I ran across an interesting opinion piece in Vox while going through Google News today. The piece is by Matthew Yglesias. What made me sit up and take notice is that he's on Amazon's side in the Hachette fight.
What's interesting is that his piece got published at all, considering that (as he notes) the newspaper, movie, music, and book publishers are all owned by the same big corporations.
I mostly agree with him, but not about everything. He writes:
In the traditional book purchasing paradigm, when a reader bought a book at the store there were two separate layers of middlemen taking a cut of the cash before money reached the author: a retailer and a publisher. The publisher, in this paradigm, was doing very real work as part of the value-chain. A typed and printed book manuscript looks nothing like a book. Transforming the manuscript into a book and then arranging for it to be shipped in appropriate quantities to physical stores around the country is a non-trivial task. What's more, neither bookstore owners nor authors have any expertise in this field.
Digital publishing is not like that. Transforming a writer's words into a readable e-book product can be done with a combination of software and a minimal amount of training. Book publishers do not have any substantial expertise in software development, but Amazon and its key competitors (Apple, Google, and the B&B/Microsoft partnership) do.
My "manuscripts" are exactly like the printed books. I upload a PDF and they print it.
But publishers aren't just middlemen who only offer publicity, as I've found out from experience. The publisher has editors and proofreaders, and this aspect is (at least for me) the hardest part of writing a book.
What's more, a self-published physical book is far more expensive than a book published by someone like Doubleday. I can get a copy of Andy Weir's The Martian at Barnes and Noble cheaper than I can get a copy of one of my own books from the printer.
He also seems to agree with everyone that physical books will go away. I used to think so, too, but reality changed my mind. I used to think that old fogeys like me were the only ones who prefer dead trees to electrons.
First was my 28 year old daughter, who when she saw the physical copy of Nobots exclaimed "My dad wrote a book. And it's a REAL book!"
Second was sales. Most people read my books for free on my web site, but far more people buy them than download them, and far more download the PDF or single file HTML than the e-book version.
I also discovered that people highly value books that were signed by the author. When a Felbers patron bought a paperback copy of Nobots (I have a box of them in my car's trunk), the first thing he did was ask me to sign it.
How can an author sign an e-book? I do what printmakers do and sign in pencil, because pencil is far harder to fake than ink.
But I agree with him on Amazon vs e-book publishers. E-books from publishers are way, way too expensive, and there's no reason whatever why an e-book should cost fifteen bucks. As he notes, there is almost no cost at all for making another copy of an e-book.