, and video. This enhanced reading experience seems appropriate for the medium and both interesting and useful.

So while furor rages about the future of e-books and online newspapers, it seems like magazines are quietly forging ahead and trying out new models of presentation and pricing. However, in Do Digital Magazines Have a Future?, posted last month on InvestorPlace, Brad Moon paints a conflicted picture of the state of magazines. On the plus side, the number of digital subscriptions is reaching impressive-sounding milestones (although Moon points out that some publications, such as Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily, are still a long way from profitability). On the negative side, existing pricing structures are complicated and frustrating, with the print/digital bundle costing less than digital alone (as we saw with The New York Times), and enticing interactive editions take up a lot of space on handheld devices.

Overall, Moon suggests that digital magazines will continue to see an increase in demand as more consumers buy tablet devices, but publishers will need to solve the logistical issues in order to maintain the industry. That seems like kind of an obvious conclusion—it’s unlikely that magazine publishers will abandon the digital realm entirely—but I think the second part is interesting. These issues of profitability, inter-platform support, and authoring tools, as well as the consortium subscription model, could set precedents for future e-book developments, so it’s worth watching to see how magazine publishers handle the next few years.

02 April
Comments Off on Compassionate Focus: The future of working together in publishing

Compassionate Focus: The future of working together in publishing

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker blog featured an interview with Monica McCormick, a woman who works at NYU Press and for the NYU libraries almost as a liason, in the Office of Digital Scholarly Publishing. McCormick’s statements echo a lot of the concepts and sentiments originating in libraries that we read this week. For example:

Library publishing is just part of a whole continuum of services that libraries offer to support scholarly collaboration and research, which might include data management, curating scholars’ born-digital research collections, providing guidance on copyright and intellectual property, and making the research results available.

However, she is quick to emphasize that university presses and library publishing are very different, the former expected mostly to sell books by developing and refining an editorial vision, and thereby not just adding value to scholarly writing but actually giving back to the academic community. “As a result, university libraries have more leeway to publish as a service rather than a business, by, for example, providing a repository for their institution’s research, or hosting space for online journals for their faculty.” At NYU the press develops a vision of its own, and the library nourishes but also reflects the scholarly community it serves.

I mention this not so much as a real direction or suggestion for a solution to any problem of how all libraries and university presses should trend or how they might be re-conceptualized or grow–the situation is far from resolvable at this point, I think–but because of the pragmatism of her take on the issue. Theory about what is, may, and should happen are all really important, but the reality of the situation is subjective and erratic and transitional–and no one is quite sure about what’s going to happen although we have to talk as though we know we do. So another way to look at the question of what will happen in libraries and academic publishing is to look more closely at individuals and their work.

+ + +

On Friday I participated in a panel at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning along with MIT Press editor Marguerite Avery, Harvard Library Innovation Laboratory’s Jeff Goldenson (a designer/architect/programmer), and two designer/architects from Over, Under and Pink Comma–Michael Kubo and Chris Grimley. I know, what was I doing there? It was an eclectic group which seemed to me indicative if the breadth of the perceived publication problem. SA+P Press (the school’s own imprint) needs to find a way to organize its editorial vision and present material created in a number of ways (and, as it’s an architecture school) in a diverse array of media: when presentation and design are integral to the content, how  to incorporate published print materials as well as new and even forthcoming publications into a web presence and publication platform?

Each answer to a discreet question seemed only to make the situation more complicated, less graspable. Everything is expensive, and there is no consistency over time. Lack of foresight and organizational consistency from the beginning means we’ll never be able to control everything that is out there, even when we’re talking about a highly limited situation. Part of this is manpower, and part of it is the evolving, unstable nature of “information”–as Robert Darnton put it rather articulately.

The first thought I had afterward was that it was a failure–at least in as much as there was no consensus at the end of the day. The conversation brought together the real problems posed both by print and digital storage, and no one really had a good answer to the question of why and how and where. Resources that archivists are aware of haven’t always gained traction beyond the preservation field. I sort of felt I should give up on any aspirations for participating in some useful way to the future of publishing.

