What Amazon’s Win Against Apple (Really) Means for Books

amazonwinebooksSo, recently, the federal court in New York ruled that Apple played a “central role” in fixing eBook prices with publishers. The goal was to keep the cost of an eBook at $12.99, instead of $9.99.

This has ushered in a wave of speculation about the future of both pricing and print books and eBooks. One Wired article by Marcus Wohlsen even speculates that this could be the “end of the book as we know it.”

His argument is that, without competition, Amazon is going to be free to set prices for books, especially when bookstores fade away. The publishing industry is going through the painful throes faced by the music industry years ago and it looks like Amazon is going to clamber on top.

But the thing about technology is that the top is a slippery place, and it’s important to keep in mind that Amazon’s true power lies in the fickle decisions of the consumer.

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Assassins Among the Bookshelves: “Showrooming” is Deadly

showroombookstoreIf you ask a local business about “showrooming,” they’ll either scowl or, more likely, look befuddled. The practice is booming among consumers, though, and any business owner has probably seen it: a customer walks into the store, browses the shelves, and then whips out her smartphone.

A few minutes later, she’s gone. Where’d she go? Well, she already ordered the item she saw in the store at a discount. On the Internet. Not from your store.

About half of consumers are using showrooming while they’re purchasing. The jury’s out on whether it’s really bad for retail or not-so-bad-but-probably-not-good.

However, one type of retail is suffering more than others: bookstores.

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Publishers Are Actually Getting Excited About eBooks

3182535414_84a0f6c3d4_oThe general grumbling from book publishers and bookstores alike is that the whole eBook format is going to destroy them. Smart-mouthed, tech savvy people who like Disruption are quick to agree. They call publishers “dinosaurs” who don’t get it, and other mean things.

Really, publishers are trying to get quality books into the hands of readers.

When there are no filters, self-publishing threatens that notion of “quality” in a big way (as we can see with the acclaimed werewolf love stories).

But a lot of the time, authors are self-publishing because they have no choice. Publishers won’t take risks on unknown writers and certainly not on unconventional fiction. They’re more inclined to support blockbusters and nothing else.

Publishers have just had to adapt. We saw that when Random House and Penguin merged. And now, finally, it looks like they can finally say the word “eBook” without grimacing.

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If There Are No Bookstores, What Can Publishers Do For Authors?

publisherdyingBook sales are hard to figure out.

On the one hand, we’ve seen a slow dip in sales for the past few years. On the other hand, independent bookstores reported a 10% spike in sales for the last holiday season. Then again, one study found that 85% of children readers aged 2-13 are using tablets and other e-readers to read their books.

Personally, I think bookstores are going to stick around for a long time.

But let’s try out a thought experiment, given that everyone is so worried about their health.

If there were no bookstores and only e-readers, what, exactly, would publishers do for authors?

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How Amazon is Trying to Rescue Literary Fiction

literaryfictionheroWho’s going to save literary fiction?

Prominent agents have said that big publishers these days are just focused on pushing out blockbuster titles. You know, things that will sell millions.

That leaves self-proclaimed “literary authors” that write “literary fiction” biting their nails.

But never fear, literary authors… Amazon is here.

That’s right – the online retailer has just launched a literary fiction imprint known as “Little A.”

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