But by now I have begun to feel better. First, this was a problem to be answered by MIT architects with a clear understanding of the published material, how it is beneficial to scholarship and also for recruitment and PR purposes. A solution is to be determined by students and alumni as well as faculty, as it should be. Second, there is room for all of this material.

Imposing order in the form of an interface (links to content, to purchase hard copies, etc.) will not change the nature of the work that has been done, but it will change way the school delivers a message about the interesting projects and theories developed under its purview and also pose an awesome suggestion for publishing beyond the school. And in this extremely cool and innovative group, the recognition that this needn’t all be limited to print or digital, but rather that media should extend beyond the screen, to be published in physical books, newspapers, and journals that exploit the variety of benefits afforded by print, was extremely exciting. The pink comma guys had some really interesting suggestions and examples of the ways publication and exhibition have coincided in their work, for example.

And as Avery pointed out, it’s not just about content, it’s about linking content to its targeted and potential readership in the most useful and efficient form/format possible. We have long acknowledged that actually the cover really does make a difference but an editor of the future must attend to meaning wrapped up thoroughly in form and presentation. Sometimes, the book should be 8″ by 13″ to respect the dimensions and qualities of maps included, even if it’s more expensive that way. Just as digital content design is a really interesting area of innovation, printing methods are changing rapidly and associated costs influence what we can do.

And as Goldenson made it clear, the librarian must observe and reconceptualize the ways its design impacts library use and readership. He spoke about a course he’s teaching at Harvard’s GSD (which you can read about at in which students experiment with what libraries can do for scholarly and broader student communities. Part of the implication is that libraries won’t be rarified and run by “librarians,” I think. The librarian role will evolve to diversify along the lines of perceived institutional needs in the form, primarily, of design and legal specialization. (He is also responsible for the Library License concept which is worth a look.)

I know it’s been said before, but the most important take away is that we have to engage with a lot of people, to move in tandem by communicating with one another (also meaning, we need to learn how to talk to people of many different disciplines), and to push one another very hard towards developing standards and protocols for presenting and expanding the notion of what information is and can do. Willingness to disagree is as important as an excellent ability to listen, to perceive priorities, to think critically about relationships of content, form, design, dissemination, and preservation. I dare say awareness, coordination, and compassion for the work of others are as important as editorial focus and diligence.

31 March
Comments Off on Is Free the New Price Structure for Publishing?

Is Free the New Price Structure for Publishing?

I am very interested to read about the Concord Free Press. The Free Press is a non-profit press that gives books away, yet achieves returns on investment as high as 800%. They produce a book in a press run of about 3,000 for about $6,000. And each book makes about $50,000. But the returns are in the form of donations–to other charities and non-profits.

How does this work? You ask the Press to send you one of their books. They send it to you free, no matter where in the world you live. (Or you can “buy” a copy at an online bookstore.) In return, you agree to donate to a charity or non-profit of your choice and then to maybe pass the book on when you are done with it. The next person to receive “your” book also gives some money away. And so the book travels along, generating donations with each new reader. The Press even provides a free online “GivingTracker” that enables the reader/giver to report when and where she made a donation.

Concord Free Press calls their publishing model “generosity-based publishing.” Everyone involved in the production of the book works for free and because the Press is non-profit, there is no need to worry about all that pesky capitalist stuff: profits, shareholders, dividends, whatever. The Press generates the money for each new book, basically, on good will: you can donate to the press, or buy a limited-edition t-shirt or poster. And that’s pretty much it, so far as revenue is concerned.

So far, the Press has published six books, they have “made” over a quarter of a million dollars, and they have managed to pay for each new book. Although they are obviously a very small press, their numbers are actually fairly impressive. Many small presses fail long before they have printed and distributed six perfect-bound books and many small presses lose money on each book, making up the difference in grants or university support or whatever. So the Press is doing OK, their “business model” is successful and they never make a dime. That’s sort of great and wonderfully wackily paradoxical.

The Press also uses a “slow” publishing model. They take their time picking books, they don’t worry about rushing to market, and they invest fully in PR and marketing for each book. Since there is no worry about making back the costs of the book, and no deadline for revenue, and the PR and marketing is free, why not take your time, do the job right, and work at a pace that is comfortable and sustainable?

The Press has gotten good press–news stories in Huffington Post, the LA Times, and on BrainPickings–and their authors are seeing are picking up a lot of readers. Pretty cool.

If you want to order a Free Press book, or learn more about what they are doing, just check out their web site. It’s well-organized and all of the information you would ever want about what they are doing is easy to find.

Maybe in the future, everything will be free.



25 March
Comments Off on eFoodies?


It seems as though we talk most about printed things becoming electronic, what about the other way around? While Jane Friedman can tell you how not to go about it, blogs becoming books is an interesting phenomena that leaves me with some questions. When a blog becomes a book, is this because a printed book is seen as a more suitable platform? Or to gain a new audience? It seems as though certain types of blogs translate easily into paper publications, but I keep Peter Myers comment about the most suitable platforms in mind, and wonder if eBooks or apps might be more appropriate for some blog to “book” translations.

A few successful blogs to printed books have emerged from parody or novelty blogs, web comics and food/recipe blogs. This article from a few years ago talked about novelty blogs becoming books. Blogs like Fail Blog and Stuff White People Like had a straightforward blog to book transformation, with different posts, sometimes numbered, becoming their own page. Interviews with these bloggers reveal that some wanted a physical book because it seemed more “permanent.” Others provide tips about knowing your audience, patience in book publishing process and building an online community. But I wonder if their aim is for the online community to eventually purchase the physical book. Different web comics have a similarly easy translation; the nature of the way they are posted can be printed easily in a coherent way. (One of my favorites : Hark, A Vagrant). This idea isn’t so different from daily newspaper comic compilations, and a printed book will probably appeal to online fans as well.

Food blogs, to me, seem like the most common and intuitive printed book translation. The most successful food blog that comes to mind is Julie Powell’s Julia Childs project. What began as daily postings turned into a ‘narrative’ physical book and then became a movie. This is somewhat the exception, since Powells primary occupation is a writer, not a chef…. but other foodie bloggers like the Pioneer Woman, became a cookbook and then a show on Food Network, or Molly Wizenburg from Orangette, got a deal for writing a cookbook as well as articles for various food magazines.

The food blog audience of amateur cooks most of the time prefer to have a physical copy of a recipe, whether

Smitten Kitchen's Carrot Cake Pancakes

that be a computer print off stuffed into a three ring binder, or a hardback with pretty photos. Food bloggers include anecdotes about their cooking experience and most of the time take pretty photographs of their creations for their blog posts, and this is what is compiled into the physical cookbook.

What could be missing from a book version? Well, the fans. Sites like Homesick Texan or Smitten Kitchen have a huge fan community that asks questions, shares stories or tips that helped them with a certain recipe. Would these be included in a publication? The interactive network of readers and fans that share their experience online? These thoughts lead me to reconsider the ‘obvious’ food blog to cookbook transformation. Perhaps something like an app might be more appropriate for collecting recipes, depending of course on which you’re selling it to. Is a new audience being sought with a printed book, one that does not care as much about comments and community, but more about pretty bookshelves and printed photographs?

19 March
Comments Off on Unavailable E-Books

Unavailable E-Books

Since we are talking about e-books and publishing this week, I thought I’d share this short post from the Houston Press by way of the News-Herald (whose link is currently not working…aah!…fragile digital content!) about classic books that are currently unavailable on Kindle (or iPad, or Nook). I’m not actually sure how the original authors came up with the list (thinking of a book and searching for it across platforms perhaps?) and, of course, the term “classic” is always up for debate, but the list is fascinating in and of itself and, as the author points out, even more so for the reasons that the book remains unobtainable (whether those reasons are speculative or not).

Some of the titles aren’t terribly surprising. It seems that, at the very least, J. D. Salinger and Jonathan Franzen could probably bond over their mutual hatred of change/general curmudgeonliness and Harper Lee is pretty well known for her reclusive tendencies (although apparently she’s writing items for O, The Oprah Magazine now?) Two of the other titles (One Hundred Years of Solitude and 2001: A Space Odyssey) are evidently bogged down in copyright drama which is beyond my expertise to decipher (but surely these can’t be the only classic books with translation issues and complicated publishing rights…could HAL be behind this?)

Probably the most interesting book(s) on the list are those from the Harry Potter series. Harry Potter is available in every other format known to man (audiobook, major motion picture, LEGO, theme park, Chinese counterfeit, etc) but you can’t yet download the series as an e-book. This is apparently due to the fact that J. K. Rowling has publishing aspirations of her very own; she’s promised to release the books through her website Pottermore.

Rowling has stated that this is being done in an effort to make the books available in as many formats as possible but, as someone in the comments succinctly points out, this might just be a savvy way to avoid profit sharing with Amazon and friends (nothing wrong with that). Unfortunately, the e-books, which were supposed to be available in October of 2011 and then again in the beginning of 2012 (um, it’s almost April), have yet to materialize and it remains to be seen if Pottermore is an exciting new digital content endeavor (aka, one big, enhanced e-book) or a dud. Maybe I can download a copy of Harry Potter and the Leopord Walk Up To Dragon to peruse in the meantime?

18 March
Comments Off on Is Government Intervention the Solution to Rising E-Book Prices?

Is Government Intervention the Solution to Rising E-Book Prices?

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department notified five major publishers of e-books (Simon & Schuster, Hatchette, Penguin, MacMillan and HarperCollins) and Apple, Inc.  that they would be suing them for allegedly colluding to raise e-book prices. Apparently settlement talks are ongoing, and a settlement will probably result lower e-book prices, even though these talks do not involve all of the major publishers. Apparently the EU is also investigating the allegations.

The suit revolves around the “Agency Model” that Apple agreed upon with publishers, and forced on Amazon, to keep e-book prices higher. As WSJ reports:

As Apple prepared to introduce its first iPad, the late Steve Jobs, then its chief executive, suggested moving to an “agency model,” under which the publishers would set the price of the book and Apple would take a 30% cut. Apple also stipulated that publishers couldn’t let rival retailers sell the same book at a lower price.

“We told the publishers, ‘We’ll go to the agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30%, and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that’s what you want anyway,'” Mr. Jobs was quoted as saying by his biographer, Walter Isaacson.

The publishers were then able to impose the same model across the industry, Mr. Jobs told Mr. Isaacson. “They went to Amazon and said, ‘You’re going to sign an agency contract or we’re not going to give you the books,’ ” Mr. Jobs said.

This model, in addition to probably being against federal anti-trust law, upsets what the article says is the normal way of selling physical books, which is to sell them to the stores and then let the stores sell them at whatever price they wish, even at a loss, like Amazon was doing with some of its e-books, in order to encourage Kindle sales.

I wonder if this type of lawsuit might be the only way to keep publishers from pulling things like this. The article says that the publishers  “feared suffering the same fate as record companies at Apple’s hands, when the computer maker’s iTunes service became the dominant player by selling songs for 99 cents” and that physical bookstores wouldn’t be able to compete with e-book prices.  This fear may be legitimate, as Amazon does seem bent on becoming the dominant e-books seller and Borders was forced to close. However, e-books are the fastest growing sector the publishing business and their market share will probably continue to go up, and so it would seem that publishers have some incentive to embrace this market. This could happen in many ways, but it’s not going to happen unless someone steps in and says that the publishers cannot use coercive methods to protect their old models, but must instead find new ways to make money in a new world. Since the companies who are the subject of the suit, including Apple, (which, according to recent reports, might control %12 of corporate cash in this country) are extremely large and powerful, especially in this industry, this might be a good place for the government to intervene.